|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Op-Ed on "Continuing to Strengthen Relations with Latin America"
for El Diario, Miami, Florida
U.S. Department of State
In mid-August, I made my ninth trip to Latin America, visiting five countries -- Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Ecuador. The trip demonstrated the warm, balanced nature of our relations in the region, and the importance of active engagement with our neighbors to the south. The United States has excellent bilateral relations with the five countries I visited, and we share a commitment to democracy, market economics, environmental protection, and strengthening the rule of law.
Several themes emerged from my discussions with leaders throughout South America. We spoke about the need to keep the democratic tide rising across the continent and reviewed efforts through the Organization of American States to encourage democratic reform in Peru and Haiti. We discussed our efforts to combat drug trafficking in the hemisphere and the importance of backing Colombian President Pastrana's plan to combat this scourge and restore economic health to his country. We raised issues of trade and economic reform.
In Brazil I met with President Cardoso and Foreign Minister Lampreia. It has been said that U.S.-Brazilian relations are better than at any time since World War II, and I agree. We talked about prospects for achieving a Free Trade Area of the Americas by the year 2005 and about United Nations reform. I applauded Brazil's initiative in bringing together South American leaders for a summit meeting in Brasilia.
I met with President De La Rua and Foreign Minister Rodriguez Giavarini in Argentina and discussed our expanded and strengthened defense ties. We spoke about our work on the UN Security Council, where we both strongly support UN peacekeeping efforts around the world. While in Argentina, I visited the newly reopened headquarters for the Jewish community, the AMIA Cultural Center, which was the site of a 1994 terrorist bombing. There, the Foreign Minister and I raised our voices against terror and in support of tolerance and the rule of law. I had an excellent meeting with representatives of non-governmental organizations involved in supporting a civil society. And I went to a soccer game!
Several months ago Chile and the United States were among the joint sponsors of the Community of Democracies Conference in Warsaw. I met with Foreign Minister Alvear and President Lagos in Chile to discuss issues growing out of that conference. Chile has been a model for the region in advancing market economic policies, including a welcoming attitude toward trade and investment, while seeking actively to redress social inequities. The result has been economic growth combined with a 50 per cent reduction in Chile's poverty levels. While in Santiago, I learned more about Chile's bold efforts to reform its criminal justice system from Justice Minister Gomez and Chile's first-ever National Prosecutor, Guillermo Piedrabuena. I participated in a roundtable on "Women in Government" hosted by the Foreign Minister and four female cabinet colleagues. I also met with a group of children and adults working to restore some of the green areas of Santiago -- representatives of a vigorous national environmental movement.
I expressed our admiration to Bolivian President Banzer and Foreign Minister Murillo for their country's impressive efforts to meet its challenges and improve the quality of life for all Bolivians. The United States is committed to helping Bolivia ease poverty and reach its goal of eliminating coca cultivation by 2002. Through the Peace Corps we have assisted in nutrition, micro-enterprise, sanitation, and health care services for the poorest Bolivians. The U.S. Agency for International Development is assisting farmers in developing profitable alternatives to coca production.
I met with Minister of Foreign Relations Moeller in Ecuador and expressed U.S. support for President Noboa's commitment to economic reform in the face of severe economic crisis and human suffering. I signed a food aid agreement through which the United States will donate to Ecuador approximately $20 million in agricultural commodities, our largest contribution of food aid to any Latin American country this year. We view Ecuador as a key test of democracy in the hemisphere, and I encouraged the nation's moves toward political reform. I also learned more about the President's efforts to reach out to the indigenous community and bring about a continuing dialogue.
Since the beginning of this Administration, President Clinton has made the U.S. relationship with Latin America a top priority. This is as it should be. Not only are the peoples of Latin America our geographic neighbors, but people with Latin American roots now make up a large and growing part of North America's citizenry. As I saw with pride and pleasure on my trip, more and more we are becoming members of a true hemispheric family.
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