Sep 29/05 - On U.S. State Department's new and improved approach to the Western Hemisphere: an indication of things to come?
PMBComment: below you will find the excellent testimony given by Amb. Charles Shapiro at yesterday’s hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives. There has been press coverage on a few of the things said about the bête noire of the region – our own Hugo Chávez, but I think a full read of this testimony is indeed advisable to get a glimpse of the more substantive, and sensible, spin on the Western Hemisphere that we are beginning to inhale in Washington as the folks at State prepare for the formal start of the Shannon-era. PMB
Note: the underlines are mine…
Testimony of Ambassador Charles S. Shapiro
Acting Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of
Before the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere Committee on International Relations,
September 28, 2005
“Keeping Democracy on Track: Hot Spots in Latin America and the
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:
It has been fashionable of late to cite recent polls that suggest that the people of the
The struggle for democracy in Latin America and the
Political progress in the region has gone hand in hand with economic reform. Many of the old demons are gone: inflation is largely tamed; countries are increasingly open to foreign trade and investment; economic setbacks still occur, but no longer do they lead inevitably to crises affecting the entire Hemisphere.
Most of the region’s leaders recognize that democracy and the free market must be part of any sustainable plan for development. The paradigm that has been so successful in guiding the expansion of freedom and economic growth in
Underscoring this transformation, last June a key multilateral event took place in
There is little doubt, however, that many individuals in the hemisphere are frustrated by the perceived inability of democracies to deliver benefits to all citizens in equal measure. Some, in their frustration, are turning in increasing numbers to politicians who promise populist solutions to the region’s persistent problems or else entertain thoughts of a return to authoritarianism.
That is to say, we continue to confront challenges in the workings of democracy in the region.
What the polls show is that Latin Americans by and large don’t trust their governments and their institutions. The survey numbers suggest that overwhelming majorities in virtually all countries of the region have “little” or “no” confidence in their executive, judiciary, legislature, political parties, armed forces or police.
I believe this can be attributed to the fact that, in many cases, political elites in the region often are perceived to exhibit an aloofness from the people they are supposed to represent and serve. That gulf is often reinforced by legal immunity granted legislators and the de facto impunity afforded many other governmental and political actors.
The resultant mutual mistrust between voters and the government encourages corruption, as citizens resort to one of the few ways available to persuade government officials to actually work on their behalf — pay them directly.
Many formal democratic institutions in
Many political parties in the region are not doing their job well — they are often bereft of new ideas, too focused on patronage, and too dependent on the skills of one charismatic leader.
This spoils mentality is too often reinforced by electoral systems that favor legislative candidacy via party slate and over-represent rural areas — politicians owe too much allegiance to the party structure and not enough to constituents; entrenched anti-reform opponents are granted too large a voice in policymaking.
Poverty and the inequality of income and wealth which characterize much of the region make it difficult for democracy to thrive. Under-funded states lack the resources to apply the rules of the game fairly — even if leaders have the political will to try.
That unfairness is sharpened by some governments’ tendency to overlook minority rights — the rights of indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities, women, children, and the disabled.
High crime levels, present in many nations of the hemisphere, dampen voters’ enthusiasm for democratic rule.
These challenges to democracy are daunting — but I am convinced they can be overcome by strong leadership, a willingness to make tough decisions, the forging of a national consensus, and the active implementation of a reform agenda.
The Hemisphere’s democratic agenda cannot be advanced solely by the poetry of verbal commitment to its principles, it must be advanced by the daily toil of governments.
Sustainable economic growth and political stability are only possible if governments consciously extend political power and economic opportunity to everyone, especially the poor.
Taken together — trust, transparency, effectiveness, inclusiveness, public safety, political consensus on the need to have decision-making framed by the national welfare, and cooperative civil-military relations — are what enable vibrant democracies to withstand political and economic shocks to the system.
They are the cornerstones of viable states.
The Hemisphere’s most successful democratic leaders understand what is needed to make democracy work.
They reach out to the opposition, civil society, and minority groups. Dialogue builds trust, and trust is the key element in encouraging real political participation and keeping the political pot from boiling over.
They understand that public relations matter. Citizens need to know when their government is effective — when new schools are inaugurated or inoculation programs are undertaken.
Good leaders recognize the importance of working with and cultivating responsible media.
Good governments in the region are vigorously prosecuting corruption cases and institutionalizing procedures that promote public transparency — including electronic procurement, freedom of information legislation, and the establishment of ombudsman offices to monitor allegations of corruption.
Successful leaders are promoting legal or constitutional reforms that link elected officials to their constituents better. Politicians will never behave if they cannot be held accountable easily by the voters from a defined district or are officially shielded from prosecution.
Successful democracies are closing the gap between politicians and voters by decentralizing political power and revenue collection — granting municipal governments both real responsibility and revenue can tamp down corruption and give people a greater sense of direct participation in the political system.
Responsible leaders are spearheading legal or constitutional reforms that foster impartial, professional, and apolitical judiciaries. Some countries in the region have enjoyed great success in judicial reform by streamlining civil code procedures; introducing computerized case tracking systems; staggering the appointment of Supreme Court justices; and naming judicial councils that oversee hiring, firing, and disciplining judicial employees.
Successful leaders understand the link between democracy and individual economic opportunity. The path to prosperity is built upon affording individuals the chance to pull their own weight and create personal wealth — by reducing the red tape of business registration, encouraging the broader provision of bank credit, harnessing remittances for productive purposes, providing wider access to education, and accelerating property titling.
Good governments must have good police forces. Not only is public safety a crucial function of government, but police officers are often the most visible personification for most citizens of the power of any administration — so they must act with efficiency and respect.
Successful leaders in the region also value multilateral engagement as a tool to shore up the Hemisphere’s democratic institutions. The work of the Bolivia Donor Support Group, OAS election observation in
Our assistance programs are also lending a hand. We are providing democracy building support in the Hemisphere ranging from legal code reform and judicial training, to anti-corruption projects and conflict resolution.
But our assistance, in and of itself, cannot guarantee the deepening of the Hemisphere’s democratic roots.
There is simply no substitute for strong local leadership willing to make tough decisions and embrace civil society as a key contributor to policy debates.
We support the Rodriguez administration in
We support the presidency of Enrique Bolaños in
Supporting Haiti’s slow ascent from a decade as a predatory state is an enormous challenge, but we are determined to stay the course as long as the Haitians themselves remain engaged in fashioning the truly democratic government they so deserve.
Venezuela, frankly, does not present a promising picture. We have no quarrel with the Venezuelan people, but despite the
But President Chavez has chosen a different course, and he has a six-year track record that tells us a thing or two about him. His efforts to concentrate power at home, his suspect relationship with destabilizing forces in the region, and his plans for arms purchases are causes of major concern.
Our policy is very clear: We want to strengthen our ties to the Venezuelan people. We will support democratic elements in
We also want
Many of them are fragile states without the oil wealth of
Mr. Chairman, before concluding, I want to address one other point that has somehow become part of the conventional wisdom: that the
I think that what people have to understand is that the world has changed dramatically in the past two decades, and
During the Cold War, strategic considerations dominated our policy and U.S.-Soviet tensions turned the region into a giant chessboard whereby forestalling the creep of totalitarianism necessarily trumped all other considerations. That approach was not always appreciated. In those days, we were not accused of ignoring the hemisphere, but were accused of being too heavy-handed, further enforcing the historic perception of a “paternalistic”
Today, that has changed.
History has proven to be a most reliable guide as to how nations can best expand prosperity and better lives for their citizens. Open economies and political systems, outward looking trade regimes, and respect for human rights are the indisputable requirements for a 21st century nation-state.
So those who would inveigh against
This is the basis of President Bush’s Millennium Challenge Account, his historic new assistance program that rewards countries making the tough decisions to help themselves.
To be eligible for MCA funds — amounting to $1.5 billion for fiscal year 2005 — nations must govern justly, uphold the rule of law, fight corruption, open their markets, remove barriers to entrepreneurship, and invest in their people.
Three countries from our own hemisphere were among the first 16 to be declared eligible for MCA assistance:
By placing a premium on good governance and effective social investment, the MCA approach should help countries attract investment, compete for trade opportunities, and maximize the benefits of economic assistance funds.
But let us recognize, again, that no amount of external aid will substitute for governments making the tough decisions for themselves to open up their economies, to make their governments more effective and accountable, to make themselves more competitive in a global economy, and to extend the most basic services and opportunities equitably.
To their immense credit, most of the leaders of this region recognize these obligations and are working hard to fulfill them. And as they do so, they have found in the Bush Administration a creative partner, reinforcing the forces of reform.
The good news is that this Hemisphere has many leaders with ambitious social agendas who are adopting sound economic policies and seeking mutually beneficial relations with their neighbors, including the
To conclude, this administration believes strongly that hemispheric progress requires continues American engagement in trade, in security, in support for democracy, and across the board we are deeply involved in expanding peace, prosperity, and freedom in this hemisphere. Democracy is indeed an essential element of our foreign policy agenda.
Thank you very much and I look forward to answering any questions you may have.