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Bush Calls for Expansion of Democracy, Free Trade in Americas

  • Jim Teeple

President Bush delivers remarks at the 35th Organization of American States General Assembly
President Bush on Monday called for expanding free trade and strengthening democracy in the Americas. Mr. Bush made his remarks at the 35th General Assembly meeting of the Organization of American States, meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Mr. Bush told the OAS foreign ministers that democracy is on the march in Central Asia and the Middle East, and all efforts should be made to strengthen democratic governments in the Americas.

Mr. Bush echoed remarks made on Sunday by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who urged the OAS delegates to strengthen the Inter-American Charter, which says countries in the region should work together to apply pressure on countries that undermine democratic practices, or violate human rights.

A U.S. proposal at this year's OAS meeting calls for governments that violate the charter to be held accountable by their peers. Mr. Bush told the OAS foreign ministers, while democracy is now the rule rather than the exception in the region, some governments are backsliding when it comes to democratic principles.

"In the new Americas of the 21st Century, bringing a better life to our people requires choosing between two competing visions," he said. "One offers a vision of hope. It is founded on representative government, integration of global markets and a faith in the transformative power in individual lives. The other seeks to roll back the democratic progress of the past two decades by playing to fear, pitting neighbor against neighbor and blaming others for their own failures to provide for their people."

The U.S. proposal has been welcomed by some countries, such as Chile, Panama and Peru, but others, like Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador and especially Venezuela, have rejected it, calling it an infringement on their sovereignty. Speaking to the OAS on Monday, Venezuela's foreign minister, Ali Rodriguez, strongly criticized the proposal.

Mr. Bush also said that the dramatic gains in the democracy over the past generation in the Americas should be extended to Cuba. South Florida is home to many Cuban-exiles and Mr. Bush, and his brother Jeb, the governor of Florida, have extensive political ties here.

In his remarks on Monday, Mr. Bush also called on the U.S. Congress to approve the Central American Free Trade Agreement, known as CAFTA. The agreement, if passed, will break down tariff barriers between Central American nations, the Dominican Republic and the United States.

"By reducing tariffs on U.S. goods, all citizens in these countries will enjoy better goods at lower prices," he said. "These lower prices will give Central American businesses and farmers less costly access to U.S. machinery and equipment, which will make them more competitive and help those economies grow. By bringing economic growth to Central America, CAFTA will contribute to the rise of a vibrant middle class."

CAFTA is strongly opposed by some agricultural interests and labor unions in both the United States and Central American nations, who say it will result in the loss of many jobs.

There have been scattered protests by anti-globalization activists and some labor union representatives at this year's OAS meeting, but police report no serious incidents. An extremely heavy security presence surrounds the OAS meeting site, raising complaints from even some delegates, who have been delayed from attending some of the proceedings by numerous checkpoints and security cordons.

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