U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Tuesday that Venezuela's leftist government and its policies will be changed by the Venezuelan people over time, without direct U.S. action. He also told a Washington meeting of political and business leaders from North and South America that they need to work together to fight instability and ensure continued security and prosperity.
Secretary Rumsfeld disputed the contention of one questioner at the event, who suggested that the only way to return Venezuela to democracy is for the United States to intervene.
"We've seen countries go through periods where they behave in a way that ultimately is seen to not be in the interests of their people, and eventually something changes that. So I don't know that I agree with the premise of your question, in fact, I'm quite sure I don't," said Mr. Rumsfeld.
Mr. Rumsfeld said he used to visit Venezuela when he worked in private industry, and he believes the country's people will do something to change the current situation before long.
"Down deep inside, I think they'd like to be living in a country that's respected and where they have the freedoms to do what they wish. And my guess is they will again in my lifetime," he added.
Secretary Rumsfeld told the meeting of the Council of the Americas that the biggest challenge to continued political and economic progress in Latin America is instability, which he said is fostered by drug smugglers and other criminal gangs. He said the countries of the region need to work together to fight that instability, or they will risk all the progress of recent decades.
"We have to help governments provide for the basic security for their citizens. A lack of security calls into question the value of freedom itself," he noted.
Mr. Rumsfeld said this is a "magic moment" for Latin America. He said the region faces considerable challenges but also has great promise, and he said the Untied States will continue to be involved in promoting progress, including military cooperation to fight the destabilizing elements.