U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says free trade is the key to reducing poverty and inequality in Latin America.

Speaking Wednesday in Washington, Rice repeated that the United States wants a free trade zone stretching from Canada to the tip of South America.

She spoke at the annual meeting of the Council of the Americas.

Rice said that for democracies to be effective, they must invest in their people, provide security and encourage economic growth and development.

She said the United States wants to work with all Latin American governments that share those democratic ideals. She also said the U.S. has worked tirelessly for debt relief to the poorest countries.

The president of Uruguay, Tabare Vazquez, told the forum that economic growth must benefit all the citizens of a country, and that countries cannot think of development without freedom, peace and democracy.