- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 29, 2000

Regardless of who is the next president of the United States, the Western hemisphere will be a foreign policy priority. Just three months into his term, the new president will travel to Quebec City, Canada to attend the third Summit of the Americas the premier gathering of the hemisphere's democratically elected heads of state.

The timing of the summit will be an opportunity for the new president to highlight our commitment to the hemisphere, continue an agenda of active engagement with the region, and provide a venue for the new president to meet and build ties with his hemispheric counterparts.

Recent challenges to democracy, in Peru, Ecuador and Paraguay highlight the need for the summit. The summit promotes the shared values of democracy, human rights, and economic freedom, while charging countries with the shared responsibility to promote and guard against threats to these values, and to be proactive in their defense.

The summit, which started as an informal gathering by President Clinton in 1994, has developed into an institutional mechanism to identify and address the hemisphere's common political, economic and social agenda.

One of the primary goals of the summit process is to create a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) a sort of common market for the hemisphere. Negotiations are moving ahead, and by 2005 we hope to have a single market for the Americas.

The summit, however, is not confined to trade issues. The summit produced the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption that has been ratified by 20 countries and has encouraged governments at all levels to become more transparent and accessible to citizens. Transportation ministers are working to create better-integrated, safer, and more efficient transportation systems. Governments, regional institutions, and nongovernmental organizations are working to improve the quality of and access to education, modernize telecommunications infrastructure, improve health standards, provide access to credit for the poor and give them legal titles to their land. These are areas that have a long-lasting, positive impact on the people of the hemisphere.

From Nov. 28-30, I, along with representatives from the 34 democratically elected governments of the hemisphere, will meet in Washington to develop a revised common agenda for the hemisphere that will be adopted at the Quebec City Summit. The revised agenda will focus on three priority areas: strengthening democracy, creating prosperity and realizing human potential as well as addressing issues like disaster management, access to quality health care, election systems and anti-corruption programs.

We can take pride in the fact that democracy is winning in this hemisphere. In 1956, there were 11 countries in the Western hemisphere led by dictators; today there is only one, Cuba. By April 2001 in Quebec City, we hope that every person in the hemisphere will live in a democracy.

It is in our mutual interest to work with our hemispheric partners to continue this trend. The summit process has become an indispensable tool to uphold and advance democracy and to promote prosperity in the hemisphere. The Quebec City Summit will properly place the hemisphere at the forefront of our foreign policy agenda in the next administration.

Luis J. Lauredo is the U.S. coordinator for the Summit of the Americas III and the U.S. permanent representative to the Organization of American States.

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