- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 18, 2001

The weekend of April 20-22, the worlds attention will be focused on the third Summit of the Americas that will be held in Quebec, Canada. The leaders of 34 American nations, including President George W. Bush, will meet to discuss how to promote democracy, and regional trade and prosperity, while combating international crime, including illegal drug trafficking. Cuba is the only nation in the Western Hemisphere not invited to the summit. This because its government is the only remaining dictatorship in the Americas, and the summit has been limited to democratic countries since it was first held in Miami in 1995.

Thousands will descend on the quaint capital of Quebec province for this event. Many of these will be delegates to the summit and journalists covering the meeting. But thousands of others will come to disrupt the meeting and protest issues that are anathema to the radical left and anarchists like globalization, free trade and international capitalism.

These demonstrations have become part and parcel of international gatherings in recent years and will doubtless grab most of the headlines coming out of Quebec. The real importance of the Quebec summit lies elsewhere, however.

First, the summit will help underscore the importance that the Western Hemisphere´s leaders attach to increasing the solidarity and integration of the Americas. One of the messages coming out of Quebec will be that the Americas do matter. It will also mark the first time that President Bush participates in a major international forum and the first opportunity for most Latin leaders to meet with him. During this "sizing up," a chemistry will be generated that will set the tone for Western Hemispheric relations in the coming years.

Second, the leaders of the Americas will discuss a greater integration of their economies. The United States, Canada and Mexico entered into North American Free Trade Agreement in the mid-1990s and the enhanced Caribbean Basin Initiative was approved in 2000. But a hemisphere-wide trade pact has so far proven elusive. The summit´s script calls for the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) to go into effect by 2005. This commitment should be confirmed in Quebec. Some countries with strong protectionist tendencies may favor a more gradual approach to FTAA. Still others, like the Central American nations that welcome the challenges of globalization, will seek FTAA on an accelerated timetable and will lobby for a free trade agreement between Central America and the United States and Canada by, say, 2002 as an interim step.

In any event, free trade and regional integration will be on center stage at the summit, and for good reason. Closer economic integration is a win-win situation for all involved. While FTAA will entail turbulence for some outdated, inefficient industries both north and south of the Rio Grande, it harbors brighter prospects for all of the Americas. This, in turn, will translate into greater stability, diminished inequalities between the hemisphere´s nations and less illegal immigration. It also means that booming U.S. exports to Latin America will grow still more. In 2000, these surpassed the $170 billion mark dwarfing American exports to the European Union and helped create more than 500,000 jobs.

Third, the importance of strengthening democracy in the hemisphere will be squarely addressed in Quebec. Specifically, the hemisphere´s leaders will give consideration to the adoption of a so-called democracy clause that would limit participation in the summit and in its fruits including free trade to democratic countries. This is a bold and controversial initiative. It would, for instance, not only preclude Cuba from joining the club until it successfully completes a transition to democracy, but would also penalize currently democratic countries that were to backslide into dictatorship.

Some countries may oppose the democracy clause as interference in their internal affairs. But I view the clause as a frank recognition that democratization is not as several recent cases have suggested irreversible. It is, instead, a fragile process that requires an all-hands effort to preserve.

Nicaragua has lived through dictatorships of the right and of the left, and its people have paid a high price for these. With this in mind and because my government sees the democracy clause as a useful firewall against backsliding, Nicaragua will endorse a reasonably crafted democracy clause and support its adoption by other summit nations.

Francisco X. Aguirre-Sacasa is the foreign minister of Nicaragua.

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