- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 24, 2005

Agenda for Americas

Latin America specialists yesterday issued a desperate call for the United States to devote more attention to the political, economic and security risks in the hemisphere.

“U.S. policy in the Americas is not adequately serving the interests of either the United States or the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean,” said Peter Hakim, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, who released the group’s “Agenda for the Americas 2005.”

Many democratic governments in the region are “weak and vulnerable” because of poverty, drug trafficking and corruption, according to the report prepared by a task force that included former Latin America presidents and officials from the Clinton and first Bush administrations.

They endorsed President Bush’s proposals for immigration reform and guest-worker programs, urged Congress to pass free-trade agreements and called on Washington to help the region fight crime and strengthen democracy. They also urged the United States to lift its sanctions against Cuba but continue to press for political reforms on the communist island.

“U.S. security is at stake in Latin America,” they said. “A few countries, notably Haiti, Venezuela and Colombia, are continuing sources of regional instability.

“The region is the origin of most illicit drugs consumed by Americans. Unresolved border disputes in Latin America threaten peace in the hemisphere. Neither the United States nor the nations of Latin America can successfully deal with these troubling situations alone.”

The report recognizes crime and poverty as being among the region’s most pressing problems.

“Crime is a worsening nightmare for most Latin Americans,” the report said. “The region leads the world in kidnappings. Its homicide rate is twice the global average. In Central America, youth gangs have thrown the cities into turmoil.”

Drug smuggling, which is also a source of terrorist financing, compounds the security risks in the region, the report noted.

Haiti is “virtually a failed state that threatens violence and mass migration of its people to the United States and neighboring countries,” the report said. It also criticized leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for showing “little respect for democratic procedures.”

His oil-rich nation “remains bitterly polarized, and its representative institutions are barely functioning,” the report said.

The United States can help solve many of the problems by promoting economic prosperity through free-trade agreements and immigration policies that will encourage legal guest-worker programs, the report said.

Legal and illegal immigrants in the United States send home more than $30 billion a year to relatives, making those remittances an essential source of income for many Latin American and Caribbean nations.

The task force was chaired by Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a former president of Brazil, and Carla Hills, U.S. trade representative under the first President Bush. The members included former Presidents Jorge Quiroga of Bolivia and Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico, and Thomas F. McLarty III, who served as a special envoy for Latin America under President Clinton.

China trafficking

The U.S. ambassador to China yesterday warned of the growing dangers of drug smuggling and terrorism, as he signed a bilateral law-enforcement agreement.

Ambassador Clark Randt Jr. said the measure will establish a working group with officials of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and China’s Public Security Bureau.

“Despite our solid progress, terrorism, narcotics trafficking and human smuggling have not abated as major dangers to our societies,” he said. “The United States and China together must directly combat these threats by attacking their sources of funding and support.”

The agreement was signed during a meeting in Beijing of the U.S.-Chinese liaison group on law enforcement.

c Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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