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Hearing before the Senate Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Peace Corps and Narcotics Affairs

Statement of Senator Chris Dodd, Chairman

April 16, 2002

Today, the Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Peace Corps, and Narcotics Affairs holds the first in a series of hearings whose purpose is to assess the challenges to economic growth, democracy and the rule of law facing countries in the Western Hemisphere -- challenges in some cases so daunting that they threaten fundamental institutions of democracy throughout the hemisphere. Among the questions that these hearings will focus on are whether existing U.S. policies are fully responsive to the current circumstances that exist in the Americas, or whether those policies should be altered in order to better serve U.S. economic, political and national security interests in the Hemisphere.

In recent years, with instability in the Balkans, the Middle East, and South Asia, there has been a tendency for U.S. policymakers to neglect our closest neighbors to be complacent that all is well in the Americas. How many times in the recent past have we heard U.S. policymakers at some point in a presentation about the state of this hemisphere proudly announce that all but one of the nations in the region have democratically elected governments? It may sound like a cliche but my response to that observation is that "democracy is more than simply having periodic elections." We will not have sustainable democracy in this hemisphere in the coming decade unless we do more to support and nurture serious governmental and civic institutions capable of protecting the rights of citizens and meeting their needs and aspirations.

Events over the last few days in Caracas have no doubt called into question that complacency at least temporarily. While all the details of the attempted coup in Venezuela are not yet known, what is clear is that the vast majority of governments in the hemisphere lived up to their responsibilities under the InterAmerican Democratic Charter and denounced the unconstitutional efforts to take power from a government which had been freely elected. I am extremely disappointed that rather than leading the effort to reaffirm the region's commitment to the democratic principles outlined in the OAS Charter, only belatedly did the United States join with other OAS members to respond to the Venezuelan crisis. I would be the last one to defend all of the decisions and policies of the Chavez administration, but to stand silent while the illegal ouster of a government is occurring is deeply troubling and will have profound implications for hemispheric democracy. I know that Secretary Powell is extremely preoccupied with events in the Middle East, but I would hope that in the future there would be more adult supervision of the policy formulation as it related to our own hemisphere. And to President Chavez I would simply say, "you have been given a second chance don't waste it. Live up to the responsibilities you assumed as president of your country."

It is not just Venezuelan democracy that stands at risk at this moment. Colombian institutions are under siege both by drug traffickers and irregular paramilitary forces on the left and right of the political spectrum. Argentina's current crisis may be rooted in the near economic collapse of the country, but the impact on democratic institutions and the Argentine people's faith in their government institutions has been devastating. Central America is suffering as well from a decade of neglect it is a region that we have allowed to slip quietly into despair. The nations of Central America have faced an astounding array of natural disasters, fever outbreaks, and climactic misfortunes over the past several years. The nations of the Caribbean are also at risk, particularly in the country of Haiti where human misery is the more pervasive than anywhere else in the region. Yet Haitian political leaders are unable to resolve their differences so that the Haitian people can have a functioning government focused on their pressing needs: security, basic public health services, education, jobs, shelter and food.

While any of the subjects I have just mentioned could be the focus of today's first hearing on the state of the Hemisphere, it seemed to me that is was most appropriate to begin our review by focusing on the most important and promising of our hemispheric relationships our relations with Mexico and the Fox Administration. It is no accident that President Bush made relations with the Fox Administration a first priority of his new administration. The two leaders have met four times since President Bush assumed office last year, and both appear determined to make progress on the bilateral agenda.

We share so much in common with our neighbors to the South. Many Americans have roots in Mexico. Our economies are interdependent Mexico is our second largest trading partner with bilateral trade flows exceeding $250 billion annually. Our borders are a beehive of activities with more 800,000 individuals and 250,000 vehicles crossing the U.S./Mexico border daily. More important even that our economic ties are our shared values which allow us to remain close partners even when issues arise between us that are difficult to resolve.

The U.S./Mexico bilateral relationship is an important cornerstone in fashioning a successful partnership with countries throughout the Americas it is so important that we work at that relationship until we get it right.

We all know that the U.S./ Mexican agenda is an ambitious and challenging one: migration, border security, drugs, trade, investment, energy and economic development. But it is achievable, and our success or failure to get it right will have a direct bearing on the prosperity of both the United States and Mexico, especially in border communities whose lives, security and economic well being are inextricably linked.

We are honored to have with us today the Chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Silvestre Reyes who represents the Sixteenth District in Texas (the El Paso area) who can speak with first hand knowledge about the importance of the U.S./Mexican relationship for border states as well as the importance of finding the right solutions to the issues on the bilateral agenda.

President Bush and President Fox have established a strong relationship that should make resolution of even the thorniest issues possible. It is my hope that the Administration witnesses who have joined us this afternoon will outline the Administration's plans for making progress on that agenda and a timetable for doing so. At the core of that agenda is clearly the issue of immigration. With more than 3 million undocumented Mexican living and working in communities throughout the United States, it is an issue that is not going to go away. It is an issue that has implications for other topics on the bilateral agenda not the least of those being U.S. security interests. Our public witnesses representing organized labor and the business community are but one more concrete demonstration that the U.S./Mexican relationship is an important one and one where there is more commonality of opinion than disagreement.

Making progress on the U.S./Mexican bilateral agenda is important to the Hemisphere writ large. U.S. cooperation and assistance in consolidating Mexico's economic and political reforms will be an important signal to other governments in the Americas. It will also enhance President Fox's authority as a regional leader and better enable him to work in partnership with the United States in confronting issues such as corruption, drug trafficking and terrorism which threaten the integrity of governments throughout the region and undermine popular support for democratic institutions and values -- One more reason for placing Mexico first on the Subcommittee agenda.

I look forward to hearing from all of our witnesses today, but first let me turn to Senator Chafee, Ranking Member of the Subcommittee, for any opening remarks that he may have. Following those remarks we will welcome our colleague, Silvestre Reyes chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to be followed by our panel of administration witnesses.