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Global prosperity and sound business partnerships

Richard L. Armitage
 Deputy Secretary of State
 Remarks at 2003 Hispanic Business Roundtable
Washington, DC
May 19, 2003

Good afternoon. I guess, well, it's still morning technically. I can't tell you how happy I am to be here. You have just allowed me to escape a budget hearing. It's budget time around here. We have to hold budget hearings for each of the regional and functional bureaus, and the whole family of the State Department. So I am truly, truly delighted to be here.

I am also delighted to be here because I am in an audience here that includes business leaders from some of the largest corporations in the world -- and from, frankly, some of the smallest businesses in the neighborhood. I think it's safe to say, however, that you all have something in common, and that is the firm determination to succeed. Indeed, I feel my net worth rising just being in the room with you.

But you also share a desire to lock in the gains of your success, to look for new opportunities and new markets, or you wouldn't be here in the first place. So I congratulate you for that innovative spirit. This is the raw dynamism, renewed generation after generation, that has made this a great nation.

I want to thank my colleagues for their contribution: Secretaries Snow and Evans, Administrator Barreto, Associate Trade Representative Shiner, Counselor Gonzales. Taken together, I am quite sure that they told you everything there is to know about the commerce and the trade opportunities of Latin America and why this country, with the fifth largest Spanish-speaking population in the world, should have such a comparative advantage. Although I concede we may have some competition from our good friend and good ally, Spain.

In any case, there has been much attention trained on the Spanish-speaking population in the United States as a vibrant and growing domestic market. But the more than 33 million people in this country who trace their heritage to the nations of Latin America can act, if you'll allow me to use a military term, as a force multiplier, giving us access to hundreds of millions more people around the world. People to whom we have ties not just of opportunity and proximity, but ties of language and culture, and, in many cases, ties of the heartstrings.

Again, this is something you were all well-aware of before you came here today, something you have no doubt explored in great detail this morning. So, aside from thanking you for your participation, I'd like to take a few moments to talk to you about our broader foreign policy agenda. And why we consider it so important to enlist the perspective and the energy of everyone in this room in pursuing this policy.

You have come here to our Department of State at a busy time of high stakes diplomacy for this department. Our military performed brilliantly in Iraq, and now the dedicated men and women of this department are working assiduously to win the peace. We have a similar, and I must say, equally challenging mission with our partners in Afghanistan. All while we continue to fight terrorism, which, once again this morning, as we sit here, reared its head in Northern Israel with further casualties and further losses. The effort to fight terrorism is one that spans, in a variety of ways, 180 nations – a massive diplomatic undertaking. But as we saw in Saudi Arabia and in Morocco and again in Israel this weekend and today, it is an undertaking of the most vital importance. At the same time, we continue to work with willing partners on everything from North Korea's nuclear weapons, to the future of our transatlantic alliance.

I think it is a legitimate question to ask where the countries of Latin America fit into this whirlwind of urgency. And, indeed, there are those among you, I'm sure, who would ask if these nations fit in at all. Well, I want to assure you from the outset, President Bush has had a very clear view of the importance of relations within this hemisphere. Immigration, narcotics trade, humanitarian assistance are some of the critical issues that are on the table. Now, in truth, they have been for previous administrations.

But we believe this Administration also has a unique opportunity to see our relations within this hemisphere not just in bilateral or regional terms, but as an important part of a global approach to security and a global approach to prosperity. I am sure, as members of the business community, you would agree that economic prosperity in Panama, in Argentina, or, for that matter, Peoria, depends on what happens in the Middle East, in East Asia or in Europe, and all points in between, not just what happens within this hemisphere.

So, in that sense, while we will always cherish our national distinctions and recognize our differences, boundaries fixed in territory are somewhat less relevant today than in the past. Certainly, in the sense that the great threats of our day, from terrorism to narcotics trafficking to disease, have no respect for lines on a map. And for that matter, the great opportunities of our time – trade, education, technology, communications – are less constrained by geography as well.

The ties between this country and those of Latin America, everything from proximity to family, these ties only tighten that intertwining effect. So it comes as no surprise that Latin American countries don't just have issues on the table, they have a seat at the table when it comes to the most important challenges and opportunities of the day.

Quite literally, Chile and Mexico today have a seat on the UN Security Council where later today we'll be tabling the post-Saddam Hussein resolution concerning the future of Iraq. And knowing the frequency with which Secretary Powell speaks to his Mexican and Chilean counterparts, I can assure you that he places a very high priority indeed on the role those two countries play when it comes to matters of global significance.

All of our hemispheric partners form a link in the chain of global security when it comes to terrorism. So we have been working together across the region with great success to secure our borders, to secure our ports and air travel, while still allowing the freest possible flow of goods and people. But we are also working together to curb terrorist financing, to share both information and intelligence, and to dismantle terrorist support networks in the region, as well as, of course, around the world. And then there is Iraq, where the scenes we see today of people frantically digging in the dirt of mass graves for some scrap of cloth or length of bone to identify a loved one will surely be among the most unforgettable images of this century.

Seven countries of the hemisphere joined the coalition of the willing to disarm Iraq's dictator. Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, all, while some of these nations may have offered modest contributions in terms of tangible military support, all made a tremendous commitment of political and diplomatic support. As Secretary Powell recently said, these countries followed the lead of Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States in making "a courageous stand for what is right, what is necessary and what is just."

I think these are all solid indicators that the nations of the region are beginning to step up to their full potential as actors on the world stage, but there are some high hurdles in the way, many of which are actually put in place by the governments of the region. Secretary Powell recently said to the Council of Americas, "We can combat terrorism and trafficking. We can fight disease. We can strengthen human ties. We can expand trade, but none of our efforts will be enough, if men and women lack confidence in their democracies, and lack confidence in their prospects for a better future." The institutions of democracy and free markets are still not as strong as they need to be across Latin America and the Caribbean, and we see the symptoms of that in corruption, inconsistency of the rule of law and the rule of regulation, an underdeveloped entrepreneurial spirit and an inadequate education system.

Now, there are certainly exceptions to those generalizations I have just made. And for that matter, the overall trend has been one of improvement. Indeed, when we think back to where we were just 20 years ago, or if we just look at the economic and political mess and human misery that is Cuba today, it is remarkable how much the region has changed for the better.

Quality of life has improved across so many indicators, from life expectancy to infant mortality. And I believe the Free Trade Area of the Americas and other agreements, as well as the Summit of the Americas, all of which I am sure you have heard a lot about today, are good measures of communal success. Indeed, when we in this America look around the world, we see tremendous potential for partnership in our region.

Your government is constantly working to develop those partnerships through bilateral missions and through trade negotiations. But there are other tools, such as the Millennium Challenge Account, a new $5 billion foreign aid program, for which a number of countries in the region will be eligible. And, of course, we continue to look to this hemisphere for cooperation in a variety of multilateral settings from the OAS to the aforementioned United Nations.

But one thing we can't do is actually make other nations deliver on the promise of their potential. Only the governments of those nations can do that. But all of you, in our view, can certainly help in that regard. These countries are valuable markets. Our markets are valuable to those countries. We will only realize these opportunities and see the benefits if you make it clear what the business climate has to look like in order for you to invest and in order for you to stay. And if you hold these governments to that high standard, you'll be helping to create the conditions that will extend your success and will also extend the stability and prosperity of the region, and extend the region's influence on global affairs.

In this world, where boundaries sometimes exist more on paper and in the past than in our daily reality, no company, and indeed no country can afford to go it alone. Ultimately, the success of this country, both in terms of our economy and our security, depends on the success of our partners. This is especially true of the success of our neighbors. And so I can assure you, without fear of contradiction, that the United States Government will continue to seek partnerships with the governments of our hemisphere on our common bilateral, regional, global opportunities, as well as the threats we face.

It's my hope that with this forum today, we have helped establish a partnership with all of you and a dialogue about the ways in which we can reinforce each other's success. And I also hope that your sense of possibility has been expanded by this occasion. This is what we hoped to achieve, and that you will seek broader partnerships with each other and with your counterparts across the Americas.

I thank you very much for all of the time you have invested in this conference. We have got no question in our minds but that it will bear tremendous dividends for us all. Thank you very, very much for your participation.

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