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Clinton Urges Strengthened Democratic Institutions in Americas

By Stephen Kaufman
Staff Writer

Washington — The Obama administration wants to help countries in the Western Hemisphere strengthen their democratic institutions so their citizens can see democracy is delivering for them and providing them with fundamental human freedoms, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said December 11.

Speaking in Washington, Clinton said there is a broad agreement across the region on the basic principles of freedom and democracy.

“Now is the time to go forward with these principles as our foundation and our guide,” she said. It means holding periodic elections in accordance with national constitutions and laws, elections that result in governments that are “effective, accountable and responsive to the needs of their citizens.”

“It means a free press. It means protection of minorities. It means an independent judiciary. It means all of the institutional elements that make democracy sustainable,” Clinton said.

For example, through programs like the Pathways to Prosperity initiative, the Obama administration is helping to empower women in the region “as drivers of economic and social progress,” by partnering them with experienced businesswomen to serve as models and mentors. “There are new ways of doing business founded on mutual respect and common vision, but also on shared responsibility,” Clinton said.

The United States is concerned about leaders who, after being fairly elected, begin undermining “the constitutional and democratic order, the private sector, the rights of people to be free from harassment, oppression, to be able to participate fully in their society,” she said.

Democracy “is not about individual leaders; it is about strong institutions,” Clinton said. It should be “an article of faith” that elected leaders must not devote themselves to furthering their own positions and power bases, but instead respect the rights of those who elected them to office. They should use their power to “build up the democracy so that democratic development and economic development can go hand in hand,” she said.

The Obama administration has expressed concerns over the governments in Venezuela and Nicaragua, and will continue to do so, Clinton said. “It’s important that we sound a strong call to people and to leaders to really stay on the path of democracy.”

She also expressed hope that “in the not-too-distant future” there will be a democratic Cuba, which Clinton described as “something that would be extraordinarily positive for our hemisphere.”

Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela said the region is still grappling with the problems of lingering poverty and public insecurity caused by organized and petty crime.

“We need to address the problems of inequality and social justice in various areas,” he said, including greater attention to continuing patterns of exclusion and discrimination against minorities in the region.

However, the assistant secretary said there are also countries where the majority population, especially indigenous people, has been excluded from government. Bolivia offers an important example of change, he said.

“What you have seen in Bolivia is really, for the first time, indigenous populations … being able to assert themselves politically through a democratic political process. We welcome that phenomenon,” he said.

Democracy in the region is “finally allowing the empowerment of excluded sectors,” he said.

Speaking to reporters later in the day, Valenzuela said governments in the region had changed dramatically from the Cold War period, and the Obama administration is excited by the prospect of dealing with the hemisphere in a new tone of mutual respect and mutual engagement to solve common problems.

“What I see when I look at the Western Hemisphere is a continent that only as recently as 30 years ago had authoritarian governments in practically every one of the nations,” he said, as well as many debilitating civil conflicts.

“That’s gone. We’re in a different kind of world,” Valenzuela said. “We’re in a world where there’s much more room for collaborative work, for work that’s based on mutual respect.”

The assistant secretary will be making his first visit to South America as assistant secretary, visiting Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay December 13–18, which he called a “courtesy trip.”

“I’m going to go down to get to know some of my counterparts in some of these places, in these capitals. I want to listen. I want to explore new avenues in which we might be able to collaborate on various things moving forward,” he said.

(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.  Web site:
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