Clinton presses reform in Central and South America

By Matthew Lee, AP
Thursday, March 4, 2010

Clinton urges reform in Latin American nations

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is promoting democratic and social reforms in Latin America, where many nations have troubled political histories.

At a meeting Thursday of top officials from 15 countries in Central and South America plus Canada, Clinton urged renewed efforts to combat crime and poverty, and promote the rights of women and marginalized populations through economic development and the rule of law.

“Whether our countries are seeking to defuse threats to democracy, protect against the effects of natural disasters, or build long-term prosperity, it is vital that we spread the benefits of economic growth and integration to more people in more places,” she said.

“For too many people in too many places — including in my own country — opportunity is limited and fleeting,” she told the meeting. She stressed the importance of encouraging entrepreneurs by offering them business advice and easing lending laws.

Some in Latin America have complained that the Obama administration has not fulfilled its high hopes for greater U.S. engagement. Before arriving in Costa Rica, Clinton has defended Washington’s actions and taken on critics of its policies.

“I believe that a number of leaders in the hemisphere who have taken potshots at the United States are not finding much of an audience anymore, and I think that shows that the way we’re handling our engagement is being well received,” she told reporters this week.

She did not say which leaders she was referring to, but Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales have been particularly outspoken.

Neither Venezuela nor Bolivia was to be represented at the meeting, part of the “Pathways to Prosperity” initiative started by former President George W. Bush and expanded by the Obama administration.

The project, which now has 14 member countries, aims to ensure that economic gains from development are used to close gaps between Latin America’s rich and poor.

While citing U.S. efforts in Honduras and earthquake-stricken Haiti and enhanced counternarcotics cooperation throughout the region, Clinton said many challenges remain.

“We’re going to be asking more of a lot of our friends,” she said. “I mean, a number of them are not respecting democratic institutions. A number of them are not taking strong enough stands against the erosion of the rule of law because of the pressure from drug traffickers.”

“And a number of them don’t do enough to invest in their own people,” Clinton said. “Their tax rates are abysmally low, they don’t really ask much of themselves in order to produce the outcomes they say they seek.”

Nonetheless, she said the U.S. was not interested in preaching to Latin America. “It’s a realistic and respectful relationship,” Clinton said.

Clinton, who has already visited Uruguay, Argentina, Chile and Brazil on this trip, will wrap up her current journey on Friday in Guatemala at a meeting of Central American leaders where Honduras will be the primary focus.

There, she will press nations in the Western Hemisphere to restore full relations with Honduras. A democratic election in November ended a political crisis resulting from a coup five months earlier.

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