Media Center

Press Release


  June 21, 2004

Democracy in the Western Hemisphere would be greatly strengthened if the United States improved its record of “inconsistent engagement” with Latin America, the Chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Richard G. Lugar, said today at the Organization of American States (OAS).

“The United States must treat its own hemisphere as a priority, not as an afterthought,” Lugar told a special session of the OAS Permanent Council. The Indiana Republican said he was confident that President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell are committed to achieving closer ties to Latin America and the Caribbean, but added that for decades, U.S. policies in the region “have suffered from a crisis mentality.”

“We have tended to pay attention to specific Latin American and Caribbean countries only when we perceive a problem,” he said. Although U.S. foreign policy has “understandably” been focused outside the Americas since September 11, 2001, “we cannot make the mistake of adopting a ‘no nukes, no terrorists, no problem’ approach to our own region,” he said. “To do so would squander many important friendships and increase the chances that failed democracies would exist at our doorstep.”

Lugar praised the role of the OAS in fostering democracy in the region and in advancing key political, economic and social commitments made through the Summits of the Americas process. Calling the OAS “an underutilized resource of tremendous potential,” Lugar urged the member states to consider how they can contribute to strengthening the regional organization.

Although the era of military dictatorships ended in the 1970s and 1980s, “democracy is being tested in the hemisphere,” Lugar said. He called for steps to address widespread poverty in the region, broaden property rights and help nations position themselves better so that trade can be an engine of economic growth.

OAS Secretary General César Gaviria welcomed Senator Lugar, noting that this was the first time that the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had addressed the Permanent Council. At a time when the world’s attention seems to be focused single-mindedly on the Middle East and the war on terrorism, the visit “is a clear demonstration of your commitment to the region and your determination to promote positive relations among the peoples of the Americas,” Gaviria said.

In his remarks, the Chair of the Permanent Council, Ambassador Miguel Ruiz-Cabañas of Mexico, underscored the growing importance of support from congresses in the region for OAS priorities and called on the legislative bodies of all OAS member states to consider ratifying important hemispheric treaties.

Reference: E-095/04