Media Center

Press Release


  September 17, 2008

United States Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), participating at an Organization of American States (OAS) forum, today called for a Latin America trust for social and economic development, which would complement existing U.S. assistance to the countries of the region and would be an important mechanism to bring regional solutions to regional problems.

Senator Menendez put forward the proposal as he spoke alongside another U.S. Senator, Mel Martinez (R-FL), during the 10th OAS Policy Roundtable, held at the Organization’s headquarters under the title, “Opportunities and Challenges in the Western Hemisphere: Perspectives from the United States Congress.”

Secretary General José Miguel Insulza thanked the U.S. senators and welcomed their particular emphasis on the important issues of democracy, immigration, trade, crime and drugs. “The whole point here is our common agenda. What we have to do is to promote good dialogue to cooperate on our common agenda,” said Insulza, noting this would continue at the Fifth Summit of the Americas, to be held in Trinidad and Tobago, in April 2009.

Senator Menendez further stated that the proposed trust could be linked to a Social Investment and Economic Development of the Americas Act, now before Congress, that would provide $2.5 billion over ten years, through both the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

Focusing his presentation on strategies for increased cooperation in immigration, citizen security and economic development, Menendez highlighted ongoing work to pass comprehensive immigration reform, making the case for “smart borders, not closed borders.” He went on to argue that building fences harms US interests, alienates people with symbols of exclusion, and makes it less feasible to collaborate on other migration control and counter terrorism priorities.

“Rather than building fences, we need to refocus on building friendships and shared alliances, so that we can build trust and work together on immigration,” he declared, noting as well an “opportunity deficit” that must be addressed as it “fuels mass migration in the first place.”

Martinez, the Senator from Florida, meanwhile asserted that the United States has maintained an important supporting role and has always been “prepared to assist where we are welcome.” He said he takes seriously the mandate of the OAS charter to promote and defend democracy, which continues and should remain the primary goal of the region.

Security in the hemisphere being “one of our highest priorities,” Senator Martinez said “the peace and security of the people of the region must exist before other efforts to improve lives can really take root.” He underscored his pledge to “continue to support our efforts to keep the region secure, working towards the success of initiatives like Mérida and Plan Colombia,” efforts that he identified as allowing the US to demonstrate its commitment to the region.

Senator Martinez stressed that “with every challenge we face in the region, we also have opportunities to promote and consolidate democracies, to promote prosperity, and to invest in people. In all of these areas we can and will continue to demonstrate our commitment to the Western Hemisphere.” He cited the Mérida Initiative as a demonstration of the United States’ commitment to partner with governments in Mexico and Central America to confront criminal organizations whose actions plague the region.

Martinez also referenced the Social Investment and Economic Development of the Americas Act on which he collaborates, saying it represents “an innovative approach to addressing our commitment to the region into the next decade.” The proposed legislation addresses basic development issues such as housing, education and health care and concentrates on economic development such as creating strong investment climate, he explained.

Lauding the OAS as the principal multilateral institution in the hemisphere, he said the hemispheric body “also has leadership responsibilities and opportunities.” He went on to state that “there is no time like the present for the OAS to lead in this region.”

U.S. Permanent Representative to the OAS Ambassador Hector Morales introduced the Senators, while Irene Klinger, Director of the Department of International Affairs, moderated the 10th OAS Policy Roundtable that also involved an interactive session with Member State ambassadors and other members of the audience asking questions and offering commentaries on a range of topics.

Reference: E-350/08