The US Can Be a Constructive Force in Latin America

WHOEVER wins the presidential election, the protection and promotion of democracy will be a priority for US policy toward Latin America. A bipartisan consensus in the United States regards democratic politics and human rights as essential objectives of US foreign policy - nowhere more so than in this hemisphere.

Three separate challenges must be confronted. First, countries with freely elected governments need to be assisted to deepen and consolidate their democratic gains so they take firm root; if it is to survive, democracy must be made more vigorous in most of Latin America. Second, effective means must be found promptly to repair the democratic process in those countries, like Haiti and Peru, where it has broken down. Third, peaceful democratic change must be encouraged in Cuba, where Castro still openly re jects constitutional democracy.

Here is an agenda:

1. The US must work together with other democratic nations to advance democracy. Western Hemisphere governments have made a collective commitment to turn the Organization of American States (OAS) into a more effective instrument for fostering democratic politics and restoring democracy where it has been displaced. That commitment is being put into practice through election monitoring, mediation of conflicts, and supervising the implementation of peace accords. The OAS has also been leading a unified resp onse to the ruptures of democratic rule in Peru and Haiti, although without much success.

The US should encourage and join with other nations to bolster further the capacity of the OAS to carry out the necessary tasks to build and defend democracy. The US must consistently avoid the temptation of unilateral intervention.

2. As they have done in Nicaragua and El Salvador, the US and other nations of the Americas need to prod and help countries achieve negotiated settlements of guerrilla conflicts ending the vicious circle of violence and counterviolence that undermine the institutions, procedures, and values of democracy. The human rights abuses of Latin American security forces also must be curtailed.

3. The US can help to increase civilian control of military forces in Latin America: by reviewing all of its military-assistance programs to make sure they reinforce, not weaken, civilian authority; by contributing to the preparation of Latin American civilians to manage national-security policy; by fostering national and regional dialogues among civilian and military officials to take a fresh look at the mission, size, weapons, and costs of Latin America's armed forces; and by encouraging the internatio nal financial institutions to monitor military spending and subject it to the same cost-cutting measures as those of civilian agencies.

4. The US should join with other nations to fortify democratic institutions, public and private, throughout the hemisphere. Whenever national elections are endangered by manipulation or violence, governments should be pressed to accept international observers. Nonpartisan assistance should be made available to strengthen legislatures and judicial systems. Similar help should be provided to bolster nongovernmental organizations - political parties, trade unions, business and consumer groups, civic associa tions, and community organizations - through which the demands of ordinary people can be expressed.

5. The US must increase market access for Latin American products. This is the best way to help the region regain its economic health and overcome the economic slowdown, sharp inequalities, and pervasive poverty that exacerbate all other threats to democratic governance in Latin America. Washington also should reconsider the drastic reduction of its aid efforts, which may well be frustrating efforts toward national reconciliation and economic reconstruction that are so essential for stable democratic dev elopment. And the US should press the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and other international agencies to step up their support for anti-poverty programs in Latin America. Social injustice is fundamentally incompatible with democracy.

6. The US government has the opportunity to work cooperatively with the nations of Latin America to promote peaceful democratic change in Cuba. What is required is that, first, the US unambiguously back the efforts of Latin American governments to engage the Cuban government and to press for political opening in Cuba; second, that Washington actively encourage the free flow of information and ideas to the Cubans by exempting from its embargo all transactions that foster communications with the people of Cuba; and, third, that the US be prepared to move toward more normal economic and diplomatic relations with Cuba in response to positive steps taken by the Cuban government (such as freeing political prisoners).

There is now wide agreement in the US that promoting democracy in Latin America advances US interests and values. The countries of the region are prepared more than ever before to join us in the effort. This is the time to move forward forcefully - and cooperatively.

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