Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Empower democracy, rein in tyrants

Empower democracy, rein in tyrants
Sunday marked the conclusion of the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago. This meeting could have offered a valuable opportunity to stand up to the region's despotic leaders who claim that their radical visions -- rather than the voice of the people -- should usher in a new age in our hemisphere. It could have offered an opportunity to move forward on further agreements toward the realization of the Free Trade Area of the Americas. But that was not to be.
With U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton set to appear before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on Wednesday, it is critical that we press for the United States to advance a vigorous agenda that reflects America's long standing commitment to freedom and democracy as the bedrock of our policy in Latin America.
Democratic institutions in the hemisphere are under increasing assault from internal and external actors. Nicaragua's November municipal elections were widely recognized as illegitimate. In Venezuela, President Hugo Chávez has moved beyond attacks on property rights and freedom of press to an explicit and concerted campaign against his opposition. Bolivia and Ecuador have resumed their baseless accusations against the United States and continue to advance their authoritarian agendas.
Preying on the anti-American and anti-democratic sentiment promoted by the regimes of these countries, a realignment is taking place with rogue regimes such as Iran and Cuba. Using Chávez as his personal broker, Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has joined forces with several of the above-mentioned countries to denounce U.S. democratic standards and threaten regional security objectives.
This planned assault on core democratic values and free market principles continued at the summit. Even responsible nations failed to counter the paltry moral equivalency arguments raised by repressive leaders and their enablers.
In fact, the summit discussions remind me of the farcical Durban 2 Conference taking place this week in Geneva. These forums have been hijacked by repressors, tyrants and regime leaders who deprecate democratic principles and ideals.
Several countries in the region used the summit to advocate, not for the rights of the Cuban people, but for the Cuban regime's undeserved return to the inter-American system. But the United States must not allow the picture of this hemisphere to be painted by those who despise liberty, nor by those who wish and work to do us harm. Rather, we must stand up for freedom and make support for our democratic allies the central tenet of our policy in the Western Hemisphere.
Security issues throughout the region are having a direct impact on the ability of responsible nations to advance democratic principles. From narcotrafficking to organized crime, Islamic radicals to the FARC in Colombia, and the influence of tyrannical regimes from Iran to Syria, the hemisphere is in critical need of a comprehensive model of partnership and responsibility that binds leaders to the obligations outlined in the Inter-American Democratic Charter and other such accords.
The United States must not falter in our expectation that countries we work with adhere to these values. Programs like the Millennium Challenge Corporation Compacts should be leveraged to ensure Americans are getting a return on our investments in the hemisphere.
In the aftermath of the summit, it will be up to Secretary Clinton to implement the U.S. agenda and up to the Congress to decide where taxpayer funds are most needed. With great economic challenges at home, we must ensure that our resources are focused on strengthening, supporting and empowering our democratic allies, rather than wasted on efforts that only benefit tyrants and oppressors.
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, is the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

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