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May 7, 08

NEWS / U.S. Seeks Social Justice and Security in the Americas, Says Bush

Regional partnerships delivering development, prosperity, stability

By David I. McKeeby
Staff Writer

Washington -- The United States is committed to building partnerships with its neighbors to promote social justice, opportunity and security for the Americas, says President Bush.

“A place where basic necessities, like health care and education, are not too much for any child to dream about, a place where poverty gives way to prosperity,” Bush said in a May 7 keynote address to the 38th Annual Conference of the Americas.

“A place, above all, where freedom is the birthright of every citizen,” he added, calling on Cuba’s post-Fidel Castro leadership to abandon its “empty gestures” in favor of free elections and respect for human rights.

Since coming to office, the Bush administration has doubled U.S. aid to the Western Hemisphere and launched new initiatives, such as the Millennium Challenge Corporation, to help communities across Latin America realize new business and educational opportunities. U.S. military medical missions have delivered health care to more than 300,000 of the region’s poorest residents, while other programs have helped governments confront corruption and effectively deliver essential services.

“Nearly one out of four people in Latin America lives on $2 a day,” said Bush. “Children never finish grade school. Mothers have trouble finding a doctor. In the age of growing prosperity and abundance, this is a problem that the United States must take seriously.”

Trade is essential to long-term prosperity in the region, Bush said, urging members of the U.S. Congress to approve pending free-trade agreements with Panama and Colombia, an important regional partner confronted with serious security challenges from terrorism and drug trafficking from groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

“Colombia remains under intense pressure in the region. It faces a continuing assault from the terrorist group known as FARC, which seizes hostages and murders innocent civilians. Colombia faces a hostile and anti-American neighbor in Venezuela, where the regime has forged an alliance with Cuba, collaborated with FARC terrorists and provided sanctuary to FARC units,” he said.

Colombia’s challenge is shared by the entire region, Bush said, and the new Merida Initiative, a effort among Mexico, the United States and regional governments to confront drug trafficking, will complement U.S. progress in reducing domestic demand for illegal drugs.


While global concerns over Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its support for terrorists in Iraq and across the Middle East are well known, Tehran also sees new inroads into the Americas as a means of breaking free from growing international isolation, warns a top U.S. diplomat.

“It’s a way to push back on us,” Thomas Shannon, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, said in opening remarks to the conference earlier in the day. “Our broader concern is that [Iran] ... maintains that capacity in the Americas as a threat against us in the event of any conflict.”

Even as the Americas have pursued closer political and economic ties in recent years, Iranian-backed terrorist groups Hezbollah and Hamas have built relationships of their own with terrorist groups that are active in the Americas, said Shannon. The State Department’s 2007 Country Reports on Terrorism, released April 30, cites long-standing concerns that both groups may be raising funds in the Argentina-Brazil-Paraguay “Tri-Border Area,” through trafficking in arms and illegal drugs, money laundering and document fraud.

“We urge their intelligence services and their police services to monitor this activity with great care,” says Shannon. “We do not want Iran to become a factor of violence within the Americas.”

The report also highlights newly established passenger flights between Iran and Venezuela that are not subject to immigration or customs controls, as well as the ease of acquiring citizenship and travel documents, “making Venezuela a potentially attractive way station for terrorists.”

The 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires and the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA) further illustrate the threat potential, Shannon said. More than 250 Argentines and Israelis were killed or injured in the two attacks.

In 2006, an Argentine judge issued arrest warrants for eight current and former Iranian government officials in connection with the AMIA bombing, leading to Interpol “Red Notices” for a former Iranian spymaster and several commanders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Despite an overwhelming 78-nation vote of the international law enforcement body to overturn Tehran’s 2007 attempt to appeal the warrants, the Iranian government refuses to hand over the suspects.

“As we urge countries to respect U.N.-based sanctions, we also remind them about AMIA, we remind them about the Israeli embassy bombings," Shannon said.

Bush’s remarks are available from America.gov.


Tags: secretary of state, corporation, document,


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