<!-- IMAGE -->
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says that people in most countries in Latin America agree that democracy is essential for social, political, and economic development:
"This consensus has been reaffirmed, again and again, by citizens across the region, whose elected leaders are governing democratically, trading freely, opening markets, fighting poverty, and expanding opportunity for all their people. The exceptions to this rule may be noisy, but they are heading in the opposite direction of the hemisphere as a whole."
Only sustained economic growth, fueled by fair and free trade, is capable of lifting people out of poverty, reducing economic inequality, and breaking down social exclusion in the Americas, says Ms. Rice. The United States Congress will soon vote on whether to ratify trade agreements that the administration of President George W. Bush concluded with Peru, Colombia, and Panama. Secretary of State Rice says it is in the U.S. national interest that these agreements be ratified:
"Peru, Colombia, and Panama now stand on the threshold of far-reaching national success. Trade agreements with the United States would help significantly to advance our partners' political, economic and social development -- making their democratic institutions more transparent and accountable, more effective at fighting poverty and corruption, enforcing the law, and investing in education, health, and opportunity for their people."
By enacting the trade agreements with Peru, Colombia, and Panama into law, says Secretary of State Rice, the U.S. Congress would send a signal to the citizens of those countries, to people throughout the Western Hemisphere, and to investors that Peru, Colombia, and Panama are dedicated to democracy and economic growth, that they are institutionalizing their reforms, and that the United States is completely committed to their success.