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From issue: Trafficking and Transnational Crime (Spring 2010)

AQ Upfront

Other must-read articles in the Spring issue.

In this issue:

No Ordinary Trade Agreement

Gregory Meeks

CAFTA-DR has already produced groundbreaking results.

Anyone who remembers the 2004 debate in the U.S. Congress over the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) likely recalls a contentious and emotional tug of war over the commercial merits and the adequacy of labor provisions in the bill. Nearly five years, $84 million to support labor capacity building and more than $1 billion in overall trade-related assistance (including three Millennium Challenge Corporation compacts) later, CAFTA-DR’s implementation is still a good story to tell.

For the first time in a free-trade agreement, CAFTA-DR includes Trade Capacity Building as one of the law’s core chapters, thus recognizing the asymmetrical development between participating nations and the certainty that the transition to lowered tariffs will involve hardship. It also mandates that a separate committee be responsible for evaluating trade capacity-building progress. This includes analyzing the human, infrastructural and institutional development assistance necessary for countries to more fully participate in and benefit from global trade.

Many who opposed CAFTA-DR questioned whether the bill would ensure that workers in these developing countries (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic) would be subjected to derogation of labor laws and loose compliance, or worse. Convictions on both sides of the debate were strong, and the close final votes in Congress reflected the polarized discourse: the Senate passed the implementing legislation in June 2005 by a vote of 54 to 45, and one month later the House of Representatives followed with a vote of 217 to 215.

The United States pursued this multilateral trade agreement in an effort to go beyond previously enacted unilateral preferential trade benefits provided to Central America. U.S. businesses argued the agreement was necessary to balance the gains made by firms from nations with established bilateral access to the region. Beyond the commercial and economic policy interests, strategic geopolitical concerns played a role in the bill’s ratification. The U.S. expected CAFTA-DR to buttress regional stability by deepening democratic gains, strengthening the rule of law, promoting employment opportunities, and helping to combat organized crime and drug trafficking.

Like most other trade agreements, CAFTA-DR liberalized trade in goods, services, government procurement, investment, and intellectual property. It immediately eliminated duties on 80 percent of U.S. exports in manufactured goods and 50 percent of those for agricultural goods. The remaining manufactured goods are phased out over 10 years; agricultural goods have a 20-year phase out.

But it did more. At a time when the term “trade capacity” was new and still evolving, the unrivaled capacity-building accommodations in and related to CAFTA-DR ensured that this was no ordinary trade agreement.

Now these additions have set the standard for subsequent agreements. The Peru Trade Promotion Agreement took effect in February 2009 with capacity-building provisions, and the pending Colombia and Panama agreements include them too. 

In an effort to address concerns by congressional opponents and supporters of CAFTA-DR, the George W. Bush Administration and Congress came to terms during ratification negotiations on an agreement—based on discussions between then-U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman and Senator Jeff Bingaman (NM)—that mandated special funding and programs so that CAFTA-DR countries could implement the labor and environment provisions. The first installment of funds—appropriated to the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)—totaled $57.34 million for the period FY 2005–FY 2007 in support of labor capacity-building. Since then, additional funds have been appropriated. But assistance is not limited to labor. Help is also provided in the areas of environmental standards, agriculture, customs administration, rules of origin, and technical assistance. 

Beyond setting rules for tariff rate quotas and transitional safeguards, CAFTA-DR established a Labor Affairs Council of cabinet-level or equivalent representatives to oversee implementation of the labor chapter and the Labor Cooperation and Capacity Building Mechanism activities created under Article 16.5. Under the agreement, the president also must report to Congress biennially on progress in implementing labor provisions. This includes advancements on the Labor Cooperation and Capacity Building Mechanism, and on addressing challenges identified by CAFTA-DR vice ministers of trade.

The labor ministers’ assessment continues to guide the labor capacity-building efforts and in itself was a critical advancement in negotiations. In 2004, CAFTA-DR ministers of trade and labor directed their vice ministers to create a working group to make recommendations on enhancing the implementation and enforcement of labor standards and strengthening regional labor institutions.

The Inter-American Development Bank supported this initiative, which led to a 2005 white paper in which the vice-ministerial working group identified six priority areas for effective implementation of labor-related capacity building. They were: labor law and implementation (freedom of association, trade unions and labor relations, inspections and compliance); budgetary and personnel needs for the ministries of labor; strengthened judicial systems for labor law; protections against discrimination in the workplace; elimination of the worst forms of child labor; and promotion of a culture of compliance.

Beyond the actual bill, the Bush Administration promised to allocate $40 million to “labor and environmental enforcement capacity building assistance” over three years, another $3 million to International Labor Organization reporting on labor law enforcement and working conditions, and $10 million annually in rural assistance for the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Guatemala for five years, or until they qualified for development assistance from the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation.

Has It Worked?

All this sounds great, but what happened when the rubber hit the road?

Since the approval and subsequent implementation of CAFTA-DR, the U.S. government has worked in tandem with U.S. businesses and nongovernmental organizations to elevate living standards in all signatory countries. Coordinated and focused efforts on labor, environment and trade-related issues have been a crucial vehicle to support much needed capacity-building and access to the U.S. market.

The sustained commitment has already reaped benefits. For example, in January 2009 the first biennial report submitted to Congress by the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of International Labor Affairs highlighted the many projects that are working to improve on-the-ground conditions in CAFTA-DR countries. These include helping to eliminate gender and other types of discrimination, especially for workers in vulnerable areas like the sugar industry.

The Dominican Republic is one success. An Office of Gender Equality and Development has been established, and the National Plan on Gender Equality has become operational. Ongoing efforts provide training and raise awareness among workers, employers and inspectors on gender protection and prevent workplace discrimination. Mass-market radio publicity and workshops aim to promote maternity protections and gender rights, and an arbitration process has reportedly brought attention to HIV/AIDS-related discrimination.

The U.S. Department of Labor is also strengthening the rule of law by helping to modernize judicial systems, facilitating the training of public defenders and supporting mechanisms that ensure disadvantaged workers will have better access to the judicial system.

It also dedicated $2.7 million to strengthen labor compliance in the agricultural sector. This project collaborates with local organizations and ministries of labor to strengthen mechanisms for workers to exercise their rights. An additional component created in conjunction with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) aims at improving worker safety through better handling of pesticides. The 2009 biennial report notes the training of 400 workers on 18 farms in the Dominican Republic and the implementation of stakeholder coalitions in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic that brings together employers, entrepreneurs, workers, and governments to resolve problems. The EPA is also helping to train judges, magistrates and inspectors on the investigation and adjudication of potential environmental violations.

USAID is involved with capacity-building efforts through programs that promote trade-related agricultural diversification strategies in order to spread the benefits of trade more broadly. The results have already had an impact on poverty reduction. For example, in Honduras, plantain farmers are learning high-density planting systems and other advanced agricultural practices including bed preparation, drip irrigation, fruit age-tagging, and disease controls. As a result, these farmers already sold 5.8 million pounds of plantains in the early years of implementation. Before the rural diversification initiative most were not producing plaintains at all.

USAID reports also show more personal examples, such as that of the farmers from El Negrito who moved from growing corn and beans and an annual income of $500 to harvesting 36,300 kilograms (80,000 pounds) of plantains in a year. After servicing business loans, they each had a $10,000 profit. Those gains continue.

The U.S. business community is also working to shore up capacity. Local farmers who now have secure contracts with U.S. companies are moving beyond subsistence farming and finding the opportunity to work their way out of poverty. Some of these local farmers and cooperatives are producing organic fruits and vegetables that can be sold in the region or even to the U.S. market.

Like other trade agreements, CAFTA-DR was always about so much more than the rules of commerce. It is also about the relationship between nations and the collaboration of public and private entities to improve living standards, particularly of those who most need help. There is still much work to be done, but the agreement has deepened and expanded relationships between CAFTA-DR countries and, with sustained commitment, will lead to a more prosperous future.

In this globalized world, the small farmer high in the hills of Lepaterique, Honduras, cannot meet the high standards necessary to sell his goods to supermarkets unless he has technical help. If he doesn’t get that assistance, then we risk his disenchantment not just with a more interconnected global world, but with democracy in his country.

While we await the passage of agreements with Colombia and Panama, it is gratifying to know that the kind of trade capacity that supports such a farmer is a real and tangible part of those agreements as a result of the precedent set by CAFTA-DR. Ultimately, when we assist countries in the adjustment to liberalized trade, we reinforce our commitment to democratic principles—an allegiance we must uphold.

Did Success Spoil the Concertación?

Peter M. Siavelis

The challenges ahead for Chile's two dominant political coalitions.

Latin America’s political pendulum has shifted markedly to the Left in the last decade, with presidents of populist or social democratic bents sweeping into power across the region. But some analysts have pointed to the election of Chilean President Sebastián Piñera as the beginning of what could be a swing back to the Right.

They’re wrong. A more accurate reading of Chile’s January election is that the center-left Concertación coalition lost—not that the center-right Coalición por el Cambio won. It is now clear, in the wake of the calamitous February 27 earthquake and tsunami, that both of the country’s political coalitions have an uphill struggle to win public support and trust. The Piñera government must capitalize on its can-do image while demonstrating that it is concerned about the poor. The Concertación must demonstrate that it can effectively respond to the demands of the population, including opening up its closed political clique.

The heaviest burden may be on the Concertación, one of the longest-lasting and most successful coalitions in Latin American history. The success of the Concertación, which governed Chile since its return to democracy in 1990, was due to its ability to devise a formula for governing based on consensus among the disparate collection of center-left political parties that opposed the military government of Augusto Pinochet. The strategy also involved negotiation with powerful players such as the military. This formula ushered in high levels of economic growth, impressive strides in eliminating poverty and remarkable political stability—a model example for democratic transition around the hemisphere.

The alliance’s fourth president, Michelle Bachelet, who turned power over to Piñera on March 11, left office with an approval rating approaching 80 percent. With such a notable record of governing and high levels of public support, how is it possible that the Concertación lost?

In many ways the coalition was a victim of its own success. The political model it created for governing Chile worked well during a period of democratic transition, but the model was seriously deficient in terms of representation, citizen participation and accountability. These “enclaves of the transition” became deeply entrenched in the Concertación’s style of government. Ultimately, this, rather than more compelling arguments presented by opponents, was what led to its defeat.

Elitist Exhaustion

The Concertación’s formula of power helped build consensus, but the arrangements that allowed it contributed to an image of elitism, arrogance and excessive party dominance that led to its defeat. One example is the agreement that various parties of the Concertación would share presidential cabinet portfolios based on their relative strength and a general rule that ministers had to be of a different party than the sub-secretaries.

This ingenious arrangement was central to the success of the transition and provided widespread party input into government, underwriting the legislative success of presidents. But it also quickly came to reek of cronyism and elitism, with Chileans referring to it derisively as the “cuoteo,” amid accusations that political positions were distributed based on party connections rather than qualifications.

Like cabinet appointments, the distribution of legislative candidacies was also decided at the elite level, bypassing the concept of an open primary with citizen input. Presidential candidacies were similar deals, struck behind closed doors with a faint notion of openness. Over time, Chileans gradually came to perceive that back-room deals rather than democratic processes determined who ruled.

The social pacts at the center of the transition were also devised by elite negotiations between a select few Concertación leaders and powerful actors like unions and professional and business associations. Concertación governments operated under an arrangement that became known as democracia de los acuerdos by which presidents negotiated and sought agreements from powerful social actors before proposing legislation.

This pattern of policymaking, though laudable for dampening conflict in the context of the democratic transition, also led to accusations of party-dominated politics or what Chileans called partidocracia.

A final component of the Concertación model was to keep potential right-wing opposition at bay by not touching the fundamental outlines of Pinochet’s economic model. While this policy avoided destabilizing change, it left many social sectors dissatisfied, as seen by the massive student protests that greeted Bachelet almost immediately following her inauguration. By providing a framework for negotiating policy consensus among the parties of the Concertación and between the Concertación and opposition, each of these enclaves eventually detracted from the coalition’s image and capacity.

This political elitism and negotiated power sharing might have been more tolerable were it not for a series of other problems that began plaguing the Concertación and, to be fair, would likely plague any government with a long tenure in power. Though Chile is remarkably clean by region-wide standards and routinely ranks as the least corrupt country in Latin America in Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index, allegations of corruption plagued the alliance early and intensified with time, including scandals in the state development agency (CORFO), the Ministry of Public Works, the government’s sports organization (Chiledeportes), and multiple accusations of campaign finance fraud.

Though the Concertación built its reputation on a demonstrable record of good government and efficiency, spectacular policy failures also emerged to damage its image. On the tail of student protests, allegations of ineptitude and wrongdoing in the reorganization of Santiago’s transport system (known as the Plan Transantiago) emerged when the program launch proved a disaster, with stranded commuters, long lines and over-packed buses and metro cars.

A Loss Fortold

In more immediate political terms, the Concertación also lost because it did not choose the best presidential candidate. The alliance had experienced crisis before. It came very close to losing the two previous presidential elections, both of which were won by razor thin pluralities in the first round, forcing a second round.

The last time the Concertación faced the possibility of defeat was in 2005 when the coalition’s image had already begun to deteriorate amid growing signs of internal and external exhaustion. Then, the alliance ingeniously chose Michelle Bachelet as its candidate. She was perceived as coming from outside the Concertación’s entrenched political class and, as a female, was to make history by being the first popularly elected woman president in South America with no ties to a male politician.

In contrast, in 2009–2010 there was no fresh face.

After extended speculation and jousting between several candidates, the Concertación chose, once again in a less than inclusive process, former Christian Democratic President Eduardo Frei (1994–2000). Frei’s widely recognized lackluster political personality was a sharp contrast to the dynamic and telegenic Bachelet.

So rather than embracing the Right in 2010, Chileans rejected a coalition that, while initially successfully, was increasingly viewed as entrenched, elitist, out of touch with the people, and tainted by corruption. With a mediocre candidate as the standard bearer, it was difficult for the Concertación to translate the popularity of Bachelet into a victory for Frei. Rather than just rejecting an ideology, Chileans rejected a model of governance.

The strong electoral reaction against this model poses challenges both for Piñera and for the beleaguered Concertación. A consensus model of governing is necessary because no party has a majority and Piñera must govern toward the center to get anything done. Yet the tools of consensus employed until now have come to look increasingly suspect—if not corrupt—in the eyes of Chilean voters.

The outcome of the legislative elections has created a difficult political landscape for the new president. Both the Chamber and the Senate are almost equally divided between the Concertación and Piñera’s Coalición por el Cambio alliance. This simple correlation of forces will make it difficult for the president to legislate.

Governing will be further complicated because Piñera’s Renovación Nacional (RN) party is actually a minority party in the center-right coalition, with the (further right) Unión Demócrata Independiente (UDI) holding 37 seats to RN’s 18 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. Piñera won on a campaign of moderate policies that will do little to overturn the consensus and moderate social policies (including rights for same-sex couples) that have reigned in Chile during the last two decades. Given his moderation, it may be difficult to marshal support for his agenda among UDI legislators who, after years out of government, are impatient for deeper changes to the Concertación’s legacy and a sharper shift to the Right, even as the most pressing item on the national agenda is reconstruction.

Piñera must also devise a new model for governing even though the challenges he faces are similar to those previously faced by the Concertación. With his party not in the majority, Piñera will have to devise the same sort of power-sharing arrangements that characterized Concertación governments. But he must find a way to avoid the charges of elitism and cronyism that surround the politics of the old cuoteo (or quota) and the perception that he is divvying up positions and handing out political spoils.

“Our intention is to design a broad and diverse government that looks for the best people without a cuoteo or political wheeling and dealing,” Piñera has said. And he has lived up to his word. The new president’s appointees hail from both the UDI and RN with no discernible numerical pattern. He even appointed Concertación stalwart Jaime Ravinet (former Christian Democratic mayor of Santiago) to head the Ministry of Defense.

In the press, Piñera was lauded for appointing a cabinet that privileged the technical over the political. But he also faced criticism from his own party and the UDI that his ministers lack any real political experience. Piñera’s central dilemma was that if he appointed a series of well-known political faces he would be criticized for a business-as-usual cabinet, and if he did not, he would face criticisms for appointing political neophytes. The latter is what happened, and in response, Piñera appointed a series of undersecretaries from the political world as a counterbalance.

Impact of the Quake

Even if Piñera had a single-party government and a majority in congress, he would find it hard to fulfill his campaign promises to create 1 million jobs, double Chile’s per-capita annual income and expand growth to 6 percent a year. These fantastic possibilities harken back to the halcyon days of Chile’s fast-paced growth during the 1990s. The February earthquake and tsunami now make those promises sound like wishful thinking.

Piñera’s success will be measured by how well he succeeds in rebuilding Chile’s housing pool and infrastructure more than economic expansion. Piñera has pledged to transcend partisan and ideological divisions in the reconstruction effort, but the temptation to rely on the types of market-based reconstruction initiatives that many on the Right are likely to espouse presents a potential pitfall.

Despite the Pinochet experiment in neo-liberalism, Chileans are accustomed to an activist state. If the pressing needs that this disaster created are left unsatisfied, and Chileans perceive that ideology has trumped human welfare in the government’s response, the electoral consequences for Piñera and the Right will be disastrous.

The earthquake has also widened Chile’s long-standing equality gap, while rekindling public debate about its persistence even during the high levels of growth in recent years. Despite impressive strides in the elimination of poverty, Chile remains one of the most unequal countries in the world. The earthquake thrust this inequality back into national psyche with graphic images of the poor and ill-housed. Piñera’s wealth—he is one of Chile’s richest men—already makes him vulnerable to charges of insensitivity to Chile’s poor. And if his administration steers the country abruptly back toward neoliberal policies, he will be open to even harsher criticism from those who charge such policies created the nation’s high levels of inequality in the first place.

Now in the opposition, the Concertación also faces challenges if it is to rebuild itself in exile. Fundamentally, the Concertación must devise campaign tactics and a model for party-power sharing that moves beyond the politics of the democratic transition and that focus more on a social agenda. The Concertación consistently won elections by exploiting the deep cleavage in the Chilean electorate among those who identified positively with the authoritarian regime and those who opposed it.

In the most recent presidential campaign, the Concertación tried to do the same by tying a return to the Right to a potential erosion of human rights. This time it fell on deaf ears. Appeals that evoke the emotion of the democratic transition no longer resonate, especially among the greater number of younger voters who are not children of the dictatorship.

That means the various parties of the Concertación must develop a political program for unity that goes beyond their historical opposition to Pinochet.  A good place to start would be to propose real and workable solutions to the high levels of inequality, something that macroeconomic policymaking under Piñera is unlikely to do given his pro-business orientation. The Concertación would also benefit from more aggressively proposing changes to the problematic legacies of the Pinochet government in the areas of health, education and social welfare.

Another question is whether the Concertación coalition, which is still made up of numerous parties, will remain together when out of government without the strong coalitional glue that came with the politics of power sharing. As the intellectual authors of Chile’s consensual model of transition, the coalition must devise a new formula to share power not solely based on the outcomes of negotiations between party elites if it is to stay together and govern again. It must eliminate the “enclaves of the transition” by shedding elite-dominated politics and instituting more avenues for citizen participation. The Concertación could transform its image by instituting real and open primaries, rather than relying on the elite designation of presidential and congressional candidates. The coalition’s hopes of regaining power will only be fulfilled if it becomes more transparent, responsive and inclusive.

Ultimately, a turnover of government is a healthy and positive next step in Chile’s democratic life. But in an ironic convergence, the next step for both alliances is the same if they want to succeed. They must construct a model of governing that reconciles the individual interests of their component parties with providing better avenues of representation and accountability for Chilean citizens. This is especially pressing in light of the long road of national reconstruction that lies ahead.

Let's Get Engaged

Jamie Alemán

Panama's Ambassador to the U.S. on why the region needs to address security challenges collectively.

The future of inter-American affairs is anything but certain. Our divisions and struggles are not new, but our troubles and interests have become increasingly intertwined. The challenges facing our hemisphere—poverty and inequality, political stability and citizen insecurity—have not dissipated. But for too long, we have been unable to settle our differences to find common ground and create a path for a better future.

The state of inter-American affairs today is an unmistakable outcome of our turbulent struggles of years past. Despite a renewed sense of hope for the region this past year, we have been unable to coalesce around the goodwill that was created. Instead of constructively working together to resolve many of today’s difficult challenges, we are left with a sense of loss.

Every member of our community of nations plays a key part in the inter-American system. But, more importantly, it is the role each country assumes that defines its scope for success and that of the hemisphere as a whole. That is not to say that the success of countries hinges completely on the international system, but our international efforts reinforce our domestic policies by bringing greater prosperity and stability at home.

At the end of the Cold War, a future of deteriorating cooperation was not the expected path of the Americas. Exhaustion from political turbulence for some, troubled finances for others, and the collective yearning for a new era in Latin America triggered a shift away from the polarizing politics of earlier decades. A bold vision of democracy, social justice and respect for human rights, together with the economic prescriptions of the Washington Consensus, promised to usher in a new era of prosperity and peace in the hemisphere.

Panama, which I represent as Ambassador to the United States, adjusted its fiscal and monetary policies, redirected public spending to education and investments, deregulated its industries, and strengthened property rights. Other countries did the same. A driving desire for openness and macroeconomic stability, which to this day remains one of the most powerful and dynamic factors bridging North, Central and South America, spurred a period of intense bilateral and multilateral commercial negotiations to open new markets and secure access to financing. Social concerns and a common commitment to prosperity and security paved the way for a regional transformation and greater interdependence within the inter-American system. This dynamic brought us closer together—until new periods of strife and a further fracturing in the hemisphere emerged.

Today, leadership in the Americas is often lacking or focused elsewhere, and countries are now increasingly distrustful and reluctant to work through our shared challenges. We seem to be adamant in our positions, slow in our recognition of shifting dynamics and rigid in our adjustments. You have only to look at border disputes that arise from illegal cross-border activities like drugs and arms trafficking to realize that instead of finding the mechanisms to resolve the issues at hand, the region’s countries have appeared to lapse into inane bickering about the violation of territorial sovereignty.

Backed by a reliable foundation at home, the countries in the Americas have also become both more selective and assertive, relying on the international system when advantageous and unafraid to voice opposition when appropriate. Emerging actors like Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela, and Chile have rightfully made their case for greater leadership in the hemisphere. Although the inter-American system is increasingly diverse and participatory, whether we will become more effective in resolving substantive issues is still open to debate.

Regional Insecurity Demands Regional Security Cooperation

Collaboration in hemispheric affairs should not be equivalent to inaction, opportune scorekeeping or lack of leadership. Instead, it assumes a greater understanding of countries’ roles and responsibilities, and requires that every country engage proactively to deliver practical solutions to issues like social justice, poverty and inequality, human rights, and insecurity.

Few issues on the Americas agenda are as crucial to the peaceful development of our region as the security of our citizens. Combating the scourge of narcotics trafficking, suppressing the brutality of organized crime syndicates and curbing the flow of illicit weapons cannot be fought by one country or region. It must be addressed collectively by working together to eliminate this threat against the very foundations of our institutions.

The Mérida Initiative, Plan Colombia, the Sistema de la Intergación Centroamericana (SICA)-U.S. Security Dialogue, and even the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) have all provided timely assistance to enhance the capacity of states to improve public security and law enforcement and to curb illicit drugs and arms trafficking. However, these initiatives have been limited in scope in one way or another. There is no denying that the Mérida Initiative and Plan Colombia have challenged and, to a great extent, weakened the power bases of criminal groups and drug traffickers in Mexico and Colombia. However, rather than resolving the problem, the successes in those countries have merely caused the crisis to balloon elsewhere in the Americas. Today, Central America and the Caribbean is that elsewhere.

These mobile, criminal networks are not only recruiting our youngsters, weakening our social institutions, undermining the rule of law and exacerbating the violence on our streets; they are also undercutting our ability to attract the foreign investment, tourists and retirees that our continued development relies on.

If we are to gain ground effectively on criminal activity, every country must first recognize that the security challenges we face are interconnected. Taking inventory of existing subregional security initiatives with the objective of having all affected countries be part of a mutually reinforcing effort against drug trafficking and criminal activity in the region could be a place to start. A new hemispheric security initiative that is both comprehensive and balanced among affected nations is imperative, as is the need to incorporate every one of the countries of the Americas.

We must establish a strategy that can coordinate the efforts of our policing and security forces, streamline the sharing of intelligence and ensure collaboration between our justice systems—thus giving us the ability to respond to this common security threat as a single cohesive entity. Simply moving criminal operations from one country to another should not be an option.

A multilateral fund, with established goals and benchmarks, could allocate resources based on the priorities of the entire region as well as serve as a vehicle where other countries and international financial institutions could make contributions. However, this requires broad-based political will to move beyond the ideological rifts that have hindered our efforts in the past.

Law and Order:
Necessary But Not Sufficient

Although effective international collaboration on security matters is an essential factor in this effort, we must take a more holistic approach when it comes to the stability and security of the region. If we must boost our capabilities to counteract the gains of organized crime, we must also furnish the economic opportunities, institutional legitimacy and protection of human rights that will provide for the well-being of our citizens.

First, we must lift millions out of poverty through fair-paying jobs, improved education standards and access to higher learning. Economic gains must be translated into higher living standards for all citizens.

We still live in one of the world’s most inequitable regions and too many people still live in extreme poverty. In Latin America, 50 million people cannot read or write, and 44 percent of the region’s population struggle to survive on less than $2 a day. Collaborative work between our governments and civil society organizations, and access to financing through institutions like the Inter-American Development Bank that support the region’s social and economic development, must be prioritized in order to jointly and effectively advance our established goal.

Second, we must continue to promote democratic institutions and understand the importance of safeguarding basic human rights, civil liberties and strengthening the democratic process, not only within our borders, but also throughout the region. Democratic progress in countries like Mexico, El Salvador, Panama, Brazil, and Peru corroborates the successful evolution of democratic institutions.

The Organization of American States (OAS) is widely known as a platform for dialogue and negotiation. That is particularly valuable in time of crisis—though the tendency toward looking for consensus can also be controversial in its effectiveness. Most recently, in Honduras a number of countries led a multilateral effort to look for practical solutions to the June 2009 coup. The conflict in Honduras was a complex legal and political circumstance, but it did highlight the need for a more comprehensive institutional framework.

Perhaps it is time for the OAS to concentrate on solidifying the roots of democracy instead of pruning the tree. By this I do not refer to observing elections. Rather the OAS—and by implication its member states—should commit to doubling initiatives focused on strengthening democratic institutions in the Americas. These can range from sharing best practices in the areas of judicial security and instituting constitutional reform to developing collective mechanisms to safeguard democratic institutions and rights that increasingly suffer from the abuse of power of an elected official. Through these persistent, collaborative efforts, we can cement the foundations of our democracies.

Third, the development of our individual economies is inextricably linked to the collective success of the Americas and to our ability to provide our citizens with a decent future. We cannot ignore that to be competitive in our global commercial activities, the governments in the region need to integrate their markets. In spite of the lamentable failure of the Free Trade Area of the Americas, many countries continue to search for alternatives to promote their open market policies.

The world economy has gone through seismic changes in the past 18 months, with tremors still being felt throughout every country. The loss of jobs and capital has translated into a loss of trust in many of our policies. Yet we must not fall prey to protectionist practices, hindering our ability to create growth and decent jobs.

Panama, in particular, understands the strategic role it plays in connecting markets, facilitating the distribution of goods and services and allowing countries to gain a sharper edge in the competition for global markets. We continue to open our borders to trade and foreign investment and support the expansion of jobs, exports and businesses across our borders—especially those that can lay the groundwork for greater cooperation between our nations, spur the transfer of technologies and best practices and bring prosperity throughout the hemisphere.

Transcending a pattern of distrust is easier said than done, but as we stand at a crossroads in our own future, we must overcome our own predispositions and adapt to the ever-changing nature of our problems. Starting with the wave of violence afflicting our region, we need to adjust our existing efforts by creating new instances of collaboration, setting realistic benchmarks, allocating funds more efficiently, and improving our countries’ human and institutional capacities. Above all, this also requires reinforcing our economic, political and social institutions at home. 

Ongoing hemispheric meetings such as the annual Rio Group Summit and the Summit of the Americas, along with the concerted efforts to aid Haiti and Chile following the earthquakes in those countries, demonstrate our ability to advance issues of common concern.  These are also golden opportunities to set aside our petty differences, to stop blaming one another for all our evils and to take control of our own fate.  While we may take pride in the unity, reconciliation and achievement that informed our response to such events, unless there is consistency in our actions, concrete goals and tangible results, the promise of the Americas will never be fulfilled.

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