By Marco Rubio
Los Angeles Times
April 25, 2012
Improved trade and economic ties with Latin American countries would benefit the U.S., if we help strengthen democracy and security in the region.
The United States cannot afford to keep putting Latin America on the back burner as it focuses the bulk of its attention on Asia, Europe and the Middle East. The Western Hemisphere holds significant strategic interest for the U.S. — as well as enormous promise.
Efforts should be focused in four key areas: building a democratic movement, enhancing trade and economic ties, cooperating on energy issues and building and strengthening security alliances.
It's no coincidence that increased prosperity has followed in the wake of stronger democratic institutions in Latin America. Nor is it surprising that Cuba, which is still not a democracy, is struggling. Looking toward a post-Castro era, Cubans are taking increasingly bold actions to secure for themselves the political and economic freedoms enjoyed by the majority of their fellow Latin Americans. The United States should support them by finding new ways to increase connectivity among Cubans and expand access to 21st century technologies on the island.
We also need to assist Latin America's many fledgling democracies. Free elections are crucial, but they aren't enough to secure a democracy. As we've seen in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia, elected leaders can use democratically obtained power to abuse their people, attack fundamental freedoms and weaken civil society. Sadly, too many Latin American nations seem to have forgotten their own struggles against authoritarian regimes and are standing by quietly while freedom is denied in Cuba and democracy attacked in neighboring countries. We must urge all our fellow democracies in the Western Hemisphere to be defenders of freedom across the region.
A new challenge could face us soon, as Venezuela holds its presidential election in October. If Hugo Chavez loses his election or is unable to continue to govern, other nations in the hemisphere should be proactive and resolute in making clear that they won't tolerate any attempt to suspend the constitutional order in Venezuela.
Latin America's recent gains in prosperity and upward mobility have helped strengthen democracies and create new consumers for U.S. products and services. After decades of pervasive dictatorships, wars and corruption, many Latin American nations have emerged as examples of the good things that happen when free enterprise is allowed to take root. Whereas countries such as Colombia and Chile were once overwhelmed by conflicts that required international aid or intervention, they are now engaging the world as never before, becoming more self-sufficient and providing the U.S. with new economic opportunities.
Sadly, there is a growing sense of protectionism taking root in some countries, and that tide must be reversed. Last year, Congress finally approved free-trade deals with Colombia and Panama, which will soon take effect and help reduce trade barriers for Americans to sell their products and services abroad, just as past deals with Chile, Peru, Central America and Mexico have done. These recent deals should now serve as jumping-off points for bolder action through the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which should include Canada and Mexico, and can eventually serve as the basis for creating a hemisphere-wide free-trade zone.
Keep reading here.Note: Today, at noon, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) will deliver a major speech on the future of U.S. foreign policy at an event hosted by The Brookings Institution. A live stream of the event will be available here.