Senate Democrats

Reid Urges Bush to Refocus on Latin America

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The following is a letter from Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid to President Bush on his upcoming trip to Latin America.

The text of the letter is below:

November 1, 2005

President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

I am writing with regard to your trip to the Summit of the Americas, taking place in Argentina later this week. I urge you to use the occasion as an opportunity to finally develop a comprehensive policy toward Latin America, a region that has sought fulfillment of promises laid out by your Administration early on, yet has been gravely neglected.

Latin America is critically important to the United States due to its position as our neighbor and because it is a source of migration flow into the country. At the start of your Presidency almost five years ago, you spoke of your experience and interest in dealing with Mexico and indicated that you would make U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America a top priority. Unfortunately, your Administration’s decision to focus heavily on Iraq has regrettably contributed to the lack of progress and few new initiatives to advance U.S. interests in our own hemisphere. In short, Latin America has not been a priority for your Administration.

I urge you to follow through on your original promise and make Latin America a priority in U.S. foreign policy during your second term. A comprehensive approach toward Latin America should include policies to promote democracy, reduce poverty, strengthen border security, and ensure fair rules for immigration.

It is clear that the failure to develop a coherent policy toward Latin America has been damaging to U.S. interests in the region. As the United States loses influence, anti-American sentiment has been on the rise – both among the public and among Latin American governments. Other countries have taken notice and used the opportunity to expand their presence in the region.

Further, despite the strong rhetoric in your inaugural address this year about promoting democracy throughout the world, many countries in Latin America have seen an erosion of democratic gains made during the 1990s. Even your Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) initiative, which was touted as having far-reaching positive implications for the region, only applies to three countries in Latin America.

Meanwhile, growing poverty and inequality continue to be at the core of the problems confronting Latin America. They are also creating great pressure upon our southern border, as people desperately seek economic opportunity and a better of way of life here in the United States. Unfortunately, the panacea your Administration repeatedly has offered are free trade agreements. FTAs are not a cure-all for addressing poverty in Latin America. In fact, as the Central American Bishops warned, and as experience under NAFTA has shown, an unbalanced agreement can actually undermine the poverty stricken in Latin America while causing damage to some sectors of the U.S. labor force here at home. Under NAFTA, inequality in Mexico has gotten worse, over one million Mexican farmers were forced off their land, and illegal immigration increased significantly.

Five years after you pledged to overhaul our immigration system, people in the United States and in Latin America continue to await your promised reforms. In the meantime, frustration in the United States at the federal government’s inability to control our border grows, as does the number of pointless deaths in the desert of people simply seeking a better life for themselves and for their families. It is urgent that we take steps to prevent illegal immigration, through policies that will strengthen our border security, promote economic development and opportunity in Latin America, and create channels for legal immigration necessary for our continued economic growth.

I hope that your trip to the Summit of the Americas successfully reestablishes the United States as a nation with the influence and moral standing to promote democracy and reduce poverty throughout the world, but particularly here in our own hemisphere.


Senator Harry Reid – Senate Democratic Leader