Sunday, December 27, 2009

Human rights our priority

Posted on Sunday, 12.27.09
Human rights our priority

As a senator from Florida, the gateway to Latin America, it is incumbent
upon me to focus on U.S. policy as it relates to the Western Hemisphere.
U.S. foreign policy in the hemisphere stands at a critical juncture. Our
actions in the region signal to all countries where we stand on our
commitment to respecting democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Our policy in Latin America cannot be transactional. We must insist on
human rights and other democratic institutions, including the rule of
law. Fortifying democratic institutions and pursuing respect for human
rights is the cornerstone of United States' foreign policy in Latin America.

Because of these concerns I placed a hold on the nomination of Tom
Shannon. This allowed more time for me to evaluate Shannon's record and
to ask specific questions of Shannon and State Department officials.

U.S. must be resolute

Two countries that represent the direction of the foreign-policy
commitments of the United States are Honduras and Cuba -- Honduras,
having just emerged from a constitutional process that resulted in the
removal of its president and elections, and Cuba, where a dictatorial
regime continues to oppress its people and violate their most basic
human rights. In these two areas, the United States must be resolute --
demonstrating through action our insistence on democracy and respect for
the rule of law.

During this process I have discussed my concerns for the region with
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. I am grateful for her appreciation
of the unique responsibility I have to the region as a senator from
Florida. I am confident Clinton shares my concern about a reverse of the
progress of democracy and the rise of authoritarian strongmen in Latin

I have received sufficient commitments from her that the
administration's policy in Latin America, and specifically in Honduras
and Cuba, will take a course that promotes democratic ideals and goals.

As a result of these discussions with the secretary and other State
Department officials, I am pleased to report several concrete examples
of this commitment.

Making progress

In Honduras, the United States will continue to normalize relations with
that country's government and President-elect Porfirio Lobo.
Counternarcotics cooperation will resume, and visa procedures will be

In Cuba, the United States will reopen the process for nonprofit
organizations to apply for pro-democracy grants and renew the practice
of including members of the Cuban pro-democracy movement in events at
the U.S. Interests Section, Title IV of the Helms-Burton Act will be
enforced and Cuba Democracy Assistance grants will be awarded in a fair
and transparent manner. The State Department has memorialized these
commitments in the form of a letter reviewed and approved by Clinton.

Ensuring our neighbors in the hemisphere recognize our commitment to
democracy, human rights and the rule of law is fundamental. Leaders in
nations that seek to destabilize the region are paying close attention
to the way in which we carry out our policies in Latin America. I look
forward to a continuing dialogue on how we canstrengthen U.S. relations
with the nations of the Western Hemisphere.

George LeMieux is a U.S. senator for Florida.
Human rights our priority - Other Views - (27 December 2009)

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