Ministers, distinguished guests.
First, my warm thanks to President Bolaños for his hospitality in hosting the conference and for his very thoughtful remarks this morning. And to you Minister Ramirez and to your staff -- thank you for the excellent arrangements and for your hospitality. And, certainly also to the people of Managua -- thank you as well.
This is my third DMA conference. Even though this conference concept is still relatively young, it has proven to be a successful forum for exchanging ideas within our hemisphere. And certainly this morning session continued that success. I have valued and benefited from hearing the thoughts and views of our fellow ministers and am struck by the seemingly, relatively common, assessment of our circumstance that the ministers have expressed.
For the first time, we are holding this conference in Central America. It is fitting that we do that. As I understand it, Nicaragua, back in 1945, was the first nation to ratify the UN Charter and I think it was followed shortly there after by El Salvador.
In some respects, the period following the Second World War, during which so many of the important international institutions that exist today, were established. It marked the acceleration of the age of globalization, which has brought our nations closer together -- especially over these past two decades. Twenty years ago, Central America was a region of conflict. Today it is a region of progress and growing prosperity.
International cooperation is the promise of this new century -- which is why conferences such as this can be so valuable. Indeed cooperation on security matters may be even more important today than ever before. Most of today’s threats to our free way of life transcend national boundaries -- and they have no respect for national sovereignty. Almost every minister here this morning has attested to that fact. And it’s equally true that because of that, no single nation can cope with these problems alone.
At home, we recently held ceremonies to remember those thousands who died on September 11th. I know that citizens of almost every nation represented at this conference suffered losses from the September 11th attacks -- quite apart from the literally hundreds of billions of dollars that those attacks cost the people of our country and those of this hemisphere. The target was not just the United States, but civilization itself, and with it, the international system that supports security, freedom, and the promise of growing prosperity for our people.
As outlined by Minister Santos of Colombia, all of our countries have suffered from terrorism, some form of terrorism -- narcotics traffickers, money launderers, hostage takers, crime, corruption or violent gangs.
And I must personally commend the success that’s being achieved in Colombia. And there's success -- let there be no doubt. And I thank them with our entire hemisphere, and it merits our cooperation and full support.
These anti-social elements have one thing in common: They destroy faith in government by casting a dark shadow on the democratic process and by eroding economic opportunities for our people. They are destabilizing forces in a part of the world that has worked so hard and suffered so much bloodshed to trade dictatorships and civil war, for democracy and stability.
Because they are transnational, these new challenges can be solved only if we work together to protect our free democratic institutions and to provide economic opportunities for our people.
Consider the following recent examples:
- Many nations here offered to help the United States with relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina struck our Gulf Coast with such ferocity last year. We thank you so much for your generosity;
- Many nations of this hemisphere committed troops to the important United Nations peace-keeping mission in Haiti;
- Many of us have collaborated in a collective, humanitarian effort to rid this hemisphere of land mines from previous conflicts;
- And, the nations of the Conference of Central American Armed Forces -- El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua -- are working together on a joint peacekeeping battalion. As are Argentina and Chile.
And certainly these peacekeeping capabilities are something that our world needs greatly.
I am pleased that President Bush and our Congress have just taken steps to ease restrictions on U.S. support to this region. This applies to military education and training, as well as economic support funds.
The people of our country have come to realize that there is strength in our growing interdependence.
We live in a time when local threats and challenges can rapidly become regional and indeed global in nature. Common enemies seek to exploit the opportunities offered by our free and open societies, and to wreak havoc on the international economy. Today, the reality is that every nation can be only as stable as its neighbors.
But with these challenges come opportunities.
For example, the regional counter-narcotics coordination center being created by Central American and Caribbean nations will allow those nations to exchange information in order to stop international drug operations linked to terrorism and organized crime.
Another example is the Proliferation Security Initiative -- a global effort to interdict weapons so that they can be kept from the world’s most dangerous terrorists and criminals. At least 77 countries across the globe now support the proliferation security initiative, including in our hemisphere -- Argentina, Belize, Canada, El Salvador, Honduras, Panama, and the United States. I urge all nations represented here to consider participating in this effort.
In a world with so many diverse security challenges, deliberate steps have to be taken to realize our goals of a safe and prosperous hemisphere. Minister Ramirez deserves praise for proposing a DMA action plan to ensure that this forum continues to be a forum of actions, as well as words.
I should add that, of course, words are important. Too often people fail to realize just how closely connected security is to democracy and to free markets. It is up to us to communicate to our legislatures and our citizens how open economies, effective security, and responsive democratic institutions all contribute each in their own way to national, regional, and hemispheric stability.
And we can hope that, one day, the final holdout in our hemisphere against the democratic sweep of history will give its citizens the right to choose their own destiny and will participate in our conference.
This is still a young century, and there will be many threats we will have to face -- some we can already see on the horizon -- others are very likely to appear unexpected. The last century -- indeed, just the last few years -- taught us that security cooperation, free markets, and democracy are not signs of weakness or dependency. They are signs of strength.
I am confident that we will continue the important work we have started, at this and at previous DMA conferences, and I have no doubt that we will meet the challenges ahead.