Thank you very much. It's most gracious, although you do make me sound like I can't hold a job.
That sweep back over all those decades is a long sweep back. I remember when I was running the war on poverty after Sargent Shriver. It's the only war that had ever been won -- lost or won by or fought by a “sergeant” in charge. But I came home one night and there was a little note on the refrigerator and it said -- my wife's got a sense of humor -- she said, "He tackled the job that couldn't be done. With a smile, he went right to it. He tackled the job that couldn't be done, and couldn't do it."
So -- and George Schultz came in to me one day and said, "Don, the President wants you to be in charge of the economic stabilization program."
And I said, "You mean wage and price controls?"
He said, "Yes."
I said, "I don't believe in 'em."
And he said, "I know, Don. That's why we want you to be in charge."
Do you remember H.L. Mencken's famous statement that for every human problem there's a solution that's simple, neat and wrong? They found it.
Well, ambassadors, members of the diplomatic corps, distinguished guests and some friends of long-standing, I thank you and the council for your invitation. It's a pleasure to be with you. I also know that you deserve some appreciation for encouraging political freedom and economic freedom in this hemisphere, which is important.
You know, when you've been around as long as I have and a few other people here -- you've had an opportunity to witness an awful lot of remarkable events. And if you think about it, to see the spread and collapse of communism, the rise and fall of Nazism, the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall, the oppression of tyranny and the joy of liberation.
I remember not so long ago when many of the countries in this hemisphere were dominated by dictatorships and some torn by civil strife. Throughout the region, the ideals of democracy and freedom to which this organization have long been committed were really under siege. I say this to point out that history has seen many changes, and that certainly determination and persistence can bring about impressive transformations, even in our lifetime.
Nowhere is this more apparent, in my view, than the sweeping changes that are taking place and have taken place in much of Central and South America. If you consider what's happened in a relatively short time, today the countries of the region are working together in a very constructive way. They're leaning forward in support of democracy and economic opportunity, and recognizing that cooperation with respect to security matters is certainly central to political and economic success.
I recognize that no one can really know what history will write -- suggest when they look back five, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years from now about any period, including this period, but my impression is that we may very well be experiencing a magic moment, particularly in the countries of Latin America. I've been struck by the fact that, for whatever reason, all the leadership there seems to be moving forward from a political standpoint, from an economic standpoint, and also from a security standpoint, and recognizing the advantages that can accrue to them, all of the countries of Central America, to the extent they cooperate, as they certainly are doing.
As Bob said, I've had the opportunity to travel to many of the countries in the hemisphere in recent months and years to encourage further strengthening of the inter-American system, to offer support and friendship of the people of the United States to the countries.
I'd like to just take a few moments to offer some impressions. I do think it's a time of promise for the Americas. It's also a time of considerable challenges. There are some who want to obstruct the path to great social and economic progress. There are, without question, dangers, anti-social elements that are seeking a return to instability and chaos that would allow them to operate with impunity.
In my meetings with the officials in the region, they returned again and again to the threats posed by these -- combination of violent gangs, drug traffickers, smugglers, hostage-takers, terrorists, and their concern about these criminals that are seeking to destabilize governments and to prey on various vulnerabilities that exist. They terrorize innocent citizens and they recognize no borders. Indeed, they take advantage of borders and ungoverned areas as they seek to damage civil societies.
It's certainly clear that they can be effectively combated only if countries work together. There's no one country that can deal with those kinds of cross-border threats that exist. They are a particular danger because they attack one of the key underpinnings of a successful civil society, and that's the people's confidence in their system of government. To the extent people do not have confidence in government, why, the entire fabric can be tattered.
As we're seeing in other parts of the world, if we're to deliver on the promise of democracy and economic opportunity, we have to help governments provide for the basic security for their citizens. A lack of security calls into question the value of freedom itself.
Indeed, the interrelationship between security and political and economic freedom I believe was thoughtfully examined in a council report that I looked at the other day. It was published in support of the Defense Ministerial meeting of the Americas that was held in Quito. The report outlines the link between security and economic growth. I'm told, I guess, that Susan Segal and Eric Farnsworth and Luis Pinto took the lead in putting it together, and I thank them for that.
Those of who have worked in the business community understand intuitively the nexus between security and economic opportunity. As we all know, money's a coward. It can flee. A friend of mine used to say if you want to know really what's going on some place, give it the gate test. And you say, well, what's the gate test? He said, you pick up the gate and see which way things are moving. Things are moving from a place that's less desirable to a place that's more desirable. And it's not complicated and it's true of money, it's true of people. Companies tend not to want to invest in countries or regions that they believe are unstable or unsafe.
A sense of insecurity is fueled further when government institutions such as police, military, regulators, prosecutors, judges are corrupt or ineffective, creating seams for the anti-social combination of elements such as criminal gangs and narcotraffickers to operate and thrive. In particular, the lack of border security in many areas is a vulnerability that terrorists/criminals take full advantage of.
Fortunately, there are a number of steps being taken in Central and South America today to combat some of these problems. Brazil, for example, has developed a new radar operation that eventually can allow it coverage and control over Amazon airspace, really probably for the first time ever. Brazil, Colombia and other Andean nations are increasing cooperation to jointly combat narcoterrorists operating within and across their borders, which is a good thing.
In Colombia, President Uribe is taking hold of the deadliest threats to security and democracy in the region. Due to efforts of many brave Colombians, foreign investment is increasing, and many Colombians are welcoming the calm of a relatively normal everyday life.
El Salvador, which lost, I'm told, something like 75,000 lives in 12 years of guerrilla warfare, has revamped its police forces and worked closely with us and its neighbors to extradite gang members, drug traffickers, as well as to share intelligence across borders.
And throughout much of the region, the principle of civilian control over armed forces is reasonably well established today, which is a good thing. Military rivalries between and among Latin American states, really the bane of the 19th and 20th centuries, are largely a thing of the past today. This has given people increasing confidence in the integrity and the independence of the armed forces.
Indeed, Latin America today may well be the least militarized region in the world, if one thinks about it. And it's now mostly shaped by the kind of trust and cooperation and accountability that is possible among a family of democratic nations.
One of my colleagues, a South American minister of defense, put it this way. He said, "We are now united by the threats we face, not divided by them."
The Department of Defense plays a role in working with other nations to try to strengthen the inter-American system. With few exceptions, the United States is a strong security partner for the nations of the hemisphere. Generations of men and women in our respective armed forces have developed very close relationships, often through common educational experiences in our country or in their countries, and by our cooperative work in the region.
Our security relationships are being updated today to be relevant to the challenges of this new century, and the challenges are notably different than prior decades. During a meeting of the hemisphere and defense ministers in Santiago, Chile in 2002, I proposed a new regional initiative called Enduring Friendship, which promotes naval cooperation, and we're now working quite closely with several navies in the region. As a matter of fact, an Argentine destroyer, for example, has taken part in exercises with the U.S. fleet in the Mediterranean not too long ago.
Of course, security challenges are not the only threats posed to the progress now under way in the Americas. Poverty also threatens to derail economic progress, which can in turn threaten democratic governance. Currently, one of the greatest challenges to maintaining freedom's forward momentum is to demonstrate to more people the truth that free political systems and free economic systems offer the best hope for tangible benefits for them and for their children. I mean, if anyone looks down from Mars on this globe and asks which of the countries create a circumstance, an environment that's most hospitable to economic opportunity for their people, it's the countries with free political systems and free economic systems. And the ones that have command systems and repressive systems are not doing well, their people.
I was in Korea not too long ago and they were just voting in the parliament whether they should send any of the Korean troops over to Iraq, which they eventually did decide to do. And a woman reporter stuck a mike in my face and she said, "Why in the world should we send young Korean men and women halfway around the globe to fight in Iraq and die and get wounded?" And I told her, "Look out the window." And we were in Seoul, in a high-rise building. And I keep by my desk a satellite photo of the Korean Peninsula at night, and you can see all the light and all the energy and the vitality of a free political system and a free economic system south of the demilitarized zone, and north of it it's black. The only light you see at night from a satellite is a pinprick of light in Pyongyang, the capital. And the difference is just dramatic, and people have to have confidence in that because it is a truth.
In the countries of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union, for example, the initial euphoria over liberation eventually gave way to some frustration and concern and insecurity that followed the very rapid transition to free political and economic systems. Fortunately, the benefits -- economic benefits of freedom became increasingly evident over time and they stayed the course. Many of those countries have since become stalwart allies of ours in NATO and in the global war on terror, and they've seen their economies and their standards of living rise fairly regularly.
As Latin American nations take hold of their security challenges and increase their cooperation, the confidence of investors, foreign and domestic, I believe will increase.
Also, if fully approved by all the nations -- and I certainly hope it will be -- the Central American Free Trade Agreement, or CAFTA, could usher in a new era of trade and prosperity in Central America, which would be a good thing. I was pleased to see that a couple of my predecessors, Bill Perry and Bill Cohen, former Secretaries of Defense, recently publicly supported the President's call for CAFTA ratification.
I also should say that many of the nations of the region are increasingly taking on leadership roles in other parts of the world, which I think is another sign of growing confidence. A new spirit of cooperation has, for example, led eight Latin American countries to come to the aid of one of their neighbors and help Haiti on its road to stability and recovery. And it's noteworthy that four of the six CAFTA countries have provided soldiers for the coalition forces that are fighting in Iraq, dealing with that insurgency.
I will stop there and be happy to answer a few questions, if that's appropriate. Actually, I'll respond to a few questions. (Laughter, applause.) You all are the experts, so I'll answer the ones I know and I'll respond to the others.
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