CAFTA good for U.S.
Not too long ago, Central America was torn by civil strife and ruled by authoritarian regimes. For decades the United States was concerned about a growing trend toward Marxist radicalism in the region and the implications for American and hemispheric security.
Yet in the past two decades the Central American nations have transformed themselves in impressive ways -- which is a credit above all to their industrious and determined people. Dictatorships have given way to democracies, and rivalries that once threatened stability are now relics of the past. Central American leaders look for opportunities to cooperate with each other and the United States in many fields: economic, scientific and military. Indeed, many sent troops to Iraq and have supported other coalition efforts in the global struggle against violent extremism.
This period has been called a magic moment for Central America. The rise of a free and peaceful Central America has allowed the United States to form alliances to combat drug traffickers, hostage takers, gangs and terrorists -- anti-social combinations that threaten our country as well. Growing links between the United States and Central America would further undermine the efforts of those seeking to return Central American governments to the days of corruption, lawlessness and hostility toward the United States.
Central Americans were among the first to stand with us after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 -- offering support and friendship. Central American countries helped restore order and peace in Haiti and are working with the United States in military partnerships both within and outside the region. As our country continues to take the offense against the violent extremism that is threatening civilized societies, we have been able to do so confident that our own hemisphere is a zone of peace and freedom.
In my view, a rejection of the Central American Free Trade Agreement would do more than simply bring this cooperation and much of the region's progress to a halt. Our neighbors do not live in a vacuum and they are facing many pressures to turn away from a pro-American stance. Cuba and Venezuela -- no friends to the United States -- are promoting radicalism and attempting to subvert the democratic governments in the region. Indeed, Venezuela is actively lobbying local legislators in Central America to vote against CAFTA.
This can and must be a time of tremendous promise for Central America if we seize the opportunities that CAFTA represents. No one can know the future with certainty. But if the United States and its neighbors continue to strengthen ties, this magic moment for Central America could become an historic turning point: an era when a fast-evolving region of 47 million people achieved greater prosperity and found firm footing as a true partner and friend of the United States.
The coming vote on CAFTA is a national-security vote. Let there be no doubt.
This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).