October 13, 1997
President Clinton is traveling to South America this week to strengthen ties to the United States' allies on the continent. After this background report, a panel of experts analyze America's diplomatic and economic position in the region and the President's mission.
KWAME HOLMAN: The President and First Lady arrived in Caracas, Venezuela yesterday on the first leg of a three-country South American tour rounded out by Brazil and Argentina. It is Bill Clinton's first visit to South America as president.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
October 13, 1997
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National Demcratic Institute
A region on the upswing.
A decade ago, South American nations struggled with massive debt and related economic problems while trying to move toward establishing more democratic government on a continent with a long history of dictatorship and human rights abuses. But more recently, most Latin American countries have experienced economic growth and a consolidation of democracy. All the region's 35 countries, except Cuba, are under some measure of democratic government. One purpose of President Clinton's visit this week is to call attention to that progress.
For the last three years, the administration's point person for Latin American policy has been the President's Former Chief of Staff, Thomas "Mack" McLarty--he has made more than 40 trips to the region. Last week, McLarty, whose official title is Special Envoy for the Americas, set the stage for the President's trip and its focus on open markets.
MACK McLARTY: From an economic standpoint our exports to the region are growing at twice the rate that they are to any other region in the world. By the year 2010 our exports in this hemisphere are expected to be greater than to the European Union and Japan combined.
KWAME HOLMAN: In a visit lasting fewer than 24 hours, President Clinton and Venezuelan President Rafael Caldera signed a number of agreements centering on the oil industry, the environment, and the fight against drug trafficking. President Clinton declared a new world is in the making throughout the Americas.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: On this day when we remember Columbus' remarkable arrival over 500 years ago in the Americas, we embark on a new voyage toward a new century and a new millennium, steering our course by the stars of freedom and democracy, partnership, and respect, prosperity and security, not for just a few but for all our citizens.
Brazil: A land of opportunity, a land of poverty.
KWAME HOLMAN: Venezuela has replaced Saudi Arabia as the United States' largest oil supplier. This afternoon the Clintons departed for Brazil, another major U.S. trading partner. Brazil covers more land than the continental United States and has a population larger than Russia's. Under President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the country slashed its annual inflation rate from 1600 percent seven years ago to just 5 percent today. Brazil's stable and growing economy caught the eyes of business investors throughout the world, including the United States' big three automakers: Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors.
Over the next five years international automakers plan to invest $15 billion in Brazilian car production. Brazil's economy now is the eighth largest in the world. But there remains a massive gap in Brazil's distribution of wealth, evident in Rio De Janeiro, where tens of thousands of the city's poor live in slums in the shadow of giant office buildings and luxury homes. And in the countryside 95 percent of the land is controlled by 5 percent of the population, leaving millions of people landless and hungry.
Democracy beginning to take root in Argentina.
President Clinton is scheduled to arrive in Argentina Wednesday evening. He will meet with President Carlos Menem on Thursday.
A military dictatorship until 1982, Argentina in the last decade has sent peacekeepers on more than a dozen missions to places like Bosnia and Haiti. Argentina was the only Latin American country to volunteer troops to the Gulf War. Such actions led the Clinton administration to classify Argentina as a non-NATO member ally.
President Menem reportedly will lobby President Clinton for support in helping convince the British to recognize Argentina's claim on the Falkland or Malvinas Islands, which Argentina tried unsuccessfully to seize from Britain during a brief war in 1982. The Clintons are scheduled to return to Washington on Sunday.