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Hemisphere's concerns: Free trade and poverty
The Miami Herald / December 5, 1995

By Larry Luxner

WASHINGTON -- Cesar Gaviria Trujillo, secretary-general of the Organization of American States, offered his vision of hemispheric free trade in a private meeting Thursday night with leaders of B'nai B'rith International, one of the nation's most influential Jewish organizations.

Gaviria, scheduled to speak Monday afternoon before 1,500 delegates to the Miami Conference on the Caribbean and Latin America, said individual nations have three choices on the road to free trade: first, to "follow the path of convergence" and join sub- regional groupings like Mercosur and the Andean Pact; second, to apply for accession to NAFTA, as Chile has done, and third, to work together towards a hemispheric-wide Free Trade Area of the Americas by the year 2005, as outlined at the 1994 Summit of the Americas in Miami.

"The third choice is the most desirable option," said Gaviria, 48, adding that "this is a pivotal moment" for the region.

"The integration of the Western Hemisphere will be remembered as one of the great accomplishments of the 20th century," he told the group of 50 or so B'nai B'rith officials. "We have 26 multilateral agreements, and almost every Latin country is bound by these agreements. Yet the fight against poverty can no longer be postponed. We desperately need a better way to carry out social policy. The best and the brightest of the region must give more than lip service to help the poorest. We must invest in our people. The first and most profound challenge will be how to preserve the political consensus for free-market economies. Democracy alone is not a fix."

Gaviria, who served as president of Colombia from 1990 to 1994, said that as head of the OAS, he would work aggressively to fight anti-Semitism in Latin America, and would push for member nations to adopt tougher anti-terrorist measures. His speech before the B'nai B'rith was part of recent OAS efforts to garner support among non-governmental organizations in much the same way the United Nations works with NGOs to advance social, economic and environmental causes throughout the world.

"Far from being the lost decade, the 1980s was a time of great achievements," Gaviria said. "The opening of the region's economy resulted in high productivity and lower inflation rates, and human rights resumed its rightful position. In foreign policy, the Americas have discovered the benefits of integration. The traditional distrust between the United States and Latin America is receding. The Summit of the Americas confirmed that what was once a fact is now history: the Americas of today has very little to do with the Americas of just a few years ago. The new Americas is a democratic hemisphere. It's no longer about oligarchies. It's about people."

He added that "the OAS is trapped in an undesirable position. In the United States and Europe, there's a prejudice against governments of Latin America. We need to sell the idea that governments and non-governmental organizations need to work together."

Asked about the Nov. 2 assassination in Bogota of conservative politician Alvaro Gomez Hurtado by a group calling itself "Movement for the Dignity of Colombia," Gaviria dismissed possible political motives, saying the murder was probably the work of drug traffickers.

"Nobody knows where the Diginity of Colombia comes from, whether they're from the left or the right," said Gaviria. "We don't even know if they exist. Colombia has had political violence for a very long time. It has a stable economy -- the only one in the 1980s that paid its debts -- but even with that, the violence has been remarkable. The murder of Gomez Hurtado may mean that we're facing a new wave of violence-related killings in Colombia."

Gaviria also praised B'nai B'rith for the group's recent humanitarian efforts in Cuba, though he stopped short of calling for an end to Washington's trade embargo against the Castro regime -- an embargo opposed by all OAS member nations except the United States itself.

"If the problems of the Middle East can be solved, along with the problems of South Africa, then why not Cuba? It's not such an intractable problem," he said. "You have to believe in diplomatic means and negotiations. The United States has already solved the immigration problem with Cuba through diplomacy. Why not use that to solve other conflicts?"

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