October 15, 2004

Commentary:

Our Community’s Expectations for the Next President: Effective Policy Towards Latin America

By Congressman Silvestre Reyes
Chair, CHC International Relations Task Force

As our nation focuses on matters of foreign policy like the ongoing war in Iraq, continued military efforts in Afghanistan, and potential crises in places like North Korea, we as Hispanics need to unite and call on our next President to reach out to our neighbors in the Western Hemisphere.

While Latin America is being treated as an afterthought by many, the region’s nations are struggling to provide jobs, healthcare, and critical services for their peoples. According to a report by the United Nations Development Program released in April in Lima, Peru, “the region faces severe challenges that have led to a deep sense of popular dissatisfaction with its democratically chosen leaders. Slow economic growth, profound inequalities, and ineffective legal systems and social services are together triggering popular unrest and undermining confidence in electoral democracy.”

Hispanic Americans have a collective interest in our nation’s policy towards the Western Hemisphere. While our voice often reflects the multitude of interests stemming from the diversity of the Hispanic community, one thing is clear: we want a President who will listen to our opinions and who will respect our heritage.

In the Fiscal Year 2005 budget proposed by the President, funding for Latin America was the only foreign aid funding reduced from its Fiscal Year 2004 levels. This is truly a disgrace. Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus banded together in supporting programs that promote economic and social development in Latin America. In June when the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill was considered in committee, we included funding for general Development Assistance and Child Survival and Health programs over and above the President’s budget request. The Committee also stated its disappointment with the President’s budget for ignoring our neighbors in Latin America when they are in great need. They specifically directed the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to provide assistance to Central American nations through the Development Assistance and the Child Survival and Health Programs Fund at a combined level equal to or above the fiscal year 2004 levels. This is a big win - rallying efforts in the House are working.

In Congress, the Hispanic Caucus is working hard to ensure that Latin America’s many needs are met. In the fall of 2003, Congressman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) introduced H.R. 3447, the Social Investment and Economic Development Fund for the Americas. This legislation, which will provide $500 million per year for five years to support fragile democracies and combat poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean by investing in education, healthcare, and economic development, received broad support from our members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. This legislation demonstrates our commitment to the future of our neighbors in the Western Hemisphere at a time when Latin America’s needs are being neglected in favor of other foreign policy priorities.

Hispanics hope for a President who will make a commitment to the Americas - and who will make the passage into law of the Social Investment and Economic Development Fund for the Americas a priority.

Like all Americans, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus is deeply concerned with our nation’s foreign policy. We recognize the continued importance of focusing our efforts to end the War on Terrorism. But we also recognize the importance of providing assistance to our nearest neighbors in need.

We, as Hispanics, look forward to a President who recognizes the importance of balancing our world’s many needs. This week, as the nation pauses to commemorate the anniversary of Columbus’s “discovery” of the Americas, we Hispanics look forward to the leadership of a President who will not ignore the Hispanic voice and who will make the development of the Americas a real priority for our foreign policy.

Representative Silvestre Reyes, now in his fourth term, became the first Hispanic to represent the 16th District of Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1996.

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