Reid on South America Trip: An Opportunity Within Our Grasp

Below is a press release from Senator Reid's office discussing the delegation he led to South America, an area we should all be paying more attention to.


Washington, D.C.—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid issued the following statement today regarding the bipartisan Congressional delegation trip (CODEL) of U.S. Senators he led to South America. The delegation visited Bolivia, Ecuador, and Perú, from December 27 through January 2. Following are excerpts from his remarks as prepared for delivery on the Senate floor earlier today. All six senators who participated in the CODEL gave speeches on the Senate floor this morning on their visit to South America.

“Madame President, like my colleagues, I am very pleased to discuss our recent CODEL to the Andean region of South America. I am grateful to Senators Conrad, Gregg, Salazar, Bennett and Durbin for taking the time to join me and speak on the floor today about this important trip.

“With America’s attention focused on the Middle East, South America does not get the attention that it deserves, particularly the three countries we visited – Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru.

“There is no doubt that there are serious problems in the region. There is also no question that the Bush Administration has neglected the region, and its lack of a comprehensive policy has contributed to this current trend towards the left. Venezuela and Cuba have been filling this vacuum left by the Administration. But I do not think we should be deterred by this trend. We have much to gain through increased engagement with South America – and much to lose if we retreat from our obligations to the region. We can and must do more.

“On our trip, we had productive meetings with the leaders of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru. Most importantly, we came away from our visit with an appreciation for the people of these three important nations, and an awareness of the key issues confronting them.

“Going forward, we must remember that the U.S. and South America will continue to have its ups and downs. But all relationships do. The six of us took this trip because we know that existing relationships must be cultivated and tended to in order to keep them healthy and strong.

“There is so much more we can do here at home. Our delegation intends to meet with the Secretary of State in the coming weeks to relay to her the small things the U.S. Government can do to improve our position in the region. For example, I believe:

* We should be doing more with IMET assistance, which in addition to the training program, proves so valuable to developing longstanding relationships between military officers the United States and the IMET beneficiary;

* We need to increase the USAID budgets for these nations. We learned that Ecuador’s aid budget will be cut considerably, and I believe that is a mistake. One thing we learned is how far a few U.S. dollars can go;

* We also need to do more micro-lending to support the counter-drug efforts of the Andean region, in order to keep cocaine off the streets of the United States. I was disturbed to learn that the State Department is contemplating significant cuts to the Andean Counter-drug Program. That too would be a serious mistake, and I plan on raising the issue with the Secretary of State.

* Finally, I think it is important to extend the trade preferences for Ecuador and Bolivia. I also know that Peru is eager to get its Free Trade Agreement finalized, and this is something that Congress needs to address in the coming year.

“Through increased trade, more robust aid and exchange programs, and stronger diplomacy to this region, the United States can help lift many people out of poverty and improve economic conditions, which would have a significant impact on illegal immigration to the United States. We would also help counteract the region’s shift to the left. In short, Mr. President, the people of this region want stronger ties with the United States, and that’s what we should aim to deliver.”