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Powell Urges Latin America to Seize Democracy Powell Urges Latin America to Seize Democracy
Mon May 6, 1:28 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Citing widespread discontent with governments across Latin America, Secretary of State Colin Powell (news - web sites) on Monday urged countries from Venezuela to Colombia to implement desperately needed democratic reforms.

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Addressing a Council of Americas conference at the State Department, Powell said people across the region were dissatisfied with the quality of democracy and frustrated with the results of economic reform.

"There is a disenchantment with the institutions of elected government. In too many countries, people are losing faith in their political systems and leaders. Things were supposed to be better," said Powell.

He cited a recent region-wide survey that found a decline in support for democracy in 16 of the 17 Latin American countries polled.

"What good is democracy if your life is not better?," asked Powell, adding that most people still faced basic struggles such as feeding their families and educating their children.

Too many governments had failed to undertake "second-generation reforms" such as improving tax laws, pensions and regulatory systems, that were needed to attract desperately needed investment.

"Capital, as I say all the time, is a coward. It flees from corruption and bad policies, conflict and unpredictability. It goes where it is welcomed, where investors can be confident on the return on the resources that they have put at risk."

The only answer to the problems of insufficient democracy and incomplete economic reform was more democracy and more economic reform, he advised.

Discussing the recent economic crisis in Argentina, Powell said that country needed to address underlying political and institutional flaws that encouraged excess public sector borrowing, corruption, politicized judicial systems and a lack of transparency in government activities.

In Colombia, where the United States is helping fight the war on drugs, Powell said there needed to be a more robust military and security component to U.S. policy.

"We are prepared to expand the scope, the nature of our assistance. But Colombia must also fully commit itself to the tough steps that will be needed to achieve success."

Powell advised Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who survived a coup last month, to work closely with the Organization of American States to strengthen his country's democratic institutions.

"Coups must be recognized for what they are, fading echoes of a discredited past, not the road to a democratic future. President Chavez must follow with deeds his new pledges of national reconciliation and respect for democratic principles," said Powell.

Powell, a four-star general who was head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke of his own personal disappointment over events in Haiti where there had been so little progress since a U.S.-led invasion helped oust a military junta in 1994.

Citing Cuba as another problem country, Powell said it could not forever remain the "sole holdout" from democracy and free markets.

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