History reveals that Latin America is capable of attaining the levels of welfare and freedom that prevail in most developed countries.
Today, Latin America has to make a decision. Two roads are open and the two go in opposite directions.
One leads to openness to the world, democracy, respect for individual rights and freedoms, and a solid rule of law. This is the road traveled by successful countries. This is the way to attract investment, create businesses, generate jobs, and reduce poverty. This way offers opportunities and hope to people. In short, this road leads to success, progress, democracy, and freedom.
The other road drives away from an open, free, and prosperous society. We have seen enough of history to know where it leads. Those who promote this road today follow outdated ideas that created suffering and misery in the 20th century. They want to establish "21st century socialism," the successor of the socialism that generated grief and oppression in the 20th century.
These ideas are surfacing once more in Latin America, even with the endorsement of electoral processes.
I believe that the time has come for Latin America to use the power of ideas to choose the first path: the one that leads to prosperity, freedom, and democracy.
Solid Institutions and Rule of Law
Latin America needs stable democracies built on stable foundations. In this it is no different from the rest of the world: the progress of free and prosperous nations relies on basic consensuses that are kept alive over time.
The guarantee of freedom and prosperity lies in a system of strong, solid institutions to which individuals have easy access. To achieve such institutions, basic consensus and clear, stable rules are needed. Authority must be the product of the very rules that everyone has accepted, not the reverse.
Only countries that have sound institutions achieve economic growth and sustainable development over time. There is no reason why this should not be attained in Latin America too, along with a lean but strong state able to fulfill its main task: to guarantee the rights and freedoms of Latin American citizens.
Poverty can effectively be fought in Latin America. There is no historical curse that condemns Latin America to a lack of wealth and income as well as injustice.
Sustained economic development requires macroeconomic discipline. Latin America enjoys this situation at present, but it is only one of the requirements for prosperity.
Other equally or even more important conditions need to be fulfilled. Legislation guaranteeing property rights and respect for contracts needs to be in place.
The economies of Latin American countries need to be further open to the outside world, as this generates competition, innovation, and efficiency.
Judicial security is a sine qua non condition for prosperity. The property rights of all citizens and businesses should be guaranteed, as should the fulfillment of any contract freely signed.
State expropriation acts as an enormous disincentive to investors. If the right kinds of guarantees are not in place, people will not invest their savings in a country where their assets or those of others have been expropriated in the past. Trust is a condition for growth.
The ideal would be to undertake constitutional reforms that incorporate effective mechanisms for respecting property rights and contracts in the "magna carta" itself.
Working for a Brighter Future
The future of Latin America is without any doubt in the hands of Latin Americans themselves. And together with their friends they must work for a brighter future. This is one of the main objectives of the document that we present today.
People forget that the nation of citizens, the ideal of the democratic nation, is also the ideal of all the nations of Latin America. This is a principle that unites the entire Western World.
For this reason, I am in favor of Latin America establishing even closer links with the United States. I am also in favor of free trade between the Americas and Europe, in an Atlantic Area of Prosperity open to the rest of the world.
Trade is a wonderful tool for freedom and progress. I praise the efforts of President Bush's Administration to strengthen the commercial links with Latin America.
Free trade with Latin America is a goal worthy of investing political capital. Free trade is hated both by Latin American populists and by a part of the left in the United States and Europe. But we know that free trade is a decent policy. It drives progress through freedom of choice.
The United States should be a key partner in guaranteeing the region's economic and democratic progress. The commitment with Latin America, with freedom, democracy and free trade, should be a bipartisan policy in the United States.
Successful policies should be based on successful ideas. I do not know better political ideas than those of freedom.
Ideas that should be backed by effective policies: the policies and ideas of freedom, Western values, America's Christian roots, and the fight against poverty through growth. And, above all, the determination that the model of an open, democratic society should win out against the threat of populism.
The common aim of defeating the "21st century socialism" agenda requires having a sense of responsibility. Emphasis must be placed on what brings together, rather than what sets apart.
In the same way, the political forces of Latin America that share those principles should open up to new forms of cooperation and increased integration in order to create winning democratic alternatives for governments across the entire region.
If Latin America is an essential part of the West, we cannot afford the luxury of leaving the region in the hands of totalitarian regimes. We must take action and join forces against those who do not believe in the ideas that are embraced by free societies. Europeans and Americans have the moral obligation to support every initiative that brings out the best in democracy.
Colombia is an example of what is at stake in Latin America. Colombia is a democracy with a decent government. Colombian democracy is threatened both by terrorist groups and by narco-guerrillas. Colombia deserves our full support. This is a moral obligation and also in our interest if we want to preserve freedom.
Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan's dream of a transatlantic area that advocates freedom to all humanity is still in force. This dream must encourage us not to forget about Latin America.
In the current context of constant threats and risks, being oblivious to the future of this region would be a mistake of great dimensions. It is important that we help to build a network in Latin America of political institutions, parties, and individuals that regard freedom as a supreme value.
If we manage to take on this challenge, success will be guaranteed. History has proved that freedom can be achieved, provided that the appropriate action is taken by the people who truly believe in it.
Latin America is denied nothing. We know that there is still a great deal of work to do and that there are no shortcuts to prosperity. We know that freedom and progress are possible for all Latin America, and that success will come if we persevere in our work toward the ideas of openness, democracy, and freedom. (...)
Jose Maria Aznar was prime minister of Spain between . This column is based on a recent speech in the United States to promote the new book, Latin America: An Agenda for Freedom, published by FAES.