Democracy, prosperity linked

US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks prior to meetings with Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet (not seen)at the US State Department in Washington, DC, May 29, 2014. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEBSAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks prior to meetings with Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet (not seen)at the US State Department in Washington, DC, May 29, 2014. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEBSAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
SAUL LOEB / AFP/Getty Images

Last month in Mexico City, I walked through the halls of the Palacio Nacional, and I couldn’t help but feel the impact of Diego Rivera’s powerful murals depicting four centuries of Mexican history, remarkable testament to the long journey from subjugation to thriving democracy.

Not so long ago, naysayers doubted that the growth of democracy in Mexico and elsewhere across the Americas would translate into better lives for the people who live there. But the story of modern-day Mexico and many other countries proves that democracy and economic stability are partners. In fact, when I travel to other regions of the world struggling with modernity and skeptical of democracy, I tell them to look to the Americas as proof of the progress that’s possible.

The last decade has been a story of democracy and economic achievement in Latin America and the Caribbean. The region’s economies grew at a rate of 4 percent a year, trade with the United States nearly tripled, and more than 73 million people were lifted out of poverty.

This transformation didn’t happen overnight, and it didn’t happen by accident. Rising prosperity was produced by sustained efforts to open and integrate markets, encourage innovation, and recognize that a society achieves real prosperity and economic stability by embracing inclusiveness.

As the United States joins other governments of the hemisphere this week at the annual assembly of the Organization of American States in Asunción, Paraguay, we will rightly celebrate the region’s economic progress and highlight the clear link between democracy and prosperity.

But as we celebrate the gains, we’re focused on the road ahead. The path we need to follow is crystal clear. Leaders across the hemisphere need to set aside racial differences in favor of inclusiveness, advocate for the rights of women, and recognize that sexual orientation is a private matter. They must build on economic progress by opening markets to free trade and expanding opportunities for young people eager to enter the work force.

The United States is committed to working with our partners to achieve these goals. That’s why we support initiatives like the Inter-American Social Protection Network, which promotes best practices on social protection and access to basic services for vulnerable groups throughout the hemisphere.

It’s why we give direct support to partners across the Americas, like the major, multi-year investment we are making to bolster Colombia’s efforts to improve access to justice and combat human-rights violations in areas recovering from conflict.

And it’s why President Obama created the 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative, which aims to dramatically increase the number and diversity of student exchanges across the hemisphere. Investing in education and opportunities for our young people is investing in our hemisphere’s future.

Inclusive development requires effective and accountable democratic institutions. And it requires the kind of confident leadership the Organization of American States demonstrated in expertly monitoring recent presidential elections in Panama and Colombia. Through its flagship Inter-American human-rights system, the alliance defends freedom of speech, protects civil society, and holds all the hemisphere’s governments — including my own — to universal democratic principles.

This work is particularly important at a time when some have proposed a false choice between development and democracy. In fact, the Americas have shown that the opposite is true: Accountable, democratic governance is the surest way to expand social and economic opportunities.

Indeed, peace, security, and development are the core objectives of the OAS itself, and the reason it remains the world’s oldest and most vibrant regional alliance. But we can’t rest on our past. All the members of the OAS must redouble their commitment to those objectives.

The United States is deeply committed to working with our OAS partners to ensure that progress continues and that the Inter-American Democratic Charter is fully implemented. That’s why the OAS General Assembly was my first visit to the hemisphere after becoming secretary of state last year. And it’s why I asked Deputy Secretary of State Heather Higginbottom to represent the United States at this week’s gathering in Asunción.

We can be immensely proud of the hemisphere’s positive trajectory. But for that trajectory to continue, the United States and our OAS partners must adhere closely to our shared values of inclusion and democracy. The citizens of the hemisphere deserve nothing less at a time when so much more is possible.

John Kerry is the U.S. Secretary of State.

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