WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
6 Mar 2007 | News

As State Department Publishes Human Rights Country Reports, Bush Travels to Latin America

U.S. State Department Highlights Latin American Human Rights Issues; U.S. Must Get Its Own House in Order While President Addresses Rights Issues in Latin American Trip, says WOLA Washington DC, March 6, 2007—“We’re pleased that the State Department’s 2006 Country Reports for Human Rights Practices highlights some of the serious human rights issues in Latin America,” said Geoff Thale, Director of Programs at the Washington Office on Latin America.  “We hope President Bush will raise these issues during his upcoming trip to the region, and follow his comments with commitments to support change.   But to be credible, the President will also have to address his Administration’s own deeply imperfect international human rights record, and well documented reports of detainee abuse, extrajudicial extraditions, secret prisons and torture.”

The State Department reports underscore unlawful and extrajudicial killings by security forces; lack of public security, widespread societal violence and violent crime ; and impunity, corruption and organized crime, in the region, including in many of the countries the President will visit.   These problems are endemic and longstanding.   

During his March 8th to 14th trip, in which the President will visit Uruguay, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico, the President should publicly acknowledge the seriousness of the human rights violations and state specific actions that the U.S. government will take to assist Latin American governments to improve their human rights practices. 

Going to Latin America Empty-Handed

This Administration faces some real obstacles in pressing effectively for human rights reforms in Latin America.  According to Geoff Thale “our own international human rights record hurts our credibility, as do the cuts proposed in foreign aid to Latin America for human rights work and for addressing poverty and inequality.” 

The United States’ credibility in Latin America is at its lowest point in decades.   In part, this is a response to lack of U.S. attention to the region, but it is more due to the Administration’s deeply imperfect human rights record.  Under the President’s tenure there have been well documented reports of detainee abuse, extrajudicial extraditions, secret prisons and torture.  “Hypocritically, the Administration has pushed a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ to both human rights and trade practices,” says Vicki Gass, Senior Associate for Rights and Development at WOLA.

Unfortunately, President Bush is going empty handed to the region. The modest initiatives announced by the President are positive, but the overall trend in foreign aid is discouraging.  While U.S. assistance to Latin America has grown in the last six years, much of the growth has been in military and security assistance, or for unsuccessful anti-narcotics campaigns. Development assistance and child survival and health funds for Latin America are being cut. U.S. assistance at this level will not even begin to help resolve the human rights violations documented in the State Department reports or make a dent in reducing the poverty and extreme poverty in which over 55% of all Latin Americans live.  The upcoming trip should be an opportunity for President Bush to make these much-needed commitments.