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Powell: Americas dissatisfied with pace of reforms

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- There is growing dissatisfaction with democracy and the pace of economic reforms in many North and South American countries that threatens their stability and future prosperity, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Monday.

The Western Hemisphere, Powell said, faces more economic and political troubles than a year ago.

"There is a broader, deeper discontent in the region," Powell told top business leaders at a conference of the Council of the Americas, which lobbies on issues affecting business in the Americas.

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

"This is the era in our hemisphere of democracy, not dictators. Constitutions, not coups."

He said he based his conclusions on findings from a recent regional survey that in 16 of the 17 Latin American countries polled, most citizens felt, "What good is democracy if your life is not better?"

Discussing conditions in various nations, Powell especially singled out Argentina, which is trying to recover from an economic and political crisis. In April, the nation found itself with its sixth economy minister in just over a year.

The country was forced in December to halt payments on much of its $141 billion in foreign debt, in the largest government default in history. In April, Argentine consumer prices rose at the highest monthly rate in a decade as fears of runaway inflation and civil unrest festered.

"But economic reform alone will not bring Argentina out of crisis," Powell said. "Argentina must also address the underlying political and institutional flaws that encourage excess public sector borrowing, corruption, politicized judicial systems and a lack of transparency in government activities."

Powell also spoke of problems in other nations.

In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez reclaimed power after he was ousted briefly last month, promising to unite the country after being forced out of office for two days amid massive protests.

Chavez was forced from office by military leaders after he ordered the army to quell anti-government protests, killing a dozen demonstrators.

In Cuba, "(Communist President Fidel) Castro makes a mockery of freedom," Powell said. The U.S. goal continues to be to urge Cuba to make a transition to democracy, he said.

Powell said the United States stands ready to help Colombia overcome its drug trafficking problems.

"There must be a more robust military and security component to U.S. policy," he said.

He pointed to Uruguay as having the most equitable income distribution in Latin America. Corruption is not a fact of business life there; therefore, the nation has been able to withstand powerful economic shocks, Powell added.

Despite the region's troubles, Powell remained optimistic.

"Going forward, our challenge is to work with our neighbors to help them complete and to consolidate their political, institutional and economic reforms," he said.

"The only answer to the problems of insufficient democracy and incomplete economic reform is more democracy and more economic reform. The past year has been a difficult one, where our beliefs have been tested. But it has also been a time when our convictions have been confirmed, and that is what makes me optimistic moving forward."




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