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Monday, April 30, 2007

Shannon: “Ecuador is looking for a way to perfect its democracy”

MercoPress, April 26, 2007

United States Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas A. Shannon spoke on a wide range of Latin American issues Wednesday during a round-table discussion with journalists at the U.S. Embassy in Santiago.

Shannon, the top American diplomat for inter-American affairs, is in Chile for three days to attend the World Economic Forum on Latin America being held in Santiago.

Venezuela’s relationship with regional neighbours dominated the discussion, especially because of the recent approval in Ecuador of a Chavezesque citizens’ assembly.

The measure, approved by 82% of voters, has caused many to speculate on the future of Ecuador’s democracy and its relationship with the U.S. and other regional neighbours.

“We (the U.S.) have a great relationship with Ecuador,” said Shannon. “In this moment, Ecuador is looking for a way to perfect its democracy and make sure that it can respond to social demands.”

When asked about the closeness of Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Shannon said every nation was Latin American was sovereign and free to conduct their own relations. “This is an issue for the people of Ecuador. We are always looking for ways to improve our relationship with Ecuador.”

When asked about former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos, who recently slammed Chavez by saying the only thing behind his “Bolivarian Revolution” was classical caudillo charisma and a lot of oil money, Shannon said he had nothing but respect for Lagos.

“Lagos is a man with a lot of experience,” said Shannon. “He understands the region, and whenever he speaks, I listen. Without a doubt, though, “Chavismo” (as a political ideology) certainly exists in Venezuela.”

Shannon addressed broader trends in Latin America, and argued that strengthening the region’s democratic institutions was his primary concern. “The region is on the right path,” said Shannon. “This is a region that is open to democracy, but we must now try and see how we can strengthen democratic institutions so that Latin Americans are not just political citizens, but also citizens in a social and economic sense”.

“We have to show that democracy is worth the effort,” Shannon continued. “And we have to make sure that governments in the region can create jobs.”

When asked about the strong anti-Americanism that stretches from Canadian artic to the Chilean Patagonia, Shannon said the best way to improve the perception of the U.S. was to maintain involvement in the region. “There is a lot of discomfort with the war in Iraq. This is an obvious truth,” Shannon said. “Our experience, however, is that our image improves whenever we are in a country and working. The U.S. has to be present in the region.”

As the conversation shifted to Chile’s relationship with the U.S., Shannon had nothing but praise. “We have a great relationship with Chile, and since President Michelle Bachelet came to power, we have taken steps to enhance our relationship,” said Shannon. “Bachelet has been very helpful in helping us understand the social climate in Latin America.”
“Our country has a common understanding of how democracy works, and how economic policy can be used to enhance democratic participation,” the diplomat continued.

Shannon also praised Bachelet’s recent effort to crack down on piracy. Chile has been placed on a U.S. Department of State watch list for poorly enforcing intellectual property laws, and Bachelet announced several measures to combat movie and music piracy this week.
“Bachelet’s new measures are a positive step,” said Shannon, although the diplomat did not enter a broader discussion on the topic.

Movie piracy is rampant in Chile, but the real dispute centres on the many Chilean pharmaceutical companies that have followed the Brazilian model of knocking off cheap generics, arguing that patients, including HIV/AIDS patients, suffer if forced to pay full price.

“We are very focused on intellectual property because it promotes innovation,” said Shannon.

A career diplomat, Shannon has a Ph.D. and M.A. in political science from Oxford. He also received a B.A. in government and philosophy from the University of William and Mary. Shannon was appointed to his most recent post in 2005. He previously served in the White House as an advisor to the President and director of Western Hemisphere Affairs for the National Security Council.

By Nathan Crooks The Santiago Times

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