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Bush urges OAS leaders to stay on democratic path

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.—President Bush implored Caribbean and Latin American nations on Monday to continue on the path of democracy and warned against leaders who prevent democracy's progress and blame others for it.

Addressing the general assembly of the Organization of American States, Bush also urged Congress to pass the Central American and Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement, which is meeting bipartisan resistance on Capitol Hill.

The president didn't discuss a U.S. proposal for the creation of an OAS committee to monitor how democracy is exercised in the region. It's an idea many of the foreign ministers at the meeting were reluctant to support.

Bush noted that fewer than half of the 34 nations that comprise the group had democratically elected governments in 1974, the last time the general assembly met in the United States.

He equated democratic advances in the region to the spread of freedom in the former Soviet bloc nations and to the U.S.-led effort to spur the rise of democratically elected governments in the Middle East. But he warned that there was still more to do for Latin American and Caribbean citizens to experience true democracy.

"Our citizens must see (that) democracy delivers more than promises," he said. "They need to see in their daily lives that their hard work and enterprises are rewarded. They need to see in a democratic society (that) people can walk in the streets safely, corruption is punished and all citizens are equal before the law."

Bush took a veiled jab at Cuban President Fidel Castro, noting that his is the only country in the hemisphere that "sits outside this democratic society of nations."

"And one day the tide of freedom will reach Cuba's shores as well," he said.

Bush also delivered what some officials at the meeting took as a jab at Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez when he said that people in the hemisphere face "two competing choices" in the 21st century.

"One offers the vision of hope. It is founded on representative government, integration into the world markets and a faith in the transformative power of freedom in individual lives," Bush said. "The other seeks to roll back the democratic progress of the past two decades by playing to fear, pitting neighbor against neighbor and blaming others for their own failures to provide for their people."

Chavez has consolidated power by exploiting political divisions and anti-American sentiment. He led an unsuccessful military coup in Venezuela in 1992. He was elected president in 1998 and survived a coup attempt against him four years later.


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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