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"Freedom and democracy," says U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, "are the only way for diverse societies to resolve their disputes justly and to live together without oppression and war." In Latin America, says Ms. Rice, the U.S. is hoping to promote political reform through economic opportunities:

"The success of democracy in Latin America depends on the continued openness of our hemisphere, openness to new ideas and to new people and especially to new trade. A region that trades in freedom benefits everyone."

The way to promote such trade is through the Central American Free Trade Agreement, known as CAFTA. CAFTA has already been ratified by legislatures in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, and will shortly be taken up by the U.S. Congress. CAFTA, said Secretary of State Rice, "will energize democracy, strengthen security, and promote prosperity among some of our most important neighbors."

In order to attract trade and investment, democratic countries must create the right political conditions. That means Central American governments will have to reign in corruption and enforce the rule of law. Such reforms will help the people of Central America improve their standards of living and have a stake in the future of their countries. As Ms. Rice said, "On the lawful, level playing field of democracy, free trade offers greater opportunities to all people from all walks of life."

Some Central American countries will also need assistance to promote the growth of democratic institutions. The United States is providing such aid through the Millennium Challenge Account initiative. Secretary of State Rice says the initiative provides billions of dollars "to countries that rule justly, advance economic liberty and invest in their people." Honduras has met these conditions and will soon receive assistance. Discussions are underway with Nicaragua and Bolivia to also participate in the program.

The U.S. recognizes that its security is tied to the success or failure of other societies, especially its neighbors. That's why the U.S. will continue to promote free trade and democratic development. As President George W. Bush said, "The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world."

The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States government.