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Trip Report by Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter to Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil: April 27 – May 5, 2009

May 6, 2009

Along with Rosalynn, John Hardman, Jennifer McCoy, Francisco Diez, and Melissa Montgomery, I visited leaders in these four nations to pursue the following objectives of The Carter Center:

  1. Enhance better communication and harmonious relations among the five Andean nations and with the U.S.;
  2. Promote Access to Information laws and their implementation;
  3. Complete the elimination of onchocerciasis (river blindness) in this hemisphere;
  4. Develop projects assigned to us in Ecuador and Bolivia to create better relations concerning electoral reform, enhancement of human rights, and the establishment of permanent institutions;
  5. Help ease some bilateral tensions involving the U.S. government;
  6. Learn as much as possible about each country, with briefings from U.S. Embassy personnel and meetings with an array of other leaders.

In Ecuador, we arrived the day after national elections to continue our work with a new branch of government, known as Transparency and Social Control. We met with their Citizen Participation Council, who are leading an unprecedented effort to ensure that citizens, including indigenous people and other marginalized groups, will have a maximum role to play as laws and institutions are evolved under the new constitution. We met with members of our bilateral Dialogue Group, comprising 10 distinguished nongovernmental citizens from Ecuador and Colombia who promote better harmony between the two countries. Colombia and Ecuador have been in bitter dispute since March 2008, when there was a military incursion by Colombia across the border in pursuit of armed revolutionaries (FARC).

President of the Interim Congress, Fernando Cordero, gave us a briefing concerning their work, leading to the formation of a permanent legislative assembly (votes were still being counted). I made brief remarks (in Spanish) to the assembled members.

We discussed with public and private mass media executives and government officials the initiation of a forum designed to promote a more harmonious relationship among them. We also consulted with Foreign Minister Fandar Falconí, and then with President Rafael Correa and his top advisors concerning other issues, including easing of tension along the common border with Colombia. I delivered an address at FLACSO University, and answered questions from its president, Adrian Bonilla, and from the audience.

Rosalynn and I also enjoyed birding in one of the city parks.

Note: Since the Dialogue Group will hold its final meeting in Bogotá next month, we are proposing the establishment of a broader group with members from Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and the United States. Working with partner organizations, our Center will coordinate the launching of this U.S-Andean dialogue, which we hope will address important issues in a relaxed forum, free from the restraints of diplomatic niceties. In each country we discussed this project, with a universally positive reaction.

In Peru, we participated in our regional Right to Information conference headed by Laura Neuman. There were 115 participants from 20 nations, with a goal of applying and expanding the thrust of the Atlanta Declaration, developed last year at The Carter Center, designed to promote the passage and implementation of laws that guarantee transparency within each country and distributed to all nations.

Rosalynn and I enjoyed meeting with Manolo and Maria Piqueras, whom we had known ever since 1948, when Manolo and I were young officers in New London, Conn., at submarine school.

We had a private and far-reaching discussion with President Alan Garcia on issues affecting his own nation and the region. We have known him since he was first elected 20 years ago and presided over an administration acknowledged, even by him, to have been a failure. In an impressive ceremony, The Carter Center and I were honored with Peru's highest human rights award.

In Bolivia, our country briefing was given by Chargé Krishna Urs and his staff, since the U.S. ambassador had been expelled because of alleged interference in the disputes between opposition governors and the central government. We met with Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca, directors of the Land Reform Institute, media executives, and our international partners. The planned meeting with the National Electoral Court was cancelled because of the resignation of its president that day. I met with and spoke to about 150 participants in our Center's "Community of Practice," a group of local and international organizations with whom we are working to promote dialogue and tolerance.

Our meeting with President Evo Morales was harmonious and successful, as we dealt with U.S.-Bolivia relations, plans for monitoring the December elections, and other projects of The Carter Center. We agreed on the advisability of exchange of ambassadors and return of the Peace Corps to Bolivia. We received his approval of our proposal on the U.S.-Andean Forum. He mentioned several times that we were friends long before he was a respected candidate in Bolivia.

Our most interesting meeting was with a group of strong-willed and eloquent indigenous women leaders, who provide bedrock support for President Morales' MAS political party. They brought with them and enjoyed an ample supply of coca leaves, which have been chewed since ancient times to counter hunger and altitude.

We met with media leaders and then ambassadors from about 20 nations. After flying to Santa Cruz, we had extensive discussions with the four prefects (governors) who comprise the main opposition to the Morales government. They were critical of many government policies and the process of drafting the constitution, but unanimous in accepting the legitimacy of the government and the new constitution. The basic difference involves the degree of autonomy of their states. Their only option seems to be to accept the next scheduled election as the best avenue for addressing their demands, but they expressed doubts that it will be honest and fair. We informed them that we and other international election observers would attempt to alleviate their concerns.

We then flew to Sao Paulo (it makes New York look small), where we had extensive discussions with Governor Jose' Serra and former president Fernando Cardoso. Opinion polls indicate that Serra is, at this early date, the leading candidate for president in the election (42 percent to 13 percent) scheduled for October 2010. We recalled our many visits to Brazil during the past 37 years. I was given a special human rights award, based on the effect our policies had in bringing democracy to Brazil and other South American governments, all but two of which were dictatorships in 1977. During our visits to these nations, we are often confronted by people, like the governor, who describe how their lives were affected.

We then met with a roundtable of preeminent business and financial leaders who explained the strengths of Brazil's banking system and their strong desire for more commerce and investments with the United States.

In Brasilia, we enjoyed birding in the early morning, then had a country briefing before meeting with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. As a former iron worker, Lula has been able to reach across the political, social, and cultural divides, so that Brazil is unified and has evolved a position of leadership in the region and around the world. We discussed our visits to other nations on this trip, U.S.-Brazil relations, other developments in China, Africa, and the Middle East, and Brazil's plans for the future, including housing, nuclear power, its preeminent position in renewable energy, and electoral prospects. It was obvious why Brazil has become so influential, and why Lula's endorsement will be a powerful factor in the next election in October 2010. A top leader of an opposition party told me they would accept his recommendation.

During a private lunch with Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, we pursued these and other subjects in more detail. We then met with Health Minister José Gomes Temporão to discuss close cooperation among Brazil, Venezuela, and The Carter Center on the final stages of eliminating Onchocerciasis among the Yanomami and other indigenous border tribes. Our last event was a supper hosted by U.S. Ambassador Clifford Sobel that gave us an opportunity for discussions with former President José Sarney and other distinguished leaders.

Read Americas Program Director Jennifer McCoy's Blog from Carter Center Delegation Trip to Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil >>

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