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House Speaker John A. Boehner said on Tuesday that the possibility of American disengagement from Latin America poses the greatest threat to unity and democracy in the region.
Accepting the Chairman’s Award from the Council of the Americas, an international business organization focused on developing open markets, Mr. Boehner identified three challenges to the region, including Iran’s ambitions and criminal organizations, like drug cartels and insurgents.
“The best defense against an expansion of Iranian influence in Latin America — and against the destructive aspirations of international criminals in the region — is for the United States to double down on a policy of direct engagement,” he said.
Mr. Boehner said one way to further commit to Latin America was to renew trade promotion authority, which would improve the ability of the president to negotiate trade deals with other countries. Strengthening free trade would promote job creation, he said.
“I’m disappointed the administration has not moved to build on these achievements by seeking trade promotion authority,” he said.
Mr. Boehner received the council’s highest award for his role in the passage of trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. In his remarks, he said he pushed President Obama to pursue all three deals when the president was considering a piecemeal approach.
He credited the House for making the economy a legislative priority, including by passing the previously stalled agreements. The three trade deals were the first to pass Congress since 2007.
“Most of our agenda has now been passed by the House — and in spite of the challenges of divided government, some of it has been enacted into law,” he said.
After Congress approved the trade deals, Mr. Boehner led a delegation to Latin America in January, where he met with President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia and President Ricardo Martinelli of Panama.
“My steadfast resolve is to build on the success of the recent past so that one day in the near future, fundamental kindness and respect are attitudes that are taken as ‘givens’ in these relationships,” Mr. Boehner said.
Last year’s recipients of the Chairman’s Award, which recognizes “a democratically elected leader with a record of significant achievement in hemispheric affairs,” were Senator Richard G. Lugar, Republican of Indiana, and Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey.