Lee, Cruz: In Trump era, it's time to reassess Western Hemisphere alliances

June 22, 2017

As citizens of the United States, we recognize the rights of foreign peoples to live and govern themselves as they see fit. Just as the American people would not tolerate another nation dictating to us how to run our country, we believe other people should be able to make their own laws free from outside interference.

But the United States also has a tradition of participating in international organizations that promote the spread of democracy while also protecting the sovereignty of other countries. At times, this delicate balance has been lost and our ability to promote American interests has been diminished.

Unfortunately, that is what has happened with U.S. involvement in the Organization of American States over the last eight years. With the 47th General Assembly of the OAS this week in Mexico, the United States and President Donald Trump have before them an opportunity to correct this imbalance by engaging more responsibly with all our neighbors to the south through greater respect of religious and cultural freedom.

The OAS was founded on the admirable principle that "Every State has the right to choose, without external interference, its political, economic, and social system and to organize itself in the way best suited to it." And for decades, the United States has been the single largest donor to the OAS.

While the OAS has proven useful in opposing Communism and dictatorships like the ones in Cuba and Venezuela, some of its recent activities have contradicted its founding principle. The organization has pressured Latin American nations to adopt social policies favored by progressive elites, not their own people. Such initiatives, aided by U.S. funding, ignore the cultures of these countries and ultimately alienate their people from the United States.

The OAS exerts pressure on countries through the resolutions of the General Assembly, executive actions of the Secretary General's office, and rulings of the Inter-American Court. The OAS has also used the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to force alien cultural practices on Latin American countries, including formal recommendations promoting abortion in countries whose legal, cultural and religious practices defend life.

It has even promoted abortion in countries party to the American Convention on Human Rights, which protects human beings from the moment of conception. Countries like Paraguay took measures in 2016 to strengthen and protect their own pro-life standards in reaction to pressure coming from the OAS and IACHR.

The IACHR hasn't stopped with promoting abortion. In comments on the 2016 case Duque vs Colombia, the IACHR stated that Colombia's - at the time - traditional definition of marriage reflected, "an obtuse and stereotyped understanding of what a family is." Provocations like that serve no useful purpose for the United States, and indeed hinder constructive engagement with the family-oriented countries of Latin America.

As U.S. senators, we are alarmed that U.S. taxpayer dollars are being spent overseas to advocate for political issues that aren't even settled here at home. In 2017, the United States could spend $41.9 billion on foreign assistance. It is our responsibility to ensure that money is spent to further U.S. interests, not to promote an agenda that many foreigners and Americans alike find repugnant. The OAS's recent actions amount to ideological colonialism and our neighbors - in Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Paraguay and Uruguay - have protested the intrusion.

Trump has indicated his desire to rebalance our foreign policy to better serve the American people. In the past month, he has taken steps in this direction through statements given during the NATO summit regarding defense burden-sharing and by withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement.

We hope that Trump and the new leaders at the State Department work to end progressive cultural imperialism that spread over the past eight years. This can and should start in our own backyard. Our national interest lies in promoting security and economic prosperity for Americans, not in telling other democracies what to do. Respecting the cultural and religious differences of our allies should be a top priority for an administration that campaigned on breaking away from business-as-usual foreign policy.

Lee, a Republican, represents Utah, and Cruz, also a Republican, represents Texas in the U.S. Senate.