Today, Laura and I are in Latin America, where we are visiting five countries: Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico. These countries are part of a region that has made great strides toward freedom and prosperity in the past three decades. They have raised up new democracies. And they have undertaken fiscal policies that have brought stability to their economies.
Yet despite the progress we have seen, many citizens in our hemisphere remain trapped in poverty and shut off from the promise of this new century. Nearly one out of every four people in Latin America lives on less than $2 a day. Many children never finish grade school. Many mothers never see a doctor. The fact is that tens of millions of our brothers and sisters to the South have yet to see improvements in their daily lives. And this has led some to question the value of democracy.
Our Nation has a vital interest in helping the young democracies in our neighborhood succeed. When our neighbors prosper, they create more vibrant markets for our goods and services. When our neighbors have a hopeful future in their own countries, they can find work at home and are less likely to migrate to our country illegally. And when our neighbors feel the blessings of liberty in their daily lives, the appeal of radicalism declines, and our hemisphere becomes more secure.
The United States is doing its part to help our neighbors in Latin America build a better life for themselves and their families. We are helping these young democracies make their governments more fair, effective, and transparent. We are supporting their efforts to meet the basic needs of their citizens -- like education, health care, and housing. And we are increasing opportunity for all by relieving debt, opening up trade, and encouraging reforms that will build market economies, where people can start from nothing and rise as far as their talents and hard work can take them.
On Monday, I will meet a Guatemalan citizen who has experienced the power of open trade and free economies. His name is Mariano Canu. Twenty years ago, he was an indigenous farmer whose land provided barely enough corn and beans to feed his family. No one in his family had ever been to college, and most of the people in his village never got past the sixth grade. And his own children's prospects for prosperity looked just as bleak.
Mariano was determined to do better for his family. So he organized an association of small farmers called Labradores Mayas. He persuaded his fellow farmers to switch their crops to vegetables they could sell overseas -- high-value crops like lettuce, carrots, and celery. Soon they were selling to big companies like Wal-Mart Central America. Today, the business he helped establish is thriving, and it supports more than a thousand jobs. It also has supported something else: a college education for Mariano's son.
Mariano is showing what the people of Latin America can accomplish when they are given a chance. We must help others like him gain the opportunity to build a better life for their families. The generosity of the American people is helping our neighbors in Latin America build free and vibrant economies. By doing so, we will increase living standards for all our citizens, strengthen democracy in our hemisphere, and advance the cause of peace.
Thank you for listening.