Kerry Courts Hispanic Vote

Democrat John Kerry (search), seeking votes from Hispanics, told Latino officials Saturday that President Bush has neglected Latin America (search) and that he would do better.

Kerry said that as president, he would assemble leaders in the Western Hemisphere (search) in a group intended to defend democracy and the rule of law.

"I will be a president of the United States who knows where Latin America is and knows that we owe it respect," the Massachusetts senator told the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (search).

Kerry criticized Bush for failing to intervene when "mob violence" drove leaders from office in Bolivia and Argentina, and for encouraging Haiti's (search) former president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, to flee during a deadly uprising.

Kerry also said that unlike Bush did in Venezuela, "We will not welcome a government named by a military junta."

"Strong democratic states with transparent rules and a broad respect for the rule of law are essential to alleviating poverty and inequality in the region," Kerry said. "As president, I will strongly support democratic institutions, assist democracy where it is troubled and promote democracy in Cuba."

Kerry said he would attempt to reduce terrorist threats in the region by coordinating customs, immigration and law enforcement among the countries. He also said he would renegotiate the Central American Free Trade Agreement (search) signed by the Bush administration and include better protections for workers and the environment.

Kerry told the crowd of more than 400 that his domestic agenda would help Hispanic families in the United States. He said one in three Hispanics in the United States lacks basic health care and that unemployment among Hispanic has grown by 30 percent during the Bush administration.

Kerry noted that he married an immigrant and he offered greetings to his audience in Spanish, including a translation of his campaign motto to "Let America Be America Again."

Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, grew up in the African nation of Mozambique.

Five House Republicans who are Hispanic said in a statement distributed by the Bush campaign that Kerry was attacking the president to compensate for his inability to connect with Hispanic voters.

"John Kerry has done little to nothing for Latinos during his Senate career and his campaign is doing little to court Latino voters on the campaign trail," the lawmakers said.

The statement was signed by Reps. Henry Bonilla of Texas, Devin Nunes of California, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida.