Officials from the Americas Call for End to Corruption

Foreign Ministers from around the Americas declared war on the deeply ingrained corruption in the region Tuesday at the end of a two-day meeting in this Andean capital.

The ministers also offered Haiti's new government the support of the inter-American community, committed their nations to undertaking "all the diplomatic initiatives necessary" to promote democracy in that country.

Addressing the annual gathering of the Organization of American States (search), Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) urged the nations of the Western Hemisphere to "advance democratic governance and economic growth in this region" by fighting corruption.

"Corruption is deeply destructive of our people's faith in democracy," he said Monday during a debate on the general assembly's final document. "And corruption scares off investors, denying countries the money they need to lift themselves out of poverty and onto the road to sustainable development."

The document, signed by 34 foreign ministers or heads of delegations, recognizes "that corruption has a serious impact on public and private institutions, weakens economic growth and impinges upon the needs and fundamental interests of a country's most vulnerable social groups."

In the document, the foreign ministers pledged their nations' commitment to deny entrance to corrupt officials into their countries and to the money they have stolen.

They also agreed to cooperate in the recovery of stolen funds "and their restoration to their rightful owners."

But the general assembly rejected a Peruvian proposals calling for countries to extradite officials accused of corruption. The Peruvian government was hopeful that the inclusion would have given it moral support in its battle to extradite former President Alberto Fujimori from Japan, where he took refuge after his government collapsed in a corruption scandal in 2000.

Mexico, which has a long history of providing refugee to officials who say they are fleeing political persecution, opposed Peru's proposal.

The United States also was unsuccessful in persuading other hemispheric nations to agree to impose sanctions on corrupt governments.

"Governments are not corrupt," Peruvian Foreign Minister Manual Rodriguez (search) told The Associated Press during a break in the debate. "Members of a given government are corrupt. Those members are subject to prosecution or sanctions."

For the last decade, Latin American governments in various forums have agreed to the need to battle corruption, but the declarations have always lacked teeth to enforce them.

But now regional governments are moving toward developing the mechanisms to put muscle into their fight against corruption.

On Haiti, the ministers agreed to channel their efforts through the OAS's Permanent Council in Washington. In a resolution that activates article 20 of the charter, the foreign ministers urged "the transitional government in Haiti to create conditions conducive to the holding of free, fair and democratic elections in Haiti as soon as possible."

Haiti's new government and U.S. officials were opposed to article 20, but CARICOM, a grouping of Caribbean nations, insisted on its inclusion and the debate dragged on for hours Tuesday, delaying the closure of the assembly.

Caribbean governments are seeking an investigation of the circumstances under which President Jean-Bertrand Aristide (search) was ousted from power in February.

The 15-member Caribbean Community (search) still refuses to recognize Haiti's new government and has called for an investigation into the circumstances of Aristide's departure.

Aristide left on Feb. 29 as rebels advanced on the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. He was flown aboard a U.S.-supplied jet to the Central African Republic, where he accused the United States of forcing him from office — a charge Washington denies.

After his Aristide's ouster, multinational forces entered the country to re-establish order under the authority of the United Nations Security Council (search).