Rice was seeking to counter sentiment in the region that the US-prescribed policies of free trade and fiscal discipline have done little for the one-in-four Latin Americans living in poverty.

"Our job has to be as members of this hemisphere to pursue policies that give democracy a chance not just to hold elections but to then actually provide for its people, and to resist the siren song of kind of easy solutions that sound good but in fact are not based in economic reality," Rice said at a news conference in Brazil on Tuesday.

Rice has promoted democracy worldwide this year. But in a region where discontented poor protesters have toppled governments in recent years, she put a new emphasis on the need to fight poverty to avoid political upheavals such as last week's ouster of Ecuador's president.

"Our job has to be as members of this hemisphere to pursue policies that give democracy a chance not just to hold elections but to then actually provide for its people, and to resist the siren song of kind of easy solutions that sound good but in fact are not based in economic reality"

Condoleezza Rice
US secretary of state

US message

On her first stop of a four-nation Latin American tour, Rice's message was also meant to woo Latin Americans away from populism by co-opting the ideas of leaders in a region that has been tilting increasingly to the left.

In Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela, leftists who generally espouse a more state-controlled economy over the US preference for the free market have been gaining popularity, especially among the poor, during political unrest.

"There are obviously political, economic and social challenges that have made those democratic states very fragile," Rice said.

The familiar US economic policies such as promoting free trade needed to be coupled with the "human development side" to strengthen the region's democracies, she said.

Latin twist

With a major UN poll last year showing most Latin Americans would prefer an autocrat to a democrat if he could solve their economic woes, political analysts say Rice is wise to give her democracy drive a Latin twist.

But critics of the Bush administration are skeptical the secretary of state of a Republican party that counts on little support among the US poor, can win over many in Latin America.

Resentment has built up over President George Bush's perceived neglect of the region while he has focused on the war on terrorism and the invasion of Iraq.

And some leaders, particularly Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, have called US economic policies "imperialist" in attacks that have resonated with many Latin Americans, who complain economic growth has only favored foreign investors.