QUITO, Ecuador – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged Latin American nations Tuesday to impose a heavier tax burden on the wealthy, saying the region’s economic growth and competitiveness depend on it.

Clinton said in a speech in the Ecuadorean capital that tax evasion among the wealthiest in the Western Hemisphere is unacceptably high and hurts efforts to build badly needed infrastructure. She said it is also keeping countries from reducing poverty and improving health care.

“Despite progress in some places, tax and budget systems are ineffective and inefficient in much of the hemisphere,” she said.

“But,” she said, “in many places, it is also a simple fact that the wealthy do not pay their fair share. We can’t mince words about this. Levels of tax evasion are unacceptably high — as much or more than 50 percent in some of the region’s economies when it comes to personal income tax.”