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Feature 052112 USDOS

Monday, May 21, 2012

'U.S. Policy Toward the Americas: The Summit and Beyond'

Roberta S. Jacobson

(Remarks as prepared)

Thank you, Susan (Kaufmann Purcell), for that warm introduction. I am delighted to be back in Miami and have the opportunity to see so many old friends and new colleagues. In particular, I am grateful to the Center for Hemispheric Policy for assembling such a first-rate group of speakers at this Latin America Conference.

It has only been about six weeks since my confirmation as assistant secretary, and we've already had Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's visit to Washington, the hosting of the North American Leaders Summit with leaders from Canada and Mexico, and, of course, President Obama's participation in the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia. In truth, it has been an exhilarating time for all of us who care so much about the collective success of this hemisphere.

As close observers of the Americas, I am sure that many of you have noticed that something remarkable has been happening in the region. While I will discuss the challenges that remain, I want to begin by underlining that the real story of the hemisphere today is a positive one. It is a story of broad commitment to economic and social advancement; a story of pragmatic leaders who are building deeper democracies and a new middle class; and a story of a once troubled region that has seen its largest nations emerge as respected players on the global stage.

Our partnership with the Americas matters a great deal to the United States: For our economic interests, as we rebuild our economy and reinvigorate our competitiveness for a new era; for our security and global strategic interests, as we design a 21st century architecture of cooperation with the help of our partners; for our core values, as we promote democracy and human rights around the world; and for our society and our culture as the growing connections between our peoples make us all more vital and innovative.

Secretary Clinton has described how harnessing the "power of proximity" between the United States and Latin America, the Caribbean, and Canada is among the most strategically significant tasks facing our foreign policy in the years ahead. The same is true for our neighbors, because the power of proximity runs in both directions. Working together with our partners in the region, we can begin to transform the Americas into a shared platform for global success.

I don't have to tell a Miami-based audience about the power of proximity in shaping U.S.-Latin American relations. You live that reality every day. From Little Haiti to Little Havana, Miami has always played an important role in bridging North and South, as a business hub, tourism magnet, and source of powerful talent from the Caribbean Diaspora and beyond.

The United States as a whole is benefiting from the economic and political rise of the Western Hemisphere. In the past 15 years, 56 million Latin American and Caribbean households have joined the ranks of the middle class, which now stands at more than 275 million people - almost half the region's population and growing. Grouped together, the hemisphere's market of nearly a billion people has made it an energetic hub of trade and investment. Approximately 42 percent of U.S. exports go to this hemisphere, more than any other region across the globe. During the past three years, our exports of goods to the Americas have increased by over $200 billion to nearly $650 billion. This trade supports nearly four million U.S. jobs. With the addition of Colombia and Panama last fall, the United States now has trade agreements with twelve countries in the hemisphere that run uninterrupted from the Arctic to Patagonia.

The region's emergence advances U.S. interests in ways that go beyond the economic dimension, to encompass the political and strategic realms. Brazil has joined the U.S. to create the Open Government Partnership, a global initiative to improve government transparency and accountability. Mexico's smart diplomacy played a vital role in advancing climate change talks in Cancun, and it will again be on display when world leaders gather there for the G-20 summit to advance the global economic recovery. Uruguay is a leading contributor to UN peacekeeping missions, and Colombia is using its tenure on the UN Security Council to assert greater leadership on key international issues.

The Summit of the Americas that took place in Cartagena last month offered more evidence that the hemisphere is moving in the right direction. Now, it's true that we had some "strategic communications challenges" at the Summit. But, the real story of that event was the spirit of partnership and equality among the most dynamic, globally-oriented leaders in the region. This was on full display during the panel at the CEO Forum where President Obama joined Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos for an insightful conversation about what it takes to compete in today's global economy. As President Obama stated, the challenge for this hemisphere is to make sure that economic growth is sustainable and robust, and giving opportunity to a wider, growing circle of people. But the panel at the CEO forum was merely a snapshot of the high level discussions that took place among an incredibly diverse group of democratic leaders, from every corner of the hemisphere, sitting down together in a spirit of pragmatism and trust.

I am convinced that, once the dust settles, the Cartagena summit will be remembered for the role it played in advancing initiatives that will make our hemisphere more interconnected and economically competitive. For example, President Obama announced the Small Business Network of the Americas, which will support small and medium-sized enterprises as the engines of inclusive economic growth and job creation throughout the region. Women-owned firms will play a big part in this through the Women's Entrepreneurship in the Americas (WEAmericas) initiative, which will reduce the barriers to market access, financing, and training that persist for many women in the region. President Obama announced a Broadband Partnership of the Americas to promote universal access to technologies that will improve our region's competitiveness and foster social inclusion. And, through USAID, we are pioneering the Innovation Fund for the Americas, which will support cost-effective breakthrough solutions to development challenges in Latin America and the Caribbean.

We joined Colombia in launching "Connecting the Americas 2022," which commits the leaders of the Western Hemisphere to achieve universal access to electricity over the next decade by enhancing electrical interconnection. This ambitious effort builds on the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas, which President Obama launched at the 2009 Summit, backed by more than $150 million in U.S. government investment to support more than 40 initiatives.

Following the Summit, I traveled with Secretary Clinton to Brasilia, where I was once again reminded of Brazil's impressive transformation into a dynamic emerging market that is now the world's sixth-largest economy. With the help of greater economic stability and innovative social programs, tens of millions of Brazilians have entered the middle class. The Rousseff Administration understands the importance of science, technology, and innovation to sustaining that growth into the future. President Rousseff's "Science Without Borders" educational exchange program is highly complementary to President Obama's own initiative - "100,000 Strong for the Americas," a goal to expand to 100,000 the number of U.S. students studying in Latin America and the Caribbean, and encourage an equal number of students from the region to come to the United States for study.

Our partnerships for the Americas also include a focus on enhancing citizen security. While much of the region is enjoying greater peace and prosperity, violent crime remains a serious problem throughout Mexico, Central America, and parts of the Caribbean. In response, the United States has built strong partnerships through the Merida Initiative, Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), and Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) to improve security in each respective region. And increasingly, we are seeing countries within the hemisphere sharing their experience and know-how to fight organized crime, such as the new and positive roles played by Colombia and Mexico to assist their partners in Central America. When we talk about security challenges in the Western Hemisphere we cannot forget populations who are more vulnerable to the violence that affects the region - whether that means women and children, gays and lesbians, or members of indigenous communities and Afro-descendant groups.

During the Summit, pundits spilled a lot of ink over the diversity of views among the United States and Latin American partners on drug policies. As the President himself emphasized at the Summit, the United States welcomes the fledgling debate on decriminalization of illegal drugs as an opportunity to demystify the appeal of the proposal. We are ready to discuss why we oppose decriminalization or legalization and to engage with our neighbors to continually develop more effective approaches to fighting the narcotics trade and criminal organizations, while making the streets of the region safer for its citizens.

Under President Obama's leadership, this administration has made it clear that we know that the demand for drugs, including demand in the United States, contributes to the phenomenon of drug-related violence. And that's why we've developed a new drug control strategy that focuses on reducing the domestic demand for drugs through education and prevention and treatment. This administration has made a significant commitment of $30 billion over three years for early intervention and treatment services for individuals who have drug problems, and we have made an additional $9.2 billion request in the FY 2013 budget.

The recent history of the Americas has demonstrated how important democracy is to reinforcing economic progress. Protecting democracy in the hemisphere is the responsibility of governments and citizens alike, and we must speak out forcefully and in unison whenever our democratic values are challenged. This responsibility has been enshrined in the Inter-American Democratic Charter, signed in 2001, by the 34 member nations of the Organization of American States.

Regarding Cuba, we have a positive policy-one that seeks to support Cubans' right to freely determine their future. The Administration has taken steps to ease travel restrictions and increase the flow of information and remittances for ordinary Cubans, as well as allowing more exchanges for religious, academic, or cultural purposes. We believe that these policies are enhancing the independence of the Cuban people from the state, and we will be the first to cheer when a democratically chosen government in Cuba resumes its full participation in the inter-American system.

Those of us who know this hemisphere's history find it disappointing that some countries whose own democratic transitions have been so central to their national success, and who are stalwart in their support for rights and democracy on a global stage, waver on that principle.

Beyond Cuba, we are seeing clear signs of erosion in the full respect for freedom of expression in some countries. It's worth noting that during the remarkable transitions from dictatorship to democracy that have taken place over the past several decades, our region's free press has played an essential role. Given this distinguished record, any steps backward by either governmental or non-governmental actors are worrisome. We've seen massive lawsuits against newspapers, judicial harassment of media owners, and continuing violence against journalists by non-state actors.

We must collectively remain on guard against serious and significant efforts by a number of nations to undermine or weaken the Inter-American Human Rights System that has proved so essential to maintaining and strengthening democracy. Dissent is not criminal behavior. Opposition to the government is not criminal behavior. And free speech is not criminal behavior. To the contrary, free speech is one of the pillars of our democracies and must be defended.

Those democratic principles remain critically relevant to the hemisphere and its future. Losing sight of that, or allowing retreat in this area, will have implications for the hemisphere's continued advancement.

In closing, I believe that the countries of the Americas have an exciting future ahead of us, if we choose to seize it. Across the hemisphere, our citizens are demanding better jobs, improved social services, accountable and transparent government institutions, responsible economic management, and the freedom to live as they choose. The United States pledges to work with our partners to help the Americas become a platform for shared prosperity and success.

Thank you for your attention.


Roberta S. Jacobson is Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, U.S. Department of State.  This speech was given at the Center for Hemispheric Policy's 7th Annual Latin America Conference, in Miami, Florida, on May 11, 2012.

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