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Remarks: Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson at the 44th Annual Washington Conference of the Americas

(Image: Roey Yohai)

May 07, 2014


Location: Washington D.C.

Thank you to Susan Segal for that warm introduction; we just saw each other in New York last week and I have tremendous respect and appreciation for the work of the Council. We at the State Department are proud to collaborate with the Council of the Americas on this annual meeting, which really has become one of Washington’s signature events on the Americas. It is also a pleasure to be here with John Negroponte, and Eric Farnsworth, as well as to have the opportunity to speak with all of you.

I am keenly aware that my main role here is to serve as a warm-up act for Secretary Kerry, who will be joining us in a few minutes. The Secretary just returned from a week-long trip from Africa and he is thrilled to be in Washington D.C. so he can participate in this event. Right now there is so much going on in the Western Hemisphere–and so much is going in the right direction–this is a timely moment to discuss U.S. policy towards the region. I wanted to use my brief time with you to highlight three themes where we are seeking to enhance our engagement with the region. They focus on expanding our notion of partnership, supporting Latin America’s growing global role, and enhancing our focus on young people.

My first main thought centers on the concept of partnership. Ever since President Obama first proposed a new partnership with Latin America and the Caribbean at the 2009 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago; this has been the lodestar of our policies in the region. A lot people doubted that a true partnership was possible, especially in a region where ties have been marked by asymmetry and inequality. Yet, today, almost every available metric–public opinion polls, levels of trade and investment, cultural and family ties, security cooperation, and the lively democratic debate in many countries–supports the view that U.S. engagement and influence in the hemisphere is on the rise. Yes, there are some places where we have less than the full and productive government-to-government relationship we would like. But the people in these countries admire and respect the United States for who we are, for our values, for our social inclusion and economic mobility, and for our diversity.

That is why I think that we need a bigger sense of partnership among the many actors who are invested in the future success of the Americas. We are going in this direction.  Our educational exchange initiative, 100,000 Strong in the Americas, has created new models of engagement for universities in the United States and Latin America to work together with the support of private sector donors. Many of you are involved in the Americas Business Dialogue that will create a new venue for business leaders from across the hemisphere to contribute to the Summit of the Americas process. And civil society organizations have been vital to our efforts to strengthen the Inter-American Human Rights System.

Nevertheless, there are still many areas where a sense of partnership between governments, companies, and people has not been fully developed or met its full potential. I think the Americas Business Dialogue is on the right track with its planned focus on six themes: energy; infrastructure and connectivity; regional and global integration; regulatory cooperation; innovation and education; and finance.

Another one that comes to mind is citizen security. CEOs often tell me that the high rates of violent crime are among their main concern. We are beginning to develop ways to work together on this issue, such as innovative new programs in Central America where USAID matches donations that the private sector puts in including the ESoluciones program in El Salvador where the private sector’s $22 million more than matched USAID’s $20 million. But perhaps the most important contribution the private sector can make is to help governments to establish the fiscal policies that allow for more public resources to be dedicated to building effective police forces and strengthening the rule of law. Security taxes have been approved in several countries, often over fierce opposition from local business leaders. These challenges are best met working together, and will require support from the business community.

So, here’s your assignment: during the day, try to think of one area where your company or organization could work with the United States more deeply to address a challenge, or create an opportunity, that would benefit the people of the Americas. And then relay that idea to us. And if there’s a way to work together, we will find a way to do it. The Western Hemisphere’s emerging global role is a second area of emphasis. Since taking office, this administration has emphasized the growing role that countries in this hemisphere can play on issues of global importance. And the United States welcomes their newly confident and capable leadership on everything from peacekeeping to trade integration to energy security.

This shift is challenging to those us of who have become accustomed to looking at the Americas through a North-South prism, but it also opens up tremendous opportunities for creative diplomacy and deeper collaboration. Our region is increasingly projecting itself across multilateral spaces, bridging both the developed and developing world, to an unmatched extent.

This is true in the area of global governance, whether through the participation of Canada, Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina in the G-20; the participation of Canada, Chile, Peru, and Mexico in APEC and the Trans-Pacific Partnership; or Mexico and Chile’s participation in the OECD, with Colombia soon to follow. And of course, there is a great deal of excitement around the Pacific Alliance, which includes Chile, Colombia, Peru, and Mexico, with Costa Rica on track to joining. The region’s membership and active leadership in these forums are all helping to build a foundation for balanced global growth.

The region has also led in the area of climate change, including Mexico’s stewardship of some of the world’s toughest issues at the Cancun Ministerial in 2010 and Peru hosting the next Conference of the Parties later this year. And there are innovative approaches being adopted in several countries, such as Costa Rica, which is working to become the first carbon-neutral nation on earth. And we all know that the world’s energy map is no longer centered in the Middle East, but in the Americas–with the huge potential that holds to increase hemispheric energy security and contribute to the world’s broader energy needs.

My boss John Kerry is arriving very soon–and he’s a much bigger thinker than I am–but let me leave you with one final thought. I think that those of us who love this region have to start doing a better job of putting people at the center of our policies. And I include the State Department in that, and I think that Secretary Kerry’s renewed focus on economic prosperity and entrepreneurship is exactly right. It is the crossroads of where U.S. and Latin American partnerships can yield its biggest returns.

I am fundamentally optimistic about the Americas because of the optimism I find in the young people I have met through Latin America and the Caribbean–and, yes, Canada–during my travels across the hemisphere. They recognize that in many places there are political divisions and deep inequalities, but they also are hopeful for a better future and giving their all to make that happen. I think of them every day and try to work as hard as I can on their behalf. And you know what? The young people of this region really aren’t that divided–in fact, whether you are in Montreal, Monterrey, Medellin, or Montevideo–you find that they are optimistic that they will find that education, that job, that opportunity to turn their dreams into a reality. And the United States is prepared to do our part to help.

Thank you, and if there is time, I’d be happy to take your questions.