A Conversation with Wendy R. Sherman, U.S. Under Secretary of State
Ambassador John D. Negroponte
Americas Society/Council of the Americas
Wendy R. Sherman, U.S. Under Secretary of State
Thank you Ambassador Negroponte for those kind words and to the Council of the Americas and the Center for Strategic and International Studies for hosting this event. I would also like to thank the Council for its continued leadership on hemispheric issues and for bringing together individuals from all sectors to ensure our engagement and dialogue on the Americas is constantly evolving. We look forward to being part of the 42nd Washington Conference at the State Department in May. I would also like to congratulate CSIS on celebrating 50 years this year of helping to find solutions to today’s foreign policy challenges. Just less than one year ago, CSIS graciously provided an opportunity for Secretary Clinton to share her views on the hemisphere prior to the President’s trip to the region.
I appreciate the invitation and welcome the opportunity to share some impressions from my trip to Colombia, Mexico, and Brazil earlier this month. These countries are key regional and global players, and genuine partners, and we work closely with them in virtually every area of policy. Given the wealth of experience represented here today, I hope to get your views as well, as we prepare for the President’s participation in the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena in April.
When we talk about U.S. policy and engagement in the Americas, it is critical that we think in strategic terms, of where we need to be in ten or twenty years. Our policies in the region are building on a huge, historically significant opportunity: to make the western hemisphere a strong platform for shared economic growth and security—regionally and globally—that will advance our peoples’ interests for generations. This is no small vision. It is shaping and reordering our diplomacy and statecraft all over the hemisphere.
I know there are voices that say we don’t pay enough attention to Latin America, or that our “importance” there is waning. It’s a folkloric narrative when it comes to this region, and it is also somewhat patronizing. It misses by a mile what is really going on, and how we are forging equal partnerships with countries in the hemisphere.
I returned from this trip feeling more confident than ever about both Latin America and our role within it. I also felt tremendously buoyed by the leadership that you see coming from so many actors in civil society, the private sector, and local government. They understand very directly today’s opportunity, and they don’t want to waste it.
I don’t want to bore you with a travelogue, but I would like to briefly comment on each of the stops because I think it will give you a feel for what I mean when I say that these countries are key players. Before I start, however, I want to salute Ambassadors McKinley, Wayne, and Shannon for the truly extraordinary work they are doing to advance these relationships. They and their excellent inter-agency country teams represent us with creativity, dignity, and distinction.
In Colombia, I was reminded of the sheer breadth of our relationship. My conversations with President Santos and other top officials went beyond the security themes that used to automatically top the agenda. Colombia has a dynamic economy; positioned, some say, to become the second largest in South America, after Brazil. So we talked about our robust and growing economic relationship, which is creating new jobs in both countries. The review process for implementing our free trade agreement is advancing well, and already affecting the business climate in positive ways.
We talked about Colombia’s preparations for the Summit of the Americas, now a month and a half out. It’s never an easy event for any country to pull off. Colombia’s work on this says volumes about its regional leadership, and its commitment to the broader integration process underway throughout the region.
We also discussed Colombia’s growing regional and global outreach in support of international peace and security. For example, over the last three years, Colombia has trained over 11,000 police from 21 countries in Latin America and Africa, as well as Afghanistan. Colombia has also been a leader in the SICA-led Central American donor coordination process. Colombia is succeeding in leveraging its experience in the fight against cartels and terrorists in a way that positions it as a net exporter of security far beyond its borders.
My conversations with President Santos, Foreign Minister Holguin, and Defense Minister Pinzon and others not only covered the breadth of our security cooperation and Colombia’s growing participation in regional security initiatives, but helped lay the groundwork for our future security engagement as Colombia consolidates its institutional and security gains. I also heard from a variety of civil society leaders about progress on human rights issues, and the challenges that remain.
In Mexico City, as well, my meetings highlighted a diverse and mature bilateral relationship—one that has never been stronger. At its very core is a relationship of family, of Mexican and Mexican-Americans in the United States, and their extended families in Mexico. They stay connected in ways both social and economic. The economic relationship and its growth over especially the past two decades are central to the prosperity of both our countries. To be successful, that link requires an efficient 21st century border that encourages commerce and deters illicit activities, so border issues figure prominently in senior bilateral meetings.
My colleagues from the Foreign Secretariat and I also consulted at length about a wide range of international and multilateral issues, as we routinely do with Mexico. Those included the grave situation in Syria, our mutual concern over the state of democracy in Nicaragua, and planning for the G20 Foreign Ministers meeting that Mexico held ten days ago. Mexico’s presidency of the G20—it hosts the next summit, in June—underscores the country’s growing global leadership role. For any of the old Mexico hands in the room, please try to imagine discussing Syria and Iran with the Mexican foreign ministry 20, or even 10 years ago.
We also talked about final details of the Transboundary Hydrocarbons Agreement that Secretary Clinton subsequently signed with Mexico on February 20. The agreement is a great example of bilateral cooperation and partnership in the area of energy security, and it provides a sound framework for the exploration of important new energy reserves.
We have made great strides institutionalizing a positive, comprehensive partnership with Mexico on security and law enforcement. The cornerstone of that engagement is the $1.6 billion Merida partnership. The Mexican Government’s close partnership and sacrifice in fighting transnational crime and stemming the flow of illegal drugs in the hemisphere is commendable. It was clear during my discussions with civil society leaders how important it is to continue to work together to strengthen human rights—and specifically to protect journalists, many of whom have been targeted by cartel violence.
As we cooperate in new ways to fight criminal cartels, we know we have to confront the demand for illegal drugs in more successful ways. One of the highlights of my visit was my participation with First Lady Zavala and Mexico’s Health Secretary, in the inauguration of the “National System to Counter Drug Addiction.” Using Merida Initiative funds, the project creates an information technology platform that will link over 300 drug addiction centers, local councils, and state observatories around the country to monitor addiction trends and share best practices in treatment. This data network is a brilliant example of Mexico’s commitment to confront drug use and addiction at every level. It is also a great example of our partnership, under the Merida initiative, to support prevention, rehabilitation, and treatment—all key to building strong and resilient communities.
In Brasilia, my meetings at the Foreign Ministry, the President’s office, and the Congress were a chance to take stock of an already strong 21st Century partnership that seems to be gaining breadth and depth by the day. At its core is our burgeoning cooperation in education, science, technology, infrastructure, innovation, and energy. All of these areas are, of course, vital to our, and Brazil’s, economic success. I think it is a telling commentary on the maturity of our relationship that it has moved so far beyond traditional foreign policy confines. Today Brazil is a strategic partner in addressing global — not just hemispheric — issues of shared concern. And I want to be clear that the United States needs and welcomes Brazil's positive expanded role. The fact that we will sometimes disagree on policy issues does not change that, but rather highlights the need for continued dialogue and better understanding of each others’ values and views.
President Obama will welcome President Rousseff to Washington, DC on April 9, so my counterparts and I also discussed preparations for that visit. The agenda will focus on a range of bilateral, regional and global issues. We will likely talk about educational cooperation, science and innovation, and trade and investment. And, as we have so many times in the past, we will undoubtedly address broader global issues and how we can work together in the many multilateral fora and groupings that characterize today’s world order.
My trip also highlighted the rapidly growing education cooperation between our two countries. President Rousseff’s ambitious “Science Without Borders” initiative aims to send 101,000 Brazilian students abroad to study in key scientific disciplines—75,000 on government scholarships, and another 26,000 paid by the private sector. The goals of that program dovetail nicely with President Obama’s “100 Thousand Strong in the Americas” goal, which he announced last March in Chile, of increasing to 100,000 the number of U.S. students studying in Latin America and the Caribbean and the same from the region to the United States by 2020. So education will be huge on the agenda as it not only strengthens relations, but also fosters trade and business ties and prepares students for the 21st Century global workforce. This goal creates an excellent opportunity for private sector involvement by supporting exchange programs, financing scholarships, offering internships and training, and mentoring exchange students. You will be hearing a lot more from us on this in the weeks and months to come.
After Brasilia, I had a terrific visit to Recife, in northeastern Brazil. It is an area of the country that is growing even faster than the national average—an area full of opportunity. All around me I saw the signs of economic boom, as well as evidence of continued challenges in areas such as education, infrastructure, and public services. I was impressed at the forward-looking leadership of so many local officials and private sector representatives with whom I met. They understand the challenge, are facing it head on, and know that broadly expanded cooperation with the United States can accelerate their success.
Pernambuco’s Governor Eduardo Campos, is spearheading investment in all these areas, particularly in education. We signed an education MOU with Pernambuco state to strengthen cooperation in education and professional qualification, particularly in the area of English language training. This is a great example of new partnership at local and state levels that is having an immediate impact on people’s lives. This is, if I may say so, part of the modern face of our public diplomacy in the region. We are building linkages at the grass roots level that will help nurture and sustain the quickly growing ties between our societies.
What I hope I’ve done is give you a sense of how practical, multi-faceted, and globally focused our relationships with these three key countries are. And how incredibly active our ties are, on so many levels. They are part of a broader and very positive pattern of rapidly evolving U.S. relations throughout the region. That story reflects huge transformations within many of its countries, in how countries within the region are connecting with each other, and how the region is connecting with the world. All of this is shifting how we understand our interests in the Americas, and accentuating our stake in the continuing success and prosperity of countries in the region. As trading partners who buy our goods; as partners capable of providing global public goods; as protagonists in addressing global challenges.
I think the Summit of the Americas, in Cartagena, in April, will showcase the region’s rapid change—and the many practical ways that countries and societies in the Americas are coming together to solve problems and build a more successful and interconnected future. When President Obama went to the last Summit in 2009, shortly after he took office, he pledged a new era of equal partnership in our relations with the Americas. Three years later, we can point to a clear record of progress in that direction. The contours and details of that partnership are as varied as our societies, but it is effectively reshaping our engagement all across the Americas.
A word about what you shouldn’t expect the Summit to be: a jamboree of unanimity on every policy issue out there. That’s not political reality. And there are a small number of governments that obviously have not been receptive to our partnership offers. Or who take a more narrow and exclusionary approach to integration. That’s not where most of the region is pointed. There are some divergent views, and we are always open to looking for common ground even in those cases and the offer to find common ground stands. But we are committed to working with partners, all over the hemisphere, to advance and defend common interests and values, and we won’t be shy about speaking up, clearly, and acting, to that end.
A brief preview of some of our priorities at the Summit. These priorities all entail a forward-looking vision, but are grounded in very practical cooperation now—cooperation that is already under way and increasing. I think you can expect the President will focus a lot on boosting competitiveness in the Americas. Specifically, on the need to invest in education, to build up the human capital that will be a critical factor in social progress, economic competitiveness, and national success in a globalized world. Our network of free trade agreements throughout the Americas is an engine of growth in all our countries. But, we know that our growth and competitiveness depends on a lot more than trade agreements. They hinge, for example, on the quality of our investment in human capital and our ability to equip citizens to be successful in the 21st century workplace. So the President will talk with his colleagues about education, and how we can work together better and faster to expand access to education that meets the needs of peoples, especially in higher education.
Of course, this is not just the work of governments. It is a project for our whole societies, including the private sector, with its ability to mobilize and apply great resources. The private sector events during the Summit will offer the President, and his counterparts, the chance to make this point directly and explore new partnership ideas.
Growth, competitiveness, and quality of life also require cleaner and more reliable energy for our citizens. In Cartagena, President Obama will be able to highlight the many new partnerships taking shape in the Americas to help secure this. I think the President will also focus on the way our partnerships in the hemisphere are taking on an increasingly global character as the countries of the region become increasingly important global players. The success of these global partnerships will be vital to consolidating and accelerating the region’s economic growth. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a great example of this. It holds the promise of helping drive a new wave of high-standard, socially responsible, growth-generating trade liberalization throughout the greater Pacific. Chile and Peru are already part of TPP; Mexico, Canada, and others have expressed interest in joining this ambitious global partnership.
We talk a lot about a pivot towards the Pacific. But make no mistake about how much we consider the Americas to be part of the greater Pacific community. A stronger focus on the greater Pacific brings renewed urgency and importance to the quality and effectiveness of our ties to nations in the Americas. Secretary Clinton has reiterated this many times. She said it clearly last March at CSIS. I suspect many of you were present. She said: “The bottom line is that geography matters…it is a comparative advantage to be embraced and we neglect it at our own peril.”
For all of us who work on hemispheric policy, these are exciting and promising times. Our policy has moved light years beyond a traditional and reactive approach to the Americas. We are convinced that the capabilities and experience of people throughout the Americas will be a vital ingredient in a stable, prosperous and secure world. Expanding, unleashing, and applying that skill and knowledge are high strategic objectives that can only be realized with the full engagement of our societies, but I am so encouraged by the trends that augur for success.
Thank you. I would now like to hear from you and would be happy to take your questions.