- John Kerry, Secretary, U.S. Department of State
- Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs (introduction)
John Kerry, the 68th U.S. Secretary of State, spoke at the 45th Washington Conference on the Americas on U.S. Policy in the Western Hemisphere, a week and a half after the Seventh Summit of the Americas in Panama City. “It’s a privilege for me to be able to join you at an extraordinary moment of both promise and challenge in the Americas,” he told the room.
In regards to the Summit—the first in which all 35 countries from the hemisphere participated—Kerry spoke of U.S. President Barack Obama’s pledge to “break free from old arguments,” which had too often restrained relations, and instead “build a new era of cooperation between our countries, as equal partners, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.” He added: “The United States is meeting that commitment,” and not just because of opening relations with Cuba.
The secretary highlighted initiatives such as a proposed $1 billion aid package to Central America as a key, not only for economic growth, but also as a buffer to increasing violence in the region. “An estimated 6 million young Central Americans will enter the workforce just in the next decade,” he said. “If opportunity isn’t there, folks, I think every single one of you knows that we will reap the consequences.”
Kerry praised the forward-looking vision of Latin America’s citizens and governments: “Although there remain a few who seem frozen in the amber of past arguments, discredited economic theories, and obsolete chauvinism, the vast majority of people from this hemisphere care much less about what was then than [they do] about what is and what can be in the future,” he said. “This new generation of Americans is more connected, more socially aware, more ambitious, more demanding than any prior generation—and they ought to be. They are a symptom of how far the region has come in recent decades.”
On energy policy, Kerry called untapped energy markets “the biggest market in all of human history,” citing a current $6 trillion market with 4 to 5 billion users versus an anticipated 9 billion users in the coming decades. “If you make the right choices in energy policy,” he said, “you actually wind up having an enormous positive impact on the economy.” He advised the room: “Investing in energy and innovation and sustainability is among the smartest investments that any businessperson or government can make today,” and cited the Obama administration’s efforts such as Connecting the Americas 2022 with Mexico and Colombia, to the Caribbean Energy Summit.
Kerry then addressed Obama’s move to open up relations with Cuba. “This new course is based not on a leap of faith, but on a conviction that the best way to promote U.S. interests and values while also helping to bring greater freedom and opportunity to the Cuban people is exactly what we are doing,” he said, adding that the same principles applied to U.S. relations with Venezuela, and that the door to negotiations between the two countries remains open.
The secretary stressed the rule of law in Latin America as a fundamental key to economic growth. “Countries are far more likely to advance economically and socially when citizens have faith in their governments and are able to rely on them for justice and equal treatment under the law,” he said. In particular, he noted that a strong rule of law prevents young people from leaving their countries in light of instability; encourages freedom of thought and therefore innovation; and fosters cooperation. “People who are given the liberty to be different are also the ones most likely to unite and band together in the face of shared threats,” he said.
Kerry closed his remarks by underscoring democracy as a uniting philosophy for the region: “There are few ideas more powerful, my friends, more infused with universal aspiration, than democracy,” he said. “But democracy has never been inevitable; it’s never happened without great effort. Democracy is, in many ways, never complete. It is and always will be a work in progress.”