From the Desk of Maria Otero, Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs

Washington, DC
January 21, 2011

Dear Friends,


The beginning of a year, and in this case a decade, provides a meaningful opportunity to reflect on our past and plan for our future. In 2010, as in many years past, the pendulum of foreign events swung between hardship and celebration. We witnessed and responded to a devastating earthquake in Haiti, and we celebrated the World Cup in South Africa. We applauded the release of the human rights hero Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, and we mourned the loss of a great diplomat and statesman, Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke.


The new year will be no less complex or challenging. But, as President Obama has indicated from Cairo to New York to Jakarta, the United States will continue to stand side by side with nations that share our goal of a more prosperous and peaceful world.


As Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, I have the honor of working with Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Mike Posner; Assistant Secretary for Population Refugees and Migration Eric Schwartz; Assistant Secretary for Oceans, Environment and Science Kerri-Ann Jones; Ambassador Lou CdeBaca of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons; and the Office of the Science and Technology Advisor to the Secretary. I also serve as the Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, and in this capacity I met with the Dalai Lama twice in 2010.

The overarching theme that unites these diverse issues is that of human security: the concept that the security of the individual underpins every aspect of national security, from environmental and food security to economic and political security. Human security is a necessary foundation to achieving global stability and human prosperity, and we must all work rigorously to strengthen it.


As I continue to work toward this goal, it is only appropriate that I started and ended my year with trips to diverse countries in Africa. From the protection of vulnerable people, including refugees, women and youth, to the promotion of basic American values, such as free and fair elections and freedom of expression, to the mitigation of conflict over scarce natural resources, it is a region where every aspect of human security is both threatened and addressed. Just last month, I met a community of Somali female refugees working together to build their own businesses and better their children’s future.


And for every one challenge encountered in my travels in Africa and around the world, I found a dozen bright minds applying innovative solutions to the world’s greatest obstacles. Increasingly, the promise of tomorrow lies in the aspiring hands of youth. As one talented young leader told me, "For us, now is not the time to eat but to serve." This is why I am proud to co-chair the State Department's Youth Task Force with Under Secretary Judith McHale as we develop a comprehensive framework for youth engagement in the pursuit of our foreign policy goals.


Conflict, human rights violations, trafficking in persons, refugees, rapid population growth, and diminishing natural resources confront nations across the world, requiring sustained engagement through committed partnerships. In 2010, I participated in Strategic Dialogues with Brazil, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Norway and Pakistan to address many of these issues.


With India and Indonesia, we are reinforcing their respective roles and responsibilities as regional and global leaders on shared values. With Norway, we are addressing challenges in the Arctic region, which will have serious implications for the future. And in Pakistan, we are supporting the government’s development of their national water policy and commission.


In October, we welcomed five Pakistani water managers through the International Visitor Leadership Program. They were able to provide an on-the-ground, real-time view of the challenges Pakistan faces in water management and the need for sound water resources management and governance in that country. This effort is crucial to the future of water security in Pakistan and elsewhere. With USAID, we hope to develop similar plans of engagement for other regions that face an insecure water-future.


Like the uneven distribution of water, lack of access to economic opportunity can cause hardship and instability. Already, millions are cut off from a financially secure future because of exclusive financial systems. Fortunately, the tools of inclusion, such as mobile phones, are at our finger tips--and more important, already in the hands of the people we seek to help. As growing numbers of unbanked people move closer to formal, connected markets through the adoption of cell phone technology, the State Department, together with the Department of Treasury and USAID, is increasing U.S. engagement on financial inclusion around the world, particularly as a condition for increased stability and economic growth.


From Honduras to Cote d'Ivoire to Indonesia, the events of 2010 provided important reminders of the need to protect vulnerable groups, preserve basic freedoms, and strengthen democratic institutions. These issues are not just policies, but imperatives. As a complement to our relationships with these governments, we are increasingly engaging civil society actors to collaborate and advance shared agendas. 


In 2011, we will bring renewed perspective and energy to the role of human security in the construction and implementation of U.S. foreign policy. Leveraging the full spectrum of civilian expertise and resources in the State Department and other U.S. Government agencies, we will continue to advance civilian security as a foundation of our foreign policy.


We will seek to reduce or eliminate threats to American security and to help create opportunities for governments and their citizens to address domestic challenges. We will redouble our efforts to prevent conflict, save lives, and build sustainable peace by resolving grievances at the individual and community level and help to build government institutions that can provide basic, effective security and justice.


On behalf of my office, I thank you for your contributions to achieving a more stable and prosperous world. We look forward to continued work together to address these challenges in 2011.


Warm regards,


Maria Otero