The Importance of the Americas to Our Shared Future

William J. Burns
   Deputy Secretary
Roberta S. Jacobson
   Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs
Ambassador John Negroponte
Remarks to the Council of the Americas' 42nd Washington Conference on the Americas
Loy Henderson Auditorium, Washington, DC
May 8, 2012

AMBASSADOR NEGROPONTE: Thank you, Susan. To begin our program today, I have the great pleasure to introduce our first speaker, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns. Bill Burns is only the second serving career diplomat in history to become the Deputy Secretary. This is a little nuance -- this is an inside baseball nuance here that a couple of us were political appointees, although we had previously been Foreign Service officers. So I'm thinking it must have been Walt Stoessel and yourself. Is that right? And then Larry Eagleburger and I were Deputy Secretaries, but we did it via the -- after having retired from the service and been chosen as political appointees.

I know from experience that this is a big job from acting as the principal advisor and alter ego of the Secretary of State to supervising all elements of the Department. Previously, Ambassador Burns served as under secretary for political affairs from 2008 to 2011. In addition, he has been an ambassador to Russia, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, and ambassador to Jordan.

The Deputy Secretary has led the Department in building a deeper partnership with Brazil as exemplified by his recent visit to Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia. He has also made the case elegantly and forcefully that complementary strategic and economic relationships with vibrant partners in Asia and the Americas will be central to our future success. We at the Council of the Americas couldn't agree more. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns. (Applause.)

Date: 05/08/2012 Description: Deputy Secretary Burns delivers remarks on ''the Importance of the Americas to Our Shared Future'' to the 42nd Washington Conference on the Americas, co-hosted by the U.S. Department of State and the Council of Americas, on May 8, 2012.  Also pictured (seated):  John Negroponte, Chairman of the Council of the Americas, and former Deputy Secretary.  © State Dept Image by Chase Beamer

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Thank you very much and good morning, and welcome to the State Department. I truly can think of no greater honor in this building than to be introduced by John Negroponte, who has for so long set such a high standard of professional excellence for the rest of us. I am honored and humbled to follow in your footsteps as Deputy Secretary, and we are all deeply grateful for your continued efforts to advance peace and prosperity in our hemisphere.

I am delighted to address this 42nd Conference of the Council of the Americas, and on behalf of Secretary Clinton, to welcome all of you back to the State Department today. Let me emphasize at the outset what may seem like a blindingly obvious point to all of you. During this moment of tectonic political shifts elsewhere in the world, from a rising Asia-Pacific to a restive Middle East, one of the starting points for effective U.S. foreign policy in the 21st century is to focus on the enormous opportunity in our own neighborhood. Today, our engagement with Canada, Latin America, and the Caribbean requires an extra measure of strategic focus, precisely because this region is so important to our shared future. Our partnerships in the Western Hemisphere are vital to our economic recovery and competitiveness, and vital to our ability to solve the transnational challenges that no one country can solve on its own.

Secretary Clinton has described how harnessing the “power of proximity” between the United States and our neighbors in the Americas is among the most strategically significant tasks in the new century opening up before us. 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 harness that power to transform the Americas, which is already a community of shared history, geography, culture, and values into a common platform for global success.

Our hemispheric partnerships are not just vital to solving our shared regional problems, they are also vital to solving global challenges and to promoting and consolidating democracy, human rights, and development around the world. We must all broaden our strategic vision of the hemisphere beyond inter-American relations to how the Americas engage with the rest of the world. The most successful countries and regions will be those that look outward, not inward. We welcome and encourage our hemispheric partners’ increasing engagement outside the Americas, as we work together to address issues like armed conflict, food security, energy security, management of water resources, and climate change.

The recent history of the Americas has proven how important democracy is to reinforcing economic progress, social inclusion, human rights, and peace setting a powerful example to countries everywhere undertaking their own political opening and democratization. As President Obama remarked in Cartagena, “You do business well when you know that it’s a well-functioning society and that there’s a legitimate government in place that’s going to be looking out for its people.” While we deepen regional and sub-regional groupings, the countries of the Americas must never retreat from our hemisphere’s exemplary commitment to democracy. We should not use regional harmony as an excuse to lower democratic standards and commitments. Instead, governments and citizens should work in unison to protect democracy in the hemisphere, speak out forcefully whenever our democratic values are challenged, and strive continually to improve our democratic performance.

Many of you in this room are experts on the economic and political rise of the Western Hemisphere, and have helped to bring it about. Countries in the region have made remarkable progress toward consolidating democratic rule, promoting sound economic management, and encouraging greater government responsiveness and accountability. Over the last 15 years, the middle class in Latin America and Caribbean has swelled to over 275 million people. That is almost half of the population, and it is projected to reach as much as 70 percent by 2030. Over the next five years, the economies of Latin America and the Caribbean are projected to expand by one-third. Now we all know that this progress remains uneven, and some notable exceptions persist, but on balance, the Americas today are more prosperous, freer, and better governed than at any other point in history.

We see evidence of this in dynamic markets like Brazil, now the world’s sixth largest economy. With the help of 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 sustained, inclusive growth, and its “Science Without Borders” exchange program is a model all of us in the hemisphere should seek to emulate and support. President Rousseff’s visit to the United States and Secretary Clinton’s trip to Brazil for our third Global Partnership Dialogue demonstrate the commitment of our two countries to forge a modern partnership based on shared economic interests and democratic values. This commitment extends beyond our federal governments. During my most recent trip to Brazil earlier this spring, I was struck by the interest on the part of businesswomen and men, state level officials, academics, journalists, and civil society leaders in deepening relations with the United States.

Our relationship with Mexico has also diversified and matured as our economic links proliferate, and as the scope of the challenges we face in North America and globally has intensified. Our hallmark cooperation on security and combating violent crime is well known, but the bond between the United States and Mexico is, at its very core, an economic relationship that is central to the prosperity of both our countries. Under NAFTA, Mexico, Canada, and the United States represent the largest free trade area in the world, linking 457 million people producing $18 trillion annually in goods and services. To expand our success, our three governments are establishing efficient 21st century borders that encourage commerce and deter illicit activities. And Mexico’s presidency of the G20 underscores its growing global leadership role, while Canada is not only our deepest bilateral relationship but a top ally in efforts around the globe.

Colombia’s successful hosting of the Summit of the Americas is another important sign of how much the hemisphere has changed. With its levels of security and economic growth, Colombia is on track to become the third Latin American member of the OECD. As President Obama noted, “Citizens are reclaiming their communities. The economy is growing. Democratic institutions are being strengthened. In Colombia today, there's hope.”

Peru, bolstered by its sound macroeconomic policy and careful management of extractive industries, has achieved unprecedented economic expansion, low inflation, and a dramatic drop in poverty rates. Chile, which led the hemisphere in liberalizing trade, has reduced poverty from 40% in 1990 to below 15% today. Panama has leveraged its strategic economic position and canal to build a booming business hub. Costa Rica is consistently ranked by researchers as among the “happiest nations in the world,” a product of its strong democracy and model health, education, and environmental policies. Trinidad and Tobago has used its natural gas revenue to become a commercial center in the Caribbean, and to develop light manufacturing and value-added agriculture.

Grouped together, the Western Hemisphere’s market of nearly a billion people has made it an energetic hub of trade and investment. Nearly half of U.S. exports stay in this hemisphere, and those exports have increased by over $200 billion in just three years. This trade supports nearly 4 million U.S. jobs. With the addition of Colombia and Panama, the United States now has trade agreements with 12 countries in the hemisphere, a network of partners that runs uninterrupted from the Arctic to Patagonia. This helps to explain why the United States exports three times as much to Latin America than to China, and why we account for one third of all foreign direct investment in the region.

When we quantify our trade, investment, and energy relationships in the region, people are often surprised. Our hemisphere supplies one-fourth of the world’s crude oil, one-third of the world’s natural gas, nearly one-fourth of its coal, over a third of global electricity, and is a leader in renewable energy. The world’s oil map is no longer centered predominantly on the Middle East, but increasingly on the Americas as well. Already, half of the United States’ oil and petroleum product imports come from right here in our hemisphere, and only one-fifth come from the Persian Gulf. Massive oil finds are being developed in Brazil, while countries like Colombia and Canada are expanding production. In February, we signed a historic trans-boundary oil agreement with Mexico. Meanwhile, new methods have unlocked huge natural gas reserves in the United States and Argentina.

Through the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas, launched by President Obama at the 2009 Summit, we have leveraged more than $150 million in U.S. Government investment to support more than 40 initiatives. And at the 2012 Summit, we joined Colombia in announcing “Connect 2022,” which challenges the leaders of the Western Hemisphere to achieve universal access to electricity over the next decade by enhancing electrical interconnection. Our goal is to provide clean, reliable, and affordable electricity to the region’s 31 million citizens who currently lack it. This is an ambitious target -- but one that is central to the hemisphere’s success and that benefits all our nations.

Now, you may have read that the United States plans to devote greater attention and resources to the broader Pacific. Indeed, we believe that this area, from India to the Americas, will be the most dynamic and significant part of the world for our interests in the coming decades. It already includes more than half of the world’s population and many of its most important economies, key allies, and emerging powers. Canada and Latin America will have an important role to play in this new Pacific architecture.

Given the economic dynamism on both sides of the Pacific, it is no surprise that Asia and the Americas have recognized each others’ potential. China has become the top recipient of commodities exports from several South American countries. Like us, many of our hemispheric colleagues are concluding trade or investment agreements with partners in Asia. We should not be alarmed by Asia’s economic interest in our hemisphere, provided the relationships are transparent and the rules are respected. That is why Secretary Clinton met with members of the Pacific Alliance on the margins of the Cartagena Summit. This group, which includes Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru -- with Costa Rica and Panama as observers -- is looking to a Pacific future as well. Our hemispheric partners share our goal of building a trans-Pacific economic architecture for long-term, inclusive growth that is open, free, transparent, and fair.

The growing economic and political ties across the Pacific are part of a broader shift in the concept of regional integration that stretches and challenges traditional geographic concepts and bureaucratic structures. In addition to APEC, which already bridges the Pacific, the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a centrally important initiative in this context. To the extent that it is able to drive a new wave of high standard, 21st century trade liberalization, TPP may be one of the most strategically significant projects of the next decade.

While the future holds great promise for the Americas, we recognize that very important challenges remain. As you will hear from other speakers, we are working to enhance citizen security and will not relent in our defense of democracy when it is threatened. Another core task is to enhance our shared capacity to educate, create, and innovate. The Americas are becoming more competitive -- but still not competitive enough to successfully meet the challenges posed by rising Asian economies. That is why educational initiatives like President Rousseff’s Science Without Borders and President Obama’s 100,000 Strong for the Americas are so critically important -- because they facilitate the emergence of the Western Hemisphere as a shared platform for global success.

Drawing on a shared past, the Americas have before us a bright, shared future. But it is not one that we can take for granted. Across the hemisphere, our citizens are demanding better jobs, improved social services, responsible economic management, and the freedom to live as they choose. It is the challenge of governments to be up to the task, by partnering with the private sector and civil society, demanding greater accountability from our public institutions, and working to move beyond old ideological debates to grasp our common future together.

The fundamental point I want to leave with you this morning is a message of optimism, a message about hope and possibility, a message about what the United States and the countries of the Americas can accomplish in our hemisphere and around the world when we focus on common goals and shared values. If we can deepen consensus in our hemisphere behind open, free, transparent, and fair economic competition, coupled with a commitment to democracy and social inclusion – then that will not only benefit our citizens here at home, but also will continue to show the world that free societies and open markets remain the best prescription for human progress and development.

I want to congratulate the Council of the Americas again for this very important event. Thank you all for all that you do to bring the people and governments of our hemisphere closer together. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Good morning. Thank you, Eric, and thank you for sparing everyone the length of my bio, which is a testament to old age – it just gets longer and longer. It is really terrific to be here, and it’s particularly terrific to see so many old friends. And I want to thank my former boss and Council of the Americas Chairman John Negroponte, President Susan Segal, and Vice President Eric Farnsworth for all of their work in putting together this 42nd Conference, but more than that even, for the work that they do all year long. We’re so please to be partners in this event.

The Deputy Secretary, who is always a tough act to follow, gave us a strategic overview of the Americas and our policies, which really is an ideal segue into a discussion of the 6th Summit of the America in Cartagena.

This summit highlighted so much of the positive and dynamic change that has been transforming the Americas since the first summit in 1994 in Miami. The Secretary observed in Cartagena that the entire political, cultural, and economic landscape of the Americas has changed profoundly in these short 18 years.

The summit also had its frustrating moments, and I want to talk about them too because they illustrate the areas in which work is still needed.

But let me focus on the broad story first. To evaluate the summit, we need to start by zooming out beyond the painstaking procedural preparations, as important as those are. We had a very talented team working on that for many months and through the summit itself, led by Ambassador Carmen Lomellin, who’s here with us today. Let’s focus for a minute on some of the amazing images from the summit: an incredibly diverse group of democratic leaders from every corner of the hemisphere sitting down together, publicly and privately, talking with remarkable candor about the things that matter most to their people, usually in very down to earth and pragmatic terms; and focusing on cooperation that is playing out in real life throughout the hemisphere.

And there was one important way in which form was critical to this summit: The Colombian Government’s decision to hold, in addition to the usual governmental leaders’ events, a private sector forum, and one encompassing civil society. And I think it was an outstanding model for future events. Looking at the CEO summit in Cartagena, which was an event that highlighted the private sector’s role in driving so many positive developments in the region, it was really one of the summit’s highlights for President Obama. There was a remarkable discussion there among President Santos, President Rousseff, and President Obama, leaders of three of the most dynamic countries in the region, getting down to brass tacks about the difficulties of the world economy and the fundamental challenges that we all face. These leaders dug into what it will take to realize the opportunities we have today to build more successful and more just societies.

Just a couple of examples:

-- high-standard trade agreements, such as we now have with both Colombia and Panama;

-- cooperation on challenges such as energy, not just with words, but with real deeds, such as Connect 2022, the Electrical Grid Integration Initiative;

-- significantly upping our game on education so the Americas can have the best trained workers, scientists, and entrepreneurs, from all backgrounds; expanding exchanges within the Americas under President Obama’s “100,000 Strong in the Americas,” to build the human capital we need to thrive. Here, there is an opportunity, and a demand, for creative public-private partnerships, that can advance your interests and those of other stakeholders. I hope every one of you will embrace that opportunity to increase exchanges;

--enhancing effective and transparent governance, with strong democratic institutions based on key principles that are so very critical to economic growth and social opportunity.

The leaders also talked in very frank terms about violence, crime, and drugs – how much we are doing together in so many new ways to counter those scourges. But the conversations also showed how far we have all moved away from a one dimensional focus on law enforcement. The President repeatedly underscored social and public health dimensions and shared responsibility that we have for all facets of the problem. Yes, he was clear that his Administration does not think legalization is the answer to drugs. But there was wide recognition by virtually all leaders that this is not a silver bullet. The President was equally clear that we have to be open to looking at all the evidence and having an honest debate about how to deal with these issues and to know that they cannot be dealt with in isolation.

Most leaders outlined unprecedented commitment and cooperation all over the hemisphere to improve the rule of law, oppose transnational crime, strengthen institutions and community resilience, and advance prevention strategies. Cooperation in the past was often U.S.-driven and bilateral. Today, it takes the form of direct cooperation among countries sharing experience, know-how, and directly supporting each other, and these are incalculably positive developments.

All these themes resonated throughout the summit. The President had lots of time to listen and to engage with the region’s leaders. And while there was a great deal of common ground among the leaders on these issues, there was not always unanimity, and sometimes there were discordant notes. That is hardly unusual. This was not a Warsaw Pact meeting from 1980. There are some who see the solutions differently, and that may impede language and declarations or pronouncements. But what they can’t do is prevent the kind of advances and concrete cooperation that modern, successful, democratic societies are eager to have.

So, you can honestly characterize the conversations and the summit as forward-leaning. Now, I know that sounds at times like a platitude. But Cartagena was overwhelmingly about 21st century partnership between and among neighbors who know, as the President said, that we will rise or fall together; and that that narrative is not about imposing influence or dictating terms, but about creating partnerships that better people’s lives every day. The various initiatives that countries launched or highlighted at the summit tracked the themes that permeated the conversations, to “connect the Americas,” as the Colombian hosts so aptly titled it.

I’ve already mentioned two of the most important of those: Connect 2022 and 100,000 Strong in the Americas. A few more examples, President Obama proposed

-- a broadband partnership of the Americas to promote universal access to technologies that will improve our region’s competitiveness and foster social inclusion;

-- the Small Business Network of the Americas, linking 2,000 small business development centers in the hemisphere and the two million clients they serve to make dreams a reality and create jobs in the United States and in the region;

-- WEAmericas, an innovative public-private partnership that provides women entrepreneurs access to better training in fundamental business practices and more access to markets and financing.

And following up on the summit civil society dialogue, the Secretary reaffirmed our commitment to social inclusion and equality, strengthening work with civil society and private sector partners to promote racial, ethnic, and gender equality, and facilitate opportunity for historically marginalized populations.

Now there were – how do I put this diplomatically – some strategic communications challenges at the summit. And there were some who were quick to call the summit a failure when leaders didn’t reach consensus on several points in the draft political declaration. Going in, we knew that Cuba and the Falklands-Malvinas would be difficult issues, and we worked hard to try to bridge those gaps. We reached agreement on 16 paragraphs of text, but not on the remaining three. And these weren’t things that could be papered over. So we had no declaration, but it does not lessen those 16 paragraphs of agreement on so much.

Let me add a point about Cuba. We have a positive policy, one that seeks to support Cubans’ rights to freely determine their own future. The Administration has done a great deal to ease travel restrictions and increase the flow of information for ordinary Cubans. And we will be the first to cheer as a democratically chosen government in Cuba resumes its full participation in the inter-American system. But you all know that we aren’t there yet. This region has a long consensus that participation hinges on adherence to democratic norms and principles. Personally, I found it disappointing at times that some countries whose democratic transitions have been so central to their own national success, and who are stalwart in their support for rights and democracy on the global stage, wavered in this case.

We have a general concern about an erosion of full respect for freedom of expression in this hemisphere. During the remarkable transitions from dictatorship to democracy which took place over the last 40 years, our region’s free press has played essential roles. From La Prensa’s principled defiance of abuses from the right and the left in Nicaragua to the courageous journalists of El Espectador who exposed links between narcotics traffickers and politicians in Colombia, to today’s valiant bloggers and journalists in Mexico, journalists in this region have been protagonists of democracy. We’ve also developed institutions unique in the world to protect and defend freedom of expression.

Given this distinguished record, it is particularly painful to see steps backward, whether by governments or nongovernmental actors. 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. There is an organic link between openness in the public square and electoral process and the durability and sustainability of economic prosperity. Standing up for and working hard for a level playing field in that public square, in the judicial arena, and in political processes is something that directly benefits the vast majority of U.S. and other companies that are good corporate citizens and play by the rules. And democratic principles remain critically relevant to the hemisphere, its challenges, and future success.

But in the end, this summit is not about one or two issues, however significant. The summit is about the quality and candor of our leaders’ discussions, and it’s about the hemisphere’s accelerating record of cooperation and integration. Those are meaningful metrics for judging the summit, and in this case they tell a pretty compelling story. We are not a static hemisphere – thank God. We are all grappling with big changes in the region and in the world and in our own countries, including the need to update institutions and processes to better serve our interests. And I have no doubt that the summit process will continue to evolve, too. And that is a very good thing if we keep it constructive, and it’s a critical thing if we are to harness the hemisphere’s huge opportunities for the sake of our common success in the 21st century.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

MODERATOR: We have the opportunity to take a question, or maybe two quick ones, for Roberta. She’s consented to do that, has a little bit of time. So if you have a question --

MS. JACOBSON: Consented to take the questions, not necessarily to answer them. (Laughter.)

MODERATOR: Please stand up and identify yourself, please. I believe we have circulating microphones, but in the event that we don’t, please speak loudly enough. Thank you.

QUESTION: I would like to ask a question regarding your dance moves on the floor in Cartagena. (Laughter.)

I would like to ask you a question, seriously, about your vision for the hemisphere as regards social inclusion and what you think – you mentioned it in your comments, but -- what you think this means going forward for how this Administration and the private sector can be working together to further expand that.

MS. JACOBSON: I think we’ve talked a lot about the importance of social inclusion, and the importance of governmental policies that open opportunities to the widest range of people. But, there are some very concrete opportunities, I think, for private sector engagement working both with governments and independently. One that I mentioned, which I am which I am particularly passionate about, and which I think can really be a game changer in this hemisphere, is 100,000 Strong in the Americas. And I think that we have seen that demonstrated most dramatically in our partnership with Brazil, where President Rousseff has begun the Science Without Borders program. We saw 650 students arrive in this country in January to begin that process.

But we also have had programs over the years like our Youth Ambassadors Program, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary. And what struck me when I spoke with that class of youth ambassadors – who are high school students, not college students –was not just how excited and motivated they were to go home and implement projects in their communities, but how incredibly diverse the group was, from all over Brazil, of every ethnic background, girls and boys – in just about equal components, I think – and how much they reflected the diversity of Brazilian society and how much they enjoyed engaging with the diversity of American society.

And what we need to do, because we all know that right now is not a great time in the United States for new government programs – so 100,000 Strong in the Americas is not a new government program—is look for partners. We are looking for partners in the private sector who would like to sponsor scholarships, who would like to make sure that those scholarships reach kids who might not have had an opportunity to study in the United States. And that includes community colleges, one-year programs. Those are ways we reach out to new and expanding pools of talent in each of our countries. And I want to suggest that all of you can find ways to do this – and I know that many of you have big programs in corporate social responsibility already. And what I’m asking you to do is think about taking on one more burden, in a sense, and think about expanding those into educational areas. And there are a number of organizations already set up where you can sponsor programs that result in a real difference for kids who might not have had that opportunity before.

Was there any others, or just one?

MODERATOR: One other quick one?

MS. JACOBSON: Nobody has any questions.


MS. JACOBSON: All right.

MODERATOR: Very good.

MS. JACOBSON: We’ll be on time.

MODERATOR: Well, Roberta, thank you very much. (Applause.)

PRN: 2012/726