Remarks at the 39th Washington Conference of the Council of Americas

James B. Steinberg
Deputy Secretary of State
The Loy Henderson Auditorium
Washington, DC
May 13, 2009

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Thank you very much for that very kind introduction, and I’m pleased to join with the Secretary and so many others here in welcoming you to the State Department. For me, it’s great to be back here. This is, as you heard, my second time around in the State Department. And I’m very pleased to be back with so many good colleagues who serve the country so well in challenging times in the past, and now working with us to chart a more hopeful and promising future as we go forward. And it is an important opportunity to have you all here, as I think you’ve seen and I’ll say in a few moments. The President and the Secretary have made clear the central role that they believe the Americas plays as part of our own strategy and how much our fates are intertwined. And so it is great to have you be part of this. And I’ll have a few words to say, then I’ll look forward to your questions and thoughts in response.

It’s a particularly good opportunity, in light of the recent events and the recent visits and meetings to have a chance to reflect on our policy towards the Americas and to be at the conference of the Council of the Americas who work – you have worked so hard to build prosperity and hope for four decades in this hemisphere.

And I’d like to begin my talk today not just discussing the Administration’s vision for Latin America, the broad outlines of which the President set forth at the Summit of the Americas last month, but also reflecting a little bit on how we got here. After all, just a few months ago, I was a professor and not a diplomat, and so I just can’t resist a little bit of historical reflection.

U.S. engagement in the Western Hemisphere has traveled a long distance since the days of the Monroe Doctrine. We’ve seen some valuable efforts to build better partnerships in this hemisphere, from FDR’s “good neighbor policy,” to President Kennedy Alliance for Progress, and President Clinton's initiation of the Summit of Americas.

At other times, we have not always lived up to the basic principles of cooperation and respect. But we have learned a few things along the way. We’ve learned that liberalizing trade, opening markets, and reforming and balancing budgets are critical components to promoting prosperity and opportunity. But by themselves, they’re not sufficient to pull people out of poverty, improve their quality of life, and build an inclusive, just society.

On the democracy front, we’ve seen that elections are part, but only part, of building democratic institutions and accountable governments. We also need to put in more time and resources to build the elements of democratic governance, effective and accountable institutions, rule of law, independent judiciaries, and respect for human rights.

Today, we understand that these disparate pieces must be part of a bigger but simpler narrative that recognizes democracy is the best system available to express and channel the popular will, protect minority rights, hold leaders accountable, and ensure government delivers essential goods and services not provided by the marketplace. And likewise, we understand that GDP numbers and economic growth alone are not enough. We need a broad-based prosperity that provides opportunities for all. We need both a bigger pie and slices for everyone.

Informed by this understanding of our past experience, President Obama and Secretary Clinton are setting out to build a new approach of broad hemispheric cooperation designed to benefit all of our citizens in North, Central, and South America and the Caribbean, from the more developed to most hard-pressed.

This path rests on two core pillars: democratic governance, on the one hand; and inclusive prosperity on the other. These are the two essential components of what the ancient Greeks called the good life and what the United States founders had in mind when they committed our nation to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

As we look at the Western Hemisphere today, we see a landscape transformed from the past, but one that has still not achieved its full potential. For more and more people, democratically elected governments are promoting economic growth, developing institutions, and strengthening human capital to expand opportunity and social justice.

Yet even with these signs of important progress, we know that many of the old challenges remain and that new ones are arising. New economic stresses are testing the region’s commitments to markets and genuine democracy. For the last decade, growth has been uneven. High crime, poverty, and income equality rates remind us that too many people have not realized the benefits of free elections, open trade, and responsible economic policies. And the transnational nature of many of the dangers our societies face – cartels, pandemic disease, environmental degradation – remind us that governing requires agile partnerships across civil society and across national boundaries.

Meeting these challenges requires enhanced engagement and renewed partnership. We in the United States have a special responsibility to exercise respectful leadership that can help our hemisphere serve as a beacon to the rest of the world.

The President’s first visit abroad was to Canada, and not too long after that to Mexico. He attended the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad with all of our democratic counterparts in the region and has hosted President Lula here in Washington. Vice President Biden traveled to the region in March to attend the Progressive Governance Summit in Chile and meet with Central American leaders in Costa Rica. Secretary Clinton has discussed our vision for this hemisphere by her visits to Mexico, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic.

As President Obama and Secretary Clinton have both made clear, our partnership requires a genuine willingness to listen and learn from our neighbors. We recognize that we don’t have the answer to every problem, and past approaches and formulas have not always worked, and that not ever good answer comes with a stamp labeled “Made in the USA.”

Thus, we will look across our borders to seek ideas and best practices wherever we can find them. So, for example, as we look for new and innovative ways to promote equitable growth and shared prosperity, we do well to look around our hemisphere for inspiration. Conditional cash transfer programs such as the Bolsa Familia in Brazil and Mexico’s Oportunidades Program provide families with much-needed assistance, while at the same time requiring personal accountability by keeping children in school and taking them in for regular checkups. These two programs have reached 16 million families and shown dramatic results. Oportunidades has increased the likelihood of secondary enrollment in rural areas while cutting the dropout rate for students. We are discussing ways to build a network of government officials, international financial institutions, and NGOs to share the lessons of these programs.

Expanded engagement will help us advance our overarching goals in the Western Hemisphere, particularly democratic governance. The hemisphere’s hard-won evolution from authoritarian regimes to democratically elected governments is one of the great stories of the last quarter century. Today, democracy, while imperfect, is the norm.

Recognizing the weight of this transformation, President Clinton in 1994 launched the Summit of the Americas, inviting the democratically elected leaders of this hemisphere to come together to discuss issues of common interest. His efforts and those of his predecessors were crystallized
in the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which the hemisphere’s 33 other democracies signed on September 11th, 2001, in Lima, Peru, a sometimes forgotten bright spot in that very dark day in our history, but the best antidote to the fear and hatred that darkness brought. This instrument’s bedrock values of liberty, equality, and human rights are what we aspire to, and what we all seek to advance.

We must recognize that each of our countries has pursued its own democratic journey. Next month in El Salvador, for example, we will see the peaceful democratic transfer of power between representatives of opposing sides in a terrible civil war that tore the country asunder a decade ago. But however our individual trajectories might unfold, we cannot turn our back on the charter and our shared vision of a robust democratic order.

That is why we look forward to the day when every country in the hemisphere, including Cuba, can take its seat at this very special table in a manner that is consistent with the principles of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

The United States seeks a new beginning with Cuba, and we have changed our policy in ways that we believe will advance liberty and create opportunity for the Cuban people. We now allow Cuban-Americans to visit the island more freely and provide resources to their families there. The President has also made clear our willingness and our readiness to engage constructively with the Cuban Government on a wide range of issues. But as the United States reaches out to the Cuban people, we must also call on our friends in the hemisphere to join together in supporting liberty, equality, and human rights for all Cubans.

No one should mistake our willingness to engage governments with whom our relations have deteriorated in recent years for an abdication of principle. On the contrary, we believe that engagement strengthens our abilities to raise concerns about democracy and human rights as we look for ways to cooperate in areas of common interest.

One of the biggest challenges facing democracies everywhere is demonstrating to our citizens that democracy produces shared prosperity for all its hardworking people. The region is showing that democracy can deliver if governments can find ways to go beyond trade and capital liberalization to craft policies and build institutions committed to social justice.

But the current global economic downturn threatens to erode these gains, so our first priority must be to get our economic house in order. President Obama has taken unprecedented steps to address the economic crisis by correcting deficiencies in our banking and regulatory systems, and enacting a stimulus package that will produce jobs and get America and the Americas on track to economic recovery.

We also joined with our G-20 partners to set aside over a trillion dollars for countries going through difficult times, particularly those that are most vulnerable. We will work with our partners to ensure that the inter-American Development Bank can take the necessary steps to increase its current levels of lending, and we will study the needs for recapitalization in the future.

As we take these steps, we must work together to ensure that the poorest among us do not fall further behind. The impact of the economic crisis has hit hardest those at the bottom rung of the ladder of every society. Without action, what was already an unacceptable gap between rich and poor in Latin America could widen as exports, family income, and remittances decline. So we will support efforts to create jobs, improve education, expand access to health care, and broaden opportunities across the Americas.

Continuing trade integration is a vital part of the return to economic progress, as well as long-term stability and social opportunity. But we have seen that while free trade promotes economic growth and reduces absolute poverty, gains are not always shared, and promises of opportunity remain elusive. That’s why we’ll ask our hemispheric partners to ensure that all their citizens, regardless of background, have the opportunity to secure a better life for themselves and their children.

We support initiatives such as Pathways to Prosperity in the Americas which seek to ensure the benefits of trade are shared widely within our societies. We will also work to expand and refocus Pathways to better promote social justice and inclusiveness, to expand participation and help farms, small businesses, craftspeople, and traditionally excluded groups reap the fruits of international commerce.

On a bilateral basis and in multilateral forums, we’ll promote the development and enforcement of national and international standards to protect the environment and labor rights, which are needed to connect rising productivity to rising personal incomes. We must make clear that these standards are not concessions grudgingly required as a condition of market access, but necessary components of trade policy that are advantageous to us all.

Education is a key element of the broader agenda that the President brought to the summit, because it is also a lynchpin of economic development and an engine of opportunity. While enrollments have swelled throughout our hemisphere, too many young people fail to complete their studies and lack access to the quality of education they deserve. During my time as Dean of the LBJ School at the University of Texas, I saw how science and education generate new solutions and provide new avenues for development. I saw students from throughout the Americas and other parts of the world thrive both academically and personally, developing skills and habits of mind that they would take back to their home countries.

We are dedicated to finding ways of sharing scientific knowledge and leveraging science to improve people’s lives. That’s why we’re asking Congress for $82 million for education projects in the region. As the President pointed out at the Summit of the Americas, this is not charity, but an investment in our future.

We also want to build partnerships from the ground up. When Secretary Clinton visited Mexico last month, she met with citizens who are collaborating across borders to improve people’s lives. She announced that the United States will support a Mexican summit of youth leaders to connect young people who are working to end violence throughout Latin America.

We will be launching new people-to-people initiatives to engage the public directly, including through civil society organizations, NGOs, the private sector, and academia. Just this morning, I discussed the Costa Rica – USA foundation, CRUSA, which Costa Rica’s newly appointed ambassador to the United States raised with me. This foundation, initially seeded with $47 million in USAID legacy money, has already donated $47 million to programs in science and technology, education, and the environment, and has $68 million left in cash as a return on wise investments made. It’s a good example of the innovative public-private partnerships that can leverage initial government efforts to advance education and development.

The energy that our economies require for economic development also has been a principal driver of climate change. We see the human toll. In this hemisphere alone, we must confront rising sea levels in the Caribbean, diminishing glaciers in the Andes, and powerful storms on the Gulf Coast.

The United States will take the lead in addressing this challenge, both by making commitments of our own and engaging other nations in a common effort to do the same. We must move beyond the old false debate that pitted reductions in global warming against economic growth to understand that a partnership on energy and climate change can promote both growth and an environmentally sustainable future. That is why President Obama proposed a new energy and climate partnership of the Americas that seeks to leverage the example of countries like Mexico and Brazil, which promote renewable energy.

Together, we can work to increase efficiency, improve our infrastructure, share technologies, and support investments in renewable sources of energy. By cooperating, we can create jobs, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and turn the hemisphere into a global model.

We will also work to address the rising threat of crime that endangers too many of our communities in the Americas. A genuine security partnership with the region requires more than dismantling narcotics networks and destroying caches of illicit drugs. We are proud to partner with President Calderon in his fight against drug cartels, and with partners in Central America and the Caribbean in the Merida Initiative.

We will also support our neighbors in the fight against the gangs and the street crime that threaten the well-being of their citizens, and work with regional leaders to create a cycle of declining crime, fewer drugs, and better governance. We will do more within our borders to reduce drug demand and stem the flow of illegal weapons and laundered money going south.

But as we step up to the plate to set an example in acknowledging our shared responsibility for common problems, we will be looking for partners who demonstrate the political will to meet these challenges with us head on.

I’d like to close by bringing this all back home. What does this all mean for the average American? If current trends are any indication, no other part of the world will have a greater impact on the future of our nation culturally, demographically, and linguistically. We have a responsibility to ensure that impact is positive, and that our own influence and presence is a source for the good of all of the hemisphere’s citizens.

After all, we are the United States of America and of the Americas. We are confident of our nation and the region’s bright future, but it will take sustained, high-quality engagement that is based on mutual respect and partnership.

Thank you for your attention, and I look forward to your questions. (Applause.)

MODERATOR: We have time for two questions. I think the Secretary gave us a real tour de force here, and I think we have time for two questions before we go up to the dining room. So please just identify yourself with your question.

Yes. See if you can get to a microphone or --

QUESTION: Good morning. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I’m Ruth Espey-Romero of Washington, D.C., the law firm of Greenberg and Traurig. While you were talking about the sustained engagement that we look forward to in the United States during this next Administration with our neighbors in the hemisphere, I was just wondering, what’s become of the Millennium Challenge Account, and are you still intending to work through that vehicle?

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Absolutely. The Millennium Challenge Account, the Millennium Challenge Corporation remains a central part of our engagement. It in many ways reflects the kinds of values and principles that I was talking about in the speech, which is a strong sense that strong performers, countries that make a commitment to democracy and good institutions, should be rewarded and that that should be an important consideration in how we partner and provide support. And that’s, I think, an innovation which we intend to continue. There’s strong support in the Congress for that in the budget, and so I see this very much as a part of our engagement going forward.

MODERATOR: Do we have another question?

(Inaudible) but just – I’ll let you introduce yourself (inaudible).

QUESTION: (Inaudible) from Costa Rica. Mr. Secretary, thank you for your comments. What about USAID? How do you envision their role under this Administration?

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: USAID is yet another of the pillars in talking about how we engage and work with our partners. It’s very complementary to what we’re doing with the Millennium Challenge Account and the MCC. It is a capacity that has been some of the best parts of America in the past and which, frankly, has not gotten the attention that it deserves in recent years. The AID programs are critical to economic development, to governance, to dealing with issues like education, like health care. And yet what we’ve seen over the years is that there’s been a diminution in our ability to really develop these programs effectively. We’ve seen a dramatic decline in the number of people working at AID, which has had an impact on our ability to plan effectively, to understand and learn the lessons from the past.

And so we’re committed to working with the Congress to try to strengthen the capacity of AID to deliver not just in the resources in the program, but actually our own capacity to do an effective job engaging with our partners in developing the kinds of programs that we need. And the Secretary, I think, sees this as a very important capacity. When we talk about our new strategy going forward, the Secretary likes to talk about the three D’s: defense, diplomacy, and development. And it shows you the centrality that she places and the Administration places on the development agenda, of which AID is just an essential component.

MODERATOR: Okay. I guess one more, if there is one. Take one more.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, Nelson Cunningham at McLarty Associates. The accomplishments of the Administration in Latin America have been noteworthy in the first several months, particularly considering that you haven’t yet had your full team in place. Despite the fact that Tom Shannon has done a marvelous job in the role in the last several months, we were all very pleased to see Arturo Valenzuela’s nomination move forward yesterday.

What can you tell us about the pace of rolling out the ambassadorships that you’ll need to carry out your full mission in Latin America?

DEPUTY SECRETARY STENIBERG: Well, thank you, Nelson. One has to know a little bit about Nelson’s background to understand the poignancy of this question. (Laughter.) First of all, I’m delighted that Arturo was announced. I think you all should take credit for the fact that your holding of the meeting has gotten this nomination out and going forward, and maybe the holding of your meeting will get more nominations out on the ambassadorial process.

Obviously, this is something the Administration takes very seriously. We’ve very committed to finding the best and highest quality individuals. This is something that the President has made clear to all of us as he goes through the selection process, that he wants to think very carefully to make sure that we have the kinds of people representing different cross-sections of our own society to represent the United States.

I’ve had an opportunity in recent weeks to meet some of the people who are in the process now of being reviewed. I can’t, obviously, give you a specific answer, because there is a – there’s a process that needs to be gone through to carefully look at the qualifications and the background of individuals. But I feel very confident that when you begin to learn some of the names of the people that we will be sending out to this hemisphere, you’ll see that they are very talented people with great knowledge and experience, and will be very powerful representatives of the United States and powerful partners for you all going forward.

MODERATOR: I want you to know that that was not a planted question. (Laughter.) Anyway, let’s give the Secretary a big hand. (Applause.)

PRN: 2009/463