Remarks at the Summit of the Americas Civil Society Meeting

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Cartagena, Colombia
April 13, 2012

SECRETARY CLINTON: Good afternoon. It is wonderful to be here for this social forum, and I want to thank President Santos for that excellent speech that covered so many of the important issues that are facing the Americas. And I also wish to thank Maria Angela for the excellent work and the great collegiality as a foreign minister, and all of my colleagues as foreign ministers, and a special warm welcome to President Morales. He and I were born on the same day, and I am delighted that he is here to give the closing address.

I think we just heard a comprehensive review of many of the issues that are confronting us in this hemisphere. What I am excited about is the progress we are making and the vision that we have that will drive that progress further. I remember when the first Summit of the Americas was held. My husband hosted it in Miami. It was 18 years ago. It was like a hundred years ago, because the entire political, cultural, economic landscape of the Americas has changed in those short 18 years. Just look around you. This forum is a great tribute to that change.

When I think of the challenges that we face – how to strengthen democracy and the rule of law, reduce crime and inequality, advance the lives of indigenous people, of women and girls – it is clear that government alone never could and never would do that without the strong support and partnership of civil society.

I’ve often said that a democratic society is like a three-legged stool. One leg must be responsible, accountable government. The second leg must be a private sector that creates jobs and opportunities for people. And the third leg must be a robust civil society that speaks up on behalf of those who may not be able to speak for themselves – those living in poverty, those working without the protections of good conditions for their labor, those who are lacking social status or education. If one of those legs – government, economy, civil society – is too short or is cut off, the stool collapses.

So the activists and the advocates that you have heard from have the most important voices at this summit. And when discrimination, poverty, inequality stifle those voices, then we need civil society more than ever.

Now, I will certainly say that sometimes these conversations are not easy. Certainly change does not happen as quickly as many of us wish. But you can see the slow, steady movement here in this hemisphere: more people living under governments they have elected, more people breaking the bonds of extreme poverty, more people seeing their children be educated and attain positions in society that they could only have dreamed of.

So the United States considers our partnerships with civil society critical. And we are actually running a dialogue with civil society around the world. We’ve also launched the Open Government Partnership, and on Tuesday I will join President Rousseff in Brasilia to host the next meeting of this Partnership, which includes Colombia and 14 other countries in our hemisphere. We want all governments here – but around the world – to improve citizen security, to end impunity, to strengthen human rights, and expand economic opportunity.

We are particularly focused on discrimination and intolerance. Now, these are issues my own country has certainly addressed. And when I came in, I heard someone talking about the Afro Latino. Well, we now have an Afro American president. And we’ve seen what that symbolizes, but we also know our work is not yet done. (Applause.)

So we are partnering with countries like Colombia and Brazil to try to eliminate racial and ethnic discrimination and promote equality. And in preparation for the sixth Summit of the Americas, we have been delighted to support placing these issues of social inclusion, of affected people of African descent, indigenous people, women and youth at the forefront of our preparations. And I am also very pleased that as I walked in, the first presentation I heard was about protecting the rights of the LGBT citizens here in the hemisphere. Thank you for raising that. Thank you for putting it on the agenda. (Applause.)

Here in Colombia, we are proud to be partnering with the government and investing $61 million in helping Colombia’s Afro descendents and indigenous communities. (Applause.)

Our future depends on translating these ideas, these speeches, into concrete actions. So we will do our best – those of us in government here at the summit – to make sure the commitments we make in Cartagena are moved into actions. But we need you in civil society. (Applause.) We need you to remind us, to prod us, sometimes to embarrass us, about keeping those commitments.

I am privileged on behalf of my country now to travel the entire world all the time, and I can tell you that people everywhere – in North Africa, in the Middle East, in Asia, in Sub-Saharan Africa – they want to talk to me about Latin America. They ask me, “How did Latin America do it? How did they make all this progress in such a short period of time?”

Now, for many of you, it may feel like it hasn’t moved as much as you would wish. But if you take a step back and look at what has been accomplished in the last 18, 20 years – consolidating democracy, improving economic opportunity, putting issues of discrimination and exclusion at the center of social discourse and government action – there is a lot that we can say we have accomplished.

But we cannot be satisfied, and we must continue to work toward that day when every single child born in this hemisphere, no matter who his or her parents may be, no matter where he or she may be born, that every single boy and girl has the opportunity and the right to live up to his or her God-given potential. That must be our goal, and we will work with you to achieve it.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

PRN: 2012/T62-01