Engagement in the Americas

December 17, 2009
President Obama Delivers Remarks at the 5th Summit of the Americas

About the Author: Arturo A. Valenzuela serves as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs.

It is my pleasure to extend a warm welcome to readers from around the world to the new DipNote. I plan to share perspectives on U.S. relations with countries of the Western Hemisphere and welcome your comments along the way. Bienvenido!Bem-vindo!Bienvenue!

President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Secretary Clinton have made several trips to the region since taking office. They have established a new tone of engagement and open dialogue with the hemisphere. U.S. relations with the hemisphere are strong, dynamic, and effective. There is probably no time in history when our relationship with the region has been anchored on such critical shared interests, or that we have had more riding on finding real common cause. It is an honor for me to lead our efforts to listen, engage, and be a partner in this process.

As we approach 2010, there are three critical dimensions of U.S. policy toward the region: expanding opportunity, strengthening democratic governance, and bolstering citizen safety.

Expanding Opportunity. Latin America has some of the highest levels of income inequality in the world. We are working together to address this and, at the same time, make our region more competitive. Trade is important but not enough. Competitiveness in a highly globalized world also depends on infrastructure, capacity, people, and science and technology. The existence of social safety nets and quality educational systems are critical elements in human capacity building. Private-public partnerships will be the key drivers of these long-term programs.

Strengthening Democratic Governance. The countries of the hemisphere have made historic gains and commitment in building democratic states and societies. The United States is deeply committed to help strengthen democratic institutions and the rule of law throughout the Americas. We support a leading role for the Organization of American States (OAS) as we work together to strengthen implementation of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. In the Americas, Honduras and Cuba are of particular concern. On Honduras: important work remains to reestablish the democratic and constitutional order and promote national reconciliation in the wake of the June 28 coup d’état. As Secretary Clinton said in a speech in observation of Human Rights Week, “In democracies, respecting rights isn’t a choice leaders make day by day; it is the reason they govern. Democracies protect and respect citizens every day, not just on Election Day.” On Cuba: the United States stands by the OAS principle to welcome any government that abides by the tenets of the modern inter-American system.

Bolstering Citizen Safety. Citizens of the Western Hemisphere are increasingly concerned about organized crime and narco-violence. Secretary Clinton and others have acknowledged the United States’ co-responsibility for these problems, which are fueled in part by our demand for drugs and illicit flows of cash and weapons across our borders. We are stepping up our efforts at home and are working with our partners to confront these transnational threats. However, citizen safety goes beyond the issues of crime, also encompassing food security, disaster preparedness, pandemic preparation, and mitigation of the effects of natural disaster. We will continue to deepen cooperation and strengthen national institutions to make our populations more secure.

This week, I am making my first visit as Assistant Secretary to Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay. I have had the opportunity to connect with my counterparts on how to work together to meet our mutual objectives.

2010 is the bicentennial of Chile, Mexico, Colombia and Argentina. It is a fitting moment to reflect on what has been accomplished in two centuries, to celebrate our democratic societies, and to focus on what we must to do safeguard them.

Along with my colleagues in Washington and our embassies and consulates throughout the Americas, I invite you, the readers of this blog, to be a part of the discussion on policy issues affecting our hemisphere. I welcome your views and ideas in this space and look forward to starting a dynamic dialogue with you.

I also invite you to follow me on Twitter: @WHAAsstSecty.

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