About the Author: Arturo A. Valenzuela serves as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs.
The arrival of the Obama administration in 2009 meant a new era of engagement with our partners in the Western Hemisphere. I will use this blog post as a chance to look back on several formative events of the past year that have helped define our commitment to the region.
• President Barack Obama's Inaugural Address, January 20, 2009: Like audiences throughout the world, millions of citizens in the Western Hemisphere tuned in to hear President Obama's inaugural address. President Obama communicated the United States' willingness to lead, taking the first step forward in establishing our foreign policy posture: "[A]nd so, to all the other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born, know that America is a friend of each nation, and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity. And we are ready to lead once more.” Read more.
• President Obama's travel to the region: In a nod to the broad scope of our relationship with Mexico, the President kept with longstanding tradition and met with Mexican President Felipe Calderon in December 2008 while he was still President-elect. Following inauguration, President Obama's first official foreign visit was to Ottawa on February 19, where he met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other Canadian government officials. President Obama participated in the 5th Summit of the Americas (see below) in April 2009 where he had the chance to meet all the democratically elected leaders of the Western Hemisphere.
• Secretary Clinton's travel to the region: Secretary Clinton's first visit to the region was to Mexico City and Monterrey, Mexico on March 25 and 26, 2009. The Secretary emphasized the breadth and depth of the U.S. relationship with Mexico, and publicly recognized our “shared responsibility” with the Mexican government, Colombia, and partners in Central America and the Caribbean to combat organized crime and illicit trafficking. The Secretary has logged an incredible number of miles in the Western Hemisphere since taking office, making four trips to the region and visiting seven countries since February 2009.
• Reaching out to the Cuban people: The State Department remains concerned about human rights conditions in Cuba. On April 13, 2009, President Obama announced a series of changes in U.S. policy to reach out to the Cuban people in support of their desire to freely determine their country's future. The State Department is working to support the President's vision to help bridge the gap among divided Cuban families and promote the free flow of information and humanitarian items to the Cuban people. We are also engaging the Cuban government when it advances U.S. national interests and contributes to the safety and welfare of our citizens. For example, we re-established migration talks and launched discussions on the reestablishment of direct mail service between our two countries. Read more.
• Renewed partnership with Haiti: On April 14, 2009, Secretary Clinton took part in a Haiti Donors Conference hosted by the Inter-American Development Bank. Renewing the U.S. commitment to Haiti, Secretary Clinton announced that the State Department and USAID would undertake a review of our Haiti policy -- critically evaluating our existing programs and policies, assessing the alignment of our programming with conditions and priorities established by the Haitian government, and designing a diplomatic and development approach that seizes on the current set of opportunities both in Haiti and across the international public and private sectors to catalyze economic growth and ensure long-term stability.
• 5th Summit of the Americas, Trinidad & Tobago, April 2009: Leaders from throughout the Americas came together to address challenging issues including the global financial crisis, citizen safety and financial inclusion. President Obama said: “I pledge to you that we seek an equal partnership. There is no senior partner and junior partner in our relations; there is simply engagement based on mutual respect and common interests and shared values. So I'm here to launch a new chapter of engagement that will be sustained throughout my administration….” Read more about the Summit.
• General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS), San Pedro Sula, Honduras, June 2009: On June 3, 2009, OAS members removed an historical impediment to Cuba's participation in the OAS by establishing a process of engagement with Cuba based on the core practices, principles, and purposes of the OAS and the Inter-American system. OAS members bridged an historic divide in the Americas, while reaffirming our commitment to democracy and the fundamental human rights of our peoples. Read more.
• Achieving prosperity for all our citizens: Secretary Clinton engaged with Pathways to Prosperity partner nations during the May 2009 meeting in El Salvador to discuss how we can collectively achieve shared prosperity in the hemisphere, integrating our commitment to democracy and open markets with an equal commitment to social inclusion. During her remarks, the Secretary stated: “The President and I are also committed to re-launching Pathways to Prosperity, and expanding its work to spread the benefits of economic recovery, growth, and open markets to the most vulnerable and marginalized citizens of our region.” In September 2009, this commitment was demonstrated when Secretary Clinton launched the Inter-American Social Protection Network (IASPN) at an OAS event in New York. The IASPN is a forum for countries of the Western Hemisphere to share best practices on how to lift our citizens out of poverty through programs such as conditional cash transfers. Later in October 2009, we hosted the Pathways to Prosperity Women Entrepreneurs Conference in which participants created a network to promote access to markets, finance and training for women throughout the region to stimulate economic growth.
• Citizen safety: Our engagement with the Western Hemisphere is critical to advancing our national interests, including the safety of our citizens. Through various programs"including the Merida Initiative, our collaboration with Mexico and Canada in the North American Leaders' Summit, and the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, we are working to build and strengthen partnerships to better address a range of security-related issues, from transnational criminal cartels, to preparedness for the H1N1 influenza.
• Commitment to 21st Century Statecraft: Secretary Clinton hosted the first digital town hall of her tenure on April 17, 2009 in the Dominican Republic on the eve of her travel to the Summit of the Americas. We organized senior delegations of technologists to visit Ciudad Juarez and Mexico City to explore how technology could better help Mexican citizens engage against narco-violence. We also hosted the third Alliance of Youth Movements (AYM) Summit in Mexico City in October 2009. Secretary Clinton delivered a video message to AYM participants.
• Coup in Honduras, June 2009: The region's approach to Honduras represents a critical example of how our hemisphere can come together in support of the collective defense of democracy. The response to this crisis by the international community, the OAS and the United States show that the region is ready to stand up and prevent backsliding wherever democratic rights and practices are challenged. This was an historic advance, and we continue to support President-elect Lobo's call for the full implementation of the Tegucigalpa San Jose Accord.
2009 has been an exciting year in terms of our relationships -- both bilaterally and multilaterally -- with the nations of the Western Hemisphere. In some cases these are preliminary steps and critical work remains to be done.
While I highlight above some of the milestones that shape our relationship with the Hemisphere, the picture is incomplete without recognizing the myriad people-to-people interactions our Embassy and Consulate officials have each day. From supporting English-language courses for Afro-Colombians, to working with indigenous populations in Mexico, to running baseball clinics in Venezuela, to helping provide HIV-AIDS testing in Haiti, State Department officials throughout the Hemisphere are constantly showing that the United States stands ready to partner with nations in the region that share our ideals of better democratic governance, rule of law, and respect for human and civil rights.
Next week, I will continue the conversation on the challenges we will meet moving ahead, how we will develop our partnerships, and our plans to pursue active diplomacy in support of social and economic inclusion, enhanced citizen safety, and support for democratic rights and good governance. I invite your feedback in this space on these objectives.
Until then: Happy New Year! Feliz año nuevo! Feliz ano novo! Bonne annee!Stay tuned @WHAAsstSecty.