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Ripe for Creative Engagement: U.S. Policy in the Americas

March 22, 2010

by Arturo Valenzuela

The first months of 2010 have shown, in multiple and unexpected ways, the courage, resilience, and solidarity of the citizens of the Americas.  Faced first with a devastating earthquake in Haiti on January 12, the countries and people of the region rallied around a neighbor that had suffered a terrible tragedy.  The outpouring of support and feeling was as broad and spontaneous as if any other of our nations had been directly hit by the earthquake.  Then, on February 27, Chile was struck with an earthquake of historic proportions just two weeks before Chilean citizens inaugurated a new President.  When the Secretary met with then-President Bachelet, and then-President-elect Piñera on March 2, she spoke for our entire country when she expressed profound sorrow at the tragedy and the tremendous respect and admiration for the way the Chilean nation responded.

In my blog on March 13, I wrote about Secretary Clinton’s six country trip to the region.  It was a great honor to accompany the Secretary.  With each leader and citizen we met, our deep and personal engagement with our neighbors in the region was apparent.  Given how much is at stake in the western hemisphere right now, I was pleased to have the opportunity to  testify before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere on March 10—and share  with Members  of Congress my perspectives on our relationships with countries of the region and what we want to accomplish together.

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I talked about efforts by the United States and the international community to build back Haiti, including the Haiti donors’ conference coming up on at the end of this month at the United Nations.  This includes the ministerial-level International Donors’ Conference that the United States, in cooperation with the Haitian government, will co-host on March 31, 2010 in New York at UN headquarters.  The conference “Towards a New Future for Haiti” has been in the works essentially since the hours after the earthquake hit.  We all knew that building back Haiti better would require enormous and sustained support from partners around the world.  Over the last eight weeks since the quake struck Port-au-Prince, international relief efforts on the ground have been incredible.  In spite of this, it’s clear that we still have a long way to go to provide the Haitian people with the living conditions, economic, and educational opportunities they deserve.  The March 31 conference is just one step in mobilizing the broad international support that the government and people of Haiti must have in order to realize their vision of a stronger, vibrant Haiti emerging from this tragedy.

In addition to our efforts in Haiti and relief efforts in Chile, I talked with Members of Congress about our broader policy objectives in the Americas.  We are interested in thinking outside the box and working with partners everywhere in the Americas to make our common home safer, more democratic, greener, and more full of opportunities for all of its citizens.

On making our region safer: The tragic news of the murder of three citizens affiliated with the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez in mid-March was the latest and most powerful headline reflecting the urgent need to address organized crime, especially along the U.S.-Mexico border.  The United States acknowledges our co-responsibility in this fight.  Through our security partnerships including the Merida Initiative, the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), and the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), we are strengthening our partners’ ability to fight transnational crime, protect citizens, and prevent the spread of illicit goods and violence to the United States.

On strengthening democratic institutions in our hemisphere:  Over the last calendar year, we have witnessed a coup d’état in Honduras, participated actively to get all parties to reach consensus on the way forward, and ultimately applauded as the Honduran people elected a new government, which took office in January.  This example highlights the need to continue working through the Organization of American States (OAS) to strengthen democratic institutions throughout our region.  The United States is focused on supporting institutions that uphold transparency, accountability, and the rule of law.

On greening our region:  We are working closely with various regional partners to build a clean energy future for citizens of the Americas.  The United States is taking a leading role in promoting clean energy, fighting energy poverty, and addressing climate change.  From April 15 to 16, we’ll have the opportunity to advance these efforts during the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA) ministerial hosted by U.S. Secretary of Energy Chu in Washington.  We also look forward to the 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference, which will be hosted by the Mexican government in Cancún later this year.

On creating more opportunities:  The divide between the have and the have nots in our hemisphere is woefully wide.  The United States is focused on working with our partners to spread the benefits of economic growth and the integration of more people in more places. The Pathways to Prosperity Initiative is one program to help accomplish this.  The Pathways initiative fosters sustained, inclusive prosperity by empowering small businesses and farmers, women, indigenous populations, and Afro-descendants who have not yet fully benefited from free trade to participate in the global economy.  Pathways supports women entrepreneurs, broadens access to credit, and expands access to education and foreign language training to promote sustainable development, regional competitiveness, and equitable economic growth.

Engagement with our partners in the United States Congress is a critical aspect to accomplishing our foreign policy in a way that makes sense for the American people.  Opportunities like the one I had on March 10 to lay out our priorities and receive feedback from House members is an important step in the democratic navigation of our nation’s foreign policy development and execution.  I invite you to read my full remarks to the House Foreign Affairs Committee.  Also, you can stay up-to-date with me on Twitter @ WHAAsstSecty.

*Arturo A. Valenzuela is the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs.

Tags: Michelle Bachelet, Organization of American States, Merida Initiative, Sebastian Piñera, Arturo Valenzuela, Ciudad Juárez, Haiti Earthquake, Chile Earthquake, House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Pathways to Prosperity Initiative

To speak with an expert on this topic, please contact the communications office at: communications@as-coa.org or (212) 277-8384.
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