☷Secretary Antony J Blinken Keynote Remarks at the 52nd Annual Conference on the Americas Luncheon United States Department of State
U.S. Department of State ( By Press Release office)
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MR GLUSKI: Well , Mr . Secretary , this is the second time I’ve had the pleasure of introducing you at the Washington conference . But a year ago , we were all online , and most of us were still stuck at home , so I’m going to venture that this will be an even better experience for all of us . In the year that you’ve – since you’ve last joined us , a lot has happened , to say the least . It seems almost like another era . But what hasn’t changed is your commitment to building bridges with our hemisphere , and I know that mandate comes straight from President Biden . Perhaps even more significant for our region than what has gone before is what’s coming up next . Next month , you will join President Biden as he hosts the ninth Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles . As this is the first time the U . S . is hosting the Summit of the Americas since 1994 , it would already be consequential . But with the health and economic consequences of a pandemic , Russia’s brutal and unprovoked attack on Ukraine , and the growing threat to free and democratic societies from China and other authoritarian governments , there has never been a more important time for the United States to lead our hemisphere in reinforcing our shared principles of democracy , rule of law , and free and fair trade . Beyond the opportunity to defend these core principles , the summit will also offer the opportunity to expand our partnership with leaders in the Americas , to take full advantage of the digital future , to protect the environment and address climate change , and to ensure growth that is equitable and sustainable . We at the Council of the Americas have been steadfast partners of the State Department since our founding , almost 60 years ago . And we look forward to partnering with you and President Biden at this historic event . Mr . Secretary , we all know that you have a great deal on your plate these days . We take your presence here today as a strong confirmation of the importance that you personally place on the U . S . partnership in the hemisphere . We look forward to hearing your vision for the U . S . relations with the Americas . My fellow council members and guests , please join me in welcoming the United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken . ( Applause . ) SECRETARY BLINKEN: Andres , thank you so much for the introduction , for your good words today , and for your leadership every day on something that we both care about deeply . And to you , President Segal , Eric Farnsworth – an old colleague and friend – it’s wonderful to be here today with all of you . To the supporters of the council’s critically important work , thank you , thank you , thank you . We have – everyone is quite literally a distinguished guest around these tables , so at the risk of causing offense to everyone else , I do want to just mention a couple of other people who I see here before me and want to acknowledge . First of all , our extraordinary ambassador to Mexico , Ken Salazar , it’s great to be with you today . ( Applause . ) And to a friend of many years , who’s been a leader of this institution , who knows this room and these halls so well , John Negroponte . John . ( Applause . ) And I’m looking around to see – I think Bill Hagerty is here . Bill , are you here , in fact He was here before , so I wanted to acknowledge him , and a great colleague in the Senate and a great leader in our own hemisphere as well as in the Asia Pacific as well . It’s also wonderful to be here with each of you today because we’re getting back to something approximating normal , including using this room , which is my favorite room in the department , the Ben Franklin Room . And John spent many an hour here as well . And it’s very apt , in some ways , that we’re here in this room . Ben Franklin , of course , was our nation’s first diplomat . He charted the Gulf Stream . He pioneered electricity . He authored America’s very first treaty . He helped forge a new ethos of self - government . And he did virtually none of this sober . ( Laughter . ) So I’m not sure what the lesson to be drawn from that is , but there’s something there . I also suspect he couldn’t get confirmed for a job , but that’s another matter . ( Laughter . ) I also am very pleased to see an old friend and colleague , the Secretary General Almagro . It’s wonderful to be with you . Congratulations on your very well - deserved leadership award . ( Applause . ) Thank you . And then I want to extend a very special welcome to the ambassadors from the region who are here today . You’re at home here in the State Department . Welcome , welcome , welcome . And indeed , it’s welcome to – wonderful to welcome this council back to the State Department for the annual conference , again something we’ve not been able to do for the last couple of years . But we are now back; you are now back . And I’m grateful for that . So as Andres said , in a little over a month , the United States will host a Summit of the Americas for the first time since that inaugural summit in 1994 . And I have to tell you , it’s a little bit of a personal bookend for me , because at the time of the Miami summit in 1994 , I was a speechwriter for President Bill Clinton and got to work on the summit . Some of the things he said at the summit actually may have reflected some of the things I put into the speeches , and it’s a very strong and early memory of my time working for President Clinton . My memory is – and we fact - checked this in the archives – the early drafts that we produced for President Clinton received a fairly healthy amount of editing from the president and others , but clearly to the benefit of the speeches and clearly to the benefit of the summit . But this is very much a homecoming , and I am so glad that we have the summit back in the United States . As with so many who took part in that first summit in ’94 , Miami left a lasting impression on me – capturing the enthusiasm of the moment , the promise of the democratic aspirations of the region that we share , promise that we still very much see . And today what I’d like to do is just to set out a little bit how the Biden administration will use the forthcoming Summit of the Americas to continue building on that promise . Now , it’s no secret to anyone in this room that the summit comes at a challenging time for the region . COVID - 19 has taken the lives of 2 . 7 million men , women , and children in our hemisphere . That accounts for more than 40 percent of global reported deaths . It’s the highest per capita loss of any region in the world . The pandemic has also inflicted massive economic harm throughout the region – job losses , declining income , rising poverty . And it has had massive social implications: we have seen fewer kids in school , more youth out of work , and a ravaging of the public health sector . Now , with the Russian Government’s brutal war of aggression on Ukraine , many of these preexisting problems , these preexisting conditions , have been made worse , raising the price of essential commodities throughout the Americas , from fertilizer to wheat to petroleum , cutting off key export markets for many industries in the Americas , and forcing households across the region to make very wrenching choices as the cost of living skyrockets . So all of this is very much felt and is very much present . These are just some of the short - term headwinds that we have to deal with . They come atop longstanding challenges . We know in many parts of the hemisphere that we share there remains a lack of economic opportunity and inequity . An accelerating climate crisis , widespread violence and insecurity , endemic corruption , declining trust in government – all problems that are leading people across the Americas to leave home in search of places where they have a better shot of providing for their loved ones , even if the journey comes with the most profound risks . One of my colleagues at one of the meetings we were having some months ago talked about this phenomenon , the extraordinary migration that we’re dealing with not only in our own hemisphere but around the world . And she talked about the need to try to establish what she called a right to remain . And creating for the conditions for that right to remain are something that I think all of us need to be thinking about and working on together . Now , in the face of what are incredibly serious challenges , it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that for the vast majority of countries in our hemisphere , there is still a strong agreement on the best way to address these challenges , and that’s through democracy . That’s not because democracy has a perfect track record , of course . It doesn’t . It’s because citizens across the region still believe that they should be the ones to chart the path of their nations . Yet , as every government participating in the summit knows , we can’t take the democratic character of this region for granted . It’s not inevitable . It depends fundamentally on people’s continued belief that they can improve the system from within – as we say here in the United States , that we can work together to form a more perfect union . And to keep that faith , we have to show people that democracies can do better , that they can deliver what people want and what people need . I think that requires learning from our experience in the nearly three decades since that first Summit of the Americas in 1994 . So what I’d like to do quickly is to just share a few thoughts about some of the important lessons that might inform our actions going into next month’s summit , lessons that we might take from the experience of the last few decades . First , we should avoid falling into blocks of left and right , liberal and conservative , and instead focus on what actually brings us together as democracies . That means recognizing our shared interest in strengthening the pillars of our fellow free and open societies like the rule of law , like respect for human rights , like free and fair elections , a vibrant , independent press , which is front and center in my mind today . This is actually World Press Freedom Day , which we started out by going over to the Foreign Press Center and talking to reporters from around the world , many of whom are quite literally putting their lives in danger to try to bring the facts , to try to bring information , to try and bring the truth to people around the world . This approach that’s resisting labels of left and right , liberal and conservative , but instead is focusing on the common fundamental principles that bring us together , that’s the approach that we’ve been taking , including at the recent Summit for Democracy that President Biden convened late last year . Twenty - six countries from the Americas took part in the summit . That accounts for more than a quarter of all the participants in the Summit for Democracy . Every one of those countries showed up with concrete commitments to make their democracies stronger – Trinidad and Tobago to increase transparency in public spending , Costa Rica pledging to expand an effective community - based violence prevention program . The list goes on . But in each of these ways , we’re making an effort to demonstrate that democracies can effectively produce more and better results for people across a wide spectrum of activities . Second , there was tremendous enthusiasm in 1994 for the ability of open markets and free trade to create broad - based opportunity and improve conditions of workers across the hemisphere . And this past decade has seen remarkable growth across the region , millions more people lifted out of poverty and into the possibility of being part of the global middle class . But I suspect everyone in this room knows very well that growth also brought some downsides , notably immense inequality , including right here in the United States . Instead , a lot of the disillusionment citizens in the Americas feel with democracy is a result of this gap between what democracies promised and what they’ve delivered , notably in the concrete standard of living that people have been experiencing . The gap , as President Clinton framed it in 1994 , between deechos and hechos , words and deeds . And this is a gap we always , always have to mind if we want to make sure that we have sustained support for what we’re doing . The answer , of course , is not to give up on free markets and trade , but to set the terms of trade and investment in ways that benefit all citizens , not just those on the very top: eliminating the barriers that keep small business from joining the formal economy; combating the corruption that robs the resources and energy of innovators and communities alike; broadening access to emerging technologies that are increasingly crucial to actually doing business – something that we’ll drive at at the upcoming summit with the first - ever regional agenda for digital transformation . In my judgment , we also have to do more to reinforce social safety nets , because even the most effective economic policies are not going to benefit all communities at the same time . We have to be there for those who are left behind . Delivering growth with equity also demands tapping into one of the most powerful engines for opportunity in the Americas: the private sector . And I would start by saying the U . S . private sector . The United States is already the top trading partner for more than two - thirds of the hemisphere’s countries . In 2019 , U . S . foreign direct investment in the Americas totaled $1 . 3 trillion dollars . U . S . trade with countries in the region totals $1 . 5 trillion every year – more , by far , than any other country in the world . And it’s not just the volume that’s so significant . It’s how the United States invests that matters: openly , transparently , with respect for labor and human rights; in a way that’s sustainable for the environment and without piling debt upon countries that they can’t afford to get out from under . At the same time , our diplomats are working to raise the standards of investment in countries around the hemisphere – so that this approach becomes the rule , not the exception . Consider the Call to Action for an investment in Central America that Vice President Harris launched in December , and that’s already raised more than $1 . 2 billion in commitments from the U . S . private sector . As part of this call , Parkdale Mills , one of the world’s major providers of cotton consumer products , committed $150 million to building a new facility in Honduras . This investment is going to help shift production of a million pounds of yarn per week from Asia to the Americas , increasing regional supply , increasing resilience of supply , while also supporting approximately a thousand new , good - paying jobs between Honduras and the United States . And that’s just one example of what is possible . We also have to close another gap in our economic development approach – and that “we” when I say “we have to close that gap , ” that includes the United States and leading multilateral institutions active in the region . That is , we have to do more to meet the region’s and reach the region’s middle - income economies . There is something of another kind of middle - income trap that I know many of our closest neighbors experience: countries that are not quite developed enough to qualify for membership in groups like the G20 or the OECD , and yet too developed to qualify for aid from institutions like the Inter - American Development Bank and the World Bank . Even modest increases in public investment in these countries will go a long way toward stimulating more private investment in their economies . And we’re looking at other ways to deal with this trap . This is something that I’ve heard again and again from colleagues throughout the hemisphere . And countries that have been on the front line of being ravaged by COVID or climate – we need to find more effective ways to make sure that they have the resources necessary to deal with these challenges . The same is true , I’d say , for the investments that we make within countries , so that we can support growth not only from the bottom up , but also from the middle out . That means doing more to stimulate investment in the region’s working class – the entrepreneurs , women - and minority - led small enterprises , and others who are ready to grow their businesses but lack the capital or access to the formal economy to do so . This has been a major focus of the U . S . Development Finance Corporation . It’s invested more than $10 billion in Latin America and the Caribbean , including a hundred million to help women - owned small businesses in Mexico weather the pandemic . Third , we need to build greater regional resilience to make our hemisphere less vulnerable to global disruptions in the supplies that we need most and that , for many of us , we have taken for granted over many years , and now we suddenly realize the fragility in the system that we built . This is one of the most hard - earned lessons of the pandemic . It’s also a hard - earned lesson of Putin’s war on Ukraine . Building this kind of resilience demands pooling our individual strengths to make our democracies stronger as a whole . Now , I think we’ve made a start on that – from the supply chain working group that the United States has created with Mexico , which includes a special focus on semiconductors and information communications technology; to the work of the newly formed Alliance for Development in Democracy formed by Costa Rica , the Dominican Republic , Panama , the United States – to strengthen supply chains in the areas of health , food security , and technology . Fourth , even as we stay focused on strengthening democracies from within , we need a shared approach to autocracies in the region . And this includes continuing to support the individuals and groups in closed countries who are fighting so bravely to advance human rights and democracy , as we’ve done for decades . We have a responsibility also to speak up and speak out collectively when we see governments weakening democracy at home , clamping down on the free press , threatening political opponents , undermining the independence of the courts . This is another one of democracies’ inherent strengths: we believe in holding one another to account . And that includes the United States . And I can tell you that there is always more force and power in this and effect in this when we’re actually able to do it collectively . And this points to , among other things , the vital role that the OAS plays and continues to play . It also means taking the argument to closed countries , and to citizens across the hemisphere , about which system is actually better in delivering for its people . In Cuba , Venezuela , more recently Nicaragua , repressive governments offer a false choice between respecting people’s rights and improving their welfare . But the decades since that first Summit of the Americas have demonstrated that non - democratic governments in the Americas have delivered neither – and instead produced rising corruption and declining standards of living . The debate about which system does better by the people it’s supposed to serve is one that we should welcome . We can at once be humble about where democracy has fallen short , and confident about its stronger track record than autocracy . Finally , we have to remember that there’s not a single challenge that we face in the Americas that our democracies are better off facing alone individually . That was true in 1994 . It’s true today , maybe even more true today . The way forward on virtually every challenge that’s affecting the lives of citizens in all of our countries is through closer collaboration , closer coordination , coming together , working together – especially when it comes to the most intractable problems , like the migration challenge , the root cause drivers of which , as we’ve seen , simply can’t be addressed by short - term fixes , and where the incentives often favor passing onto others the problems that we’re all better off tackling together as a region . That’s why we’ve joined Colombia and Panama in convening a pair of ministerial meetings to foster a more candid , concrete discussion about how we can work together to support communities that are hosting large populations of migrants; creating legal , humane pathways to migration; improving border security; combating transnational criminal organizations that prey on migrants; and addressing , as we were talking about earlier , the root causes that are leaving so many people to leave their homes . As a result of this effort , I am confident that we will get to a regional declaration on migration and protection at the upcoming summit – something that can benefit all of our countries , and especially benefit people across the region . Together is the only way forward on addressing the accelerating climate crisis , which communities across the hemisphere are feeling more and more acutely . We see the region coming together on this , too . More countries in the Americas signed onto the Global Methane Pledge than any other region in the world – 24 and counting . That commits them and each of us to cut global methane emissions by 30 percent by the year 2030 . If – if – the world’s major methane producers join us in meeting this pledge , this would be the equivalent of taking every plane out of the skies and every ship off the seas in terms of the emissions they produce , a dramatic step forward in trying to meet the test of dealing with climate change . Together is the way forward on health security , too . We’ve seen how weaknesses in any one country in preventing , detecting , responding to outbreaks can put people in every country at risk . That’s why we have donated more than 67 million doses of safe , effective vaccines to countries across the Americas – free of charge , no political strings attached . And it’s why the budget that we put forward to Congress just last week aims to double down on our investments in public health and pandemic preparedness in our hemisphere , while also seeking significant funding to continue leading the global response to COVID - 19 . Perhaps most important , together means enlisting partners beyond our governments . And it’s here that I’d like to conclude . Of all the forces driving democratic progress in the Americas since 1994 , none – in my judgment – has been more critical than the region’s vibrant , diverse , and growing civil society . Whether those are journalists shining a light on corruption , human rights defenders documenting gross abuses , indigenous rights organizations giving voice to underserved communities – the work of these citizens has given people hope that we can still improve democracy from within , that the gap between deechos and hechos can still be closed . That’s why the United States has planned the most inclusive Summit of the Americas in history , ensuring that civil society groups , leaders from the private sector will not just be included in the meetings in Los Angeles; they’ll be able to engage directly with the governments . I’m confident that if we embrace this and other lessons learned since the first Summit of the Americas – focusing on what unites us as democracies rather than what divides us; ensuring not only growth , but greater equity; deepening regional resiliency in the face of shared challenges; and standing together in addressing autocracy and democratic backsliding alike – we will not only strengthen our individual democracies; we will do better at what is our number - one responsibility , and that is delivering on the fundamental needs and the fundamental hopes of all the peoples in this hemisphere that we share . Thank you very much . ( Applause . )
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