Friday, July 19, 2024

Obama Vows More Engagement with Latin America

President Barack Obama attended the Fifth Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago this past weekend along with 33 other democratically elected heads of state and government in the Western Hemisphere.

In Obama’s first meeting with his regional counterparts he used the opportunity to engage in a new relationship with countries of the Americas and to forge partnerships and join approaches to work on the common challenges facing the people of the Americas, including the economic crisis, energy, climate future and public safety. The theme of the Summit was “Securing Our Citizens’ Future by Promoting Human Prosperity, Energy Security, and Environmental Sustainability.”

President Obama struck a new tone with leaders who were used to the tone and rhetoric of George W. Bush.  Obama said, “While the United States has done much to promote peace and prosperity in the hemisphere, we have at times been disengaged, and at times we sought to dictate our terms. But I pledge to you that we seek an equal partnership.”

In addition, he expressed support for a more central U.S. place in global alliances, including a firm endorsement of the United Nations saying, “We do our best to promote our ideals and our values by our example.”

Regarding Cuba, Obama said it is time for a new phase in U.S. policy, “The policy that we’ve had in place for 50 years hasn’t worked the way we want it to. The Cuban people are not free.”

On Friday, Raúl Castro responded saying he was willing to discuss all issues including human rights issues with the United States.

Obama was also criticized for greeting leftist Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez. However, the president has defended this as a gesture of diplomatic courtesy.

In a news conference at the end of the Summit, Obama agreed to focus on the following issues:

Social Inclusion and Economic Development

In recent years, the Western Hemisphere has made significant progress in social inclusion, the reduction of poverty, and democratic governance.  Still, much more needs to be done and President Obama committed to work jointly to protect these advances in a period of economic crisis

· Economic Recovery:  President Obama led efforts to triple the size of a reformed International Monetary Fund from $250 billion to $750 billion which will have significant impact on emerging markets in the region.  The United States also supported expanding the Inter-American Development Bank’s short term crisis response through changes in lending limits and capital ratios.

·   Microfinance Growth Fund for the Western Hemisphere:  The President announced a new partnership of the Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF) at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), and the Inter-American Investment Corporation (IIC) for the purpose of launching a fund that will provide stable sources of finance to microfinance institutions and microfinance investment vehicles to help rebuild their capacity to lend during this difficult period and to increase the supply of finance for micro and small businesses as recovery takes hold.  The partners have identified $100 million in initial capital and will look for additional partners with the ultimate goal of $250 million.

·        Social Protection Network:  President Obama announced his support for the Inter-American Social Protection Network, which will share best practices including the development of new conditional cash transfer programs.  The President also announced that 1,500 students from marginalized groups would receive scholarships to learn English, and 1,300 students would receive scholarships over five years through the Scholarships for Education and Economic Development (SEED) program to study in the United States.

·        Education Partnerships for At-Risk Youth.  The President proposed a pilot program to form partnerships with countries that have the highest levels of inequality, significant numbers of unemployed and at-risk youth, and considerable potential for leveraging additional public and private sector resources.  This program would add a focus on youth at risk such as out of school youth, under-employed youth, and ex-gang members.

Energy and Climate Change

Approximately 50 percent of U.S. oil imports come from the Western Hemisphere.  By increasing green energy cooperation, we will set our economies on a clean energy growth path and curb global greenhouse gas emissions.

·        Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas:  President Obama invited countries of the region to participate in an Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas; a voluntary and flexible framework for advancing energy security and combating climate change.  Countries will be encouraged to suggest tangible ideas for cooperation, including on energy efficiency, renewable energy, cleaner fossil fuels, and energy infrastructure.  President Obama also asked Secretary of Energy Chu to advance further cooperation with his counterparts this June in Peru at the Americas Energy Symposium.

·        Global Climate Change:  President Obama expressed his commitment to working with his regional counterparts toward a strong international climate agreement at Copenhagen.  He will also work closely with Brazil, Canada, and Mexico through the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate.

Citizen Safety

Public safety and crime are among the top concerns of citizens throughout the region.  President Obama emphasized the need for partnerships that address this issue, focusing on our co-responsibility to address threats to public safety.

·        Firearms Trafficking:  The United States must do more to reduce the number of illegal firearms which flow to Latin America and the Caribbean.  President Obama announced his commitment to seek ratification of the Convention on Illicit Trafficking in Firearms Convention (CIFTA) in 2009, and offering technical assistance to trace illicit firearms and control, store, or destroy excess national stockpiles.

·        Caribbean Basin Security Dialogue:  President Obama announced that he would engage the Caribbean Community member states and the Dominican Republic in a strategic security dialogue with the intent of developing a joint security strategy, which may include future increased financial and technical assistance to address shared challenges such as transnational crime, illicit trafficking, and maritime and aviation security.  The next meeting between the Caribbean Community and Common Market and the United States is scheduled to take place in May in Suriname.

·        Enhance Public Security Cooperation:  President Obama has asked the Attorney General and Secretary of Homeland Security to meet with all of their counterparts in the hemisphere to address violent crime in our communities.

Los Angeles Times

Washington Post