Dan Restrepo, Senior Director for the Western Hemisphere at the National Security Council

Publish Date: 
Friday, April 29, 2011

Forward Together/Avanzando Juntos/Avançando Juntos: A Conference Looking at the Changing Politics of the Americas
Monday, April 11th, 2011
Dan Restrepo, Senior Director for the Western Hemisphere at the National
Security Council


Thank you very much to Nelson, to LAPI, to NDN, and in particular to that overly gracious introduction, to Vice President Lewis. Again, it’s an honor to have been introduced by you, it’s an honor to be here with all of you today. As Nelson noted I’m gonna give an overview of the President’s trip but I’m also gonna overstep my brief a little bit to wrap that into, because the President’s trip was about underscoring the work we’ve been doing in the course of the last two years in the region.

And I’m actually going to start a little earlier in March with the visit of President Calderón to Washington…because of the importance of the relationship as Nelson noted between the United States and Mexico. It was the fifth time the two Presidents have gotten together since the President met as President-elect with Felipe Calderón, the only leader with whom he met as President elect. And I also thinks it underscores the continued engagement that this President has had with the Americas from very early on, again from January 12th of 2009 when he first sat down with Felipe Calderón at the Mexican Cultural Institute here in Washington, through the Summit of the Americas which he attended through less than 100 days into his Presidency and through the various, two trips to Mexico, through numerous bilateral meetings with Presidents from around the region who’ve come to Washington to sit down with the President to tackle the real challenges facing people throughout the region. This is a President who has been engaged since the beginning because he understands the importance of the Americas to the United States, and perhaps in a description that could stand as something of a mission statement for LAPI, I’m also going to start off with the words the President…often times I find he says things better than the rest of us, those of us who work for him. In speaking in Sanatiago in March 21st in laying out his vision in the Americas, he said in part: “This is the Latin America I see today: A region on the move, proud of its progress, ready to assume a greater in role in world affairs.  And for all these reasons, I believe Latin America is more important to the prosperity and security of the United States than ever before. With no other region does the United States have so many connections, and nowhere do we see that more than in the tens of millions of Hispanic Americans across the United States, who enrich our society, grow our economy, and strengthen our nation every single day.”
It is that interconnection, an interconnection that’s perhaps most profound with our closest southern neighbor Mexico, which is, which brings with it the riches and challenges that President and President Calderón work on March 4th, and has worked on on each day of his presidency that underscores the manner of which this President has worked with the Americas and I think also crystallizes the theme of the trip itself. There were four key themes to the trip. The importance of the Americas for the United States…the mere act of going underscored that at the time that we went with the enforcement actions beginning in Libya, with the traumatic aftermath in Japan, with the first of many showdowns in terms of giving the government open looming in the background…there were a number of commentators, thankfully not folks of influence within the Administration, who spoke of, who criticized the President for going to Latin America. The act of going underscored the importance the region has in his view for the United States as I noted a moment ago when quoting him…in the economic sphere, in the commercial sphere, in security, on climate and energy challenges, on education and innovation issues…one of the things that was most remarkable about the President’s interactions with each of the three Presidents he sat down with during the course of this trip was the resonance of the President’s State of the Union message for those Presidents in their own countries. The challenges that each of those countries faces in addressing education and innovation issues that are important to taking the next step economically and developmentally in their countries…whether it was in his interactions with President Rousseff, President Piñera or President Funes, all of them commented on the resonance of that message for them and their daily governance…and also open the door for us, for the President to lay down a challenge for the Americas, a hundred thousand strong challenge if you will to increase academic exchanges between the United States and countries of the Americas…a hundred thousand in each direction by the end of a decade. Today is roughly a hundred thousand total, a hundred thousand net…the connectivity, the power of proximity as Secretary Clinton has described, it gives us a comparative advantage in working on issues with our partners in the Americas, and education and innovation is one of those areas that all of the Presidents we sat down with recognized the importance of growing that relationship with the United States, and President Obama meeting that challenge, seeking to partner with countries in the region and the private sector both here in the United States and around, and throughout the Americas to deepen the educational and innovation ties to make the Americas as a whole more competitive, globally competitive,  was one of the major themes in the trip.

Also the trip was designed to highlight pragmatic leadership in the Americas. The countries we visited are in a tradition now of pragmatic leadership focused on addressing the challenges that face their countries today, not fighting ideological battles of the past, but rather focusing on what has to happen to make their country a better place, a more globally competitive place, and a more globally interconnected place…all partners, and growingly capable partners, for the United States to do that same work with them. The trip was also meant to highlight the President’s engagement and the Administration’s engagement in the Americas to date. A series of partnerships for progress, to again, address this major challenges, be it the energy and climate partnership of the Americas which the President laid down as a signature of the Summit of the Americas in April of 2009, and typifies a new way of doing business for the United States. Typically the United States shows up at the Summit of the Americas with the big idea that everyone is going to sign up to and do it our way. The President went to Trinidad and Tobago and offered a new way of doing business which was establishing, laying out a challenge, in the framework of shared responsibility which requires not just the United States assuming more responsibility for our own actions on a whole sphere of issues, but also countries in the region stepping up to the challenge in the region um to work problems that face and to seize opportunities that lie in front of our population. ECPA, the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas, is a flexible partnership. Different sets of countries coming together to work on different particular issues, whether it’s energy efficiency, bio fuels, the climate adaptation…a number of different challenges where different countries in the region both have varying levels of interest, varying levels of applicability to them, and varying levels of capabilities to confront these challenges alone and collectively. ECPA was and is an invitation to work these problems together in dynamic partnerships that have different membership, if you will, based on the challenge being worked or the opportunity being worked.

In each of the stops of the President’s trip, in Brazil we took a next step on bio fuels to work on partnerships for aviation, fuels and aviation under the rubric of ECPA. In Chile opened a new glacial research center given the importance and the impact of permanent glacial melt on clean water supply in the high Andes, and increasingly prominent challenge for countries in the region. In El Salvador, on ECPA, we established with the Salvadoran government a regional deforestation project to counter deforestation in Central America and in Mexico…again, highlighting ongoing work that we are doing in partnership with countries throughout the region.

Also, on citizen security which I will largely leave that to Roberta for a little later this morning, but the President both highlighted the work we are doing through the various citizen partnerships in the Americas—The Merida Initiative, The Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), with the follow and successor plan if you will to Plan Colombia. How we are working each of those in partnership, kind of bilateral basis, but also, laying down a challenge to the region and an offer to come up with a regional security strategy under the auspices of CECA under the regional, the integration mechanism, of the United States and other countries like Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Spain, and the European Union, the Inter-American Development Bank, are coming together in a Central American citizen security partnership to offer to work, again, in partnership, making sure that we’re pulling resources and coordinating resources maximizes the collective effort, again utilizing increasingly capable partners like Colombia, like Chile, who are focused on lending assistance and technical expertise and sharing their own lessons for countries in the region and particularly in Central America where citizen security is such a challenge. The President also focused on the democratic experience in Latin America, both the positive aspects of that democratic experience and the lessons it has for parts of the world that are undergoing a tremendous change today in North Africa. The consolidation of the democratic transition in countries again, Brazil, Chile and El Salvador, underscoring that there are lessons that the Americas have to offer about how you successfully make the transition from dictatorship to democracy. How you do it and also increasing the global, the positive global connectivity of the economies, and how that global connectivity can benefit an increasing percentage of your population. The lessons from the Americas to the rest of the world was an important message throughout the President’s trip.

To go very briefly into the country by country and then open it to questions. In Brazil, the President both in his interactions with the government of Brazil, the Brazilian private sector and the US private sector engaged in Brazil, and then with the Brazilian people directly in a series of events in Rio was able to underscore a) the importance of Brazil for the United States, b) Brazil’s global emergence and leadership and our embrace thereof. The President has been from the earliest days of his Administration, favoring the kinds of global reforms, global architecture reforms, for example embracing the G-20 as the preeminent global economic forum that has given countries like Brazil an increasing voice at the table on the biggest challenges facing the world today. In through IMF holder reform, that perhaps gets a little les attention that the G-20, but one where the President and Secretary Geithner and the United States played a very important role in ensuring that Brazil became the IMF’s tenth largest shareholder when perhaps other countries weren’t as enthusiastic about that occurrence. The energy, and energy security is clearly an important for this President, was an important part of the dialogue he had with President Rousseff, with the private sector and with the Brazilian people…expressing very clearly the US interest in being a strategic energy partner with Brazil setting in motion a strategic energy dialogue between the US government and the Brazilian government to address the whole range of energy issues from pre-salts to biofuels and all points in between of how the US and Brazil can work together in a way that is mutually beneficial in these areas, mutually beneficial for our two countries and for the region. Also elevating the relationship…structures of the relationship if you will, there’s an existing global partnership dialogue between the Secretary of State and the Foreign Minister of Brazil that touches a wide range of issues. In the course of the President’s visit we also created an economic and financial dialogue between the finance ministries and the central banks, and the afore mentioned strategic energy dialogue to ensure that across the entirety of the US and Brazilian government, department and agencies are working together on the principal challenges and principal opportunities that we have in the bilateral relationship.
Moving on to Chile…again, Chile presents in terms of the success story of a free trade agreements with the United States and the beneficial economics effects that its had in a partner country. The Chilean experience with global commercial connectivity also underscores the positive nature that those kinds of connections can have for economic wellbeing, economic stability, and political and democratic stability in countries in the Americas. Chile has hard earned experience in disaster response that we took the next step in promoting signing an agreement for FEMA and its Chilean counterpart to work this issues together…both for mutual benefit but for the benefit of third countries.

Also pointing to the very important work being done in the defense ministries in the Americas on cooperation for military support for civilian disaster response growing out of lessons learned from the tremendous work that was done in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti in January of last year and the continuing work that countries in the Americas through their participation and membership in US stabilization in Haiti were engaged in to help create the conditions where we have just seen a successful election in Haiti. And the opportunity that comes with the new government, with a mandate to move forward the development work that is so vital for Haiti’s future. That election was made possible through diplomacy and hard work by the Organization of American States, by CARICOM, by key partners in the region, particularly the Brazilians, the Canadians, United States, Mexico…others coming together to ensure that a process was transparent and reflected the will of the Haitian people. It was an issue…Haiti, in the way forward was an issue that was discussed at some length with both President Rousseff and President Piñera.

In Chile we also underscored the importance of defending and protecting endangered civil society. The Chileans have stepped up as one of the first contributors to a global fund to help protect endangered civil society in to many countries, including countries in the Americas today. Civil society is under pressure from governments who are passing laws to limit funding. The President in talking about the democratic experience in the Americas underscored that while tremendous strides have been made, work remains to be done, that there is a share responsibility in the Americas through the Inter-American Democratic Charter, through the Organization of American States Charter, for the collective defense of democracy, not only actions by countries to protect democracy and abide by the rules of democracy at home but also to step up and be heard and voice when it is not respected in fellow states in the Americas. That was an issue that was discussed at some length both with President Piñera and in the context of the President’s speech in Santiago: the abiding responsibility we all share—not because the US says so—but because we’ve all signed up in the Americas to defend core democratic values wherever they are fringed upon whether there are violations of separations of power, where media freedoms are restricted, where majoritarian policies are put in place that do not respect the rights of minorities in the political systems in countries in the Americas…there is a responsibility to stand up and to be heard and to take actions when necessary as a group, is something that the President has been championing from the very early days of his Administration around the world and in the Americas, and we will continue to do.

In El Salvador, the focus in addition to obvious security challenges in Central America at large and the need for the United States has been commented or noted by the President in numerous occasions by President Calderón and other leaders in the region, for us to assume our responsibility: to cut off illegal weapon flows from the US to point South, to cut off the flows of illegal cash and the misuse of the financial system in the United States and elsewhere by transnational criminal organizations. The President highlighted the ten plus billion dollar request for demand reduction in his FY12 budget underscoring that we take seriously the need to reduce the demand in the United States. Also, El Salvador is one of the four countries in the world chosen to highlight and start implementing the President’s new development policy, of where the partnership for growth, to work in partnership with countries around the region, around the world, who are in the cusp of being emerging emerging,  economies, who…where we sit down in partnership with governments, civil society, private sector, in those countries to examine what the constraints to growth that are particular to those countries are, and help devise policy responses that are not made in Washington but rather made in partnership to address those constraints for growth, to unleash the economic potential of countries like El Salvador, to create real economic opportunities so that young people in particular in countries like El Salvador have something to choose from other than migration or engaging in illicit activities, but rather have real economic opportunities…a point that President Funes has made both when he first visited the President in Oval Office last March, and then again in the context of the President’s visit to El Salvador in March of this year.

Finally immigration was obviously an issue that was discussed in El Salvador in particular; the President underscoring his commitment to moving forward on comprehensive immigration reform, creating a system here in the United States which we frankly do not have today, that respects our tradition of laws and our tradition of being a nation of immigrants, and the need for a bipartisan coming together for Republicans and Democrats in Congress, coming together with the President to work on this challenge…understanding that it is not just a challenge that affects us here at home but one, our system has significant effects in countries throughout the Americas. Again, this has been a topic of much discussion with presidents, particularly President Calderón and our Central American colleagues who come visit the President, but one that has been and will continue to be an important part of the President’s agenda in the Americas…is working to address a broken immigration system in a way that again, respects our tradition of being a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. So I think with that I will open it up to questions, having, giving that overview where we stand today in the Americas after the President’s trip.