Panel Discussion on The Changing Politics of America

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
Panel Discussion moderated by Juan Carlos Lopez, Anchor and Senior Correspondent CNN Español
Ambassador Francisco Altschul, Ambassador of El Salvador to the United States
Ernesto Araujo, Minister-Counselor for Economic &Trade Affairs, Brazilian Embassy
Rodrigo Meza, Career Diplomat, Chilean Embassy


NELSON CUNNINGHAM: I will now turn the program to my Board colleague here, Joe Garcia.  Joe for many of you needs no introduction; he’s a vital part of US politics and US-American relations. For many years, he was the Executive Director of the Cuban American National Foundation focusing on Cuba and human rights issues. He has been a candidate for Congress, as a Democrat down in South Florida and he is one of those people that know this relationship best. Let me turn it over to my Board Member, fellow colleague, Joe Garcia to introduce the next panel.

JOE GARCÍA: That was absolutely fabulous and thanks the panel for that, and in particular…watching Dan Restrepo do that without notes was impressive. I have the distinguished pleasure of introducing a panel that I think will encapsulate what Dan just did but from the Latin American perspective. The three countries where our President visited and they’re gonna give their perspective. When I was young man just out of college, I was hired by a group of Salvadoran businessmen and I worked on humanitarian aid for El Salvador. It was my first trip there, the first sort of foreign experience in a job and I have to tell you I fell in love with El Salvador…every time I get a chance I try to escape to El Salvador. It is a country where American, and our nation, has invested a great deal in the process of seeking peace and trying to make sure that democracy works, and I think the President’s visit, I think put a seal on that as El Salvador moves forward.

Now I’m going to introduce the moderator of this panel who is someone that in the greater American Hispanic community and in Latin America needs no introduction but in my case in particular, I’ve known Juan Carlos Lopez for decades now…which shows both our ages and I had the unique chance to do a lot of interviews with him because there’s only four or five Cuban Democrats in the world. And so, whenever he needed a Cuban Democrat, I was first on his list, he was always generous with the questions but Juan Carlos plays a unique role in media and the United States with his vast experience working for different media outlets, but in particular now at CNN where given election night, given all important issues, he is the focal point at CNN and we get to live it through him. And probably one of the most influential voices in America’s Hispanic community and I think going to be one of the key elements in our country…it’s with great pleasure and honor, I introduce my good friend Juan Carlos Lopez.

JUAN CARLOS LÓPEZ: Buenos días. I guess the fact that we’re all here is a sign that the government didn’t shut down. We were thinking of a Plan B. That was a very generous introduction Joe, I’m kind of worried about my generous questions so I’ll have to work on that. Now, I’m going to introduce our guests to talk about the recent trip [of] President Obama, the recent visit to Latin America, March nineteenth to the twenty-third.  Very interesting trip, I had the opportunity of going on that visit. But first, let’s talk about our guests.  First we have the Ambassador of El Salvador to the United States. He is in architect by training, Ambassador Francisco Altschul. He was born in Antiguo Culscatlán, Departamento de la Libertad. He’s been Ambassador since March 2010, before that he was the Chargé d'Affaires. As I said, architect by training and he is an expert in public policy, has worked with many NGOs and heads an interesting project in his country of organic agriculture. Bienvenido Embajador.

Next to him we have Ernesto Enrique Araújo. He is a career diplomat. He is a writer. Has degrees in literature, linguistics and diplomacy. Before being in Washington, he was in Canada. He was also in Brussels and Berlin, and he is a Minister Counselor at the Brazilian Embassy in Washington. Bienvenido.
And we also have from Chile, another career diplomat, Rodrigo Meza. He was the Chilean Consul in 2008 in Washington. He is a graduate of the law school of La Universidad Católica. I hope they did well, and he also has a masters from Northwestern’s law school. He works with the trade policy affairs office in Washington. Thank you all, bienvenidos, and now I’m going to hand it off to Ambassador Altschul to let him give us an outlook of what this trip meant to his country.

AMBASSADOR FRANCISCO ALTSCHUL: Well, thank you first to NDN for providing this opportunity and this forum which I’m sure it’s going to be quite useful.  I would basically start saying that President Obama’s trip to Latin America, at least the way we’ve seen it, is a recognition that Latin America has changed or is changing. And that we are in a new moment in terms of the US-Latin American relationships. Latin America has made impressive advances in democratic institutions and human rights. If we compare the situation right now [to] twenty five or forty years ago, when there were a lot of dictatorships, huge abuses of human rights. We have made important, important improvements. Now as a President Obama recognized in his trip to Santiago, in his speech to Santiago sorry, he said that virtually all people in Latin America have gone from living in dictatorships to living in democracies. That is, I think, a starting point.

The other one is that Latin American economies are growing, becoming more mature. According to the World Bank, Latin America was the region of the world which was most able to cope with the international crisis. We have emerging economies like Brazil, who are now relevant in a, relevant nation as a global player. Chile is again supposed to, expected to become a fully developed country in a couple years. Even El Salvador, which was the country that was most hard hit by the international crisis, is now starting to recover. In a couple of years we have come from a -3.5 to a rate of growth to an expected 2.5 this year. So, all this means also that Latin America is no longer what it used to be referred as the backyard of the United States. 

Most of our countries have now more sophisticated and autonomous foreign policies. The region is reaching for new markets, different from traditional markets in the United States…looking towards China, to other countries outside of the region. And also, the problems that we are facing are of a global nature. Security and environmental problems are global. Drug trafficking perhaps is one of the issues that exemplify the best. We just, it’s not a matter, as would have seen several years ago that the problem was to control or eliminate drug production in Latin America. Now we understand that there is a production problem, there is the issue of transferring, traffic of the drug, going through Latin America through the Caribbean, in Mexico, and ultimately reaching the United States. So, it is definitely a regional and a problem of global and a shared problem.
I think also, Latin America or the US is no longer the big brother for, towards Latin America as it used to be. Even the Alliance for Progress, which was a very important initiative, but basically was a US coming and saying to Latin America: “this is what you have to do; we’re going to help you. Here is the money”. It was as I said, very helpful, but it did have a little bit of paternalistic approach. Now those things have changed, and now we are talking about shared partnerships, about mutual respect, about shared problems and shared responsibilities. How does this play into President Obama’s trip to El Salvador? Well, the partnership for growth program was announced there. This is a program in which El Salvador is one of four countries in the world that’s gonna become part of this project. And it basically says: “let’s work together to identify which are the obstacles to economic growth, let’s work together to define how we can overcome it”; and, but it’s clearly a joint project. It’s a partnership in that sense. Also, the possibility of El Salvador having a second compact in the Millennium Challenge Corporation was discussed. This is again another example of mutual cooperation and partnership as is the other initiative that was reaffirmed which is the Bridge Initiative by which a project, by which will try to use the flow or remittances, the future flow of remittances to create a fund that will help fund productive projects.

Security as I mentioned before is perhaps one of the best examples of how this is a shared problem and that we have to look for shared solutions. US, Central America, Mexico and Colombia are partners in the drug trafficking issue. And also, Central America has to put forth its own proposals, it is doing so, the Central American Integration System is now working in a proposal, in a Central American plan and in that sense, the United Sates is convening in June this year, at the end of June, a meeting of friends of Central America, of friendly countries, of multilateral institutions to try to, where this plan will be presented and in which other countries they want to support in this new way that Central American efforts will be there. This is I think a very complete example of where we are now in a much more equal, as partners, and not just as simply donors and recipient of aid.
For shared responsibility has also been mentioned before, of course, in Central America we have to deal with the problems of the drugs coming through our regions, through our countries. But also the United States, as has been stated and Dan Restrepo mentioned it before, is also has a responsibility to look at the issue of the demand here in this own country. Also shared responsibility means that us, that countries also have to put from our part. If we accept, if we want the resources to help us, we also have to put our part. We cannot just come and extend a hand and say “we need resources, thank you very much.” In the case of El Salvador particularly this means we have to do enormous efforts to increase our tax revenues. We cannot continue to come to the international community and say “come and help us” if we are not doing our share. And our share mans to increase from 13% to 17%, 16-17% of GDP in our fiscal, our tax revenues through a concerted fiscal pact. Immigration is another issue of shared responsibility.

We would expect that, as we talked with President Obama, that Salvadorans here in the United States through comprehensive immigration reform find a way in which they can legalize and stabilize their situation. But we also have to do our part. Salvadorans come here because they cannot find the economic opportunities in our own country, so what we have to do is develop particularly the rural areas to create these opportunities so that Salvadorans don’t have to be, are forced to move here to the United States. Again, climate change, trade—which were the other two issues—that were talked in El Salvador, we always saw this new way of working, or as Dan Restrepo said, of doing business. In a sense of shared responsibility, finding together the solutions and working together. So in some, I would say, that perhaps the, or at least this is how it was seen in El Salvador…the best symbol of this new of relationships, of looking towards the future and not towards the past, was the visit of President Obama to the tomb of Monseñor Romero. This was an act that was seen and felt by all Salvadorans as expressing precisely that. We have no longer look at the past; we have to look at the future. This was a visit of expressing faith in the future, reconciliation, moving back from the past and that is precisely the way as how I think President Obama’s trip was seen in El Salvador. Thank you.

ERNESTO ARAÚJO: Good morning, thank you very much Juan Carlos for the introduction. Thank you to NDN for the opportunity to be in this distinguished panel.  Many observers already noted that one of the most important aspects of President Obama’s visit to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador was the fact that he decided to maintain the visit fully as scheduled in spite of the crisis in Libya and also in spite of budget discussions that were going on in domestically, and apparently at a happy ending right? In communications theory, it is known that the context is part of the message, sometimes as important as the message itself and in this case it was clearly so. Because in that context of domestic debates and international crisis, President Obama’s visit can really be considered as a recognition of the long term and strategic importance of the United States’ relations with our region and our country, a relationship that goes beyond the headlines of the day. Also, the decision of the President to maintain the visit and flight to Rio when the air strikes were about to be launched in Libya, can be read perhaps as a sign that security—as traditionally conceived as the exercise of power, or the military exercise of power—is not necessarily the paramount priority for the US or for the world and that security can also be promoted by other means. A recognition also that a peaceful region is not necessarily less important than regions that are ravished by wars and security threats. So, it was a clear message that the US, the person of its highest official, goes to places and talks to people that can help find solutions for the world’s problems.

I think we are all used to the times when the US was seen as the country that was supposed to have the answers for all problems, including for our problems in Latin America. And it’s clearly no longer so in the view of the highest officials of the US. So there’s the clear notion that to engage with a country like Brazil about global issues such as development, food security, fight against poverty, the environment, democracy and human rights, international economic governance, multilateral trade, and even the structure of the United States, to engage with a partner like Brazil about all that can help figure out the solutions for problems that seem far away from our region even for security problems. And Brazil clearly wants to make its contribution to tackle those global problems. These problems are currently perceived most as interrelated, and second as questions that are impossible to solve only from the point of view of the traditional global powers, and President Obama’s visit showed that the US more and more perceives the world that way. 

It was very significant that in that moment of crucial decisions about war, President Obama took a plane to a country that has lived in peace with its neighbors for 140 years and that one century and a half, six generations of peaceful coexistence and friendship, and more recently integration in the region must count for something. Economic partnership, yes that’s essential, but Brazil feels its relationship with the US can go much deeper than our excellent economic relations and beyond the excellent business opportunities that we provide to on another, because this military power is clearly not sufficient as a means to manage the world, economic power as well is not sufficient. International relations in the 21st century cannot be articulated only around economic relations. Values and ideas are also essential. And Brazil feels that can bring some of all that, that it can brings its global projection as a contribution for world peace, for world development…our presence in Africa, in the Middle East, and Asia. It’s very significant that the US and that also stressed in the visit to Brazil, that US wants to cooperate with Brazil in Africa to help developing African countries for example. So the big, huge South-South agenda that Brazil has developed, is clearly seen more of an asset for our relations in the dimension, in the North-South dimension. 

Talking again about war, a recent article by Stephen Walt in the Foreign Policy Magazine, asked the question: is America addicted to War? And President Obama’s trip to our country suggests that the answer might be ‘No’. And this is very good for Latin America, for Brazil, because the credentials we bring to the international forum are not built in military power, on what could be called certain talents for peace, for dialogue, a tradition for cooperation as well as on economic growth and economic opportunities. And also talking about economic growth, it’s not any economic growth, but the development model that couples economic dynamism with social justice and with democracy. Of course, there’s a long way ahead of us for a fully just functioning democratic society, but this is clearly the path a country like Brazil is in. And also when talking about democracy, not only the formal and very liberal view of democracy: free elections, free speech, freedom of association, but also the more progressive concept of democracy includes: combating social exclusion, reduction of poverty,  education and health opportunities for all. And all this resulting in a bigger cohesion of civil society and the state. Because Brazilians are totally proud of our GDP for example, of the fact that we have the 8th largest GDP in the world, maybe soon the 5th…Italy, France and Britain are just ahead of us, but of course this is not a race, but something to be proud of, and maybe Brazilians are proud that this achievement was, this progress was achieved in a democratic society.

President Obama reflected this in his speech in Rio which was perhaps one of the most important moments during his stay in Brazil. When he said for example: “Brazil today is a flourishing democracy”. This meant a lot for us, and also when he said that the progress made by Brazilian people has inspired the world, and further on.  When he said: “Each passing day Brazil is the country with more solutions, you Brazil play an important role in the global institutions that protect our common security and promote our common prosperity.” Brazil and the US are partners in the effort to promote peace and prosperity around the world. This was really a wonderful speech that captured the way Brazilians want to be seen, not only as a market but as a country that can help produce global solutions. I think President Obama reflected also that Brazil tries to bring a new voice in the global forum and to be a different face in tackling so many old and new problems, and President Obama himself—I think we can say that—himself, he clearly tries to bring in new voice in the world and to be a new face.  So, through President Obama, we feel the United States understands this new Brazil and Brazil likewise tries to understand what the US is trying to accomplish and how the US is repositioning itself in a world that no longer of course the act of the Cold War, but also is no longer that of the cozy North Atlantic [UNITELLIGIBLE] of power that existed in the first decade after the Cold War. So the importance of democracy and social justice as a basis for cooperation was highlighted also by President Rousseff. She indicated both the symbolic nature of the visit in many levels, but at the same time the need for concrete results in areas such as innovation, education, technology, and also global questions such as climate, and reform of financial and multilateral institutions for example. And I think she made it very clear that without concrete gestures and concrete results, all that partnership could become void.  I think both Presidents reflected during the visit and that means for us in Washington a lot of work ahead. Thank you.

RODRIGO MEZA: Good morning. Thank you NDN, thank you New Policy Institute. It’s an exciting time to actually be working in Latin American US trade relationships. It’s different, as panelists have mentioned before, than what it used to be. The region is different. You’ll be happy to know that when you mentioned that you [Brazil] were the 8th largest economy, measured by purchasing power parity, you are 7th largest economy in the world…with 2 trillion dollars as the GDP. When you mention trillions of dollars in Washington DC people get generally nervous for other reasons, but these are good two trillions. In our case, we’re 200 billion in Chile…so this is a different region from what our forefathers Latin America was when we first started working on this, all of us, in our professional lives. It’s different in many ways, for example the three countries that the United States chose to visit through President Obama, and they all have a positive trade surplus with the United States. In case of Brazil, 11 million dollars, in our case almost four, and even when it comes to El Salvador, you would say they have a trade surplus as they do and it’s a very significant one for the trade relationship it’s about 10%.

So it’s a new relationship with a new region. Basically, a recognition of our new reality as a region. President Piñera noted very early on the visit that that implies for us obligations and responsibilities. And that’s the big difference between what the old traditional relationship in the textbook would be and what we’re going to do now from here onwards. Obligations and responsibilities, we’ve already begun doing that for many years in Latin America, but this recognition of what we’ve done and working together with the current and previous Administrations on areas such as for example: trilateral cooperation which is something Chile is very engaged in.

We have common values, a common view for the future. In our case, maybe a very simple example of that is when you see our cabinet, and the President himself, almost all of them have studied here in the United States. Education, as Dan mentioned before, is a very important part of how the US outreach is towards the region. In fact, our last three Presidents have studied in the United States. That’s something that we’re really proud of and something that they bring to the table, and to our public policy all the time. And it is a partnership of equals. What does that mean? Doesn’t mean that we necessarily have the same influence, doesn’t mean we necessarily size or economic power, just means that we like to treat each other as equals. In fact, it’s a partnership of equals…President Obama in his speech in Santiago to the region, mentioned the word partnership or partner, twenty four times. It’s something that he wanted to stress very strongly. In our case in Chile, what the visit meant to us…it was also a recognition of what the past few years have been and the work that we’ve done in public policy. We have a story to tell. We have a proud story to tell, we don’t boast about it but we are very proud of it. Specifically when it comes to trade, and economic development. More than 20 years ago, Chile began by opening itself to the world unilaterally; it did not want to wait to reach agreements with anyone when it came to opening our trade relationships. And that’s sort of fostered the possibility of actually reaching agreements. And we’ve had a very long story of free trade agreements and other economic agreements with most of the world. In fact, most of our…over 90% of our trade is free; in our Free Trade Agreement with the United States over 87% of the trade is free within that agreement. And we have a lot to tell when it comes to economic development and economic policies, and that is something that has to do with our obligations and responsibilities now to the region…which means we have to share that experience, and we’re doing so, and we’re doing so with the help of the United States.

It’s particularly through what we call trilateral cooperation—or what we like to call trilateral cooperation—which is partnering together with the United Sates in issues that are important to third countries, and which we have a good story tell and which the US also wants to help us and we want to help them develop specific areas of public policy. For example when it comes to El Salvador, we have a trilateral cooperation agreement when it comes to agriculture and our agriculture agencies are working on a three way project to foster better training and to foster better quality when it comes to agriculture in El Salvador. That’s the kind of thing we’re doing as a new region. When you look at the different kind of items in our bilateral agendas, we’re no longer a State Department to Foreign Ministry, trade relationship through our trade agencies as it was traditionally, almost all of Chile’s agencies have some item of bilateral relationship with the United States. When you even look at small agencies, for example, our equivalent to FEMA, what would that have to do with countries working together? We are including almost all of our agencies in our bilateral relationship one way or another. So diplomacy has also changed. It’s not only a change that comes to economic relations, defense or the traditional State Department to Foreign Ministry relationship but it’s something that goes throughout all our public policies. And the sudden change is that public policies can meet together in areas where they necessarily, before, could not work together. That’s a recognition of our democracy, our own economic development. Before the visit of President Obama, we signed six agreements with the United States…areas so diverse as education, culture, energy—even nuclear energy, right when what happened in Japan was going on, that’s how serious we’re about it, it’s something that we’ve been talking about and working on for a long time. Areas such as pro-Chile, and our small and medium enterprises, making sure they can export better. The environment also and I said, this is basically what we’re doing, that’s how we’re changing our day to day government work…our new relationship. Because when it comes to rhetoric it’s sometimes difficult to identify but it you could just keep that something to remember today would be: our agencies are working together, in every single aspect of their domestic policies are and they recognize there’s value to having a bilateral relationship with the United States and agencies in the United States also recognize there’s value to having a relationship with agencies counterparts of other countries. Examples of how we’re meeting our responsibilities is part of the component of this new relationship…we’ve been working for many years, in fact, both Brazil and El Salvador with Chile have an active presence in Haiti’s Stabilization Mission, whether it be armed forces or police forces, El Salvador has a very important presence of police force. And as I said, we also have a positive trade balance with the United States, that’s something else that we can bring to the table. We have growing trade relationships, not necessarily FTAs…with El Salvador and Chile we have FTAs, but in the case of Brazil if you see the growing trade relationships it almost doubles and President Obama mentioned that in his speech in Brazil. So it’s a new region, a new relationship and when it comes down to specific things, we like to mention that it involves all aspects of public policy. That’s probably a change in how we work, and a change in how our diplomacy is a much wider thing than what it used to be. I’ll leave the rest for questions and answers.

JUAN CARLOS LÓPEZ: Now this was a very interesting presidential trip, the narrative had set this as two visits in one. One being Brazil—major trading partner and major competitor in the world economy—the second being, Chile as the platform for a speech to Latin America, El Salvador to Central America. We have about 12 minutes for questions…so if you have a question, if you want to participate, let me know. My question to the panelist: Did this visit meet your expectations? Now some of the analysts after it was over said it was heavy on symbolism, short on specific agreements. Did each country feel they received what they expected with this visit from President Obama…his first time in South America, and a very visit from what I’ve seen traveling with the President…we saw movement, we saw people interested, but we didn’t see cities paralyzed due to the visit of the President, we didn’t see it Rio, we didn’t see it in Brasilia, Santiago or even in El Salvador. There was a lot of interest but the countries didn’t stop so. So my question to the Ambassador is: Did the trip meet the expectations that El Salvador had?

AMBASSADOR FRANCISCO ALTSCHUL: Certainly in the case of El Salvador. Is this working? Yeah. You know, a lot of people see the visit as a combination of the process. When I think it should be seen as the new starting point of a process. You mentioned that after the trip we all have a lot of work to do here, and it’s because of that, because this was a moment in which both the relationship was strengthened, we agreed on new priorities and in ways to move forward and I think that is the relevance of the visit. The so much called deliverables, I think that is not what really is important. The important thing is how do we strengthen our relationship, how do we do it together, decide to continue working in this relationship.

UAN CARLOS LÓPEZ: For Brazil, how significant was it that the President did not interrupt his trip, being part of the press pool that was one of the questions that was circulating: will the trip end? Will he go back? There was never an issue, the question was always no and the visit went ahead. How did this play in Brazil?

ERNESTO ARAÚJO: This was immensely important from our point of view. As important perhaps as the visit itself, as I said, the context is as important as the message. And the signal of strategic significance of the relations between the US and our country was very much captured I think by this contrast between the difficult situation that was on the way, decision making time on important issues worldwide. And the decision to keep the trip as scheduled. I think this was reflected in the press and many comments that we saw in Brazil. As for the expectations, when you finish reading a good book you want read another book by the same author, right? It’s more or less like that. It was very successful, it met expectations and we would like more, more of that, and to keep working so that President Rousseff was invited to come to the US in the second half of this year and she accepted the invitation, so probably we’ll see her around sometime soon.

JUAN CARLOS LÓPEZ: Now the narrative of the trip was that these were three countries that had gone from dictatorship to democracy, Brazil and Chile highly successful, and Chile was portrayed as the platform for the speech to Latin America. Part of the analysis was that Chile was being asked to play a higher role, to have a higher role, to have a higher presence. How does Chile feel about this role it’s being asked to play? And how, if any way, the relationship has changed after the trip?

RODRIGO MEZA: I would say the relationship has pretty much deepened by what happened on the trip because it’s a recognition of what we’ve been doing together in the past few years with the United States. The elements that I mentioned before, it was very wide reaching and so far as our public policies are concerned, that’s also a recognition of what we’ve done together in the past. And it’s also a catalyst for what we’re doing currently. For example our Ambassador, currently in Santiago, is working on new items of our bilateral agenda that came up on the trip, and which we’ll announce in the near future. Tomorrow we have a meeting in Santiago, between high level State Department officials and our counterparts in foreign affairs, having to do with our trilateral cooperation projects and trying to narrow them down to specific issues in other countries, which we’re looking at for example Paraguay and Guatemala, and El Salvador. So it’s brought a lot of work for us, and so far as every day diplomacy is concerned. But from a political point of view, it was also relevant; it was also a recognition of what we’ve done in the past. We very humbly look at our history in the past 20 years, 20-25 years and we like what we see, and we can do a lot more. When we put our mind to mind we can do great things, and you all remember the miners story, and how that worked and how that was an example that President Obama mentioned in the State of the Union as what you can do when two countries work together: US technology, Chilean heart and hard work, doing incredible things.

JUAN CARLOS LÓPEZ: Thank you. I would like to open the floor; we have time for about three questions.