printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Remarks at the Inter-American Conference of Mayors

Thomas A. Shannon, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs
Miami, FL
June 9, 2009


ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Good morning. [In Spanish.]

It’s a huge pleasure to be here, and gentlemen, thank you very much. This is I think a good opportunity for us to talk about how the United States sees the hemisphere, sees the Americas that we are part of, and to talk a bit about the challenges that lie in front of us. It’s a real pleasure and honor to come after Marcelo, because he I think laid out in an important way the different nature of the challenge we face as we engage with this economic crisis and try to find a way to navigate through it in a fashion that preserves the important social gains that this hemisphere has made while understanding that this is a different kind of crisis. That it is a moving target, that the crisis changes depending on where we are. But I think most importantly, as he noted, it presents us with a very important opportunity – an opportunity that we can’t miss. In this regard, I think his description of a hemisphere that is fashioning a new social contract through political dialogue and collaborative action is a very evocative image and I think a very real one. I think all of you are going to be a crucial part of fashioning this new social contract.

From our point of view, from the point of view of the United States government and the point of view of the Obama administration, the Americas today is moving through a period of great change and crisis. It’s also, as I noted, a period of great opportunity. Because effectively, the countries of this hemisphere are in the process of making a strategic and a historic jump from being democratic governments to being democratic states and societies. What I mean by that is that democracy in the Americas no longer means just elected governments. It no longer means just constitutional procedures. It no longer means just democratic institutions. It also means a society in which all of our citizens have the opportunity to get the health care, the education and the personal security necessary to achieve the equitable society that Dr. Giugali spoke about today. In other words, the ability to access opportunity. But as I noted, for that opportunity to be real, people need the capacity to access it. This is the big challenge that we have in front of us. I think it’s a challenge that we can win in an important way as we build societies that are more inclusive, and as we make clear that the promise of democracy and market based economies is a real one.

It’s worth noting that in 2001 when the Organization of American States approved the Inter-American Democratic Charter which took place on September 11, 2001, just after aircraft flew into the World Trade Center and into the Pentagon, and before the aircraft crashed in the fields of Pennsylvania. But it was while the United States was under attack and Secretary of State Colin Powell was in Lima, Peru for an extraordinary session of the OAS in order to approve that charter.

That charter made two dramatic assertions. The first assertion was that democracy is a right of all the peoples of the Americas and that our governments have an obligation to promote and defend it. In other words, it made democracy a right. It no longer understood democracy as just a system of government that was built upon rights and built upon fundamental principles of human rights, but it asserted that democracy itself was a right.

Secondly, it also asserted that democracy was essential for the political, social and economic development of the peoples of the Americas. In other words, it pushed aside the idea that development in the Americas could be driven by authoritarianism or totalitarianism or any kind of political system that restricts our rights and limits our access to our government and to our state. And this was a radical statement. Not everybody agrees with that. There are many who assert that authoritarianism is required to make the really tough decisions that development requires. In other words, who gets what resources and when? But the Americas, by making this double assertion that democracy is a right and that democracy is essential for development, the Americas put itself really at the cutting edge of political and development thought in the world and presented a challenge to itself that we believe is essential for the well-being of U.S. national interests. Effectively we want to operate in a hemisphere in which we share common political values and based on these values we can develop a dialogue and a collaborative plan of action that will allow us to work with all of our partners around the hemisphere to show that democracy can deliver the goods, that democracy can deliver development, and in the process send very clear messages to other parts of the world, especially in South and Central Asia, in Africa, and in the Middle East, that democracy is the pathway to social and economic well being.

I thought what I would do today briefly is first of all acknowledge the very key role that all of you will be playing in fashioning this new social contract and in showing that democracy can indeed deliver the goods. Because as you know better than any of us up here on the stage, you are the fundamental building blocks of democratic governance in this hemisphere. And take a step back and look at how the United States views our hemisphere and how we view our partners. I thought I would do that through the prism of the Summit of the Americas which took place in April in Trinidad and Tobago.

As you know, the Obama administration came into office on January 20th with a big agenda in the region and a big agenda in the world. It has engaged in the Americas in a very fast and dramatic way.

In four months, President Obama has traveled to Canada, Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago. He has met all of his democratic counterparts in the hemisphere. Secretary of State Clinton has traveled to Mexico, to Haiti, to the Dominican Republic and also to Trinidad. She was just in El Salvador for the inauguration of Mauricio Funes, then in Honduras and San Pedro Sula for the OAS General Assembly.

We’ve also had our Secretary of Treasury, Timothy Geithner, in Medellin, Colombia for the IDB’s annual meeting. We’ve had the Chairman of the Joint Staff, Admiral Mullen, taking a long trip through South America, Central America and Mexico. We’ve had our Attorney General, Eric Holder, in Mexico and in Barbados and the Caribbean. We’ve had our Secretary for Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, also in Canada and Mexico and she will be traveling to the Caribbean along with Attorney General Holder in October for a Public Security Ministers Meeting. We’ve also had our U.S. Trade Representative, Ron Kirk, and our Labor Secretary, Hilda Solis, also at the Summit of the Americas. So the administration has made a priority of its engagement in the hemisphere and it has sought to engage at a very high level, both through the President, the Secretary and other Cabinet Ministers.

But as we look at the Summit, I wanted to look at the Summit really through three questions. The first is, what did the Summit of the Americas mean for the hemisphere? The second is, what did the Summit of the Americas mean for the United States? Finally, what does it mean for the world?

As we look at the Summit and the results of that Summit, it is important to understand the context in which it took place. First of all, this is a summit that took place within an atmosphere of crisis, of economic and financial crisis. The economic crisis has really dominated the landscape. But we should remember that this economic crisis was preceded by a food crisis and an energy crisis. So in the run-up to the Summit, we’ve had a good year and a half to two years of real anxiety as governments attempted to address issues of spikes in food prices, spikes in fuel prices, and then this larger collapse of a financial system with all of the consequences that Marcelo identified. In this environment, there was a degree of political uncertainty that highlighted the divisions and the differences within countries.

Also, the Summit took place immediately after the G-20 Leaders meeting in London. The Summit was the first regional summit after London, and it was the first summit of democratic countries. In many ways, all eyes were on Trinidad and Tobago to determine if the leaders of the Americas could transform the promise of London into some kind of reality on the ground in our hemisphere.

This was also a summit that occurred during a time of increasing sub-regional integration and the development of alternative regional groupings and in the face of real criticism from members of civil society – from the trade union movement, from the private sector, from NGOs – about not having sufficient access to the summit process or not having a sufficient role in shaping a hemispheric agenda.

As we look at this challenging environment, there were real concerns that this Summit was not going to be a successful one, that it was going to collapse into a grievance session. But it didn’t. In fact, I would argue that it was a successful summit, and there were a variety of reasons for why we think that Summit was successful.

The first reason, I think, is the presence of President Obama. I think President Obama when he came to Trinidad and Tobago really symbolized the promise of American democracy. But he also symbolized what that promise meant for the hemisphere in terms of starting a new kind of dialogue for the hemisphere and taking a historic transformation in American politics and making it an opportunity for historic transformation in our relationship with the hemisphere.

The second reason why this Summit was a success was a commitment of the five countries that participated from the Americas in the G-20 Leaders Summit – Canada, Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina, and of course the United States. Because they came to the Summit determined to ensure that the results of the G-20 meeting in London were able to take root in Port of Spain.

The third reason I believe the Summit was successful is that there was a broad commitment from other key leaders, especially the host of the Summit, Trinidad and Tobago, to focus on the future and to ensure that the Summit had a successful result.

Finally, I think the Summit was successful because there was a recognition by others that they had very little to gain from confrontation and a lot to gain from reconciliation.

Now when we turn to the question what the Summit means for the hemisphere I would cite a few quick points.

The first point is that the summit process is alive and well. As I mentioned, there was real concern that the summit process had reached its limit, that the nations of this hemisphere had so much to deal with in terms of facing the economic crisis, but had so many emerging differences and conflicts among themselves that it was going to be very difficult to fashion a common agenda. That didn’t happen. This was I think a powerful message to the hemisphere that the summit process is alive and well.

The second meaning of this Summit for the hemisphere is that the Caribbean has emerged as an important leader within the hemisphere and within the summit process. Previously the Summits were really dominated by North American and South American countries as the hosts – Chile, Argentina, Mexico, the United States, and Canada. To have the Caribbean assume this role was a dramatic step forward.

In this regard, I think Prime Minister Manning of Trinidad and Prime Minister Dean Barrow of Belize, who were two of the principal speakers the opening evening, set a very clear-eyed and unafraid agenda for the Summit that came to pass. And so the degree to which the Caribbean community was able to highlight its broad commitment to democracy and to market-based economies was a very important step forward for the Summit.

Another important consequence or meaning of the Summit for the hemisphere was that it highlighted the success of other sub-regional groupings and I think showed that the sub-regional groupings actually enrich and enhance the summit process. They don’t take away from it. And that they reflect the diversity that exists within our own community. By this I mean the Unasurs, the CARICOMs, the SICAs, the Central American groupings, the Caribbean groupings, the South American groupings that some had worried were actually fracturing the hemisphere and could act as barriers to integration, actually enhanced communication within the summit process.

Also, the hemisphere, for the most part, the countries of the hemisphere, put away their differences and focused on the broad themes of the Summit – human prosperity, energy security, and environmental sustainability. And they engaged in substantive dialogue. In other words, they overcame their differences. This was an important consequence.

Finally in terms of what this Summit meant for the hemisphere, the Americas recommitted itself to a social agenda and it expressed its intent, especially through calls for capital replenishment for the Inter-American Development Bank, that it was intent on protecting the poorest and most vulnerable members of this community of nations. And within our nations, protecting our poorest and most vulnerable citizens.

In terms of what the Summit meant for the United States, I would make a couple of points.

First, I think it showed clearly that we, the United States, are part of the hemispheric agenda. That we don’t stand separate from the hemisphere but are engaged in it.

Coming out of the Summit there were several major initiatives that we either played an important role in shaping or an important role in associating ourselves with.

The first was the commitment to work in a micro-financed growth fund which is a partnership between the Inter-American Development Bank, the Inter-American Investment Corporation and the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation. With an initial funding of $100 million and a commitment to go up to $250 million, the purpose of this fund is to ensure that there is money available for micro and small enterprises in this time of economic crisis and ensure that one of the most dynamic creators of employment in the hemisphere does have access to financing.

A second initiative that was important was the creation of an Inter-American Social Protection Network. This is a network of countries within the Americas that will share best practices on how to advance the goal of fighting poverty and addressing income inequality. Looking at the kinds of programs that countries throughout the region are using today, especially cash transfers, conditional cash transfers. The OAS and the United States are planning to work together to host a Summit meeting, probably in New York City later this year, that will bring all the countries of the hemisphere together to share our best practices on how our countries are addressing social problems in the midst of this economic crisis.

The United States also announced new scholarships including 1500 scholarships for English language training and over 1300 scholarships for study in the United States. These are areas in the economic development and social inclusion field.

In the area of energy and climate change, President Obama announced an Energy and Climate Change Partnership of the Americas, a partnership which is innovative in the sense that it is not a one size fits all initiative. It’s actually a variable initiative and is built off a menu of options that allows countries to work with the United States and others in areas that they most need help in, whether it’s clean fuel technology, whether it’s alternative or renewable energy sources, whether it’s management of electrical grids and beyond. And this really creates an environment in which all countries of the hemisphere, even those that have profound political differences, can find common ground and work on energy issues.

We also started a broader dialogue on global climate change that I think is going to be essential to establishing a broad baseline of hemispheric consensus as we move towards a larger global climate summit in Copenhagen.

And in the area of citizen safety, President Obama committed the United States to ratifying the Inter-American Commission Against Trafficking in Firearms (CIFTA), which is going to be an essential part of our larger effort in our Merida Initiative in Mexico, Central America, and we hope eventually to the Caribbean, to reduce the trafficking in illegal weapons that is such a difficult problem in the region, and which connects so easily to trafficking in drugs and trafficking in persons.

We also committed ourselves to a Caribbean Security Dialogue in which we are going to take the lessons that we’ve learned in Mexico and Central America and work with the Caribbean to build a new security assistance program to allow the Caribbean countries to better face the threat from trafficking cartels. We’ve had our first set of technical talks with the Caribbeans in Suriname last month and we look forward to having ministerial meetings in the near future.

And as I mentioned, we are going to have a Public Security Ministers Meeting in the Dominican Republic in October, which Attorney General Holder and the Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano, will be attending.

The third important consequence of this Summit for the United States is that it shows that we have a new approach to multilateralism.

First, we recognize and engage with sub-regional groupings. The President in the past has met with a variety of leaders, sometimes in regional groupings, but this time the President decided that he was going to meet with regional groupings as the regions themselves defined themselves. In other words he met with the Central American countries as SICA. He met with the Caribbean countries as CARICOM. He met with the South American countries as UNASUR. And especially in the UNASUR meeting, this was the first time a U.S. President has ever met with this organization as UNASUR. This was a big step forward for us, but I think it was an important step for the region.

Also as I mentioned, we have decided to take an approach to multilateralism which is going to be a variable approach. It’s going to recognize the diversity and difference that exists in the hemisphere and will not try to create one size fits all initiatives.

Another important outcome of the Summit is that we were able to begin addressing some outstanding bilateral issues, especially in regard to Venezuela. Secretary Clinton and President Chavez agreed to return ambassadors to capitals and we’re in the process of doing that now. In regard to Bolivia, Secretary Clinton had an important meeting with Foreign Minister Choquehuanca in which we began to lay out an agenda that would serve as the basis for a new bilateral dialogue. I went to La Paz recently with a U.S. delegation to begin our bilateral talks with Bolivia. I think they were successful talks and we plan to have a second round of talks in Washington later this month.

Secretary Clinton also had I think a very important meeting with President Correa and Foreign Minister Falconí, in which we were able to explore the bilateral relationship between the United States and Ecuador and I think showed clearly that we have much more cause for common cooperation than we have for differences.

Finally, the President was able to roll out to his hemispheric partners a new approach on Cuba, in which we would continue to focus on the importance of promoting democracy and human rights in Cuba but try to do so first in building the capacity of the Cuban people by enhancing contact between Cuban-Americans in the United States and Cubans on the island while also trying to establish some level of dialogue with the Government of Cuba to show that we were able to work together in areas of mutual benefit. We have announced that in the short term we will begin, or resume, migration talks that we have had traditionally with Cuba but which were suspended in 2004, and that we will also soon begin direct mail talks with Cuba.

In terms of the final question, what the Summit means for the world, I would make three broad points.

The first is that this is a region that I think showed clearly that it can coordinate its response to the economic crisis in a way that protects our social and economic agenda.

Second, that democracies, especially democracies in different stages of development, can address the causes and consequences of this crisis in a coherent fashion.

And third, that the Americas have not sacrificed their integration agenda or their commitment to building a meaningful role in this hemisphere in a globalized world. I think this last point is especially important because typically when we look at the Americas we talk about relationships within the Americas. We talk about how we relate to our Caribbean and Latin American counterparts, and we talk about how they relate to each other. All of this is important.

But one thing we need to remember and understand is how the Western Hemisphere relates to the rest of the world. And this takes me back to what I said at the very beginning, where I noted that this is a region that has made a bet on democracy. It has made a bet on tying democracy and development in an important way. And in this regard, I think that what we do in the Americas is going to have a profound impact on what happens in the rest of the world. And this will be true not only in regards to democracy and development, it will be true in regards to how we reshape our international financial architecture. It will be true in how we reshape our international political architecture. Because ultimately, this is a region that at different points in its history has played an important role in shaping international institutions.

The United States and the republics of the Americas played a key role in the early 20th Century in the conversations in the Hague that led to the creation of the International Court of Justice. They played a key role in fashioning the League of Nations. And they played an even more important role in the aftermath of World War II in creating the United Nations and especially the human rights structures that exist within the United Nations.

But as we look forward, we have a lot of work in front of us. I don’t think we can be naïve about the challenges or Pollyanna-ish. But at the same time, as Marcelo noted, we have a huge opportunity in front of us. We have the tools and the capabilities of meeting this challenge and emerging from it even stronger and with a much tighter connection between our governments and our peoples. And a new social contract that really will, I think, establish a baseline not only for stability within our countries, but also for better dialogue and collaboration between our countries.

I would just like to close by noting that moments of great challenge are also moments of great opportunity. One of our most famous Secretaries of State, Cordell Hull – who was our longest serving Secretary of State from 1933 to 1944, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for the role he played in fashioning the United Nations, and also the architect of the Good Neighbor Policy of Franklin Roosevelt that redefined how we engaged with our partners in the hemisphere – Hull said that “In diplomacy there are no real triumphs or victories. There are only agreements, accords, and accommodations. The importance of this diplomacy is to build confidence and understanding through our engagement with our partners.”

I believe that our presence and our behavior in Port of Spain and afterwards at the OAS General Assembly and in other areas as we engaged the region, shows that our region, the Americas, has developed and matured in important ways, but so have we, the United States of America. And that we have understood that the expression of our power in the Americas will be through partnership.

I would like to thank you all very much. I look forward to continuing this partnership and I hope we have an opportunity to hear your comments and questions. Thank you very much.


MODERATOR: Thank you, Ambassador Shannon, for that very very thoughtful and very thorough review. I think this has worked out just as we intended, which is sometimes unusual for us in organizing these events, but I think you’ve had a superb review of the economic, financial, situation that we’re facing and now a really good overview of the political one.

I would comment that Ambassador Shannon’s comments about changing of attitudes and the like are I think very real. I certainly have seen just a few weeks ago, I was lecturing at a prominent institution in Latin America and it’s very clear that if I had been there six months ago – well first, it’s very clear that they probably wouldn’t have invited me six months ago. And second, if I had, there would certainly have been at least some student protest and the like. Rather in this instance, there was a great deal of enthusiasm for the remarks and the comments that I was making. I think that is a sign that things are, that we are recognizing the importance of each other and the need to work together and to share our ideas with one another.

In any event, we really don’t have time for questions but I’m going to take a couple anyway. I think I’ll ask three people to come and put a question, and then I’ll ask our panelists to respond.

QUESTION: [In Spanish].


QUESTION: [In Spanish].

QUESTION: [In Spanish].

QUESTION: [In Spanish].

MODERATOR: We are a little short on time.

QUESTION: I just wanted to see what he thought. He was there a week ago. So I’m really worried what’s going to happen. So that’s my question, okay?


QUESTION: [In Spanish].

MODERATOR: As you can see, I have a hard time with math. I said three, but I guess we’re at six, but we’ll stop here.

QUESTION: [In Spanish].



MODERATOR: I do apologize, but we are running a half hour late so I did have to really cut off the questions.

I just want to say again, thank you to Marcelo Giugale and Thomas Shannon. You’ve done an extraordinary job in getting this conference off to a really outstanding start and I think we’re all very very grateful to you.

Ambassador Shannon has indicated, and I’m sure Marcelo will do the same, that he would be available out in the coffee area out there for individual questions and the like.

Again, thanks both of you for superb jobs. Thank you very very much.

Back to Top

Do you already have an account on one of these sites? Click the logo to sign in and create your own customized State Department page. Want to learn more? Check out our FAQ!

OpenID is a service that allows you to sign in to many different websites using a single identity. Find out more about OpenID and how to get an OpenID-enabled account.