The inauguration of a new President in El Salvador today is a testament to the strength and durability of democracy throughout the Americas. Since Mauricio Funes’ election earlier this year, we have witnessed a peaceful transfer of power between two formerly warring parties. Elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere, democratic elections and free market economies have become the norm over the past 15 years. These developments speak to the dynamism of our region and its potential to assert greater global leadership in the 21st century.
Yet as we celebrate this progress, we should also acknowledge what President Obama has called “a critical moment for the people of the Americas.” To tap into the full potential of people throughout our region, we now seek to build on gains at the ballot box and ensure that democracy and open markets deliver – bringing greater opportunities and material benefits to people at all levels of society.
The urgency of this task is made more so by the global economic recession. In our region, the income gap continues to widen; too few girls and boys finish their educations; women, rural farmers, Afro-descendants and indigenous people remain trapped on the bottom rung of the economic and social ladder with too few opportunities to move up.
Today in El Salvador, I am joining other leaders from around the world in celebrating the historic inauguration of President-elect Funes and the promise of democracy to transform people’s lives. I have also joined ministers from more than a dozen countries in the Western Hemisphere to make good on the President’s and my commitment to re-launch Pathways to Prosperity, a multilateral initiative to promote shared prosperity throughout the Americas. The President and I hope to harness and expand this initiative to spread the benefits of economic recovery, growth, and open markets to reach the most vulnerable and marginalized in societies across the region.
This is a matter of shared responsibility. The nations of our region are connected by geography, history, culture, politics, and economics. And while that interconnectedness has produced greater prosperity for some of us – including the United States -- we are keenly aware that our Hemisphere’s economic progress will stall if the poor get poorer and the middle-class shrinks, or if historically disenfranchised groups remain isolated from national, regional and hemispheric markets. To paraphrase an old saying: When the tide rises, it should lift all boats.
Every nation in our Hemisphere shares responsibility for assuring this progress – and for moving beyond rhetoric to results.
Together, we can provide opportunities for education and training that people need to compete and control their own economic destinies. That is true in the United States; it is true throughout the Americas. Foreign language training is an especially powerful tool that opens doors and ties people together across borders and markets.
We can work together to provide access to credit and streamline regulations to help entrepreneurs launch and expand small businesses. Training and supporting new business leaders, including women and minority entrepreneurs, will spur wider growth and create new jobs.
We can forge new partnerships that bring together governments, businesses, sub-regional institutions, diaspora communities, and other stakeholders to harness untapped resources and talent.
And we can make investments in clean energy that offer the prospect of new jobs and new opportunities throughout the region, just as they do at home.
Trade that is free and fair and coupled with greater inclusion benefits us all.
The United States is committed to being a full and equal partner in the Americas. At the same time, we recognize that a “one size fits all” approach does not match the realities of these times or the world in which we live. And we recognize that we won’t always agree on every issue. But differences of opinion and perspective are no excuse for failing to strengthen our partnerships in areas of common concern so that we can build a future of shared prosperity and progress. So let’s join together and get to work.