THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everybody. On behalf of the Foreign Press Center, I would like to welcome you to today’s virtual briefing previewing the Cities of the Summit of the Americas. My name is Jed Wolfington, and I would like to remind everybody that this briefing is on the record and is being recorded. A video and transcript will be available on our website later in the day. And just a reminder to everybody to please put your name, your outlet, and your country into the Zoom box. And should you wish to ask a question after the opening remarks, we ask that you either raise the hand virtually or put the question into the chat box.
Our distinguished guests this afternoon are Ambassadors Brian Nichols and Nina Hachigian. Mr. Nichols is the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. Ambassador Hachigian is the Special Representative for City and State Diplomacy and is joining us from Los Angeles, California. Thank you both for being here, and thank you all to the media representatives who are here in the briefing room with us today.
I would now like to invite our guests to offer any opening remarks, after which we will have an opportunity for question and answer.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS: Okay, well, I guess I’ll go first then. Good afternoon. The Cities Summit of the Americas is an incredibly important opportunity to address issues of vital concern for the people of our hemisphere. Over 80 percent of the population of the Americas live in urban areas. This first Cities Summit brings together in Denver, Colorado some 250 mayors from across the United States and the Americas, and over 3,500 total participants from April 26th to 28th.
President Biden announced the Cities Summit of the Americas at the 9th Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles last year to bring together local leaders to strengthen democracy and public health, foster clean energy transitions, address environmental challenges, increase access to critical digital technologies, combat the spread and influence of disinformation, promote collaborative and humane migration management, and ensure fair, just, and equitable treatment for the working men and women of the Americas.
The Cities Summit of the Americas directly supports President Biden’s foreign policy for the American people, making foreign policy tangible locally in and for our communities, showcasing the global leadership of U.S. cities and expanding economic opportunities for trade. The Cities Summit of the Americas will focus on finding solutions to challenges faced by communities in our hemisphere, fostering greater social and political inclusion, reaching out to the peripheries of our communities to help underserved people lift themselves up. We want local voices to share best practices and explore solutions to common human challenges related to health, environment, security, migration, public finance, transportation, housing, digital inclusion, food security, and governance, among other things.
The Cities Summit has four core components: One, plenary sessions. These sessions – at these sessions, mayors and other local officials can engage with counterparts from across the Americas on shared challenges and explore opportunities for collaboration, innovation, and investment.
Two, Innovation Plaza. The City Summit of the Americas will host Innovation Plaza, a space consisting of a commercial expo that showcases small, medium, and large companies that provide goods and services that make cities smarter, more accessible, better governed, and more sustainable. It will drive discussions on foreign direct investment and conditions needed to increase flows into cities, which will open new avenues for economic partnership throughout the region.
Three, roundtables – direct, frank, and substantive policy roundtable discussions between mayors, indigenous leaders, and stakeholders to create opportunities for a wider range of stakeholders to engage at a high level. Inclusive conversations on the key issues facing local communities will foster innovation and collaboration.
Stakeholder – and the final and fourth is stakeholder and community programs. The summit will host a variety of stakeholder and community programs from cultural exchanges to public exhibits, to technology and innovation demonstrations, recognizing that empowering individuals from all corners of the community is vital to its development.
This will be an incredible event with the participation of Secretary of State Blinken, Secretary of Interior Haaland, U.S. Trade Representative Tai, numerous other senior U.S. government officials, as well as the mayors of cities large and small from around the hemisphere.
Thanks very much. Nina, over to you.
AMBASSADOR HACHIGIAN: Thank you, Brian. I’m Ambassador Nina Hachigian, and I am the first-ever U.S. Special Representative for City and State Diplomacy. I thought I would talk a little bit about my new role, since it is only about six months old.
My small but mighty new team leads and coordinates the Department’s engagement with mayors, governors, and other local officials in the United States and around the world. So why? Well, as COVID-19 reminded us, global problems are now local. City, county, and state governments are on the frontlines of some of our biggest international challenges from economic inequality and climate change to pandemic response and defending democracy, and they are leading the way in developing and delivering innovative solutions that support their communities.
When Secretary Blinken addressed the U.S. Conference of Mayors in January, and he was the first Secretary of State ever to do so, he said that, quote, “Cities are the engines of opportunity and ingenuity in the U.S. They’re where challenges tend to emerge first, and solutions are often forged the quickest.”
So we need to learn from our local partners. They’re the ones measuring, digging, planting, educating, treating, responding, and mobilizing. This is part of the reason that the State Department created my new role. The Department works on these same transnational issues, but from a different angle, so it made sense to connect the dots.
And another reason is – for my new team is to help deliver on President Biden’s vision of a foreign policy for the middle class, a foreign policy for all Americans. My team is here to listen to the foreign policy priorities of local leaders and ensure that we are bringing the tangible benefits of foreign policy to the local level, like economic opportunities, student exchanges, and more.
So for example, we recently helped a foreign ambassador connect with leaders in a couple of states that he wanted to visit, and afterwards he recommended that businesses from his country look there to invest, creating jobs down the line.
So we are extremely excited about the City Summit of the Americas. This will be a first event for the State Department of its kind. The goal is to grow partnerships with mayors and other local leaders across Latin America, the Caribbean, and Canada. I know from my time working for Los Angeles, where I was deputy mayor for five years, powerful change can happen when mayors get together to exchange ideas and look at what other cities are doing to see how they can bring innovations to their own economies.
And we have incredible leaders coming from all over the hemisphere that have really impressive innovations that others need to hear about. For example, Mayor Claudia López, who’s Bogotá’s first elected female mayor, has done great work to strengthen gender equity through the CARE system, which helps women engaging in unpaid care work.
We have the Mississippi River and Towns Initiative. Mayors – three mayors of among a hundred who have gotten together to find natural solutions to prevent flooding that affected their farming economies after floods – historic floods in 2019. Delroy Williams, the mayor of Kingston, Jamaica, is coming, and with the U.S. help he has installed over a 100,000 energy-efficient LED streetlights throughout the capital and more and more and more. I could say something good about every one of these 250 cities. So we’re looking forward to it.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much to both of you for your remarks. I’m not seeing any hands raised in the room, but we did have a couple advance questions, which I will read. The first one is from Diana Castrillon from Caracol Radio in Colombia. And her question is, “Is there any Colombian mayor invited to the summit from the cities affected by irregular migration to the United States? Can you tell us more about the Colombian branch or at the Museo de las Americas?” Perhaps Ambassador Nichols.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS: So Claudia López, the mayor of Bogotá, is confirmed to attend. Bogotá hosts thousands and thousands of migrants. During Secretary Blinken’s last visit to Bogotá, Mayor López gave us a tour of the migrant integration center in Bogotá that was really a state-of-the-art facility. And seeing how an integrated provision of services, to ensure things like access to employment opportunities, childcare, and housing can help integrate migrants is something that we found deeply impressive. And I believe that Mayor López will participate in one of the roundtable discussions around migration integration at the Cities Summit.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Ambassador Hachigian, would you like to add anything to the response?
AMBASSADOR HACHIGIAN: I saw Claudia López last week, and I’m – she calls the new – the refugees that are in her city the New Bogotans, which I thought was an awfully good way to refer to them.
MODERATOR: Great. So I’m seeing a few hands raised in the audience. Thiago Amancio from Brazil. Thiago, I’m going to ask you to unmute.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Can you hear me? Thank you for taking my question. Well, I’ve noticed the absence of representation of São Paulo, the biggest city of – and the richest city of South America. Was the São Paulo administration invited? And also if I may, Ambassador Nichols, I’d like to hear your opinion on Sergei Lavrov trip to Brazil and South America this week and how you see President Lula engagement with Russia and China and his comments on the war in Ukraine?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS: So the invitations to mayors, civil society members, private sector representatives, all of that was an open registration process. We encouraged mayors in particular from around the hemisphere to attend. I’d note that we’ll have the mayor of Rio de Janeiro attending, and we’re very pleased about that. We are focused on having the broadest participation we can. Unfortunately, not every mayor we’d like to have had attend was able to do so for different reasons.
With regards to Foreign Minister Lavrov’s visit to Brazil, obviously Brazil is a sovereign country and is free to conduct its diplomatic relations with whomever it considers appropriate. I think it’s important that Brazil continue to use its voice to uphold democratic values, respect for human rights, and the rule of law that it has long espoused. Clearly Russia’s unprovoked and further invasion of Ukraine is a matter of deep concern for the entire international community, and I would hope that Brazil took advantage of Foreign Minister Lavrov’s visit to stress the importance for respect for international law and the immediate cessation of hostilities against a neighbor state.
MODERATOR: Thank you for the question and the response. We will now go to Nelson Rauda from El Faro, El Salvador. Nelson, I will ask you to unmute yourself.
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you very much. I hope you can hear me well. I’m also looking at the guest list and building on what was a snub by the presidents of the Northern Triangle last year to a Summit of the Americas. It’s similar. There’s only a mayor – one mayor from El Salvador, a really small town in El Carmen, the mayor of Guatemala, no one from Honduras. Do you see this as a condemnation of the struggles of the administration – Biden administration has had trying to have effective communication and relationship with the presidents of these countries? Obviously, Nicaragua isn’t there, which is a different case, but I would like to hear your comments on that, Ambassador Nichols. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS: So again, the federal Government of the United States did not run the invitation process. That was run by the biennial committee that’s organizing this event. And it was open to mayors from across the hemisphere, and they were encouraged to attend. We worked hard to find resources to fund participation by mayors from maybe smaller locales that did not have the resources to travel on their own, and I’m proud that we’ve been able to provide scholarships for or grants for people to attend who might not otherwise have been able to do so. And we certainly value our relations with the nations of Central America and look forward to participation by people from all of those countries as a way to exchange views, promote best practices, and move forward in service delivery for their populations.
But Nina, I think you wanted to make a point.
AMBASSADOR HACHIGIAN: Yeah, I just wanted to make a general comment, that it is quite a feat that 250 mayors will be assembling in Denver, and it’s – mayors have constant emergencies to deal with, I can attest from my time in the city, and so they are hard – they’re a hard group to assemble in large numbers and I’m really proud that we’ve been able to do that. I think it speaks to how excited mayors are to get together and learn from one another and make new partnerships and friendships.
MODERATOR: Thank you. I’m not seeing any hands raised in the room, but I know that Enrico Woolford, who I am seeing on the line, did submit a question. Enrico, I am going to invite you to ask your question, unless you would like me to read it. But I’ll ask you to unmute.
QUESTION: Could you read it, please?
MODERATOR: Sure, I’d be happy to read it. So the question that Enrico has submitted – and he is from Capitol News in Guyana – “What action plan is being implemented to alleviate the challenge of belts of poverty in favelas in and around major and other cities?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS: Well, just note within the context of the Cities Summit of the Americas, they are focused on promoting economic growth and inclusion, whether it’s inclusion of historically marginalized communities like Afro-descendant or indigenous populations, or ensuring that cities have a sustainable, accessible growth model. So I think those activities get to those challenges.
But again, this is an opportunity for people to come together – not just mayors but civil society representatives, the private sector, and from the United States some national government representatives – to sit down and converse together around solutions and best practices. It’s not an event where one country or entity is going to come down from on high and hand out solutions.
AMBASSADOR HACHIGIAN: I do believe we have also specific sessions dedicated to affordable housing, so that’s a shared concern.
MODERATOR: Thank you, and thank you for the question, Enrico. I do believe we have time for one or two more questions. If there are no hands in the room, there was an advance question for Ambassador Hachigian about the importance of municipal-level participation in this summit.
AMBASSADOR HACHIGIAN: We have governors, mayors, county officials, all who are attending, and I think that they will come away with all kinds of new ideas. And I know from my time in Los Angeles that we borrowed some from the hemisphere – for example, Curitiba in Brazil had a bus rapid transit system that we adopted and has now gone all over the world, so that’s just an example of how good ideas can travel and make communities better everywhere.
We also borrowed an idea from Bogotá, which is to close down our streets a certain number of times a year for a bicycle festival and ride. That’s another idea.
And third, we were impressed by Mexico City’s earthquake early warning system and eventually created one of our own in Los Angeles, and now it’s for all of California, and that’s another example of when local leaders share ideas, they can make positive change and powerful change on a global level.
MODERATOR: Thank you. So if there are no other questions, I would like to offer our briefers an opportunity to offer any concluding remarks. Perhaps, Ambassador Nichols, if there’s anything you’d like to add and —
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS: Thank you very much. This is an historic event and the first time we’ve ever had an opportunity to bring together mayors from places like Calgary, Canada, Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, Georgetown, Guyana, Kingston, Port-au-Prince, Merida, Mexico City, Bogotá, Rio de Janeiro, and the list goes on and on. Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Chattanooga, obviously our hosts in Denver. And the ability to bring together great leaders who are the principal contact that people have with democracy in our region is incredibly energizing and I think is going to provide a positive boost for the peoples of our region.
And I hope that all of you will attend, that you will give strong coverage to this event, and you will see, I think, coming out of this scores of great ideas, not only from the mayors but from civil society members and the private sector, educators, artists, about how they can move their communities forward. I’m tremendously excited, and I know that Secretary Blinken is as well. So look forward to seeing hopefully all of you in Denver on April 26th.
AMBASSADOR HACHIGIAN: And I’ll just say that I agree with Ambassador Nichols that democracy starts at the local level, and we’ll have several sessions that address the kinds of innovations that cities have brought to strengthen their democracies. In general, when it comes to putting solutions into the real world for people, that’s where local government comes in. And I’m also tremendously excited to go to Denver next week.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. And on behalf of the Foreign Press Center, I would like to thank everybody for their time and attention. This concludes today’s briefing.