Media Center



April 1, 2008 - Washington, DC

• His Excellency Michael King, Barbados Ambassador to the OAS (Chair Permanent Council of OAS)
• His Excellency Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza
• His Excellency Hector Morales, Permanent Representative of the US to the OAS

Two weeks ago, regional tensions between Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela were at their highest level in decades. For the first time in a long time, military troops amassed on the borders of Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador, while some parties made threats of war.

At a summit in the Dominican Republic, the three countries came together, put aside pride, and engaged in personal diplomacy to make peace for their people. Shortly after, they would come together through this body to renew peace in the region. I want to congratulate this body and its members for its unwavering commitment to keeping the peace.

This type of frank personal engagement and multilateral diplomacy is needed in the world today.

I believe that the United States must renew and invigorate its relationship with Latin America based on the same principles of engagement, dialogue and cooperation. We need a new relationship with Latin America that takes a constructive realistic approach -recognizing our mutual interests and bridging our honest differences.

Over the last 7 years, US foreign policy has all but ignored Latin America. But the region has not stood still—growing on average by 5 percent per year, initiating dozens of intra-regional trade agreements, and luring $125 billion in foreign domestic investment last year from countries like India and China.

Latin America also remains the region perhaps with the greatest impact on the daily lives of Americans. Mexico is a more important source of oil than Saudi Arabia. The US exports $225 billion to Latin America—four times more than China. And Hispanics in the US now represent America’s biggest ethnic bloc and perhaps the most sought after voting bloc.

And while Central and South America has started to turn elsewhere for investment and trading partners, the United States remains the number one market for Latin American goods. And the $60 billion in annual remittances remains a vital source of income for much of the region.

Latin America and the United States have key mutual interests in working together to fight crime networks and stop narco-traffic. Law enforcement is essential, but more cooperation is necessary. While we fight drug trafficking and arrest and punish dealers, we need to do more to reduce demand in the United States. I learned this in New Mexico. As we shut down over 400 meth labs, dramatically reducing the supply, we also fought to reduce demand by providing treatment to break the addiction cycle.

Should you ever doubt the ties between Latin American and the United States, walk by the community phone in any small village between the Rio Grande and the Panama canal on a Sunday night. There you will see lines of mothers and fathers waiting patiently to speak with their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces in America. Let’s remember that the strongest ties between our nations are more than economic or political, they are also personal.

I believe that the next US administration needs to honor those ties and take bold action—both symbolic and practical - to renew relations with this critical region for America’s interests.

First, it begins with matching American ideals of human rights to its conduct. Guantanamo remains not just an offense to America’s beliefs, but a shameful symbol to its Latin American neighbors. Guantanamo should be closed on day one. The United States should stand again for accountability and rule of law, by restoring habeus corpus and joining the International Criminal Court.

Second, America must engage all Latin American countries diplomatically -including regimes like Venezuela. This doesn’t mean making concessions, but making honest talk and tough negotiations to strengthen our common interests.

US diplomacy should also work to strengthen its ties to Chile, Argentina and Brazil. Each of which represents tremendous opportunities for economic, environmental and political partnership. We should find ways to engage the democratic populist movements in these countries.

This new diplomacy would also take a more realistic approach toward Cuba. It will deal sensibly with economic and personal issues like trade and family visitations. Severe restrictions on family visits and remittances won’t work. I strongly oppose these cruel and counterproductive rules. Cuban Americans should be allowed to visit their families and assist them financially. America should be prepared to reassess the trade embargo, in exchange for Cuba releasing political prisoners and making moves toward democratic freedoms

The next Administration should work to strengthen institutions such as the United Nations and the Organization for American States. We should recognize our shared interest in an expanded UN Security Council that includes a position for an African, Asian and Latin American country. Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Chile would each be good candidates for the Latin American seat. For the OAS, we must provide real political and financial support for its mission and programs.

Third, the United States needs comprehensive immigration reform that is realistic and human. We need to strengthen our border with smarter technology and more border patrol, while punishing employers who break the law and hire undocumented workers. But America must also recognize that we simply can’t deport the 12 million who are already here. We need a tough, fair path to legalization. But we don’t need a wall. Walls don’t work. If your Latin America policy starts with a wall between nations, it will quickly collapse into rubble.

At its root, illegal immigration is an economic problem, driven by the lack of decent jobs for people in their home countries. So long as other economies are unable to produce good-paying jobs, people will continue to come to the United States.

We need to recognize that for years to come, the US economy will continue to attract Latino workers. While our laws say they cannot come here, our economy says they should. We need to be realistic. As we crack down on illegal immigration, we need to allow more legal immigration. We need a reasonable guest-worker program and an earned path to legalization. And we need to work with the governments of Central America and Mexico to start creating more jobs at home.

If the United States wants to end illegal immigration, America needs to promote equitable development in Latin America.

So fourth, the United States needs a New Alliance for Progress.

-Not a one-sided alliance premised on economic expansion of US markets -not an agreement that imposes a Washington Consensus -and not a pact that divides countries into friend or foe.

Rather, we need an accord based on the original principles President Kennedy stated almost fifty years ago:

”To build a hemisphere where all men can hope for a suitable standard of living and all can live out their lives in dignity and in freedom…Let us once again transform the American Continent into a vast crucible of revolutionary ideas and efforts, a tribute to the power of the creative energies of free men and women, an example to all the world that liberty and progress walk hand in hand.”

I believe such a new partnership with the Americas is possible.

Such a partnership begins with trade agreements that are both free and fair. Free as they unleash the power of competitive markets to make food and products more affordable to all. Fair as they demand strong and enforceable labor, environmental and human right standards. Trade that is free AND fair is not a “magic bullet” for economic development, but it can and will benefit Latin American and US workers.

This new partnership must also do much more to address the yawning gap between the haves and the have-nots. Debt relief for the poorest countries in the region has been a vital and welcome help. The Millennium Development Goals have given a direction out of poverty for the poorest countries in the world, but doesn’t do enough for Latin America’s largely middle income countries. To address the poverty gap will require addressing both human needs and economic needs.

Human needs mean for example every child must have a nutritious diet. As Governor of an American state it was a revelation to understand that millions of US children leave their home each day without a meal. My state now provides more healthy breakfasts to children living in poverty per capita than any other state in the country. A child cannot learn new skills for tomorrow, if they focus only on their hunger today. It should be a goal of all our nations that no child should go hungry—period.

Economic needs simply means every able man or woman must have the opportunity to earn a paycheck. The creative energies of Latin America are already underway. Across the region public and private organizations are offering microloans directly to those with the greatest needs to invest into their small business and into themselves. Mexico is putting thousands of their people back to work through public investment projects that will improve transportation and infrastructure and bring further foreign investment. Brazil is leading the world as a completely energy independent state that uses 40 percent ethanol. We have a lot to learn from each other through a real exchange of renewable energy technology.

As a former US Secretary of Energy, I believe our efforts toward fighting climate change can also be an opportunity for the innovative. After this Administration, I expect America will move quickly toward a real carbon trading system. I hope we take bold steps to reward those countries who make the wise investment of protecting their forests with carbon credits. It will be also vitally important to share clean energy technology to make sure clean energy generation remains affordable for every consumer.

Perhaps the simplest, but most respectful thing the next administration can do—is to pay attention to our neighbors. Before the United States can mend relations with Latin America, the next president will need to break bread with the new leadership of the Western Hemisphere. The US can no longer afford to take the goodwill of Latin America for granted.

In conclusion, the next administration will need a renewed commitment to Latin America based upon engagement, dialogue, and cooperation. We need equitable trade agreements, comprehensive immigration reform and a commitment to progress for all.

Having spent part of my childhood in Mexico, and having traveled widely in the region, I understand the complicated dynamics of inter-American relations. My Mexican mother taught me to value and respect Latino culture, just as my American father made me proud to be a US citizen.

I titled my autobiography “Between Worlds” not because we are worlds apart, but rather that we are so close.

We share a faith in the principles of human dignity and democratic freedoms. We must not waiver from that faith. And we must never forget our closeness of character.

Thank you. I would be pleased to take you questions.