Washington — The growing interdependence of nations in the Western Hemisphere makes the success of neighbors a compelling U.S. national security interest, a senior U.S. diplomat says.
“Advancing that interest is a fundamental goal of our engagement in the Americas,” Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela told a congressional committee. Since taking office, President Obama has made engagement with the other nations of the Western Hemisphere a significant aspect of U.S. foreign policy.
“In 1961 the Alliance for Progress captured the imagination of the Americas with a bold shared vision. We live in a very different world at the beginning of the 21st century,” Valenzuela said in prepared testimony March 10. “With few exceptions, the countries of the region are much more inclusive, prosperous and democratic.”
Valenzuela, who is the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, traveled with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on her recent diplomatic mission to Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Brazil and Costa Rica before concluding the trip March 5 in Guatemala. Clinton held meetings with individual leaders and with groups of leaders focusing on three sets of issues: social equity and social justice; public security and law enforcement; and democratic governance.
The U.S. Congress is focused on a range of issues in the region that include helping earthquake-stricken Haiti recover and providing earthquake recovery assistance to Chile; countering illegal drug trafficking; expanding human rights; resuming assistance to Honduras; checking Iran’s presence in the region; improving relations with El Salvador and Paraguay; and determining the status of Alan Gross, a contractor working for the U.S. Agency for International Development who is being detained in Cuba.
“I hope today’s hearing will help create a framework for the Obama administration to build on its successful first year in the Americas through a number of key, concrete actions,” said Representative Eliot Engel, chairman of the House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere. “Secretary Clinton’s trip to Latin America last week certainly is an excellent start.”
Part of this outreach across the hemisphere, Engel said, includes the Obama administration’s commitment to multilateralism in foreign affairs.
Valenzuela said that in today’s Western Hemisphere, much of what the United States wants to help accomplish hinges on the power of a shared vision — a vision of an inter-American community sharing values, challenges, history and responsibility.
“We speak, accurately, of a region, and of big unifying agendas, but we know at the same time that our community comprises profoundly diverse nations and subregions,” he added. Success depends on the United States’ ability to divide things into respective spheres when necessary. “Our challenge is to carefully use our diplomatic and development tools, and our limited resources, to optimal effect,” he said.
For the United States, success will depend on its ability to create networks of practical partnerships in the Americas that are focused on three priorities critical to every country of the region: promoting social and economic opportunity; ensuring safety for all citizens; and strengthening effective democratic governance, respect for human rights and accountability. He added that secure, clean energy is also a critical initiative.