June 10, 2020
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good afternoon, everyone. It has been nearly three decades since the United States hosted the first Summit of Americas. As it happens, I actually worked on that inaugural summit, in a slightly different role – I was a speechwriter for President Clinton at the time.
Needless to say, the hemisphere looks a little bit different than it did back in 1994. But the fundamental premise of that first summit still holds: No region more directly affects the lives of American citizens, their security, their prosperity, than the Americas. And at the same time, the concentration of democracies in our hemisphere gives us a unique advantage as we try to meet the fundamental needs of people across the region.
This summit comes at a challenging time. We heard that from many this week. COVID-19 has taken the lives of 2.7 million people across the Americas. If you add it all up, we’re about 12 percent of the world’s population. We suffered 40 percent of global reported deaths. No region has felt more acutely the pandemic’s economic and social consequences – from rising poverty to more young people out of work.
Just as we began to build back from the pandemic, the Russian Government’s brutal war of aggression in Ukraine worsened many problems across the hemisphere – raising the cost of fuel, fertilizer, and food; making it tougher for producers to export their goods.
These headwinds come atop longstanding challenges in the region, including a lack of opportunity, an accelerating climate crisis, violence and insecurity, endemic corruption – all of which are driving people to leave their home countries in record numbers in search of places where they have a better shot at providing for themselves and their loved ones.
The more people across the region feel these challenges in their everyday lives, the more they are looking for effective governance to help address them. And that’s been the guiding principle behind the Biden administration’s engagement in our region.
It’s why we donated more than 70 million doses and counting of safe, effective COVID-19 vaccines to countries across the hemisphere – free of charge, with no strings attached.
It’s why the American public and private sectors continue to invest more than any other country in expanding economic opportunity across the hemisphere – from the $10 billion that the U.S. Development Finance Corporation has distributed to projects like – that are providing low-interest loans to women entrepreneurs, for example, to the $1.3 trillion that the United States provides in annual foreign direct investment to the Americas.
It’s also why I convened my partners from across the hemisphere – first in Colombia, then in Panama – to focus on what we can do collectively to address the root causes of the region’s migration crisis; increase economic support for the countries that are hosting the largest numbers of refugees and migrants, including the more than 6 million displaced Venezuelans; expand protections for migrants who are at risk.
These efforts were crucial to shaping what is now the first truly regional approach to migration in the Los Angeles Declaration. Thanks to President Biden’s leadership, it was adopted by leaders of 20 countries in the hemisphere – including our own – just a few hours ago. We expect more to sign on, too, to this soon. What the declaration reflects is something new, and that is a commitment to shared responsibility when it comes to dealing with the migration challenge, shared responsibility and shared action.
We’re also marshaling real resources behind this effort. The Vice President has led the way in generating $3.2 billion in new private sector investment through her Call to Action in the countries of northern Central America.
This summit isn’t the beginning or the end of our efforts to make democracy deliver in the hemisphere. Rather, it’s a chance to engage with partners from around the region – in government, international organizations, civil society, the private sector, young people – about where we can do more, and where we can do better.
That included engaging with people from the countries that are not democracies – where voicing criticism of the government, standing up for human rights, or doing independent journalism is met with systemic, systematic, and swift repression.
I met with activists and human rights leaders, including from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. I was struck by their determination, despite serious harassment, attacks, violence, the determination to keep fighting for human rights and democracy in their countries. As for the governments of those countries, this summit focused on collaborating with partners to respond to the practical needs of people across the hemisphere. It’s hard to do that with governments that reject the basic principle that they are accountable to their people and repress their citizens’ rights to speak up about the challenges that they face.
As a result of President Biden’s leadership in bringing this summit together and driving broad support for its deliverables, we have a lot to show for this week’s work.
Together, our countries agreed to ambitious commitments in public health and pandemic preparedness, clean energy, climate change adaptation, digital transformation, democratic governance. These commitments give us benchmarks to hold us accountable by our fellow democracies and by the people that we serve.
The United States announced new commitments to move these efforts forward, and let me just quickly highlight a few.
Together with partners, we will train and equip 500,000 – 500,000 – local healthcare workers across the hemisphere over the next five years so that more people can get quality care in their communities.
We announced a new economic agenda – the Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity – that’s focused on building more equitable growth from the bottom up and from the middle out. We’ll bring more countries into the partnership over the coming months. A key part of the agenda will be working with multilateral institutions to increase financing for the region’s middle-income economies, which aren’t developed enough to qualify for membership in groups like the G20 or the OECD, and yet are too developed to qualify for aid from international financial institutions like the World Bank. This is something that we heard loud and clear from our partners in CARICOM as well as others.
So to that end, President Biden is proposing fundamental reforms to the Inter-American Development Bank so that it can invest in middle-income countries. As the bank’s largest donor, the United States will put more resources into the bank’s private sector lending arm to support these kinds of investments.
We’re also turbocharging our efforts to support the region’s transition to clean energy. Here at the summit, five new countries announced that they plan to join the Renewable Energy for Latin America and Caribbean initiative. That brings us to 20 countries teaming up to hit an unprecedented target: producing 70 percent of the hemisphere’s electricity through renewable energy by the year 2030.
We announced a new partnership to invest in clean energy programs and climate adaptation and resilience across the Caribbean, and expanded regional efforts to protect and conserve our oceans.
In no small part thanks to the extraordinary work of our Climate Envoy John Kerry, regional development banks committed $50 billion over five years to help countries reduce emissions, expand renewable energy, address the growing climate crisis. We’ll work with the banks going forward to ensure that the funding helps lower the barriers and risks to investing in a sustainable future – making it not only economically viable, but desirable for the private sector.
As part of our commitment to strengthen democracy, the United States committed $75 million in new support for over 300 community-led organizations across the Americas that are on the front lines of advancing human rights, lifting more people out of poverty, fighting corruption.
USAID will devote an additional $42 million to aiding civil society in Central America – part of what is really a whole-of-government commitment to promoting freedom of expression, countering digital repression, defending other spaces where citizens engage in their democracies.
Finally, we plan to host the first-ever Cities Summit of the Americas in Denver, Colorado, next April, 2023. This will foster greater cooperation among city, state, regional leaders, together with business, with youth, with NGOs. What we are already seeing is that cities are the leading innovators in bringing citizens and governments together to actually solve concrete, real-world problems – and we’ve got a lot to learn from them. We have also, as part of this, the Cities Forward initiative which will draw on the knowledge and expertise from across our own government to help cities meet their goals for becoming more equitable, more environmentally sustainable.
So in sum, I think it’s fair to say that we’ve emerged from this summit clear‑eyed about the challenges that we face and more aligned on the way forward: together, building on our strength as democracies, and knowing, as President Biden said, that at heart we have everything that we need – right here in our own hemisphere, in the Americas – everything we need to deliver for our people.
So with that, thank you. Happy to take some questions.
MR PRICE: We will now turn to questions. We’ll start with Humeyra Pamuk of Reuters.
QUESTION: Hello, Secretary Blinken.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Humeyra.
QUESTION: I have a couple of questions, so please bear with me. Some countries who were present here today at the summit chose not to sign up for the migration declaration. What were their reservations and how is the United States going to address those going forward? How many do you think can be on board by the end of the year? And with this declaration, do you expect the record number of migrant arrivals at the border to fall? That was my first question.
My second one is: Many leaders expressed their discontent to U.S. excluding Cuba and Venezuela, and they raised concerns about the unity in the region. What will the administration do to ease those concerns, and could that trigger a rethink of U.S. policy towards the region? Thanks.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks, Humeyra. So first, on the L.A. Declaration on Migration, I’m not sure if you were in the room, but if you looked at that stage, there were 20 countries represented on that stage. And as I said, this is the first time that we have come together across the hemisphere to take shared responsibility for the migration challenge – countries of origin, transit countries, countries of destination. And this is a significant step forward, in my judgment, because it actually promises, I think, more effective action in making sure that we have humane, orderly, safe migration.
A few things that I would just point to in the declaration itself because it’s important. The commitments that governments made include to expand temporary worker programs to address labor shortages while reducing irregular migration. This is a real win-win. It’s a win-win for countries like the United States, Canada, Mexico. They committed to open and expand or reinforce other legal channels for migration, including refugee resettlement, family unification programs. That, too, will help address critical labor shortages. There’s a commitment to surge support to countries that are hosting large refugee and migrant populations to make sure that that’s sustainable because we see the burden that this places on communities on different parts of our hemisphere. There’s a commitment to combat and root out human smuggling networks that prey on the most vulnerable in the region.
So that’s a very strong, principled foundation. Twenty countries are on board. My full expectation is that more will join as we go forward.
At the same time, one of the things we’re doing is working directly with other countries with migration arrangements so that we’re looking in individual cases at what specific steps individual countries might take, again, to help manage this challenge effectively.
So what will the results be? We’ll see. We want to make sure that we’re measuring our progress, but this is an important vehicle for actually making progress in managing the migration challenge effectively.
I mentioned as well, we know that even as we’re taking short-term and medium-term steps to manage migration, ultimately, the long-term investments that we’re trying to make in countries from which so many people are leaving are ultimately what are going to make the most difference. And there, as I mentioned, at this summit the Vice President was able to announce that, thanks to her work, we have an additional $3.2 billion in investment from the private sector going to the countries of northern Central America.
Over time, what that does is it creates opportunity. One of the biggest single drivers of migration is a lack of opportunity. If we and others can help create it, that’s going to make a big difference. It will give people a choice.
So this will play out over time. There’s some immediate measures, but – and some of this is medium term, some of this is longer term.
As to the second part of the question, first let me say this: in the case of Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, they were here at the summit. I met with them. I met with human rights defenders. I met with civil society from those countries. And I would argue that they are more representative of the people in those respective countries than their current governments or regimes.
Some other countries were here at the foreign minister level but fully in force. We had, I think all told, about 68 delegations, 22 heads of state. And it’s interesting; I know some people like to focus on differences of opinion in who is here, but everyone was fully united on what we did here. And I recited some of the concrete achievements of the summit. That was the focus of virtually of the conversations that I had over the last three days.
MR PRICE: We will turn to Missy Ryan of The Washington Post.
QUESTION: Hi, Secretary Blinken.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Missy.
QUESTION: You went over this very ambitious list of deliverables that was announced during the summit, but it was unclear to me at least whether there will be a large amount of new U.S. Government investments associated with those, especially in comparison to some of the recent U.S. Government support to Ukraine, for example. And I understand the argument that much of the region is now middle income, but at the same time we heard some really poignant appeals from Caribbean nations and others saying that they’re mired in debt due to climate change that is caused largely by big countries like the United States and they’re drowning in violence caused in large part by U.S.-origin guns. Do you think perhaps the U.S. has a greater financial responsibility given its role in – excuse me – contributing to these problems?
And secondly, I want to press you a little bit more on an issue that you discussed with Televisa. And that’s the complaint that we heard from a number of countries, including Gabriel Boric when he spoke with The Washington Post this week, about a double standard in U.S. engagement with and support for some countries with problematic governments and rights records like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other countries which, as you said, are not accountable to their people, and then choosing not to engage with other ones. I’m just going to have to sit down so I can read this.
I heard you say that you are trying to see how you can stand up for people more effectively, but could you be more specific in telling us how you think about when to engage in some countries with issues and when not to engage? And do you think that these leaders who are making that point do have a point? Thanks.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Great. Thanks, Missy.
So first on the question raised very eloquently and powerfully by our partners in the Caribbean, this is something that the President and Vice President were extremely sensitive to. We had what I thought was an excellent meeting between the President, the Vice President, and our CARICOM partners yesterday.
Now, again, don’t take it from me. Ask them what they thought. Certainly what I heard from them coming out of the meeting, what I heard today, is that this is, as one of them put it, the best meeting we’ve had in a decade with the leadership of the United States. And the reason it was such a good meeting is, first of all, because the President and Vice President listened intently to the concerns expressed by countries in the Caribbean and responded, I think, effectively to them.
You pointed to something really important. There is a different kind of middle-income trap where countries are classified as being middle income or even higher income, and yet they are particularly afflicted by COVID or the climate crisis, they don’t have the means to respond, and yet they don’t qualify for, for example, concessionary lending. Or they have so much debt piled up that even if they could qualify, they’ve got a problem.
So we are committed to tackling this problem, and the President is engaged to working with the multilateral development banks to find ways to effectively support the countries that are in this position to make sure that they can get the support they need for, for example, climate adaptation or to respond to the food crisis or to respond to a health crisis.
I think, again, if you ask our colleagues from the Caribbean, they will, I suspect, tell you that they very much appreciated the work that was done. And so much so that one of the agreements that came out of the meeting yesterday was to immediately establish a working group between the United States and the CARICOM countries to work through these practical problems and to make sure that we are actually seized by the fierce urgency of now – not next year, not in five years, now.
Second part of the question – with any given country, we are looking at a multiplicity of interests but also a common thread of values. President Biden committed to putting human rights and democracy at the heart of our foreign policy. It is, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the totality. It’s a critical element that we look to, and we’re always trying to assess in any given relationship where we think we can be most effective, both in advancing our interests but doing it in a way that is consistent with and advances our values at the same time. That is simply going to differ from country to country, even though that thread runs throughout.
So, for example, in the case of Saudi Arabia, which you mentioned, we determined early on that it was important to recalibrate the relationship, to make sure that it better reflected, in our judgment, our interests and values, but to do it in a way that didn’t rupture the relationship. It’s a tremendously important relationship and partnership in terms of combating extremism, in terms of dealing with Iran; tremendously important as well in trying to bring to an end one of the worst conflicts in the world over the last decade that’s been perhaps the worst humanitarian crisis on the globe, and that’s the conflict in Yemen. And in part as a result of the work that we’ve been able to do with the leadership of Saudi Arabia, we helped achieve a truce in Yemen that’s now been extended for a second period of time. Humanitarian assistance is getting to places where it couldn’t before. And we have an opportunity – fragile, but a real opportunity – to maybe have a sustained peace in Yemen.
So this is about getting results, doing it in a principled way. We could go down the list of each country, different situations in each, but our focus is the same: How can we most effectively advance America’s interests but also America’s values?
MR PRICE: Go to Ariel Moutsados of Televisa.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I would like to know, in the declaration of Los Angeles and – senior officials also from the United States Government have said that all countries should enforce or that the United States expects all countries to enforce their own immigration laws. Could you please elaborate on what type of enforcement actions you have been discussing, especially in the case of Mexico? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Great, thank you. If you look at the declaration, it, as I said, sets out some very – some basic principles and it sets out commitments by governments to do certain things. The basic principles that we agreed to are the absolute need to make sure that migration is safe, it’s orderly, it’s humane, and we want to make sure that we’re putting human dignity at the heart of everything that we do. And that means making sure that migrants are treated in a humane and dignified way, that we build in safety along the entire process of migration, but at the same time, that we uphold and respect our individual laws and that those laws be enforced.
So all of that is in the declaration. I went through – I won’t belabor it again – I went through the specific commitments that governments have undertaken as part of the declaration in all aspects of migration, again, to include things like expanded temporary worker programs, to include things like creating more legal channels for migration, support for communities that are hosting many refugees and migrants, and combating and rooting out smuggling networks. But in all of this, we expect that countries will, just as the United States will, uphold and enforce its laws. Those are all, I think, relatively self-evident. I’m not going to go through them for each country.
I mentioned as well that with this declaration that covers now 20 countries in the hemisphere, we’ve also been engaged with individual countries on arrangements that go to even more specific things that countries can do, particularly when it comes to protections for migrants in their system, but also when it comes, for example, to repatriating migrants to the countries they came for, enforcing their laws to do that, seeking agreement with other governments to do that. There’s a long, long list of things. Thank you.
MR PRICE: Gaby Perozo, VPItv.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you for doing this. Thank you. While we are here at the summit, Maduro is currently visiting Iran and Turkey, and he’s also talking directly with Russia and China. Are you concerned that they can sign an agreement offering more things to the regime than you?
Maduro refused to return to the dialogue in Mexico. Do you believe it is worth it for the U.S. to continue easing sanctions? You are placing all your hope on the negotiations, but what other alternative are the U.S. exploring besides Mexico?
And another question.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: All right.
QUESTION: What can we expect in the months to come as the U.S. administration shifts its attention to its other urgent and pressing matters? How can Latin America stay as a priority spot for you? Will your massive migration wave convince you that the region, it’s both political and security priorities? Your enemies are in the region. You’ve seen the immigration card to unsettle the U.S. Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: All right, thank you.
First, when it comes to negotiations and Venezuela, both the Unitary Platform and the Maduro regime in recent days have signaled an intent to resume those conversations or negotiations in Mexico City. That is the latest information that we have. That’s what we’re looking toward.
And in our judgment, Venezuelan-led negotiations between the Maduro regime and the Unitary Platform are the best path that we can see to try to restore to Venezuelans a democracy that they clearly deserve and clearly want, and alleviate the extraordinary suffering that’s taken place in recent years.
We’re very much committed to supporting Venezuelans in this effort and certainly their democratic aspirations. Under the right circumstances, with the support of the international community, the parties themselves are best positioned to negotiate steps toward a solution to the Venezuelan crisis.
So again, the most recent information we have is that there is an intent to return to Mexico City, and that’s something that we support.
We’ve also made clear that when it comes to sanctions, sanctions are not an end in themselves. They are an effort to incentivize those who are on the receiving end to engage in different conduct. And as we’ve long said, sanctions aren’t permanent. If we see change, sanctions can be lifted. The purpose is not to keep them there indefinitely. The purpose is to encourage countries, regimes, governments, to engage in the right kind of conduct, particularly when it comes to restoring democracy. That’s the purpose.
The second part of the question: How can Latin America remain a priority? Well, first, I think we’ve spent almost a week here – I got here on Tuesday and the President’s been here for several days – making very clear that even in the midst of, for example, Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, even in the midst of the broad challenge that, for example, China poses to us, that our own hemisphere is a priority. As I said, this summit brought together some 68 delegations, 22 heads of state.
But what’s really important are not the three days here; it’s the 362 days that will follow in the year ahead. And the test is going to be whether we make good on the commitments that we’ve made here. I recited a number of them. You – but more importantly through you, in a sense, our citizens – will hold us accountable to whether we actually deliver on these commitments.
And if we’re going to do that, we have to stay engaged. We can’t just write a declaration, put it in a drawer, and expect it to produce results. This requires sustained day-in/day-put engagement by our government, by other governments, by the private sector, by civil society, international organizations, et cetera.
But the real answer to the test will probably be six months from now, a year from now, two years from now, when we look back and determine whether we’ve made good on the commitments that were reached here in Los Angeles.
MR PRICE: We’ll take a final question from Raquel Krahenbul from Globo.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Hello.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Thank you, Secretary Blinken. I also have two questions. I’ll ask one first and then you’ll answer, and then I ask the second. Is that okay?
First question. President Bolsonaro said today – you were there during his speech – that Brazil is one of the countries that most preserve the environment. What is your reaction to that, and do you see real progress on Brazil’s commitment on cutting deforestation?
MR PRICE: Raquel, do you want to go ahead and ask your second?
QUESTION: Okay, sure, sure. On the first bilateral meeting between President Biden and Bolsonaro yesterday, before the meeting a senior administration official said they were discussing topics they disagree on. Bolsonaro defended a lot of his old positions there, so what do you think about his statement there? What were the disagreements, and what changed for the bilateral relationship now?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good, thank you very much.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Let me talk about the climate piece first. Look, I think it is well known that climate change is a top priority for our administration, but also for countries in the hemisphere. This was very much front and center in the conversations we had. Many of the countries here, of course, were together with us at COP26, so this is an enduring focus for us.
And it’s also fundamentally true that Brazil is critical to these efforts. It has one of the cleanest energy grids as it already stands, but of course it’s also one of the top emitters of greenhouse gasses, as is the United States. The Amazon, which we know are the – literally the lungs of the hemisphere, stores enormous quantities of carbon dioxide each year, and that is a vital service to the world in dealing with climate change that we cannot afford to lose.
So we’ve been concerned by the continuing high levels of deforestation in the Amazon, a concern that we’ve expressed. It’s also why we’ve put additional resources through something called Amazonia Connect to support Brazil, Colombia, Peru’s efforts to preserve the Amazon. One of the things that President Biden shared with President Bolsonaro is that we feel a responsibility to do that because over many, many, many generations, we were able to take advantage ourselves, for example, of clearing forests in order to have agricultural production or industry before anyone understood the impact of climate change.
And now, as we’re asking other countries not to engage in these kinds of steps, he believes, we believe that we have a responsibility to help. And that goes with, for example, helping to finance adaptation resilience and, in the case of deforestation, making sure that countries have the means not to further engage in deforestation or even to engage in reforestation.
So we discussed all of this. Brazil has put forward very ambitious climate commitments. We hope that they hold to those commitments. It would make a huge difference in this effort that has to be a global one.
And more broadly, let me say this. We have, I think, over many years a strong, solid partnership. It spans centuries, quite literally, based on shared democratic values, based on a lot of mutual interests. The bilateral yesterday was, I think, best described as constructive, an opportunity to address a lot of issues in the bilateral relationship right now. I think – I don’t want to put words in President Bolsonaro’s mouth, but I think I heard him say today that it was productive and positive, and we, too, appreciate the close coordination on a whole range of issues.
For example, we talked about boosting trade, investment, job creation, working together on the environment, as I just mentioned, social and security issues with Brazil. And our hope – I think there’s a common belief and also expectation that if we work more closely together, we can actually deliver real benefits for people in both of our countries. We happen to be the two largest democracies in the hemisphere; it makes sense for us to not only continue to work together but find ways to deepen the partnership.
So I think we had a good presence, had a good conversation yesterday about how we can move forward in that direction.
MR PRICE: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Thank you very much.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: This is something that is – has happened on a somewhat regular basis in the past, I think even a couple of times a year. Countries will make their sovereign decisions. However, the idea that Russia would be a good partner when it comes to law enforcement issues or when it comes to humanitarian assistance, shall we say, does not meet the credibility test.
MR PRICE: Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you said you want to (inaudible) progress on migration, but (inaudible) way to do that, sir?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Inaudible) be able to judge whether we – whether we’ve met them. People will be able to judge whether we’ve met them. So I think it’s very measurable.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.