Thank you very much, Katie, and indeed it is a pleasure for me to be here with so many friends and colleagues and to be sitting on a panel between my great friend Michelle Bachelet, a former president, and a woman I admire so much, Dilma Rousseff, a current president, in addition to a prime minister and a high representative and a deputy UN secretary general, and to see out in this audience women who are heads of state and heads of government as well as ministers, and other excellencies both male and female who have come here today on behalf of the important issue of women’s political participation. And I particularly thank the prime minister and the president for their remarks and their example, because clearly, as someone who tried to be a president, it is very encouraging to see those who actually end up as a president. (Applause.)
The work that brings us together today is, I think, one of the great pieces of unfinished business in the 21st century. If you look back historically – and it’s always somewhat suspect to do this – but certainly the 19th century, which was a great movement against slavery and the enshrinement of the rights of people, followed by the 20th century with a great struggle against totalitarianism in favor of freedom and democracy; well, here we are in the 21st century, and if we want a safe, secure, prosperous, peaceful future, women must be equal partners and free to realize their own God-given potential.
And what that means is that it’s not only enough for those of us gathered here today to continue the work that many of us are committed to, but it’s also important that we reach out to the new emerging democracies and societies, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, where women have marched and demonstrated, blogged, and put their lives on the line for a future that includes them, their families, their communities, and their countries.
In Libya, women hid fighters, ran guns, contacted journalists, and even fought for freedom. One woman was so inspired she said, “Maybe I can be the new president or the mayor,” – a thought that had never crossed her mind anytime before.
And in many cases, progress is being made. I want to commend Tunisia. I don’t know – is there a representative from Tunisia? Minister. Thank you, Minister. Because in April, the commission responsible for drafting Tunisia’s new electoral code ruled that there must be full gender parity on election candidate lists from the top down. I think we should give Tunisia a round of applause. (Applause.)
Many of us are working closely with our friends in Egypt to ensure that women who played a decisive role in carrying out Egypt’s revolution are not left out of the democratic transformation, because, in effect then, it will not be a true democracy. Women have to be part of the future. And it’s imperative that as constitutions are created, as political parties are organized, as elections are waged and won, nobody can claim a democratic future if half the population is marginalized or even prevented from participating.
We are in an age of participation. Social networking and connective technology has made that a fact. And every party in any democracy should recognize the rights of women and make room for women to play roles in the political process. As the Arab Awakening enters a new chapter, we all have a stake in ensuring that the potential of all citizens – men and women, boys and girls – have a chance to be realized.
That’s why the United States is supporting efforts like the Charter of Egyptian Women. Nearly 300,000 women and men and 500 NGOs signed on to a set of demands for the political, social, and economic rights of the women of Egypt. And we will support Egyptian women in their efforts to serve as community leaders, as business owners, as citizens, as elected officials.
We have tried to put women’s lives and women’s progress at the center of our foreign policy, in everything from our diplomatic efforts to our investments in developing countries. And we will work through multilateral forums—including UN Women under Michelle’s great leadership—to to integrate women’s issues throughout the work of the United Nations.
This Participation Age is a reality, and it will not realize its full potential if women are not viewed legitimately as participants. Now, Persad, when your uncle said, “No, that young girl shouldn’t go to school,” and you said, “Thank goodness for your mother,” that’s a very familiar story. So parents need to recognize the values of their girls, invest in their futures, their education. And then families, communities, societies, need to do the same.
You cannot have the kind of broad-based economic growth that is so necessary in our world’s economy today if women are not able to play their economic roles outside the home as well as inside the home. When we liberate the economic potential of women, we elevate the economic performance of communities, nations, and the world.
And I think as we meet on political participation and as we sign the declaration that I was very pleased to sign before coming in, we recognize that these values that what led to President Rousseff becoming a president, the hard years, the sacrifice, what led to Persad becoming a prime minister, or Cathy Ashton now the first high representative of the European Union, or Michelle Bachelet becoming first the president of her country and then the head of an organization, that we mean to make clear women are involved in every level of the international community.
There are stories like that that are percolating everywhere in the world, and we have to do all we can to value the girl child, to provide support for families so that they recognize and then fulfill the promise of that young girl, and then make sure that the doors are open. And I think these values do not belong to any one culture or any one country; they are universal. One of my predecessors as a first lady of my country was Eleanor Roosevelt, and she was one of the people from around the world who met after World War II to decide on what were universal rights. They came from everywhere.
And the Declaration of Universal Rights that they wrote should still be our guide. And it is not out of fashion, it has not been overtaken by events, it cannot be stopped by ideology or extremism of any kind. And the United Nations must stand firmly behind the rights of all – the rights of women, the rights of men, but in particular for women to sit at every table where decisions are made.
So it’s a great pleasure to be part of this important event. Thank you. (Applause.)
Centropa Summer Academy Program: Special Envoy Rosenthal’s Remarks to Educators for Holocaust Education Program
Good afternoon! Ladies and Gentlemen, it is an honor to have the opportunity to talk with you today. As educators, you play a critical role to help develop the next generation of citizens, not only for each of your respective countries, but for the world.
Being in Sarajevo is important for two reasons — we can see, and feel, and hear the stories of how Jews, Muslims, Orthodox Christians, and Catholics really did get along, and we can see what happened when people let their differences get in the way of peaceful coexistence.
I have been to most of your countries – you are coming from Austria, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, and the U.S.. You probably have stories of cooperation and conflict in your own communities. I am thrilled that you are participating in this Centropa program where you have had the opportunity to interact with colleagues from 14 countries and learn about the richness of Jewish life and contributions in Europe. I hope that in the past week’s workshops, you have been able to focus on the importance of memory, and how modern technologies will help keep those memories alive and meaningful. I hope the dual tools of memory and technology have helped you as teachers to share stories and project ideas with each other, and that those devices will help your students during the school year, as they collaborate in class, and well into the future.
People of different religions in this region got along for several centuries – when Jews and Muslims, and Orthodox and Catholics, all lived side by side. Did they love each other? Surely not all of them. But did they get along and depend on each other? Of course they did. While the Nazis almost completely destroyed the Sephardic Jewish world in Bosnia-Herzegovina, many surviving Jews returned to the area after the war.
The Jewish community played a significant humanitarian role during the ethnic war in the early 1990s. The story of La Benevolencija – a Jewish humanitarian organization formed 100 years ago that promotes welfare for all people irrespective of religion or nationality – is a story of civil society at its best. In the middle of an ethnic war of hate, those who refused to emphasize religious differences and wanted to work together, could do so. Where? In an old synagogue in the middle of a dying city that had been cut off from the world. Who was there to open the doors each day? A tiny band of Holocaust survivors and their children.
What was the book they used as their guide? The Sarajevo Hagaddah. This copy has supposedly survived since 1492 when Jews brought it with them fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. What does it say on the first page of every Hagaddah? “All who are hungry, let them come and eat. All those who are in need of fellowship, let them come and celebrate Passover with us.”
In other words, the Jewish community of Sarajevo used the Hagaddah as a how-to book. And we are glad they did…
A month ago, in Lithuania, I spoke to educators there about teaching the Holocaust. As I noted, the Holocaust affected Lithuania, as it affected your countries in one way or another, and it should be acknowledged. The Holocaust and World War II era is a part of your country’s historical narrative, just as the contributions of Jews to European society before the Holocaust is a part of history. What makes the Centropa program so unique is its focus on 20th century Jewish history that engages you as teachers, as well as your students, with Holocaust education in innovative ways. In teaching about the Holocaust, memory plays an invaluable role: memories from survivors, victims, witnesses and perpetrators of the Holocaust have contributed significantly to what we know and understand about the Holocaust. These memories have shaped the way we perceive history and respond to it.
We are facing an inevitable challenge to Holocaust education. What will we do when there are no longer survivors, liberators or other eyewitnesses who can recount their firsthand accounts of the Holocaust? Personal testimonies have been an effective tool in Holocaust education over the past several decades. Soon we will rely only on videos or recordings of their testimonies. In the past week, I hope that you have found some useful tools to access memories of Holocaust survivors – whether it’s having a survivor in your town able to speak in your classroom, or it’s a visit to a museum, or a film you show your class — and incorporate them into your lessons. Channeling your students’ creativity to make memory come alive will ensure your success.
In the 21st century, where everything seems to be instant and high-speed, available at the click of a mouse or the touch of a button, it is important for our education systems to be up-to-date in their ability to incorporate technology in the classroom. I use old and new technologies to communicate with the public about anti-Semitism, as well as human rights, tolerance and democracy. I compile a weekly summary of news articles from around the world – thanks to the Internet, we have access to many sources. These items are subsequently posted on my Facebook page under the heading “Here’s What We’re Hearing” so that social media users are more aware of anti-Semitism around the world.
I also use Facebook and other social media, like Twitter, to connect with people – especially youth — and to encourage them to go beyond words, speeches, or even lectures by providing a vehicle for them to do something tangible to promote tolerance and practice mutual respect. My colleague Farah Pandith, the Special Representative to Muslims Communities, and I have recently launched a virtual campaign called “2011 Hours Against Hate,” using Facebook. We are asking young people around the world to pledge a number of hours to volunteer to help or serve a population different than their own. We ask them to work with people who may look different, or pray differently or live differently. For example, a young Jew might volunteer time to read books at a Muslim pre-school, or an Orthodox at a Jewish clinic, or a Muslim at a Catholic food pantry. We want to encourage them to walk a mile in another person’s shoes. I encourage you to consider how this initiative would work in your classrooms, in your communities. With young people participating all over the world, they are redefining that the word GLOBALIZATION means.
Using social media to connect individuals is something I expect you will be doing as you move forward with this project. Technology will help connect your students from one country to another, such as in an online forum, where they can share comments and opinions as well as videos. It isn’t only about economics, but about building relationships.
Farah and I began meeting with hundreds of young people earlier this year – students and young professionals – in Azerbaijan, Spain and Turkey – countries that in their histories celebrated Jews and Muslims co-existing and thriving together. They want to DO something. They expressed strong interest in the campaign – and we have already surpassed our goal of 2011 hours pledged against hate. More recently, Farah and I met with youth and interfaith leaders in Jordan and Lebanon, discussing reaching out to others and increasing tolerance and understanding among different religious groups. Really, we have just begun.
As educators, you are each others’ best resources. I am interested in learning about your sessions in Krakow and Vienna, hearing about your cooperation in producing materials that reach the most number of students. I encourage you to continue to collaborate as you return to your respective classrooms.
You, as educators, play one of the most important roles: exposing students to the history, creating a safe space in which to discuss difficult topics, and teaching the lessons of the Holocaust to today’s youth.
I discover more and more the importance of educating youth about the Holocaust – teaching lessons of history, teaching tolerance. As the President’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, I am charged with both monitoring anti-Semitic incidents and combating such intolerance. President Obama and Secretary Clinton have honored me with this appointment and have fully integrated my office into the State Department. In this role, I have been tracking the rise in anti-Semitism around the world, and have seen its alarming presence and growth.
As a child of a Holocaust survivor, anti-Semitism is something very personal to me. My father was arrested – on Kristalnacht, the unofficial pogrom that many think started the Holocaust – and sent with many of his congregants to prison and then to Buchenwald. He was the lucky one – every other person in his family perished at Auschwitz. I have dedicated my life to eradicating anti-Semitism and intolerance with a sense of urgency and passion that only my father could give me.
I have been on the job for more than a year and a half – and I have seen six significant trends in anti-Semitism around the world:
First of all, anti-Semitism is not History, it is News. I run into people who think anti-Semitism ended when Hitler killed himself. More than six decades after the end of the Second World War, anti-Semitism is still alive and well, and evolving into new, contemporary forms of religious hatred, racism, and political, social and cultural bigotry.
This stems from the fact that traditional forms of anti-Semitism are passed from one generation to the next, updated to reflect current events. We are all familiar with ongoing hostile acts such as the defacing of property and the desecration of cemeteries with anti-Semitic graffiti. There are still accusations of blood libel, which are morphing from the centuries-old accusations by individuals that Jews killed children to use their blood for rituals, to accusations that Jews kidnap children to steal their organs. Conspiracy theories continue to flourish, such as supposed Jewish control of the U.S. media and the world banking system, or that Jews were involved in executing the September 11 attacks. “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” continue to be best sellers in many, many countries, and taught to religious students as truth. The ‘old fashioned’ anti-Semitism is alive and well.
A second phenomenon is Holocaust denial. It is being espoused by religious leaders, heads of State, such as in Iran, in academic institutions, and is a standard on hateful websites and other media outlets. As the generation of Holocaust survivors and death camp liberators reaches their eighties and nineties, the window is closing on those able to provide eyewitness accounts and thus we have a heightened sense of urgency to promote Holocaust education, create museums and memorials, and carry the memory and lessons of the Holocaust forward.
A third, disturbing trend is Holocaust glorification, which can be seen in parades honoring soldiers who fought in the Waffen SS, which glorifies Nazism under the guise of fighting the Soviets and obscures their roles in the Holocaust. Following a March 2011 commemoration in Latvia, a notorious neo-Nazi made blatantly anti-Semitic statements, including incitements to violence against Jews, on a television talk show. The growth of neo-Nazi groups is of special concern in Europe, and Holocaust glorification is especially virulent in Middle Eastern media – some that is state-owned and operated, which calls for a new Holocaust to finish the job. Truly bone-chilling.
A fourth concern is Holocaust relativism – where some governments, museums, academic research and the like are conflating the Holocaust with other terrible events that entailed great human suffering, like the Dirty War or the Soviet regime. No one, least of all myself, wants to weigh atrocities against each other, but to group these horrific chapters of history together is not only historically inaccurate, but also misses opportunities to learn important lessons from each of these historic events, even as we reflect on universal truths about the need to defend human rights and combat hatred in all of its forms. History must be precise – it must instruct, it must warn, and it must inspire us to learn the particular and universal values as we prepare to mend this fractured world.
The fifth trend is the increasing tendency of blurring the lines between opposition to the policies of the State of Israel and anti-Semitism. What I hear from our diplomatic missions, and from non-governmental organizations alike, is that this happens easily and often. I want to be clear – criticism of policies of the State of Israel is not anti-Semitism. But we record huge increases in anti-Semitism whenever there are hostilities in the Middle East. This form of anti-Semitism is more difficult for many to identify. But if all Jews are held responsible for the decisions of the sovereign State of Israel, when governments like Venezuela call upon and intimidate their Jewish communities to condemn Israeli actions – this is not objecting to a policy – this is anti-Semitism. When individual Jews are effectively banned or their conferences boycotted, or are held responsible for Israeli policy – this is not objecting to a policy – this is anti-Semitism.
Natan Sharansky identified three ways that he believes crosses the line: “It is anti-Semitic when Israel is demonized, held to different standards or delegitimized.” The U.S. is often the only “no” vote in international bodies where countries seem to have an obsession with singling out Israel for disproportionate condemnation.
The sixth trend is the growing nationalistic movements which target ‘the other’ – be they immigrants, or religious and ethnic minorities — in the name of protecting the identity and ‘purity’ of their nation. When this fear or hatred of the ‘other’ occurs or when people try to find a scapegoat for the instability around them, it is never good for the Jews, or for that matter, other traditionally discriminated against minorities. The history of Europe, with Russian pogroms, Nazism, and ethnic cleansing here in the Balkans provides sufficient evidence. And when government officials talk about protecting a country’s purity, we’ve seen that movie before.
The State Department monitors these trends and activities and reports on them in all 198 countries and territories – in two major annual reports: The International Religious Freedom Report and the Human Rights Report. I am now involved in developing a major training initiative for State Department employees so they can better monitor what is happening in their countries, and sensitize them to the various forms of anti-Semitism. This will make our annual reports more comprehensive, and allow us to do an even better job of monitoring and confronting anti-Semitism in all its forms. These reports tell us that many countries are pushing hard to advance human rights and fight discrimination. It also tells us that there is so much more work to do. If we don’t chronicle it, if we don’t name it, we can’t fight it.
Of course, it isn’t enough to study and monitor these deeply troubling trends. It is critical that we act to reverse them.
My approach to combating anti-Semitism is not just to preach to the choir, so to speak, but to join in partnership with non-Jews in condemning it – government, civil society, international institutions, business leaders, labor unions, and media.
Last summer, Secretary Clinton launched an initiative to strengthen civil society across the globe and she instructed all of us in the State Department and all our overseas posts to treat civil society as strategic partners. Partnering with opinion leaders from civil society as well as government — as well as building bridges among ethnic and religious groups, is the way to change a culture – from fear and negative stereotyping to acceptance and understanding, from narrow mindedness to an embrace of diversity, from hate to tolerance. I hope that through Centropa, and your classrooms, you – as members of civil society — have made solid connections that will last through more than the next school year, when you reach out to students and your communities.
Together, we must confront and combat the many forms of hatred in our world today. Where there is hatred born of ignorance, we must teach and inspire. Where there is hatred born of blindness, we must expose people to a larger world of ideas and reach out, especially to youth, so they can see beyond their immediate circumstances. Where there is hatred whipped up by irresponsible leaders, we must call them out and answer as strongly as we can – and make their message totally unacceptable to all people of conscience.
I congratulate you for participating in this important academy and for combating anti-Semitism and other hatreds in all their forms. I hope you will lead educational efforts to make anti-Semitism something only found in history books. We are counting on you to translate the lessons of the past to create a better and more tolerant world.
Thank you for all you are doing and will be doing.
Thank you, Mr. President.
The United States believes everyone benefits when we invest in education. Education transforms individual lives: empowering people to pursue their dreams of a better life and expand their human potential. One extra year of schooling increases individual earnings by 8.3% on average. More education also empowers women: giving them the skills and earning potential they need to help support their families, build businesses, and send their own children to school. But the advantages extend beyond individuals. More education, especially for women, promotes healthier societies. Fully one half of the drop in child mortality between 1970 and 1990 can be attributed to increased education for women and girls.
The United States is committed to promoting education because it is in our interest as well. More education — and the accompanying economic growth – is linked to decreases in conflict. These factors are also crucial to successful transitions to democracy, and the ability to sustain democratic governance after the transition. Education also empowers people, including women, to fully participate in their societies, becoming citizens in the truest sense of the word.
Our position as one of the largest donors to education reflects this commitment. Bilaterally, our Overseas Development Assistance for education is higher than ever. Over the last decade, we have increased our education aid over 1000% for a total of $1.2 billion in 2010. We are using this aid to help countries all over the world meet the Millennium Development Goals and the Education for All Goals. USAID’s new Education Strategy sets three goals: by 2015, we will to improve reading skills for 100 million children worldwide in primary grades, improve tertiary and workforce development programs to better generate skills relevant to each country’s development goals, and to increase equitable access to education in conflict and crisis situations for 15 million learners.
We are also supporting these goals through our work with multilateral partners. In May, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined UNESCO Director General Bokova to launch a new Global Partnership for Girls’ and Women’s Education. We are also working together with multilateral agencies on the ground: With UNICEF, we are training teachers in Benin and building sanitation facilities for students in refugee camps in Cameroon. With UNICEF and the Government of Jordan, we are working to integrate Iraqi refugees into public schools.
Over the last decade, the international community has made great progress in education. Since 1999, the number of out of school children has dropped by more than a third, and the number of girls out of school is decreasing even faster. Yet there are great challenges ahead of us. There are still 796 million illiterate adults in the world, almost two thirds of whom are women. While access to primary education has improved, quality education and access to secondary education remain a problem, especially for girls.
Today, everyone is feeling the constraints of limited budgets, but we cannot lose sight of the importance of education. Even in these times, there are ways that we can all strengthen our commitment to education.
First, we can all share our experiences on making education delivery stronger and more cost-effective. The United States has lessons to learn about building a better teacher workforce from others. At the same time, we can help other countries as well. For example, we can assist other nations develop stronger technical and vocational education programs, an area we have excelled in. We want to initiate and continue more of these dialogues.
Second, we can include the private sector and other non-traditional partners in our conversations. Look, for example, at UNESCO’s new Global Partnership for Girls’ and Women’s Education, which mobilized millions in new investment in education. In the United States, organizations – such as the Lumina Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – have made huge investments in making classrooms more effective. These lessons can also be shared.
Finally, we need to be proactive about setting the agenda for the future. Both the MDGs and EFA Goals will end in 2015, but some challenges – like illiteracy – will continue beyond 2015. This is not a reason to give up the fight. Instead, it is a reason to redouble our efforts to promote literacy, strengthen secondary education, and ensure that all children – both girls and boys – have a chance for a quality education.
The Department of State is pleased to announce that the transfer of funding to the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE) by the Libyan General People’s Committee for Education and Scientific Research has been finalized, allowing Libyan students on scholarships in the United States to continue their studies until the end of May 2012. Because of UN, EU, and U.S. sanctions on the Libyan government, this transfer required special authorizations from the United Nations and the governments of Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. This funding will cover and tuition fees for the benefit of more than 1,900 Libyan scholars studying at educational institutions across the United States.
In addition, to ameliorate the hardship arising from the current crisis in Libya, the Department of State announced special relief for certain Libyan J-1 exchange visitors who have suffered severe economic hardship as a direct result of the civil unrest in Libya since February 2011. The Department has suspended until December 31, 2011 the application of certain conditions and requirements governing program status and employment for students from Libya whose means of financial support have been delayed or interrupted.
This provision, published in the Federal Register on June 9, 2011, allows Libyan students in the Exchange Visitor Program to pursue full- or part-time and on- or off-campus employment. Temporary suspension of these conditions allows for a reduction in course load that may be necessary for some students due to this employment.
All Libyans students studying in the United States should contact the Office of International Students at their university for more specific information about funding and employment authorizations. Additionally, the Department continues to work with Libyan students and their universities to search for solutions regarding the approximately 200 Libyan students who are privately funding their studies and have experienced difficulty in transferring personal funds from Libya to the United States to cover their expenses.
Thank you very much, Chairman Kerry and Senator Lugar and to all the members of the committee, it’s a pleasure to be back here with you in the Senate. As the President said last night, the United States is meeting the goals he set for our three-track strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The military surge has ramped up pressure on al-Qaida and Taliban insurgents. The civilian surge has bolstered the Afghan and Pakistani Governments, economies, and civil societies, and undercut the pull of the insurgency. The diplomatic surge is supporting Afghan-led efforts to reach a political solution that will chart a more secure future.
All three surges – military, civilian, and diplomatic – are part of the vision for transition that NATO endorsed in Lisbon last December and that President Obama reaffirmed last night. As he said, Afghans must take responsibility for their own future.
Today, I want to amplify on the President’s statement and update you specifically on our civilian efforts. And I also look forward to answering your questions about the road ahead. Because despite the progress, we have to stay focused on the mission. As the President said, “We have to put al-Qaida on a path to defeat, and we will not relent until the job is done.”
First, let me say a word about the military effort. Last night, the President explained his plan to begin drawing down our forces next month and transitioning to Afghan responsibility. I will leave it to my colleagues from the Defense Department to discuss the specifics. But the bottom line, as the President said, is that we have broken the Taliban’s momentum. So we do begin this drawdown from a position of strength.
With respect to the civilian surge, we greatly appreciate the attention that this committee has devoted to it. Because improving governance, creating economic opportunity, supporting civil society is vital to solidifying our military gains and advancing our political and diplomatic goals.
Since January 2009, we have tripled the number of diplomats, development experts, and other civilian specialists on the ground in Afghanistan, and we have expanded our presence out in the field nearly six-fold. And these new civilians have changed the way we do business, focusing on key ministries and sectors, and holding ourselves and our partners to higher standards.
And there should be no doubt about the results of our investment, despite the very difficult circumstances that you all know so well. Economic growth is up, opium production is down. Under the Taliban, only 900,000 boys and no girls were enrolled in schools. By 2010, 7.1 million students were enrolled, and nearly 40 percent of them girls.
Hundreds of thousands of farmers have been trained and equipped with new seeds and other techniques. Afghan women have used more than 100,000 microfinance loans. Infant mortality is down 22 percent.
Now, what do these numbers and others that I could quote tell us?
First, that despite the many challenges that remain, life is better for most Afghans. And the Karzai government has many failings, to be sure. But more people, in every research analysis we are privy to, say they see progress in their streets, their schools, their fields. And we remain committed to fighting corruption and strengthening the rule of law in a very challenging environment.
The aim of the civilian surge was to give Afghans a stake in their country’s future and provide credible alternatives to extremism and insurgency. It was not nor was it ever designed to solve all of Afghanistan’s development challenges. Measured against the goals we set and considering the obstacles we faced, we are and should be encouraged by what we have accomplished.
And most important, the civilian surge helped advance our military and political objectives. Let me just offer one example. Last November, USAID began funding the reconstruction of irrigation systems in Wardak province, providing jobs for hundreds of workers and water to thousands of farmers. In March, just a few months ago, insurgents demanded that the people abandon the project and support the spring offensive. The people refused. Why? Because they asked themselves, “Should we trade new opportunities for a better life for more violence and chaos?” Frustrated, the insurgents threatened to attack the project. Local shuras mobilized and sent back a clear message: “We want this work to continue. Interfere and you will become our enemy.” And the insurgents backed down.
We have now reached the height of the civilian surge. Any effort of this size and scope will face considerable logistical challenges. And we have worked hard in the last two and a half years to strengthen oversight and improve effectiveness. We have, frankly, learned many lessons, and we are applying them. And the efforts of our civilians on the ground, working in some of the most difficult conditions imaginable, continues to be nothing short of extraordinary. Looking ahead as the transition proceeds, we are shifting our efforts from short-term stabilization projects, largely as part of the military strategy, to longer-term sustainable development that focuses on spurring growth and integrating Afghanistan into South Central Asia’s economy.
Now, the third surge is our diplomatic surge. It is diplomatic efforts in support of an Afghan-led political process that aims to shatter the alliance between the Taliban and al-Qaida, end the insurgency, and help to produce more stability. To begin, we are working with the Afghans on a new strategic partnership declaration that will provide a long-term framework for bilateral cooperation and NATO cooperation, as agreed to, again, at Lisbon. And it will bolster Afghan and regional confidence that Afghanistan will not again become a safe haven for terrorists and an arena for competing regional interests.
As the President said last night, this will ensure we will be able to continue targeting terrorists and supporting a sovereign Afghan Government. It will also provide a backdrop for reconciliation with insurgents who must meet clear red lines – they must renounce violence, they must abandon al-Qaida, and they must abide by the constitution of Afghanistan, including its protections for women. As I said in February in the speech I gave outlining this strategy, those are the necessary outcomes of any negotiation.
In the last four months, this Afghan-led political process has gained momentum. Twenty-seven Provincial Peace Councils have been established in Afghanistan, and the Afghan High Peace Council has stepped up its efforts to engage civil society and women, even as it also begins reaching out to insurgents. And let me underscore something which you will not be surprised to hear me say, but I say it not because of my personal feelings but because of my strategic assessment: Including women and civil society in this process is not just the right thing to do; it is the smart and strategic thing to do as well. Any potential for peace will be subverted if women or ethnic minorities are marginalized or silenced. And the United States will not abandon our values or support a political process that undoes the social progress that has been made in the past decade.
But we believe that a political solution that meets these conditions is possible. The United States has a broad range of contacts at many levels across Afghanistan and the region, that we are leveraging to support this effort, including very preliminary outreach to members of the Taliban. This is not a pleasant business, but a necessary one, because history tells us that a combination of military pressure, economic opportunity, and an inclusive political and diplomatic process is the best way to end insurgencies. With bin Ladin dead and al-Qaida’s remaining leadership under enormous pressure, the choice facing the Taliban is clear: Be part of Afghanistan’s future or face unrelenting assault. They cannot escape this choice.
Special Representative Marc Grossman is leading an active diplomatic effort to build support for a political solution. What we call the Core Group – Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the United States – has met twice and will convene again next week. At the same time, we are engaging the region around a common vision of an independent, stable Afghanistan and a region free of al-Qaida. We believe we’ve made progress with all of the neighbors, including India, Russia, and even Iran. Just this past Friday, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to support reconciliation by splitting its sanctions on al-Qaida and the Taliban into two separate lists, underscoring that the door is open for the insurgents to abandon the terrorists and choose a different path.
We welcome these steps, and for the United States the key diplomatic priority and indeed a lynchpin of this entire effort is closing the gap between Kabul and Islamabad. Pakistan must be part of this process. Earlier this month, the two countries launched a joint peace commission and held substantive talks at the highest levels. Also, very significant, was the full implementation on June 12th of the Transit Trade Agreement, which will create new economic opportunity on both sides of the Durand Line and lay the foundation for a broader vision of regional economic integration and cooperation. This agreement started being negotiated in the early 1960s. It therefore took decades, including great, heroic effort by the late Richard Holbrooke and his team. But the trucks are now rolling across the border.
I recently visited Pakistan and had, as we say in diplo-speak, very candid discussions with its leaders. The United States has clear expectations for this relationship, and as President Obama said last night, the United States will never tolerate a safe haven for those who kill Americans. We are looking to Pakistan to take concrete actions on the goals we share: Defeating violent extremism, which has also taken so many innocent Pakistani lives; ending the conflict in Afghanistan; and securing a stable, democratic, prosperous future.
Now, these are obviously tough questions to ask of the Pakistanis and there are many causes for frustration. But we should not overlook the positive steps of just recent weeks since May 2nd: Counterterrorism cooperation continues and several very key extremists have been killed or captured. As I told the Pakistanis, America cannot and should not try to solve Pakistan’s problems; they have to eventually do that themselves. But nor can we walk away from this relationship and ignore the consequences, for all the reasons that Senator Lugar outlined in his opening statement: Pakistan is a nuclear-armed state sitting at the crossroads of a strategic region. And we have seen this movie before. We have seen the cost of disengaging from the region. As Secretary Gates, who was there at that time, has stressed, we cannot repeat the mistakes of 1989.
That’s why it’s important we have the resources to continue implementing our strategy. The State Department is following the Pentagon’s model and creating a special emergency fund – an Overseas Contingency Operations account – that separates normal operating costs from extraordinary wartime expenses. Now, I will hasten to say we are painfully aware of today’s fiscal reality. And I know that it is tempting for some to peel off the civilian and diplomatic elements of our strategy. They obviously make fewer headlines; people don’t know as much about them. And it would be a terrible mistake, and I’m not saying that just for myself, but as our commanders on the ground will tell you, the three surges work hand-in-hand. You cannot cut or limit one and expect the other two to succeed.
Ultimately, I believe we are saving money and, much more importantly, lives by investing now. And let’s not forget: An entire year of civilian assistance in Afghanistan costs Americans the same amount as 10 days of military operations.
So Mr. Chairman, Senator Lugar, members, I thank you for this opportunity to discuss our strategy. There have been a lot of developments in the last months and I feel that what we are doing is working. But it is obviously important that we ask the hard questions, and I look forward to working with you to improve the strategy and work together to implement it.
Thank you very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much, Director General, for that introduction, but more than that, for your leadership of this very important international institution. You are here in a large auditorium with so many people who believe in the mission of UNESCO, which has long been a vital force for the advancement of human progress. And you, Director General Bokova, are giving it new life and purpose, and we are very grateful to you. (Applause.)
I also want to recognize Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for his commitment to UNESCO’s work and success and for his leadership on so many issues from promoting peace to advancing maternal and child health. And Secretary General, thank you for sharing that personal story. (Applause.) It is important to be reminded that we all come from somewhere, and we are all on the same journey, and the sacrifices made by so many to enable us to be up here on this stage, and those of you – prime ministers, ministers, ambassadors, excellencies – to be working here at UNESCO is part of the reason we believe in what we are doing. We believe that for every woman and girl and man and woman – man and boy in the world, we can build a better future.
And so I wish to thank all of you for your hard work to preserve culture, improve education, increase scientific collaboration, and bring people together. I’ve just walked through the Africa Week exhibit. And I had a chance to meet the ambassadors from Africa, and I congratulate them for working to make this week a special one. Every week should be because every week is about what we can do together.
The director general and I had a chance to discuss the projects that UNESCO is pursuing around the world. And I told her that cultural preservation is a life-long passion for me. In the late 1990s, I was honored to start an initiative in my own country called Save America’s Treasures and to work with partners around the world to protect historic sites and cultural landmarks. Forty years ago, the United States was the first nation in the world to ratify the World Heritage Convention. And today, we remain committed to working with UNESCO and others to preserve humanity’s cultural legacy.
The United States firmly supports UNESCO’s work from the Pacific tsunami warning system that helped alert people across the region after Japan’s devastating earthquake, to new partnerships on water and resources that are so important, and recently the critical conference on press freedom that the United States was very happy to host. (Applause.) And I was delighted to learn that UNESCO will be supporting a new world center for women artists in Jordan. (Applause.)
And there were so many good announcements of new public/private partnerships with companies such as Microsoft and Proctor & Gamble and institutions such as the Packard Foundation and so many others who are reaching in as you are reaching out to tap the energy and expertise of those who can come to the table with not just money – as important as that is – but new perspectives and experience.
We’re doing the same at the State Department where I believe that diplomacy whether it’s on behalf of a country or on behalf of educational or social or cultural diplomacy on behalf of the United Nations needs to be a much broader effort, and there are so many opportunities for us to work together. It is because of our deep commitment to UNESCO and all of these efforts that the United States is running for reelection to the executive board. We are eager to keep working with you to ensure that UNESCO’s future is strong and secure.
And I want particularly to underscore our support for the director general’s new focus on women and girls’ education. I have been kept apprised by our ambassador, Ambassador Killion and all the work that you are doing to support this initiative. And I am confident that by working with other UN agencies, institutions, and private sector partners, UNESCO can help make a much needed difference for women and girls and their educational opportunities around the world.
You’ve already heard from the director general and the secretary general that we know opening the doors of education to women and girls is not just the right thing to do; it is also the smart thing as well. The evidence shows conclusively that even one extra year of schooling leads to significantly higher wages for women and girls, which allows them to lift up themselves, their families, and contribute to their communities and countries. We have seen that when women and girls have the opportunity to pursue education, GDP grows for entire societies.
And the benefits are not just economic. More education leads to more choices, opportunities, and useful information in how to live one’s life. Birth rates, HIV infections, incidents of domestic violence, female cutting all decline when education rises. Fully one half of the drop in child mortality achieved between 1970 and 1990 can be attributed to increased education for women and girls.
Yet women still represent about two-thirds of the nearly 800 million illiterate adults around the world. In our poorest communities, girls who are out of school today are still more likely than boys never even to start school, and this is a recipe for economic and social stagnation. No society can achieve its full potential when half the population is denied the opportunity to achieve theirs. UNESCO is already doing such important work. You’re documenting and beginning to reverse these trends.
(Coughing.) Let me get some water. This is what comes from talking too much. (Laughter.) We already know that talking too much leads to all kinds of problems. (Laughter.) (Applause.) However, as we are reminded every day, talking is far better than the alternatives. (Laughter.) (Applause.)
This organization continues to be a global leader on literacy, thanks in part to the efforts of one of my predecessors, former First Lady Laura Bush, who visited UNESCO, I believe, three times and has worked very hard to promote literacy. UNESCO’s Institute of Statistics and the Education for All Global Monitoring Report provides valuable information on the education of women and girls and the analysis of best practices.
So as we celebrate the launch of UNESCO’s new Global Partnership for Girls’ and Women’s Education, it’s time to build on the strong foundation that has already been created, but to take additional steps. The United States is proud to join with UNESCO to launch what we hope will be an important new study on education for women and girls around the world. And before you say, “Another report,” which is often the reaction, let me quickly add that this report will draw on UNESCO’s unique expertise in data collection and analysis to provide new insights into the causes of gender disparities and education and what we can do about them. It will focus in particular on two critical areas: adult literacy and secondary education. We are making progress in many parts of the world on primary education, but something happens at the end of primary school. And we also do not have enough opportunities around the world who adults who missed schooling to be able to return to acquire skills.
Now, one might think, “Well, don’t we already know all there is about the value of educating women and girls?” Well, to a certain extent we do. But the research alone is not what we’re aiming at, because that cannot solve the problem. Only concerted action that builds on what we know can do that. But more comprehensive data and analysis will help policy makers target our investments where they can have the greatest impact. This is especially true for girls, because too often the available data we have on education is not broken down by gender. It’s just not disaggregated, so we don’t have a precise picture of whether schools are serving girls as well as they should, whether they are learning to read, write, do arithmetic at the levels they need to succeed and what the obstacles are.
I remember sitting in a village in Pakistan some years ago, and the women of the village were with me under a tree talking about the importance of education. And one woman proudly told me she had 10 children, five boys and five girls. And she was determined that every child would get an education. But then she said, “But you see our school,” and she pointed to a quite substantial cinderblock building that had become the village school. “You see our school. When our boys finish there they can go off to the secondary school, but we cannot let our girls leave the village. It would not be safe.”
We hope this study will give us a deeper understanding of all the obstacles that must be overcome so that women and girls can pursue their full God-given potential. And it will help us make the case that advancing the rights and opportunities of women and girls is not a marginal concern, but a central challenge of international development. Early today, I spoke at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development about the role women and girls play in sustainable development. And we agreed on the value of good data and sound analysis, and in particular, we discussed the importance of data that is widely comparable and applicable so that nations, institutions, and NGOs can make the full maximum use of all the findings. There is so much exciting work being done and so much more we can accomplish if we do work together effectively and efficiently, and particularly if international organizations such as UNESCO make it their mission to ensure that all data is comparable, no matter who collects it, that we have some standard measures and systems of analysis. So this new UNESCO study will not just be an important step forward to get information, but the test will be how we use this information, whether we can pioneer innovative partnerships to create new opportunities for women and girls to learn and prosper.
For example, the United States has partnered with the NGO Room to Read to support girls from South Asia who are at risk of dropping out of school. This is a small project. We invested only $145,000 in things like school uniforms, shoes, educational supplies, and medical checkups. And we also put in place support for mentoring programs, tutoring and community organizing. Not a single one of the more than 1,000 participating girls dropped out of school. Why? Because somebody was trying to figure out what was the reason. Now, I know most girls worry about how they look – it doesn’t matter what culture they’re in. So if they don’t have the right school uniform, or they don’t feel that they’re looking acceptable to their peers, that alone can be enough to cause them to drop out.
So trying to get information that we then can add up so it’s not just helping one individual girl but helping thousands, millions of girls is what we hope this global partnership will achieve. It will yield long-term benefits, and that will far outstrip our investments. Now the Room – the program that I just talked about is just one of many. There are so many other examples, and UNESCO has successful efforts to use mobile phone technology to promote literacy. These initiatives suggest that the possibilities are endless about what we can do it give the rights and opportunities that girls and women deserve and make them a true global priority. We’re committed to this cause, and I know many of you are as well.
I am proud to the be the first Secretary of State from the United States ever to come to UNESCO, and I come because – (applause) – I believe strongly in your mission, but I also know that in every organization in the world today, in my government, in the State Department and USAID, for which I’m responsible, and everywhere else, we’re all having to ask ourselves how can we work smarter, how can we be more efficient, how do we clear away any obstacle or bureaucratic barrier that is standing in the way of us meeting the very lofty goals we have set?
So I come today, yes, to express appreciation for the work you have done, but also to urge that you take a hard look at how UNESCO can be even better: What can be done more efficiently? What doesn’t need to be done anymore? How do we find new avenues for cooperation among international institutions, with countries, with NGOs, with the private sector?
So let me thank all of you. Let me thank the director general, because she has the leadership and the vision that UNESCO deserves in the 21st century. And let me thank you for your commitment and dedication. And finally, let me say how pleased I am that you’re focusing with such intensity on education for women and girls, because I know that will pay great benefits for all of the people who will be waiting to see whether those of us who are working on their behalf can actually make a difference to help them have that better life they so richly deserve. Thank you all very much. (Applause.)
Text also available in Persian (Farsi) A video message is available here: http://video.state.gov/en/video/952172201001 I am very pleased to announce a big step forward in the Obama Administration’s support of the Iranian people. Under our old visa policy, Iranian students and exchange visitors were eligible for visas that lasted for only three months and could be used to enter the country just one time. As of today, that has changed. They are now eligible for two-year, multiple entry visas. This gives young Iranians the opportunity to return home for family events, to participate in internships, to travel outside the United States—and they won’t need to get a new visa every time. I’ve heard from many Iranian students and Iranian Americans that you wanted this change. So I want you to know that we are listening to your concerns. We want more dialogue and more exchange with those of you who are shaping Iran’s future. We want to be able to share with you what we think is great about America. Because as long as the Iranian government continues to stifle your potential, we will stand with you. We will support your aspirations, and your rights. And we will continue to look for new ways to fuel more opportunities for real change in Iran. Thank you.
[Also available in Persian]
As of May 20, 2011, qualified Iranian applicants for visas in the F, J, and M categories for non-sensitive, non-technical fields of study and research and their dependents will be eligible to receive two-year, multiple-entry visas. This is an increase in the current visa validity of three months, single entry.
This change will allow Iranian students and exchange visitors to travel more easily, furthering our goal of promoting the free flow of information and ideas. This important decision is being taken as the global community witnesses the Iranian Government’s increasing censorship and isolation of its own people.
Iranians currently in the United States on a three-month, single-entry visa in one of these categories must reapply outside the United States at a consular post in order to obtain two-year, multiple-entry visas. Keep in mind that the validity of a visa refers to the time period the visa holder has to enter the U.S. It has no bearing on the length of stay permitted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials at the port of entry. Iranian students and exchange visitors in good standing in the United States do not need to apply for a new visa until after they depart the United States.
In this moment of profound change in the region, the United States supports Morocco’s efforts to promote ongoing democratic development through constitutional, judicial, and political reforms. In March 2011, King Mohamed VI promised comprehensive reforms that would guarantee free parliamentary elections, create an independent judiciary, and assure that human rights are upheld for all. These initiatives build on other meaningful reforms in Morocco that include increased rights for women and youth and universal access to free education. We recognize the King’s effort to respond to citizens’ demands, and we urge continuing and rapid implementation of these crucial reforms. Morocco has made significant achievements in the economic, social, and political realms, and can demonstrate its regional leadership by pursuing further democratic reforms. We value Morocco as a strategic partner, and we will work with the people and government of Morocco to realize their democratic aspirations.
Public Diplomacy and Diplomatic Outreach
The United States engages the Moroccan government at all levels to support the reforms announced by King Mohamed VI and encourage their swift implementation. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with the Foreign Minister of Morocco in March 2011 to discuss a number of bilateral and multilateral issues; the “Arab Spring” was at the forefront of their conversation.
We continue to voice support for Morocco’s reforms, and their implementation, through domestic and foreign press outlets. We use public diplomacy programs to promote dialogue, engage Morocco’s vibrant civil society, encourage a responsible media, and increase understanding of democratic values.
Democracy and Governance Support We are working with the people and government of Morocco to support their efforts to further consolidate the rule of law, raise human rights standards, promote good governance, empower youth, and work toward meaningful, long-term constitutional reform.
The United States holds a robust and ongoing dialogue on human rights and political freedoms with the Moroccan government, and works in partnership with the Moroccan government on promotion of the rule of law and justice sector reform.
Well, thank you very much and welcome to the State Department for this very important meeting of the Council of the Americas. I want to thank you, John, for the introduction. And I just had a chance to say hello to President Funes and his delegation, and I’m so pleased that he is here. And I understand that President Calderon will be speaking later, so you have some real all stars for the program of leaders who are making a real difference in the region. Susan, thank you for leading the Council of the Americas at such a vital moment in the history of this region.
And I want to take a moment of personal privilege to thank one of our own: Assistant Secretary Arturo Valenzuela, who will soon conclude two years of service as Assistant Secretary for the Western Hemisphere. The United States has had no greater champion for strengthening our bonds with our neighbors. And speaking for myself and all of our colleagues, I will say prematurely but very heartfelt that we’re going to miss you when you return to Georgetown this fall. Thank you, Arturo. (Applause.)
Now, some may wonder why our excellent Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is here, other than his deep interest in the region and his deep roots and family ties. Following this address, Ken and I will be flying to Greenland for the Arctic Council meeting, and it’s a significant attempt to make sure that we manage the Arctic at such a critical juncture in global history, so I’m delighted that Secretary Salazar could be with us.
It’s a pleasure as I look around this room to see so many familiar faces, Americans, of course, but so many others: business leaders and policy makers, academics and thinkers and leaders of all kinds. And I want to thank you because those of you here today and the many you represent throughout the hemisphere have made such significant progress on behalf of the people of our two continents. The Western Hemisphere has seen such tremendous progress, and it is due to thoughtful, effective leadership.
Changes like what we have seen in terms of economic opportunity and democratic reform do not happen by accident, they’re not a part of natural evolution. They happen when people decide that they want those opportunities and changes for themselves, and leaders are prepared to lead.
Now, I do see a few faces that were in the audience at CSIS in March when I spoke, and that was one of those occasions where I flew in the night before from a trip to Egypt and Tunisia, and then I had to fly out to Paris later that night. But it was important for us to really anchor President Obama’s historic trip in the context of what the United States is hoping to achieve in partnership with our friends. I wouldn’t have missed it.
This region is vital to our interests, and yet at the same time, despite whatever is going on elsewhere in the world, there is nothing more important than continuing our work to consolidate democracy, embrace smart economic policy, continue lifting tens of millions of people out of poverty, taking on a more active role in the world, and generally making it clear that we are in this together, that we will rise or fall together in the 21st century because we have so many interests that are at stake.
For our own economic interests, we are rebuilding our own economy and renewing our competitiveness, and we have no more important partners than those in this hemisphere.
For our security and strategic interests, we have to design an architecture of cooperation, and we are looking more and more to increasingly capable partners in the hemisphere. For our core values, as we promote democracy and human rights here and around the world, we can point time and time again to what is happening in our partners and friends in this hemisphere.
And for our society and culture, the growing connections between us make our relationship even more vital and innovative.
In short, as I said in March, there is power in our proximity—now, our geographic proximity to be sure, but also the proximity of our economic interests, our values, our culture, and the challenges we share.
So we’ve had a flurry of activity lately, highlighted by President Obama’s trip in March. In Brazil, he completed agreements for high-level dialogues on economics and energy, which we believe will promote cooperation, streamline regulations, and help us take concrete steps that provide tangible benefits to all of our people. In Chile, he laid out a framework of equal partnership, and in a speech to the entire hemisphere showed how much that partnership can deliver through our engagement with a strong democracy that is playing an increasingly active role beyond the region. And in El Salvador, he announced the Partnership for Growth, which is aimed at addressing the chronic constraints to development.
And he also announced a landmark citizen security effort to strengthen our work with partners throughout the region, to promote the rule of law, to fight the gangs and narco-traffickers that unfortunately produce the highest crime rate in the world throughout our area. As all of you know, rates of violence and crime are unacceptably high in too many places in our hemisphere. But when I look at the experience of Colombia in recent years, I see that we can overcome this threat, but we have to do it together.
So through this new partnership, we will focus $200 million on building up courts, civil society groups, and other institutions. But ultimately, as President Funes has advocated so eloquently, we want to help take on the economic and social forces that drive young people into a life of crime. And this partnership will create a chance for all of us to learn from each other about what works. Let’s quit doing what doesn’t work and let’s start doing more of what does work. And by connecting countries that are looking to step up their own efforts with partners who have valuable expertise on these issues—like Colombia and Mexico working together—and with donors like the U.S., Canada, Spain, and the EU, we can help every nation do more to protect its own people.
Now, the President took that trip about six weeks ago, but in diplomatic time it seems like eons ago because so much has happened since. But I’m pleased to report that we have kept our eye on this particular goal and we are making real progress on our priorities.
First, on trade and economic growth. One of our top goals is to complete free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama. Now, I’m not talking out of school when I say that free trade agreements always raise hard questions and they spark a lot of healthy debate in our country. But today, I am happy to report we are making great progress on both agreements. We have worked with our Panamanian and Colombian partners to address key concerns and forge broader bipartisan support in the Congress, just as we did with the South Korean Free Trade Agreement. Panama passed important new laws on labor rights and tax transparency. With Colombia, we have established an action plan to address concerns about labor rights, violence, and impunity. And Colombia has already taken important steps to implement this plan, and we are working hard to execute the next phase by June 15. Thanks to President Santos’s extraordinary leadership, I have no doubt we will meet that deadline.
So this year – early this year – we intend to send Congress the legislation that would implement all three pending FTAs. (Applause.) In addition, we will be sending our broader trade agenda, including renewal of the Andean Trade Preferences and the Trade Adjustment Assistance. And with these steps, we believe we will be well on our way to reaching our goal.
Now, I think this is good news for the people of all our countries. In the United States alone, these three agreements – Colombia, Panama, the Andean Trade Preference renewal – could add more than $10 billion to our economic output, and that would translate into some 70,000 new jobs for American workers. And by adding Colombia and Panama to our existing FTAs, we will create an unbroken chain of economic integration from the start of the Rockies in Canada all the way to the end of the Andes.
As we move forward on these free trade agreements, we’re also making other progress in other aspects of our economic relationships. With Mexico, thankfully, we have adopted a coordinated action plan with concrete steps that we believe will make the border both more secure and more efficient, and we are successfully resolving our differences over the cargo trucks that cross our border. Under the trucking plan that we’re now finalizing, we will make it safer, cheaper, and easier to move goods across our common border, and Mexico will remove the retaliatory tariffs they placed on more than $2 billion of our goods.
And in the weeks since President Obama’s visit to Brazil, the array of agreements he announced—on infrastructure for the World Cup and the Olympics, on aviation and maritime transport, on biofuels, R&D, and so much more—is spurring a serious acceleration in our economic relationship.
Second, beyond expanding trade and economic opportunity, we are building flexible multilateral partnerships to help us address the strategic challenges we face. Pathways to Prosperity and the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas are promoting inclusive growth and sustainable energy security. Mexico’s leadership in Cancun late last year was absolutely crucial in putting the world on a path toward greater cooperation to confront climate change, and it was a Mexican proposal for the Green Fund that will serve as the vehicle for assisting developing countries in meeting their climate needs.
In addition, every nation in the hemisphere has sent food, people, or money to help Haiti recover from last year’s earthquake. Members of the OAS and the Caribbean community helped to set up electoral polls, monitor the presidential election, and supported the national electoral authority. And this Saturday, when the Haitian people inaugurate a new president, they will know they had the support of their neighbors in ensuring that their votes were counted and their voices were heard.
Third, we continue to work to advance our shared democratic values. Now, Latin America has undergone a stunning transformation over the past few decades, but we cannot afford complacency. We have to keep working on institutionalizing democracy and preserving and protecting fundamental freedoms.
Now, in Honduras we have seen how effective that kind of common approach can be. And now that the obstacles to former President Zelaya’s return to Honduras have been removed, I am confident that we will soon welcome Honduras back as a full member of the inter-American system. That is a step that is long overdue.
Finally, all of these opportunities are going to require leadership. We still face a huge inequality gap in Latin America. In fact, from the United States south we do, because if you look at developed, advanced economies, unfortunately, our country has one of the largest gaps in inequality as well. So we’ve got to continue to focus on how we help equip people with the skills and tools they need to make the most out of their God-given potential.
Now, the United States, I believe, is blessed to have one of the largest Spanish-speaking populations in the world. And Latinos are the fastest-growing group in our country. We are interdependent, and we have to deal with the real questions that interdependence poses. Take immigration, for example. I know that makes some people anxious, but it has long been a source of our vitality and our innovative spirit. And that’s why, as President Obama said yesterday in El Paso, we are committed to comprehensive immigration reform.
We’re also committed to greatly expanding the connections between people in our country and people throughout the hemisphere. That’s the idea behind our new initiative called 100,000 Strong in the Americas that will greatly increase the number of Latin American students who study in the United States and American students who study in Latin America. And I would welcome your support for this project. We launched the 100,000 Strong program in China and we have already raised more than enough money to assist in making sure we have the opportunity to meet our goal of 100,000 Americans studying in China, more Chinese students studying in America, overcoming some of the visa obstacles that, unfortunately, were quite difficult to navigate since 9/11. And I would hope we can do the same, Arturo, that we’ll have 100,000 Strong in the Americas with many of you on our steering committee, focused on how we’re going to do this, because we want to make it absolutely clear that this is our home, and we want to be sure that our young people are making those connections and those lifelong friends and networks of relationship.
Now, we’re putting a particular focus on people-to-people connections in Cuba. From the very beginning, the Obama Administration believed that the best way to advance fundamental rights in Cuba – in fact, to advance them anywhere – is to support exchanges and constructive relationships. And there’s no better ambassador for our values than a teacher or an artist or a student or a religious leader, a Cuban American who has made a new life in the United States. That’s why we have eased our restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba. We could do more if we saw evidence that there was an opportunity to do so coming from the Cuban side because we want to foster these deeper connections and we want to work for the time when Cuba will enjoy its own transition to democracy, when it can look at its neighbors throughout the hemisphere and the people in Cuba will feel that they, too, are having a chance to choose their leaders, choose their professions, create their businesses, and generally take advantage of what has been a tremendous, great sweep of progress everywhere but Cuba.
So we’ve accomplished a great deal on all of our priorities, but there is one final point I wish to make at perhaps the risk of being less than welcome. Let’s admit we face real shortcomings in the region. Now, many people say that this is the Latin American decade, and I agree. There’s a lot to be proud of and a lot to look forward to.
But let’s be honest; there are still weak education systems, there are still weak democratic institutions, there are still inadequate fiscal policies, there are still too few people of means paying their fair share of taxes to their government in order to support services for those who will otherwise be mired in generational poverty, and there is too much violence. If we don’t face up to these challenges, we could waste this historic opportunity. But I have a lot of confidence that we will, because if one looks at what has worked in those countries that are leading the change, it’s because they’ve made these tough decisions.
I’ve been in several of the countries in the region. As John said, I had lost count – 17 and 18 months – but in many of them, I drew the comparison between what was happening inside their own countries and what was happening in the rest of the region or in a nearby country, where governments and leaders made the tough decisions to invest in their own people and not merely to take advantage of the economic opportunities that can flow to those of us already at the top. I’m confident that we’re going to face up to the problems that remain and make the most of people’s energy and talents, and we are excited about the work of this council. I look forward to hearing the results of your discussions, and I hope that we will continue to work toward what certainly can be a Latin American century of hope, potential, promise for all. Thank you. (Applause.)