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President Obama’s Santiago Speech: "The Latin America That I See Today"

The President lays out his vision for strengthened relationships in our hemisphere in Santiago, Chile.
President Barack Obama Speaks at Centro Cultural Palacio de La Moneda in Santiago, Chile

President Barack Obama delivers a speech at Centro Cultural Palacio de La Moneda in Santiago, Chile, March 21, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

“Latin America is at peace...” 

“Latin America is democratic...”

“Latin America is growing...”

“Latin America is coming together to address shared challenges…”

“And increasingly, Latin America is contributing to global prosperity and security…”

With these refrains, the President described “the Latin America that I see today -- a region on the move, proud of its progress, and ready to assume a greater role in world affairs.”  The speech in Santiago, Chile included perhaps his most expansive vision for strengthened alliances across our hemisphere, although as he pointed out, these relationships have been a priority since the beginning of his presidency as demonstrated by his trip in his first few months to Trinidad and Tobago for the Summit of the Americas. 

He began his remarks with a tribute to Chile as a leading example of today’s Latin America, emerging from decades of turmoil towards a future of hope and progress.  He quoted legendary Chilean poet Pablo Neruda:

And in a world of sometimes wrenching pain -- as we’re seeing today in Japan -- it is the character of this country that inspires.  “Our original guiding stars,” said Pablo Neruda, “are struggle and hope.”  But, he added, “there is no such thing as a lone struggle, no such thing as a lone hope.”  The Chilean people have shown this time and again, including your recovery from the terrible earthquake here one year ago.

He went on to discuss what has been the primary purpose of his trip, namely to find paths for joint economic growth and promote American exports:

I believe that Latin America is more important to the prosperity and security of the United States than ever before.  With no other region does the United States have so many connections.  And nowhere do we see that more than in the tens of millions of Hispanic Americans across the United States, who enrich our society, grow our economy and strengthen our nation every single day.        

And I believe Latin America is only going to become more important to the United States, especially to our economy.  Trade between the United States and Latin America has surged.  We buy more of your products, more of your goods than any other country, and we invest more in this region than any other country.

For instance, we export more than three times as much to Latin America as we do to China.  Our exports to this region -- which are growing faster than our exports to the rest of the world -- will soon support more than 2 million U.S. jobs.  In other words, when Latin America is more prosperous, the United States is more prosperous.

But even more than interests, we’re bound by shared values.  In each other’s journey we see reflections of our own.  Colonists who broke free from empires.  Pioneers who opened new frontiers.  Citizens who have struggled to expand our nations’ promise to all people -- men and women, white, black and brown.  We’re people of faith who must remember that all of us -- especially the most fortunate among us -- must do our part, especially for the least among us.  We’re citizens who know that ensuring that democracies deliver for our people must be the work of all.

This is our common history.  This is our common heritage.  We are all Americans.  Todos somos Americanos

The President also spoke of the challenges that remained, from the drug trade and the violence that continues to follow it, to sharp income inequality, to leaders who cling to bankrupt ideologies to justify their own power and who seek to silence their opponents because those opponents have the audacity to demand their universal rights.”  But he also went on to speak of specific initiatives that our nations are working on together, including cracking down on the flow of drugs and guns across the borders, streamlining air travel and cargo transport, creating joint “Pathways to Prosperity” focused on microcredit and entrepreneurship training, and the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas that will harness the strengths of every country in moving the world toward a clean energy future and economy.  He also announced two new initiatives:

First, we’re launching a new initiative to harness the power of social media and online networks to help students, scientists, academics and entrepreneurs collaborate and develop the new ideas and products that will keep America -- the Americas competitive in a global economy.

And I’m proud to announce that the United States will work with partners in this region, including the private sector, to increase the number of U.S. students studying in Latin America to 100,000, and the number of Latin America students studying in the United States to 100,000.

The President closed recalling the joyous rescue of the Chilean miners as a symbolic moment:

If ever we needed a reminder of the humanity and the hopes that we share, that moment in the desert was such.  When a country like Chile puts its mind to it, there’s nothing you can’t do.  When countries across Latin America come together and focus on a common goal, when the United States and others in the world do our part, there’s nothing we can’t accomplish together.