Wrap-Up: Secretary Clinton's Digital Town Hall in Santo Domingo
This article is the second part of a two-part series covering some issues leading to the Fifth Summit of the Americas. It is also a follow-up from the preview of Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton's Digital Town Hall, which was covered by this writer. Read Part I here.
Secretary Clinton opened her live and web-based Town Hall held in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, on Apr.17.
Some excerpts of her remark have been edited for brevity and to feature the geographical, historical, and cultural connections among the 34 nations of the Americas, and in particular, the cultural fusion between America and Latin American, and Caribbean nations that play out in a myriad of ways in the lives of Americans across the United States.
"This digital town hall seems particularly fitting to hold here in the Dominican Republic on the eve of the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago. Here in the Dominican Republic, I feel very much at home. We are linked by geography and history, by common values and cultural heritage. And now, we are finding new and innovative ways to engage one another, expand our dialogue, create new partnerships, solve the problems that we face together.
As someone who had the great honor of spending eight years representing New York in the United States Senate, I feel very close to this part of our world. And in particular, I think of the Avenue of the Americas in the middle of New York City. It has monuments honoring Latin American leaders, a square named for Juan Pablo Duarte, the great Dominican who helped this nation achieve its independence and whose sister, by the way, Rosa, started the school that I visited earlier.
As you travel across New York and America, you will find the influences of the Caribbean and Central America and South America in bookstores and bodegas, in films and fashion, in reggae and salsa and merengue. You will hear the sounds, you will eat the foods, you will smell the smells, you will watch baseball and cheer on so many major league players from Latin America.
My point is that whether we are from North America, Central America, South America or the Caribbean, we are all Americans, and we are of the Americas. We may speak different languages and have some different customs. We have different historical experiences. But we share this home, this hemisphere, and a future that will be what we decide to make it."
Mrs. Clinton also discussed the economic and development disparity in the Western Hemisphere, where G20 developed nations had made commitments to assist those nations that would benefit from a variety of assistance, which would propel these developing countries toward some measures of financial growth and educational advancement.
"Our hemisphere produces bountiful harvests. This is a very fruitful region of the world. But in places of extreme poverty where people subsist on less than one dollar a day, hunger stalks them. The consequences of hunger show up in homes, workplaces, and schools. We have seen the effects of malnourished people too weak to work, chronically hungry children struggling to learn. So food security is not only a source of suffering. It is a direct threat to economic growth and global stability.
Based on President Obama’s initiative announced at the G-20 conference to double food assistance, the United States will be providing nearly $100 million in food assistance to countries most affected by hunger in the Western Hemisphere. But our goal must be to reach the roots, the causes of food insecurity. There’s an old proverb – yes, alleviate hunger by giving someone a fish, but alleviate long-term hunger by teaching them how to fish."
The live and web-based audience from the Western Hemisphere were invited to ask the Secretary questions during the Q&A. Some of the featured Q&As have been edited for brevity.
The diverse topics asked by live and web-based audience in Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Canada, and the Dominican Republic covered education, climate change, sustainable energy, rainforest, drug trafficking, climate change, sustainable energy, trade embargo, trade relations, and US objectives in the Summit. The host country, Dominican Republic focused on questions about drug trafficking, sustainable energy, climate change, and education.
Moderator: This question comes from Juan, writing from Cuba. Juan asks: Don’t you think that if you suspend the embargo of the Government of Cuba, it would put an end to leadership’s excuses for hiding the failures of the regime?
Secretary Clinton: "Well, Juan, as you probably know, earlier this week, President Obama announced the most significant policy changes toward Cuba in decades. We are continuing to look for more productive ways forward in dealing with Cuba, because President Obama and I and the Administration view the present policy toward Cuba as having failed.
President Obama views engagement is a useful tool to advance our national interests and the goals of promoting human rights and democracy and prosperity and progress. I don’t know if Juan, who I hope is watching and listening to us, knew that earlier today Raul Castro made some comments, comments which we have seen. We welcome his comments – the overture that they represent – and we’re taking a very serious look at how we intend to respond.
I’m very aware of the point of Juan’s question about how both sides need to address the differences that exist between us, and we see Raul Castro’s comments as a very welcome overture."
Question: Mr. Alan Fernandez in the Dominican Republic asked:
Given the consistent presence of organized crime and drug trafficking in many of the countries present at the summit, what is the role that United States will play in combating these scourges in the region?
Secretary Clinton: "This is such an important problem, and I thank you for raising it. We spent a lot of our time in my meeting with President Fernandez and ministers of his government talking about this.
First of all, we all are making it a priority. We’re going to talk about it at the Summit of the Americas, and we’re going to begin a process of coming up with specific plans that will enable us to address it.
Secondly, the United States has acknowledged we share responsibility for what is happening in South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. We have a responsibility and we have to act in concert with you to try to address this.
There are many aspects of fighting the drug gangs and the narco-traffickers that we have to address. On the supply side, we have to do a better job in the United States. But countries like the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and others, you must get on top of this supply issue very soon. Drug traffickers will try to get people in your country addicted to drugs, so that if times are tough or they want to make extra money, they don’t just have to think about the American market. They can think about the market nearer to home, safer. So there must be a public outcry against the drug traffickers trying to addict young people in all of the countries of the region.
Thirdly, we are looking at better ways to deter and divert and treat and prevent drug addiction and continuing drug use in our country. We need to share those ideas.
We have to do a better job training and equipping and preparing police. We have to root out corruption in police forces, in the military, in government. It is very tempting when these drug traffickers offer people money. That means each country needs to enforce the rule of law, tough judicial systems, good policing, and the corrections systems.
The United States will do what we can to support the plans that individual countries come up with. We have to work together. It doesn't do us any good to drive the drug traffickers out of Colombia if they find a safe haven somewhere else. President Uribe and the people of Colombia have been incredibly courageous in battling the drug cartels, so now the drug cartels are not doing as much business out of Colombia, but they have found other places. So we must work together on this."
Question: The next question is from Gilles in Canada, which was submitted online. Gilles wants to know what the U.S. objectives are for the Fifth Summit?
Secretary Clinton: "We hope that President Obama and my presence at the Summit will clearly illustrate the change in American policy. We have only been in office a short time, but we have tried very hard to illustrate clearly the change in direction that we are pursuing. This is an important opportunity for us to address some of the major issues that confront our hemisphere, where we all face these drug trafficking, insecurity, lawlessness issues. We face poverty, social inclusion problems, inequality, energy and climate change challenges. We face economic and other difficult issues that have to do with prosperity and security and sustainability.
The US is eager to listen and to consult. We want to be sure that we come out of this summit with some very specific plans. It’s important to use this summit, even at this time of economic downturn, to renew our commitment to shared prosperity, to good governance and the rule of law, to working together in partnership, and that’s what we intend to do."
One of the last two questions pertained to the promotion of sustainable energy.
Moderator: This question came from Ariel Roberto Contreras Medos in the Dominican Republic.
In spite of the agreements achieved, especially in the framework of the Fifth Summit of the Americas and in reference to the promotion of sustainable environment, what initiatives will be taken to guarantee the implementation of the agreements achieved?
Secretary Clinton: "Let me say that first of all, the United States, under the Obama Administration, has recognized our responsibility as the largest historic emitter of greenhouse gas emissions.
Secondly, President Obama is committed to pursuing domestic legislation that will equip the United States to play our role in combating greenhouse gas emissions. The President has set aside funds to develop renewable energy, to be more energy efficient, to retrofit houses and commercial buildings, and to weatherize them. We are looking at an economy-wide approach with a cap-and-trade system that we think makes a lot of sense, that would enable us to reduce our emissions significantly by – we hope 80 percent by 2050.
Thirdly, we are very actively engaged in the international arena. There will be the summit on climate change in Copenhagen at the end of this year. The President and I jointly appointed a Special Envoy for Climate Change who’s working with his counterparts around the world. Nobody can be left out. There may be different requirements and maybe different timetables for developing countries and for the developed world, but everybody must be in the agreement. We’ve had very productive conversations with a number of nations from China to Russia to the European Union and beyond.
Let me just say a word about some of the steps that can be taken by countries in this hemisphere. We’ve got to stop the destruction of the rainforest. The destruction of the rainforest is a double whammy. It reduces our capacity in the world through what has been referred to as the lungs that the rainforest represent to absorb carbon dioxide. And the substituted uses of the land, primarily for agriculture, emit more greenhouse gas emissions. So we have to do more to figure how to protect these very precious resources that are within national boundaries, but have global consequences.
We also have to do more to help all of us become energy efficient. The cost of electricity, however it is generated, is a significant drain on both family and government resources. How do we get more energy efficiency? So we will be discussing this at the summit. We’re going to be looking to work with our partners in the region to chart a clear path toward a low carbon economy for the future."
Shortly after the conclusion of the Town Hall, Secretary Clinton and Dominican Republic President Fernandez headed to Trinidad and Tobago for the Fifth Summit of the Americas in their respective airplanes.
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