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The 51st Annual Washington Conference on the Americas
May 4, 2021

state department logoUnited States Department of State

April 30, 2021

Thank you for this opportunity to address the 51st Conference on  the Americas.

As President Biden pledged, the United States is revitalizing our engagement with the world – leading with diplomacy.

Let me highlight three central priorities as we reengage in the Americas.

First, we must end the COVID-19 pandemic. Across the hemisphere, cases are surging and hospitals are stretched beyond capacity.

Vaccinations are key.  To that end, the U.S. government has contributed $2 billion to COVAX,  which is supplying safe, effective COVID vaccines  worldwide, including 6.5 million doses so far to Latin America.

We’ve pledged another $2 billion to COVAX, which we’ll provide as other countries fulfill their pledges. And we’re working urgently with global partners on manufacturing and supply to ensure there will be enough vaccine for everyone, everywhere.

In addition, the U.S. has lent 4 million vaccine doses to our neighbors Canada and Mexico, and we plan to share 60 million additional doses from our own supply over the next two months.

Those doses will go to countries experiencing the most dangerous surges of the virus. Need – not politics – will guide our decisions.  And we’ll continue to provide ventilators, PPE, and other vital equipment across the region.

We’re also working with partners to help the people hardest hit by the pandemic.  No region of the world has borne a more crushing economic blow from COVID, according to the IMF.

The burden has fallen hardest on the populations who can least afford it – pushing 19 million people in Latin America back into poverty. That’s why we are focused on helping communities that will have the hardest time recovering, such as USAID’s programs to help low-income workers find ways to earn a living amidst pandemic restrictions.

Helping underserved communities build back better goes to heart of our second priority: delivering opportunities for all people.

Too often, our governments have measured economic success in terms of GDP and stock markets. We know those numbers don’t tell the whole story.  Many people in the hemisphere struggle to provide the basics for themselves and their families, and lack opportunities to improve their lives.  We need to build a global economy that delivers for them.

One way to deliver both growth and equity is by addressing the climate crisis.  We’re seeing its devastating impact in the region.   Just look at 13 hurricanes that hit the Atlantic in 2020 – which destroyed the homes and livelihoods of nearly 7 million people in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

To prevent a climate catastrophe, every country in the Americas and beyond will need to dramatically cut its emissions and adapt to the inevitable changes to come.

The investments we make now in green energy and resilience can create millions of good-paying jobs, while also expanding energy access, which is crucial to development.

We need greater ambition, innovation, and investment – and I want to commend Argentina, Brazil, and Canada for the bold pledges they made at the recent Leaders Summit.

Any country that wants to raise its ambition on climate will find a partner in both the U.S. government and private sector.

At the Summit, President Biden announced that, by 2024, the U.S. will double the public international climate finance we provide compared to its prior peak during the Obama Administration – to $5.7 billion annually; every year, $1.5 billion of that funding will go to climate adaptation and resilience.

Third, we are reinvigorating our support for democracy.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. There have been exceptions, but in most of our hemisphere, democracy has grown stronger.

But today, our democracies are being tested.  Political polarization is rising, which makes it harder for elected officials to deliver results. And the people’s trust in democratic institutions is falling.

No democracy in the region is free from at least some challenges, including the United States.

Together, we must rise to the moment – and hold one another to the standards we all agreed to in the Charter.

That means treating those who hold governments accountable – like journalists, human rights defenders, and civil society groups – as partners, not adversaries.

It means denouncing efforts to use the judiciary to advance political agendas or target political dissidents or opponents.

That undermines the independence and legitimacy of the courts, which is essential for upholding the rule of law.

It means holding accountable members of security forces that abuse the citizens they should protect, and officials who steal from the citizens they should serve.

Supporting democracy also requires holding free and fair elections – and calling on others to do the same.

For example, let’s speak with one voice to urge the government of Haiti to organize free and fair elections by the end of this year, and the government of Nicaragua to carry out the electoral reforms necessary to ensure free and fair elections this November.

And supporting democracy means condemning those who trample democratic and human rights.

In Venezuela, the brutal Maduro regime has systematically repressed the rights of its citizens.  Its abuse, corruption, and mismanagement have stoked a humanitarian crisis – leaving millions without enough to eat or access to life-saving medical care, and displacing millions more.

We will continue to work with our partners across the region both to alleviate the suffering of the Venezuelan people and to exert pressure on the regime – so the country can peacefully return to democracy.

And we will continue to advocate for the human rights of the Cuban people, including the right to freedom of expression and assembly, and condemn the repression of human rights on the island.

I look forward to discussing all three of these themes – ending the pandemic, expanding opportunity, and shoring up democracy – in depth when the United States has the privilege to host the Ninth Summit of the Americas.

Thank you for being our neighbors and partners on so many crucial issues facing the people of our countries.

We’re grateful for your friendship. And we look forward to working with leaders from government, civil society, and the private sector across the hemisphere to meet the urgent challenges and seize the opportunities of our time.

Thank you.