Here’s Hoping: A Dream Speech for the Summit of the Americas

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Port of Spain, Trinidad will host the Fifth Summit of the Americas from April 17-19.  Started in 1994, the summit aims to foster inter-American dialogue between 34 heads of state concerning current social, economic, and political challenges facing the Western Hemisphere.  The United States has used past summits narrow-mindedly to push a free-trade agenda.

But now is a new moment for U.S.-Latin American relations.  LAWG has been organizing to encourage President Obama to try a new approach to Latin America and the Caribbean and to use the Summit to deliver an inspiring message that unites us with our neighbors. See a letter from faith-based and other groups.

Below is a LAWG staffer’s dream of what the President should say to the hemisphere’s assembled leaders. To see what the President actually said, check out our website after April 19th.

I’m glad to be here in the Port of Spain for the Fifth Summit of the Americas, joined by leaders of Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as leaders of civil society and business.

Let me start by making something absolutely clear: the era of Washington demanding that the region’s freely-elected governments do its bidding, and take its advice without complaint, is over. Today, the era of mutual respect and partnership begins. If this economic crisis has taught us anything, it’s that neither the United States nor Wall Street knows what makes good political or economic sense for all nations at all times. We won’t always agree, but the door to my office is open. I’m ready to listen.

To demonstrate how serious I am, and how serious the good people of my country are, about forging a new relationship, I want to announce that today I am signing an executive order restoring the rights of most Americans to travel to Cuba without asking the U.S. government for permission.  And I am sending a message to the U.S. Congress signaling that I favor their action to definitively end the travel ban for all Americans. It’s clear that Americans favor “travel for all” rather than “travel for some.”  Soon the United States will no longer be the only nation in the Western Hemisphere without diplomatic relations with Cuba. 

The current economic crisis has helped us see anew that our bonds are stronger than we may sometimes think. We are bound not only by our common humanity, but also by shared dreams of peace and prosperity. And in trying times like these, we’re brought together by everyday experience. After traveling to hard-hit communities in my country and meeting at the White House awhile back with President da Silva, I know that the laid off auto worker in the United States and the person struggling to keep his or her job at the airliner plant in Brazil are kept awake at night by the same nagging questions: How long before the next paycheck? Will we be able to keep our home? How is this going to affect my children’s future?

Weathering this crisis is our priority, but how we respond matters. Our policies must be bold enough to meet the magnitude of the challenges before us, but they also have to be smart enough to avoid past mistakes and compassionate enough to keep vulnerable people from slipping further towards the margins of our societies. We must recognize the crushing power of persistent poverty and inequity, which I witnessed firsthand growing up in Indonesia, and pursue economic growth that creates broadly shared opportunity and dignity. And as we respond, we have to pay more attention to the plight of indigenous and Afro-descendant populations who, after centuries of discrimination and exclusion, remain living on the frontlines of poverty today.

There’s a lot of work to be done, but the United States is ready to lend a helping hand. In the coming weeks, my administration will be requesting from Congress significant increases in social, economic, and humanitarian aid for Latin America and the Caribbean and I hope that this important assistance makes its way to the people who need it most before long.

The United States seeks peace and prosperity for all who desire it. We now know that these goals cannot be accomplished through military might, but only by a strong commitment to human rights and the rule of law. That’s why we’re moving to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay and, recognizing that “justice too long delayed is justice denied,” we’ll continue to send aid to strengthen judicial systems plagued by staggering rates of impunity.  And the United States will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with human rights defenders wherever and whenever they face threats or attacks, or have their legitimacy called into question, because history teaches us that they are essential actors on the stage of democracy.

We’re ready to be better friends to you, our neighbors in Latin America and the Caribbean. We’re ready to lead and we’re ready to listen. I hope this Summit marks the beginning of a new era of positive relations between all of our nations. I’m looking forward to listening to your ideas on how our nations can work together to achieve our common dreams and vanquish our common challenges.

Thank you.

–The “dream speech” was written by Travis Wheeler and background information was researched and compiled by Christa Schelter.