Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton today took the concept of her listening tours online with a "Digital Town Hall of the Americas" held live from the Dominican Republic. But it did not go without a hitch. Though a press release announcing the question and answer session touted the social media technology used to broadcast the event as a "robust information resource," streaming video was frequently marred by technical difficulties. Clinton's opening remarks and responses to questions were interrupted by prolonged stretches of blank screen or an offline signal.
When the world was able to tune into Clinton, it saw a diplomat eager to emphasize a new direction in American foreign policy -- one based on cooperation and mutual understanding. In her introduction and responses to a handful of questions, Clinton stressed the United States wanted to work with South and Central American nations to combat drug trafficking, reduce poverty, and curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Clinton emphasized that there are ties of culture and geography that bind the Western Hemisphere together and will help neighboring countries address threats to their security and prosperity.
"Whether we are from South America, Central Amrica, North America, or the Caribbean, we are all America," Clinton said.
Clinton's live web-based discussion took place just prior to the fifth Summit of the Americas, which is being held this weekend in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. The summit comes at a critical point in the relationship between the United States and Latin America. The Obama administration has been assiduously working to strengthen ties in a part of the world that has seen the rise of several anti-American leaders in recent years.
There is some evidence that efforts are beginning to reap dividends. As Clinton noted in response to a question, a loosening of trade restrictions by the Obama administration prompted Raul Castro to say he would be open to talks with the United States on human rights and press freedoms. Clinton called the comment "very welcome" and said that she and the president were seriously considering their response.
During her discussion, Secretary Clinton fielded questions that were submitted online related to the world financial crisis, educational funding for developing nations, global warming, and the drug trade.
The secretary said she shared concerns by Latin American countries that the faltering economy would encourage protectionism in her own country that would have a devastating impact on the region's poorer nations. She said that the president was committed to ensuring that such measures do not take place and cited the recent G20 summit as evidence that the world's larger economies would not abandon their commitments to developing countries.
Labeling education as "the linchpin of progress," Clinton said that the United States will send $30 million in funding to build and support schools throughout the region. Clinton also said her country was committed to working with local governments to encourage parents to keep their kids in the educational system longer. She said that might even include paying parents to compensate them for the lost income associated with preventing their children from joining the work force.
Beyond educational improvements, Clinton said that the United States would work to address demand for drugs in its own borders that was fueling the increasingly violent drug business throughout South and Central America. But she said that progress was only possible if the citizens of these countries engage in a "public outcry" against drug traffickers.
Perhaps the most telling break with Bush era policies came in the secretary's response to a question related to global warming. Clinton said that the Obama administration was committed to taking "long overdue" steps to reduce consumption of greenhouse gases and would work towards reaching a binding global agreement at the United Nations' climate change conference this winter. Though she admitted the United States had a substantial role to play in addressing threats to the environment, she said that Latin America's bountiful natural resources meant that it also needed to do more.
"We've got to stop the destruction of the rainforest," Clinton said. "They are within national boundaries, but have global consequences.'
From drug addiction to economic inequality, Clinton proposed a similar solution to almost every problem that was raised – teamwork.
"We are committed to working with all of you to keep our people safe and secure, to protect and harness our natural resource and to widen opportunities and prosperity," Clinton said at one point.