Yesterday, the vice president and his wife Jill traveled to Costa Rica and Chile to lay the groundwork for President Obama's scheduled appearance at the Summit of the Americas next month in Trinidad and Tobago.
Biden will represent the U.S. government in the Progressive Governance Conference in Chile before heading to Costa Rica, where he will be hosted by President Oscar Arias.
Biden is expected to stress cooperation in addressing problems such as the global economic crisis and drug trafficking that are affecting the region. Among the countries that he has scheduled to have Cabinet level meetings with are Argentina, Chile, Nicaragua, Uruguay, Panama, and Brazil.
In recent years, relations with South and Central American governments have grown strained, leading to the rise of leaders such as Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Daniel Ortega in El Salvador, who are fiercely critical of the United States.
"Expectations in Latin America are tremendously high that Obama will offer significant change in policy in favor of a partnership with Latin America," Carmen Diana Deere, director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Florida, told the Miami Herald.
To signal this shift in policy, the vice president wrote an opinion piece advocating a "new day" in relations between countries in the Americas. Biden's call for stronger partnerships graced the pages of over ten Latin American newspapers, including O Globo (Brazil), La Nación (Costa Rica), El Comercio (Perú),and El Nacional (Venezuela).
See below for the full text of the vice president's opinion piece:
A New Day for Partnership in the Americas
By Vice President Joe Biden
Next month, President Obama will travel to Trinidad and Tobago to meet his colleagues from across the Western Hemisphere at the Summit of the Americas. In advance of that historic meeting, I am traveling to Central and South America to consult with Latin American leaders gathered in Chile and Costa Rica about the Summit and the challenges faced by the people of the Americas.
These meetings are an important first step toward a new day in relations and building partnerships with and among the countries and people of the Hemisphere.
The President and I understand that only by working together can our countries overcome the challenges we face. Today, we are more than just independent nations who happen to be on the same side of the globe. In today's interconnected world, we are all neighbors who face many common concerns.
The current global economic crisis has touched virtually all of us—every country, every community, every family. Citizens everywhere are searching for answers, looking for hope—and turning to their leaders to provide them. It is our duty as global partners to heed their calls, to together forge a shared solution to a common problem.
Our Administration is taking several steps to make this happen. Our Congress has approved the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which is designed to promote job creation and to set a course for growth for the next generation. The President has proposed a budget designed to set a foundation for the economy of the future, with important investments in health care, education, and energy. And we are working with our partners in the G-20, who meet next week in London, on a coordinated plan to ensure recovery and restart growth, and to reform the international regulatory and supervisory system to ensure that no such crisis occurs again.
Rekindling the U.S. economy and ensuring that international financial institutions serve the interests of the people are particularly important for the Americas. Our economic interconnection means that a robust U.S. economy is good for the hemisphere and can become an engine for bottom up economic growth and equality throughout the region.
The economy isn't the only challenge requiring our cooperation. We also face dual challenges of security – both for our countries and for the individuals who inhabit them. Our countries are plagued by gang violence and the illegal trafficking of weapons and narcotics.
In the United States, we need to do more to reduce demand for illicit drugs and stem the flow of weapons and bulk cash south across our borders. We applaud Mexico's courageous stand against violent drug cartels, as well as Colombia's anti-drug efforts, but we know that they will have the side effect of pushing traffickers into Central America. We will build on the Meridá Initiative – started last year under President Bush – to assist Mexico and the Central American nations in a joint effort to confront that threat head-on. The drug trade is a problem we all share and one whose ultimate solution we must devise together.
Consistent with the Inter-American Democratic Charter, we must also focus on building and encouraging strong democracies, where basic fairness, social equality, and a deep respect for human rights and the rule of law are the guiding principles of everything we do. Democracy is about more than elections; it's about strong, transparent governance and a thriving civil society. It is also about addressing as effectively as possible the challenges of poverty, inequality and social exclusion
We recognize that the United States is still striving to meet its constitutional goal of forming a "more perfect union" and that we have, in the past, fallen short of our own ideals. But we pledge every day to honor the values that animate our democracy, and to lead by example. This is why, on his third day in office, the President ordered the closure of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay.
Finally, we all face the threat to our planet posed by the changing climate, and, so, we share the need to develop clean energy sources to combat—and reverse—this critical threat. The President and I are deeply committed to leading in the development of an urgent and coordinated response to climate change. Working as partners, we must harness the potential of green energy in a way that protects our planet for future generations, while also catalyzing economic growth for the generations of today.
As we face these threats and as we confront the most serious economic crisis in generations, the countries of the Hemisphere must look forward. And we must work together, as partners, to give our citizens hope that brighter days lie ahead.