Argentina: Economic and Political Perspectives
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
Susan Segal; Carlos de la Vega; Minister Timerman; Ambassador Negroponte; Members of the Diplomatic Corps, Legislators and Officials of the Government of Argentina; and distinguished guests:
I am delighted to be here with you today. I want to especially thank my good friend Susan Segal and Carlos de la Vega for giving me the chance to join you and for enabling me to return to Buenos Aires, which is one of my favorite cities.
I have had the great pleasure of having visited Argentina on many previous occasions, both for business and for pleasure. As President and Chief Executive Officer of Discovery Communications, I oversaw our operations here and worked closely with my media counterparts in Argentina. We launched Discovery Channel Argentina in 1996 and it very quickly became one of the anchors of our Latin American strategy. Together with our Argentine colleagues in distribution and advertising, we helped expand entertainment and information options to consumers across Argentina. Discovery Argentina fast became a profitable part of our business and, as CEO, I was particularly proud of all that we achieved. Even during the economic crisis of 2001, when many international businesses were curtailing their operations in Argentina, we worked closely with our business partners to redefine our strategies to enable us to stay here and to grow.
During those years, I also came to appreciate and value the artistic creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of the people of Argentina. Today, in my current role as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, I am focused on finding new and innovative ways for the people of our two countries to work more closely together to seek solutions to the challenges which confront us, from climate change to global health, and to seize the limitless opportunities which lie ahead.
Our bilateral partnership starts, naturally, with the positive relationship that exists between our leaders and governments – but it goes far beyond that to encompass organizations and individual citizens from every walk of life. The friendship between Argentina and the United States is sustained by daily interactions between business leaders, academics and students, civil society activists, artists, writers, and journalists.
Our relationships are both deep and broad, going far beyond Washington and Buenos Aires and touching every corner of our two nations. And as I expressed to Minister Timerman yesterday, we look forward to expanding those cultural exchanges that help broaden the understanding of our shared common values.
Today, over 500 U.S. companies are active in Argentina, employing about 155,000 Argentines. Given Argentina’s vast potential in so many areas, including high tech, and biotechnology, to name two, there are many opportunities for increasing the level of foreign investment here. We want to work with you to create an environment that will facilitate the investments to develop a world-class innovation based economy.
This morning I met with an extraordinary group of young Argentine web and social media entrepreneurs. I was extremely impressed with their vision and drive and their passion for what they do. The spirit of innovation which they embody is vital to the future of Argentina and we must all work together to ensure an environment which supports their endeavors.
Argentina’s public and private sector leaders know businesses do not operate in isolation. They depend on political, economic and social structures that foster expanded commerce and successful entrepreneurship. Clearly-defined policies, consistently applied, promote sustainable economic growth, build investor confidence, and increase business activity.
Both Argentina and the United States share the belief that democracy and the rule of law provide the foundation for strong and long-term sustainable economic growth that will help alleviate poverty and allow all citizens to fully participate in the economic lives of their countries.
Business leaders in this region have told us that one of the most difficult problems facing Latin America is income inequality. As we all know this is not a problem unique to Latin America. South American countries and governments have recognized the scope of the problem and have made major strides in addressing these complex issues. They are developing sound long-term economic management policies and practices and building up stable governmental institutions to reliably enforce the rule of law. Throughout the region, democracy is taking firm hold and the rule of law is increasingly enforced.
Direct government anti-poverty programs can be valuable as well. Argentina has made important efforts to reduce the impact of income inequality on the young through the universal allowance for children and adolescents under 18 whose parents are unemployed or working in the informal sector. The program, which requires school attendance and up-to-date vaccinations and other medical care, is still in its early stages. But it has the potential to broaden the horizons of many thousands of children and distribute the benefits of increasing prosperity more equally in the next generation. The goal of improving living conditions, health and education for underprivileged children is critical to social and economic development and the broadening of opportunity.
Reducing poverty is not something governments can, or should, do by themselves. Around the world, more and more private companies are making corporate social responsibility one of their core operating principles. They find that not only is it the right thing to do, but it is the smart thing do. Increasingly, consumers come to value them not only for the products they deliver, but for the services they provide to their communities. And research has shown that as consumer loyalty increases, so does profitability.
TOMS Shoes, which won the Secretary of State’s Award for Corporate Excellence last year for its work in Corporate Social Responsibility, provides an excellent example. TOMS Shoes was founded in 2006 by Blake Mycoskie, a young American who had traveled widely throughout Argentina. During his travels, Blake witnessed first-hand the poverty which existed in many rural communities. He wanted to find a way to help, and, particularly, to help poor children.
Together with his Argentine partner, he came up with an idea that was both simple and extremely creative. Inspired by a traditional Argentine shoe, he launched a new line of alpargata shoes adapted for the US market. He coupled his new business initiative with a commitment to donate one pair of shoes to a child in need, somewhere in the world, for each pair of new shoes sold. In September of this year TOMS Shoes will donate its one millionth pair of shoes to a child in need, proving the old adage that you can indeed do well by doing good. An amazing achievement in such a short period of time!
The company is doing great things here in Argentina, and elsewhere, to demonstrate its commitment to giving something back to the societies in which it works. Our Embassy, through its annual NGO fair, brings together NGOs with companies, other embassies, and foundations to learn more about this innovative concept. The American Chamber of Commerce and some of its leading companies are now contributing the largest share of support for the NGO Fair, ensuring its sustainability.
Quality education is the motor of a modern economy. For generations, Argentina’s education system has produced top-quality high school and college graduates ready to contribute in the most sophisticated technological fields. This has been one of Argentina’s great strengths, and more than 100 years ago President Sarmiento worked with Mary Peabody Mann, widow of the famed U.S. educator Horace Mann, to bring dozens of American teachers to Argentina. This joint effort helped shape Argentina’s quality public education system.
Next year to commemorate the 200th anniversary of President Sarmiento’s birth, our Embassy is developing a plan, using technology, to expand the ties between teaching training colleges in Argentina and their counter-parts in the United States We cooperate closely with schools and universities here, and I look forward to discussing ways to expand our cooperation during my meetings with Argentine Government officials. Among other things, we want to find new ways to use technology to connect students at all levels, from elementary school to university, with their peers in both our countries so they learn more about, and from, each other and form friendships and relationships which will last a life-time.
We are also working to increase opportunities for Argentine citizens to learn English, as another tool to access economic and educational opportunities. For many years we have supported the outstanding English teaching work of our network of 16 binational centers across Argentina. Our efforts include the Access English Language Scholarship program, which gives scholarships to study English to high school students from disadvantaged communities. And in my meeting this morning with representatives of the technology community we discussed a number of innovative ways to help us expand the impact of this program.
Three hundred students from the first Access class in Argentina will finish their two-year program and graduate in December. But that’s just the beginning. The first group came from four binational centers, while the second class represents eleven centers around the country – and next year we plan to add four more locations, including Tierra del Fuego and Chaco.
Ambassador Martinez has told me how private companies and universities ensure that these hardworking graduates have further opportunities to learn and move ahead in life. One company, Manpower, is offering them training in preparing a résumé and succeeding in a job interview. Others are offering internships and part-time jobs for Access graduates pursuing university study. Additional companies are directly sponsoring Access scholarships, and I invite all of you to join with us in this important effort.
In addition to an educated workforce, modern economies also require sound banking and financial systems that provide reasonable access to capital for small and medium-sized enterprises and for long-term infrastructure projects like roads, ports, railways, and airports. No country can sustain economic growth without a robust SME sector and 21st century infrastructure. International financial institutions such as the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank play a crucial role, but there is no substitute for a private banking system and private investment willing to lend money for the long-term for the development of critical business and infrastructure projects.
For years, I have engaged with Argentina’s vibrant media sector. I came to know about the courage of journalists such as Jacobo Timerman and Robert Cox, who stood up at great personal peril and spoke out for human rights. I was deeply moved by Foreign Minister Timerman’s recent comments at the Department of State in Washington. He said, “The first time I walked into this building, it was actually to ask for political asylum, so I know the work that the U.S. has done in defense of human rights during the dictatorship in Argentina, and that is something that the people of Argentina and I myself will never forget and always appreciate.” And I appreciate his sentiment, for it reminds me of the responsibility we all have to support those who stand up for human rights as he did.
Not surprisingly, given my background, I believe passionately in the critical role media must play in a 21st century economy. In our two countries, there is recognition that freedom of the press and freedom of expression are fundamental human rights that are essential to democracy. Today, however, we are asked to sustain these freedoms within an ever-changing media world, in part due to new technologies. In every country of the world, citizens, businesses and governments are wrestling with the impact of these developments on free expression, politics, and individual privacy. New paths are being forged as individuals in all sectors, and at all levels of society, are provided with access to information to an unprecedented degree. And media organizations everywhere are struggling to develop new business models to ensure their continued operation.
In times like these, when we are all navigating the uncharted territory of our new media, interconnected, 24/7 world, it is especially important for businesses and governments alike to remain anchored in core principles and values. Media businesses must uphold the highest journalistic standards, and governments must demonstrate their continued commitment to the fundamental rights and responsibilities that preserve and protect our democracies.
None of us has all the answers to the questions raised in this important debate, so it is all the more important that we remain grounded in our shared values of media freedom and responsibility. The United States will continue to uphold freedom of expression and media freedom as fundamental human rights, and that freedom comes with the responsibility of maintaining media standards and ethics. That is the policy of our government and a value that continues to be shared by both of our countries.
You know as well as I do that success today – for businesses, governments, nations, and individual citizens – must be based on relationships that cross borders and oceans. We will work hard to ensure that the relationship between the United States and Argentina becomes even stronger. This is an historic partnership of great importance for both our nations, stretching back some two centuries to the early days of independence for the United States and Argentina.
As we look forward, we must strengthen our partnership and find new and creative ways to enable our citizens to work together. The United States thanks Argentina for its important contributions to peacekeeping efforts around the world, especially in Haiti. In the wake of the terrible earthquake in that country, Argentina was a vital contributor to Haiti’s rebuilding and recovery efforts. Argentina is also an active contributor to the UN mission to ensure peace and stability there.
Argentina and the United States cooperate closely in the fight against terrorism. Both our nations have been targets of attack, and that has strengthened our partnership in efforts to combat terrorism and make our world a more secure place. Our work together to bolster security and stability has helped build a framework to combat not only terrorism, but also other security threats such as narcotics trafficking and nuclear proliferation. We appreciate Argentina’s leadership when it comes to nonproliferation, and we look forward to working with Argentina, as it hosts one of the preparatory meetings for the next Nuclear Security Summit.
The United States also greatly appreciates Argentina’s active engagement on human rights issues in multilateral organizations and in our regional partnerships. There are critical challenges to democracy, human rights, and social and economic justice throughout our region and around the world. Addressing these issues is essential to the stability and prosperity of this region, and to ensuring that everyone in the Americas has the opportunity to live up to his or her potential.
The strength of our bilateral relationship is also evident in our long-standing cooperation on science, technology and health. Our space agencies have collaborated for years on building cutting-edge satellites. Together, our two countries have established a cancer research network to study the genomes of various types of cancer, and we are working together to establish a national cancer institute in Argentina.
We also recently signed a bilateral energy cooperation agreement that will focus on developing clean and renewable sources of energy. As Secretary Clinton announced earlier this month after her meeting with Foreign Minister Timerman, in a few days our two governments will hold the first Joint Committee Meeting on science and technology, where we will explore further cooperation in these areas.
This year marks the 200th anniversary of Argentina’s May Revolution. I want to conclude by joining Secretary Clinton in congratulating Argentina on its Bicentennial and recognizing the long history of positive engagement between our two countries -- a relationship based not only on the work between our governments, but also on the close collaboration between our citizens. Over the last two centuries, we have worked together to better the lives of the people of our two countries, and promote peace and prosperity amongst our neighbors.
I am pleased to also add that my office recently approved additional support for our Embassy’s Bicentennial programs related to constitutionalism, federalism, immigration, and the role of minorities, and I want to reiterate the commitment of the people of the United States to make our relationship for the next 200 years one of cooperation, partnership, and friendship -- we look forward to working with all of you in achieving that goal.
As President Obama stated when he articulated a new vision for America’s engagement with the world, “We seek an equal partnership… based on mutual respect and common interests and shared values….As neighbors, we have a responsibility to each other and to our citizens. And by working together, we can take important steps forward to advance prosperity and security and liberty. That is the 21st century agenda that we come together to enact. That's the new direction that we can pursue.”