Remarks to the 42nd OAS General Assembly
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs
(Remarks delivered by Ambassador Carmen Lomellin, United States Permanent Representative to the OAS)
I want to begin by thanking President Evo Morales, Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca, Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza, and Assistant Secretary Albert Ramdin for organizing and hosting this 42nd General Assembly of the Organization of the American States.
It is a pleasure to be with all of you in Cochabamba to advance this dialogue that is so important to all the citizens of our hemisphere, and indeed, all the citizens of the world.
Mr. Chair, the United States is deeply committed to food security. Shortly after taking office, President Obama identified addressing global hunger and food insecurity as one of the top priorities of this administration. Over the past three years, the United States has launched an unprecedented effort to forge a strong and swift global response to alleviate the misery of chronic hunger that affects an estimated 1 billion people around the world.
This global campaign began with the commitments made by President Obama and our partners at the G-8 Summit in L’Aquila, Italy in July 2009. The United States pledged $3.5 billion over three years to fight global hunger that helped to leverage and align resources from other partners and donors. Our efforts ultimately mobilized more than $22 billion for a global food security initiative to revitalize investment in the agricultural sectors of poor countries and increase food supply for the neediest among us.
In May 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched “Feed the Future,” a comprehensive effort by the United States to enhance food security. We have focused on investing in nutrition and agricultural development to reduce hunger, while addressing critical emergency needs through humanitarian food assistance. At the Camp David Summit last month, President Obama announced the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, a shared commitment to achieve sustained and inclusive agricultural growth in Africa to raise 50 million people out of poverty over the next 10 years, in partnership with the G-8 countries, Africa’s leadership, and private sector support.
President Obama has described combating food insecurity as a moral imperative, an economic imperative, and a security imperative. And this imperative extends to the Americas, as our Bolivian hosts have so rightly recognized. Despite marked progress in reducing levels of malnutrition, the stark fact remains that the levels of food security in our hemisphere still do not match our natural abundance. Our region is now a major agricultural supplier to the world, but every day millions of people in the Americas still struggle to put food on the table, and every night too many children still go to bed hungry.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, an estimated 53 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean were undernourished in 2010. And the repercussions of food insecurity go far beyond its impacts on health and life expectancy. Food scarcity can deepen social tensions, contribute to levels of crime and violence, and even undermine the quality of democratic governance. As a noted French essayist wrote nearly two hundred years ago, “The destiny of nations depends on the manner in which they feed themselves.” Today, those words still ring true.
If we can help the rural poor produce more food and sell it in thriving local, regional, and global markets, we can decrease chronic hunger today and build an ample food supply for tomorrow.
Our flagship “Feed the Future” program targets investments in poor rural areas of three focus countries in the Americas: Guatemala, Honduras, and Haiti. Over the next five years, these programs will assist almost one million vulnerable women, children, and family members—mostly smallholder farmers—escape hunger and poverty. We have advanced with Brazil our trilateral partnership in Honduras and Haiti, and we salute Brazil's leadership in our work together to improve health and food security in Africa. This cooperation provides concrete examples of how, working as equal partners, we can seek to spark positive economic growth that allows people and nations to rise from poverty.
Indeed, in addressing the problem of food security, we need to build on the important policy lessons learned over the past two decades. Governments must create sound policy environments that foster clear property rights and encourage domestic and foreign investment. Farmers need to have access to improved agricultural technology and the training to use it effectively. And, critically, real food security depends on lowering barriers to agricultural trade. While we all recognize that each government in this room, including my own, faces important political and economic constraints to further opening trade in agricultural products, this step would contribute markedly to hemispheric food security.
Moreover, fighting hunger is not an isolated challenge. Our efforts can only be sustainable when based in a strategy to promote socially inclusive economic growth. And this will require partnership between donor and partner countries, civil society, international organizations, and the local and multinational private sector.
Mr. Chair, the United States is certain that by working together, the members of the OAS can contribute collectively to food security at both the hemispheric and global levels. But to achieve that ambition, we must safeguard the political and economic progress that we have made to date.
In our work to contribute to global common goods – on issues as diverse as food security, climate change, or combating transnational crime – we know that our common cause does not compromise sovereignty, but safeguards it. As Secretary Clinton has said, “We must turn the Americas, already a community of shared history, geography, culture, and values, into something greater – a shared platform for global success.” That is why we must strive to strengthen the underpinnings of our democratic societies – good governance, responsive institutions, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms – that are essential elements of democracy and the founding principles of this Organization. As enshrined in the Inter-American Democratic Charter, we are bound to uphold the dignity of all persons by honoring their human, political, and civil rights to participate fully and freely in our societies.
This is a useful moment to remind ourselves that the Charter indicates that “freedom of expression and of the press are essential components in the exercise of democracy.” When citizens or media outlets speak out, dissent, or criticize, they are ensuring that this essential component is functioning as designed. We celebrate that our hemisphere has codified this profound truth, and undertake to ensure that these freedoms are always preserved. We should collectively value this record and seek to build upon it.
At this General Assembly in Cochabamba, we will adopt a Social Charter that, as a complement to the Inter-American Democratic Charter, will improve economic opportunity, social inclusion, and respect for human rights.
We will pass a resolution that continues the discussion on strengthening the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and we will agree on a document that ensures the autonomy and independence of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
We must stand together in full and robust support for these accomplishments along with our inter-American institutions and principles. In recent months, our discussions have sometimes seemed as if we are seeking to weaken the fabric that binds us together in the inter-American system, rather than focusing on how the countries of the Americas can work together to address the issues that most concern our citizens. I sincerely hope that this General Assembly will mark an inflection point that will guide us back to our core values and how we can work collectively to advance them.
Mr. Chair, let me conclude by reaffirming the commitment of the United States, and my personal commitment, to work with all of you in the spirit of genuine and equal partnership, to advance liberty and prosperity for all the citizens of the hemisphere.