A historic Summit of the Americas - Opinion

Isabel de Saint Malo de Alvarado
Isabel de Saint Malo de Alvarado (right) is Vice President and Foreign Minister of Panama

Editor's Note: Isabel de Saint Malo de Alvarado, Panama's Vice President and Foreign Minister addresses the opportunities that are opening up in Latin America, the thawing of relations between the U.S. and Cuba and the challenge of regional cooperation.

This week, Panama will host the Summit of the Americas, an important gathering of heads of state from throughout the hemisphere, first launched by U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1992. The first-ever presence of both Cuba and the United States, along with every other nation in the region, makes this Summit an historic occasion before it even begins. But beyond the breathtaking diplomatic opportunity the thaw between Cuba and the U.S. presents, there is much else on our agenda that deserves attention.

The overarching theme of the Summit is "Prosperity with Equity: The Challenge of Cooperation in the Americas." This could well be the rallying call of all nations in our region. How do we develop fairly and justly? How do we close the income gap? How do we give everyone a voice?

There is no doubt that Latin America is on the rise, economically. By 2020, Latin American GDP is expected to reach $10 trillion—double that of 2010—with 640 million active consumers. However, this prosperity has not been sufficiently and broadly shared by our people. That is where the demand for equality begins.

Equality is a necessity and a condition for the sustainable growth of our countries and for our peace and stability. While our countries are enjoying a state of economic growth, we know that stability can be jeopardized if we, as a region, do not attend the most pressing challenges our people face today.

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Democracy in our region, for example, is limited by inequality, and therefore, to fight against these challenges is also to fight to strengthen democracy. It is the same for education, health, energy, environment, security, immigration, democratic governance and civil participation. These in fact comprise the key subthemes of the agenda.

Indeed, the presence of all nations at the table during the Summit means that we can put all the issues on the table, including human rights, democracy, and civil liberties. We are a diverse hemisphere, with lots of ideas and many voices on these questions. In fact, there will be a dedicated platform for civil society organizations at the Summit of the Americas in which citizens from all countries can freely discuss their ideas and concerns. This means everyone is at the table and everything is on the table.

The United States has much at stake in the discussions at the Summit, which will range from climate change to commerce. Indeed, the U.S. integration in the hemisphere is growing stronger by the day through our broad economic, security, and political cooperation. Panama, for example, is the fastest growing economy in the region and the expansion of the Panama Canal will enhance the importance of U.S. trade with Panama and throughout Latin America.

Can American money save Cuban sugar?
Can American money save Cuban sugar?

It is truly fitting that this historic Summit be hosted in Panama. The first meeting of Heads of State from the Americas was held in Panama back in 1956, in what is now the headquarters of the Panamanian Foreign Ministry. And just a year ago, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Panama Canal. This was, of course, an important historical event that transformed global commerce, but it also symbolically inaugurated what has become our traditional role in promoting dialogue between nations. This is precisely the role we wish to play at the Summit by bringing together a group of nations with far more in common than we are separated by. The participation of Cuba and the U.S. is the most powerful symbol of our need and ability to transcend differences and work towards a positive outcome.

It is undeniable that the time for the Americas has come. Prosperity is on the rise. By breaking down barriers and the old dividing lines, we can at last unlock the potential of our people. We can help lift them up. We can give them a stake in the stability of their countries and their neighbors. The precondition is equality. Our progress towards prosperity, equality and cooperation in the upcoming Summit will be the ultimate measure of its success.

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