THE FREE WORLD

Panama 2015 | DIPLOMACY | GUEST SPEAKER

Barack Obama, President of the US, on regional cooperation in fighting crime and corruption, strengthening bilateral cooperation, and Panama's exemplary progress.

Barack Obama
BIOGRAPHY
Barack Obama was born in Hawaii in 1961 and attended law school, becoming the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. He later returned to Chicago to teach Constitutional Law at the University of Chicago. Later, in the Illinois State Senate, he passed the first major ethics reform in 25 years, cut taxes for working families, and expanded healthcare for children and their parents. As a US Senator, he reached across the aisle to pass ground breaking lobbying reform, lock up the world's most dangerous weapons, and bring transparency to government by putting federal spending online. He was elected President of the US in 2008, and sworn in on January 20, 2009.

I had a chance to visit the Panama Canal for the first time and saw the extraordinary progress that is being made in the new development that will be completed next year. This project is a symbol of human ingenuity, and also of Panama's central role in bridging the two continents and bringing the hemisphere together. I congratulated the President not only on the success of the Summit of the Americas, but also on the extraordinary progress that Panama has made economically, and the transparency and accountability that his government has shown. Panama is a proud democracy, and its ability to engage in elections and peaceful transferals of power is a symbol of the progress that has been made throughout the hemisphere over the last several decades. As President Varela noted, we are great partners on a whole range of issues—security, the economy, and education—and we had an excellent discussion about how we can further deepen those ties. So, we are very appreciative of the great friends that we have in the Panamanian people.

Our goal was to make sure that we had concrete actions that would improve our economies, the opportunities for our people, and security in the region. This is very important to the US, not just because of proximity, and not just because our neighbors here are very close by, but because we have incredible bonds as people. There are Americans who make enormous contributions to our society every single day who come from Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Belize, and all the countries that are represented here today. And so we have ties of family. We have ties of commerce. We share incredible heritage and incredible history. And so it is important for us to make sure that the US stands in solidarity and has a partnership with each of the countries that are represented around this table. Since the last time we met, it has been the goal of my administration that we find ways to concretely assist the countries in Central America so that people in those countries feel that they have opportunity and development. That is in our interest. We know, for example, that criminal elements and narcotics trafficking thrive where people have no other pathways to success. If we can make sure that they feel that their efforts are rewarded in their own countries, then we are going to be much more successful with the security arrangements and coordination that we are involved in. The issue of migration does not just affect the US, it also affects the countries in the region themselves. And the more that people feel that they can find opportunities, raise families, and be successful where they live, the less disruptions there are and the less tensions there are at our borders. As a consequence, I have requested $1 billion in the new budget to support US engagement across Central America. Some of these dollars would be designed to strengthen regional cooperation on security, but some, as President Varela and I spoke about during our bilateral meeting, will be dedicated to human development—education, providing young people pathways to success, and focusing on what is happening at the community level. The US is very excited to work with you to find what you think will be most effective path forward, and then to have a coordinated process moving forward in order for us to succeed. Regional integration on issues such as energy, electricity, and improving trade flows can all be incredibly valuable for the region as a whole, and ultimately will be valuable for the US as well.

We continue to believe that part of the regional agenda should focus on governance issues and transparency. And we are in a city right now and a country that I think has done an excellent job on many of those fronts and, as a consequence, the high growth rates in Panama should serve as a useful example for so many countries not just in this region, but also around the world.