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Remarks of National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan 54th Washington Conference on the Americas Luncheon
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Remarks of National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan 54th Washington Conference on the Americas Luncheon

June 19, 2024

The State Department

Well, first of all, thank you very much for that kind introduction, Andrés. And I was introduced as Jake Sullivan. I also go by Tony Blinken’s understudy. 

Secretary Blinken was hoping to be here, but I think there’s probably no better excuse for missing the keynote address at the Conference on the Americas than actually being in the region as Secretary Blinken is as we speak in Guatemala, with many of his counterparts at an important event related to the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection. 

An issue that I will speak about in my remarks today.  

I want to thank Andrés, Susan, Eric, John for bringing us together today. Everyone here at State who’s made this conference possible, year after year. Now for 54 years.

And, that includes the Special Presidential Advisor for the Americas, Chris Dodd, and his team. Thank you for your leadership, Chris.

And most importantly—I want to express my appreciation to everyone in this room for welcoming me here today, and for the work you do every day in service of our common agenda. 

Throughout my time in government, I’ve learned the hard way that it’s never a good idea to keep a hungry audience waiting. So I promise I will limit my remarks to less than two hours. 

No, I do actually have a lot to get off my chest so I warn you: it’s going to be a few minutes, but I will be mindful of letting you get on to your lunch as well.


11 years ago, then-Vice President Biden actually stood here, while I was his National Security Advisor, and addressed this very group. 

And, he discussed his decades-long career working on issues in the hemisphere:

As a young 30-year-old Senator—in the midst of the Cold War.

As Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—during a moment of regional transformation from brutal dictatorships, to burgeoning democracies.

And then as Vice President—charged with charting a new era of cooperation between the United States and the hemisphere we call home. 

And he recalled that for a large part of his career, our government often asked the same, wrong question: what can we do for the Americas?

“It’s what can we do with the Americas?” he said. “What can we do with our partners in the hemisphere?”


That’s the key word. And that’s been our key focus since day one of the Biden-Harris Administration: leveraging the power of partnership. 

Not only to build a strong business case for the Americas—which I know is the theme of this conference. 

But to build a strong region writ large. 

A region—that can lead the world. 

A region—that can overcome any challenge. 

And, so this afternoon, what I’d like to do is walk through how we’re endeavoring to do this—laying out four of the main, mutually-reinforcing challenges we see across our region, and how we’re coming together with partners in new ways to tackle them.

I want to start with how we’re using partnerships that goes to the heart of the theme of this conference – to advance prosperity for all. A central focus of this conference. A central focus for President Biden.

As this group knows well, for more than two decades, we have built free trade agreements as part of the foundation of our economic policy through the hemisphere.

And, they’ve made important progress even as those free trade agreements have taken on important new components, including relative to labor and the environment. 

But, they were not a complete answer. Because the prevailing assumption that trade-enabled growth would be inclusive growth automatically—that the gains of trade would end up being shared comprehensively within and across our nations—that didn’t entirely bare out.

Those gains didn’t reach a lot of working people, across many of our countries.

And so we need an economic agenda now that builds on the work that has been done in the past, but also that acknowledges and drives at the new challenges that we face for working people, for businesses, for the private sector, for families, for everyone across our hemisphere. 

What does that mean? 

It means building resilient supply chains, as we learned during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It means mobilizing public and private investment for a just energy transition. 

It means promoting and protecting workers’ rights. 

It means really getting serious about tackling corruption, which is a cancer that eats away at economic progress and prosperity in too many countries. 

It means building sustainable infrastructure. Digital infrastructure. Physical infrastructure. Energy infrastructure. 

And it means creating good, family-supporting jobs along the way.

This is a different set of priorities than simply bringing down tariffs—and it requires a fundamentally different approach. 

One that goes beyond a lot of the traditional tools we have used and is built into something more cohesive and more innovative.

And that is why the President, last year, came together with 11 leaders, 11 partners across the region to launch the Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity. 

The Partnership represents 90 percent of the Western Hemisphere’s GDP, and nearly two-thirds of its people.  

And it has one key goal: to make the Americas the most economically competitive region in the world. And, we believe this goal is achievable.

In practice, this means working together to build those resilient supply chains. 

To reinvigorate our region’s economic institutions.

And to invest in our workers, our infrastructure, our strategic industries—whether it’s semiconductors, or clean energy, or the critical minerals needed for both of those.

And already we’re making progress. We’re putting points on the board.

Take semiconductors for example. 

Last year, the chipmaker Intel announced plans to invest $1.2 billion to expand its semiconductor operations in Costa Rica.

So to further grow this critical supply chain, the United States organized the first Americas Partnership Semiconductor Workforce Symposium—convening nearly 200 public and private leaders to develop training programs to increase our region’s semiconductor workforce.

Just last month, we had Secretary Yellen hosting her counterparts from the Partnership alongside the President of the Inter-American Development Bank to discuss how we can attract the further billions of dollars that we need to build out the semiconductor supply chain and other supply chains. 

And it’s not just what the United States is bringing to the table, our partners are stepping up too.

Chile and Colombia are leading the Partnership’s efforts to modernize border procedures that can help facilitate more seamless and secure trade.

Uruguay is standing up the Americas Partnership Angel Investor Network—which will help finance innovators and entrepreneurs across our hemisphere.

Peru and Ecuador are working to expand the adoption of smart agriculture to boost sustainable food production across Partnership nations.

And, it’s not just the President and our regional partners who see the value in this initiative. We now see bipartisan support in Congress for an affirmative American economic agenda in our hemisphere.

And I also want to pause here to note—as part of the Americas Partnership—that the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation – the DFC – and the IDB launched a new investment platform that has already identified $3 billion in potential infrastructure projects across our hemisphere.

Modern ports. Clean-energy grids. Healthcare facilities. Trusted telecommunications. And secure digital infrastructure.

Because as everyone in this room knows well: strong economies, depend on strong infrastructure.

And, they also depend on strong regional banks.

So the Administration will continue to call on the Congress to fund our share of the IDB Invest capital increase—which will send a clear signal that we’re committed to providing high-quality alternatives to the low-standard financing offered by our competitors.

Because the United States does remain the hemisphere’s most trusted economic partner.
And, while the PRC has made some inroads, the U.S. is now engaging strategically and meaningfully with our public and private partners across the region.

And that includes partners like you in this room.

And in the coming months, we plan to hold stakeholder events to further incorporate your perspectives—and many others—as we work towards the next Americas Partnership Leaders’ Summit next year in Costa Rica.

Second—I want to talk a little bit about how we are harnessing the power of partnerships to tackle emerging security threats across our region. 
Just like with economics, the security landscape of the Americas has transformed over the last few years.
Not because traditional challenges have given way to transnational threats. But because we have to deal with both of them at the same time.

And it is important that we do both. No region impacts the security of the United States more directly than the Western Hemisphere.

But we shouldn’t—we can’t—and we won’t tackle these challenges by ourselves.

We’re going to do in a way to be effective—to maximize our resources—by teaming up with countries across the region in new ways. 

Here too I think it’s important to point to concrete examples.

One of the most pressing security challenges in our hemisphere today as we all know is Haiti. 

Over the years, chronic political instability, economic inequality, and natural disasters have engulfed that country. 

Then, within the first few months of this Administration, Haitian President Moise was assassinated—deteriorating an already unstable situation even further.

Immediately, we went to work with partners around the world.

It’s been hard, long, painstaking work, but we were the first to support Haiti’s call for a Multinational Security Support Mission. 

We then collaborated with Kenya to stand up that Mission—including rallying more than 20 nations to pledge nearly $400 million and provide the necessary personnel.

And we’ve worked closely with global partners, including nations across the Caribbean, to support the Haitian people as they created a Transitional Presidential Council.

Now—we know the challenge remains significant. 

Gangs still control more than 80 percent of Port-au-Prince. Tens of thousands of Haitians have been displaced just this year. Schools and hospitals have been shuttered. And, as gang violence continues to rise, Haitian security forces have at times been outgunned and outnumbered.

But we actually believe that the integrated steps that we are taking—that go beyond just U.S, or even regional action—will give Haiti a chance to get back on its feet. 

And, that will allow us to focus on a range of pressing transnational threats at the same time as we advance this work in Haiti.

Chief among those transnational threats is synthetic opioids—including fentanyl.

The challenge, as you all know well, is tough. 

Because today, illegal drugs and their precursors are often moved across other borders legally. 
Narcotics traffickers are leveraging supply chains to expand their networks across the world—fueling violence, corruption, and instability.

And, as cartels proliferate their deadly trade, they hide behind illicit financial practices that transcend borders—like money laundering, cryptocurrency crime.

The sheer immensity of this challenge not only drives our cooperation with partners—it demands it. 

Earlier this year, we launched a new Counternarcotics Working Group with China to try to get after illicit manufacturing and trafficking of synthetic drugs, and especially their precursors.
We stood up a new Trilateral Fentanyl Committee with Mexico and Canada to stem the flow of those precursors to the Americas—including by strengthening our legal frameworks and regulatory frameworks associated with these chemicals.

And, together with more than 150 nations, we launched a Global Coalition to Address Synthetic Drug Threats—which is detecting emerging drug threats and promoting public health interventions.

Now we have to look at other transnational challenges as well, including the gun trafficking that has harmed Caribbean nations, has guns flowing south to Mexico. 

And so we are working on that to try and remove hundreds of criminals, thousands of firearms, and hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition from our streets.

Or take cybersecurity for example, which is becoming an increasingly relevant security challenge as many of you in this room know all too well.

Working with the private sector and the nations of the Americas Partnership, we’re helping the entire region quickly and securely develop telecommunications networks, including 5G, and embrace trusted technology partners—which we believe not only strengthens our security, but long-term strengthens our economies.

So, this brings me to the third challenge I want to discuss, which is the challenge to democracy across the Americas.

The nations across this hemisphere are bound by many things. By our people. By our businesses. By our shared history and heritage.

But above all, we’re bound by a common commitment to democracy. 

That is the root of our resilience. 

That is how we should be able to overcome every challenge. 

And that is what we have to strive to defend, generation after generation, year after year.
And we’ve done that. And we have to keep doing that.

Today, the Americas is the second most democratic region on the planet. We have to make it the most democratic region on the planet.

But, even where it stands today is a feat few thought possible, only a generation or two ago, when dictatorships and despots more than just dotted the hemisphere.

But we cannot rest on our accomplishments—especially in the face of new threats to our region’s democratic foundations.

Under President Biden’s leadership, the United States is committed to defending democracy across and with the Americas.

We saw this in Guatemala, just a few months ago, where Secretary Blinken is today.

Tens of thousands of Guatemalans taking to the streets to ensure the peaceful transition of power, and we stood with them. 

We called out corrupt officials attempting a slow-motion coup. 

We coordinated with our partners across the Americas to pressure them to stand down. 

We galvanized allies across the region and around the world to support the Guatemalan people, up to the very end. 

In fact, when anti-democratic forces attempted to halt the transition ceremony itself, the United States refused to budge. 

And together with so many of the nations represented in this room today, we made clear that we would defend the will of the Guatemalan people.

And in the early hours of the morning, democracy won.

But we know that’s not the case everywhere. 

In nations like Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, citizens’ democratic aspirations have yet to be realized.

I want to focus on Venezuela for a moment.

We’ve worked non-stop with partners across the region, and from around the world, to hold the Maduro regime accountable for the commitments it made under the Barbados Agreement—including to hold competitive and inclusive elections this year. 

And we’re going to keep at it:

harnessing regional diplomacy—

directly engaging with Venezuelan stakeholders—

leveraging key sanctions—

to hold the Maduro regime accountable. 

And this brings me to one last point I want to make: it’s not only enough to defend democracy.

We also have to work together to ensure that democracy delivers for our people. That it protects them. That it makes their lives better in meaningful, concrete ways. 

That’s why, last year, President Biden joined President Lula to launch the Partnership for Worker’s Rights— an initiative dedicated to advancing and protecting workers’ rights worldwide.
The promise is vast, but the premise is simple:

When our people, and our workers, are strong—our democracy is strong. And when our democracy is strong, we have a better hand to play than any other region in the world.
It really is as simple as that.

Finally—I want to briefly discuss how we’re leveraging partnerships to tackle historically high migration in the Western Hemisphere.

I know this is top of mind for so many here. It’s top of mind for us as well.

But I wanted to end with migration today because so many of its root causes are driven by the challenges I just discussed. 

When our team came into office, we saw a regional issue, that needed a regional solution. 
That’s why, two years ago, President Biden launched the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection alongside 20 partners from across the hemisphere.

And together, we are working on three main pillars of that declaration:
First, addressing the root causes of migration. 

Second, expanding legal pathways—which can help replace irregular migration with orderly flows that can help fuel economic growth

And third, promoting stronger and humane enforcement of borders across the region.

So far, we see our partners stepping up in unprecedented, unexpected ways. 

For example, Latin American and Caribbean countries are hosting more than 80% of the nearly 8 million Venezuelan migrants that have fled the Maduro regime.

That’s a big deal. We are doing this together.

The United States is also stepping up our secure and humane enforcement.

We’re implementing a new Rule to encourage migrants to use orderly processes for entering our country—including issuing restrictions on asylum eligibility for those who fail to do so. 

We’ve also strengthened our screening measures at our southern border—and are working closely with partners to quickly return migrants who do not have valid protection claims.
But we know that more needs to be done to ensure orderly migration. 

Just a few days ago, President Biden spoke with Mexican President Lopez Obrador about this issue.

And both leaders agreed to take concrete steps to improve the situation, including responding to migrant surges before they reach the border.

They also agreed to measures that encourage migrants to stay in their communities of origin and dissuade the use of dangerous modes of transportation that expose migrants to violence on their way north. 

Our joint efforts—with Mexico and with other LA Declaration partners—contributed to around a 30% decrease in encounters with irregular migrants at the southwest border last month, compared to the same time last year.

But, this month’s another month, and next month’s another month, and that means we have to keep at this. This has to be hard, painstaking work from all of our partners, across all of the lines of effort outlined in the LA Declaration.

And we’ll continue working with every government, at every level to bring those numbers down more.

We’ll also continue to urge Congress to help address border challenges—including by passing the bipartisan border security deal.

It would help make our immigration system faster and fairer.

It would mean more funding for border security agents. For immigration judges. For asylum officers. For drug-detection machines.

It would mean a more secure, orderly border. 

And, that’s something we all want—whether you’re a Democrat, a Republican, or an Independent. 

And we owe it to the people of the United States—and frankly we owe it to the people of the entire region—to get this done. 

Now—as I said—I’m mindful of not standing between you and your lunch—so let me close with this. 

When President Biden addressed this group 11 years ago, he ended his remarks by expressing how optimistic he was about the future of our region. 

I’d like to do same. 

Because now—frankly more than ever before—if you look at all the raw material that we have together as a hemisphere, there is no reason why the Americas should not be the most prosperous, democratic, secure region in the world.

We have the foundation. We have the resources. We have the technology. We have the talent.

We have the capital and the capacity. We have the will. And above all—we have each other. 

And if we continue to strengthen economic cooperation across our hemisphere—

If we continue to work with one another—including all of the partners here today—
I believe that that future is very much within reach. 

So thank you again for having me here today, for your partnership in helping build a region that can and I believe will lead the world.

And I look forward to doing my small part and to working with all of you in the years ahead.

Thank you very much.