By:Barry Featherman Issue: Biennial of the Americas 2010 Section: Building Bridges
Having recently returned to the United States from the Inauguration of President Juan Manuel Santos in Bogotá, Colombia, I was inspired by the way the country has progressed over the last decade from a nation wracked by drug violence and terrorism to one that is secure, prosperous, experiencing substantial investment, and is poised for amazing growth. This visit to Bogotá gave me the opportunity to also reflect on my involvement this summer with the Biennial of the Americas and how the relationships we forged while there, created cultural and political “bridges” for years to come.
I believe that the United States must recognize that one of our most important strategic relationships is Latin America. Over the last two decades we have witnessed the emergence of the region as an important player on the world stage, both economically and politically. There have been new opportunities for trade and investment across the region, especially in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Peru, while many countries are establishing and implementing more stable democratic governments. And, with the progression of the region, the U.S. should be reaching out to consummate relationships in new and exciting ways. Prosperous neighbors mean meaningful trading partners and the reduction of poverty and suffering that have afflicted many developing economies.
Furthermore, technological innovations are allowing other cities and regions to develop as economic and political nuclei. We are seeing it in the smallest hamlet to the largest metropolitan cities across the hemisphere. No longer are the national capitals the center of development and wealth. There are new leaders - like Denver - that are “moving the needle forward” toward change and who are embracing the best ideas, no matter where they are from. It will not just be decisions made in Washington D.C., London, New York, Paris, Moscow, Tokyo, Beijing Mexico City, Lima, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Brasilia or Santiago that will drive future policies. But it will be Morelia, Cali, Arequipa, Cordova, Cuenca, Porto Alegre and yes, Denver, that will spearhead creative, collaborative ways to lessen poverty, better education, and create social structures that are needs-centric and become models for others. This will have a profound impact on the way we all live our lives.
Two years ago in Denver, the idea to convene a forum of artists, intellectuals, government leaders, and businesspeople from various countries across this hemisphere took shape. The concept was to provide an atmosphere where major issues like poverty, education, energy, the environment, social exclusion and women's rights could be discussed in a series of roundtables and exhibitions. These forums would challenge stereotypes, seek solutions, and promote mutual respect and understanding. It was the genesis of the Biennial of the Americas.
At first, everyone asked, “Why Denver?” My response was, “Why not Denver?”
Led by Denver’s inspirational Mayor John Hickenlooper, Biennial planners took the analogy from the 1989 film “Field of Dreams” and decided that, “If you will build it they will come.” The vision of creating better cohesion and collaboration throughout the hemisphere was daunting, but I committed to helping since I had spent nearly two decades working in Latin America and the Caribbean with the private sector, multilateral institutions and various governments. The timeframe was aggressive…could we accomplish everything in less than two years? And, even if we could, would such an ambitious undertaking crash or soar? I soon learned that through visionary leadership and sheer determination that it could soar. Hickenlooper’s tenacity, intellectual prowess and interest in developing relationships throughout the hemisphere was contagious for all who were committed to the success of the Biennial.
Multilateral institutions like the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Development Bank welcomed the idea of participation and brought their best and brightest. Education advocates like Harriet Fulbright, civic leaders like Oscar Morales, the Latin American Diplomatic Corps, Nobel Prize winners, the U.S. State Department, leaders in the arts and humanities, and many others contributed their time, energy and intellectual thought to make this an amazing gathering. Education advocates like Harriet Fulbright, civic leaders like Oscar Morales, the Latin American Diplomatic Corps, Nobel Prize winners, the U.S. State Department, leaders in the arts and humanities, and many others contributed their time, energy and intellectual thought to make this an amazing gathering.
As the executive director of the Global Center for Development and Democracy working under the leadership of President Alejandro Toledo and in consort with over 20 former Latin American presidents who serve on our international advisory board, I became convinced that the Biennial could serve as a platform to promote A New Social Agenda for Latin America for the Next 20 Years. Eight former Latin presidents who contributed to the development of the Social Agenda made their way to Denver to present the document and participate in the activities of the Biennial. The presence of the former presidents and their willingness to immediately participate was illustrative of the growing importance of America’s West and the impact that cities like Denver are having on commerce. It also demonstrated the commitment of the former presidents’ to take this agenda to the people — to empower people to get involved and become partners for growth and development. The awe-inspiring presentations of the former presidents highlighted the key aspects of the Social Agenda, a consensus document which outlines a roadmap out of poverty while ensuring basic healthcare and nutrition, access to education, capital through microfinance and low cost energy for the poor.
I also proudly served as a panelist on the trade roundtable which highlighted the important opportunities that trade liberalization and economic integration has on economies. The discussion was very timely, given that two Latin American countries, the Republic of Colombia and the Republic of Panama, have Free Trade Agreements pending with the United States.
Support for the Biennial from the private sector was also impressive. In addition to my work as executive director of the center, I understand the importance of the private sector to growth in the region – they are a driving force for hemispheric prosperity. The international law firm of Duane Morris, where I am the director of Government Affairs, hosted a dinner and reception in honor of the former presidents recognizing the importance of these dialogues. Duane Morris is focused on Latin American opportunities and has great interest in programs such as the Biennial because of the opportunity to educate citizens about the importance of the region. Many other international companies did the same because they either already work in the Latin markets or hope to expand product or service offerings there.
I wonder what the legacy of this gathering might be. Hopefully, events like the Biennial will proliferate and prosper - this hemisphere needs it! The Americas need new forms of communications and engagement - the arts will be a critical component of this, as will the roundtable discussions which fostered open debate and dialogue about the state of the hemisphere.
Over the course of my career I have fought against poverty, promoted economic growth and argued for a clean and safe environment as a legacy for future generations. I have long held to the belief that inter-American relations should be designed to create an enabling environment with the participation of all. This is critical for the U.S. because prosperous neighbors mean meaningful trading partners and the reduction of poverty and suffering. As the world continues to shrink, we must highlight our common destiny.
Although I live in Washington, D.C., there is a special place in my heart for Denver. Indeed, the warmth of its people and the fact that it opened its arms to the hemisphere is an example for other cities to follow. I was inspired.
Barry Featherman is the Executive Director of the Global Center for Development and Democracy headquartered in Lima, Peru with offices in Washington, D.C. and Madrid, Spain. He is also a Director of Duane Morris Government Affairs in Washington, D.C.