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March 16, 2016

The Future of Latin America: Challenges and Opportunities for the United States

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A Conversation to Mark the Launch of Georgetown's Latin America Initiative

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Over the past two decades, much of Latin America has made progress toward greater economic growth, democratic consolidation, and social inclusion. Yet pressing problems remain. What are the critical issues facing Latin America over the coming decade? What opportunities and challenges do they pose for the United States and for hemispheric relations? How can Georgetown university support stronger U.S.-Latin America ties in its teaching, research, and outreach mission?

Ambassador Thomas Shannon, under secretary for political affairs and former U.S. ambassador to Brazil, discussed these issues with Samuel Lewis, the former vice president of Panama and chair of Georgetown's Latin American Board. Professor Ricardo Ernst of the McDonough School of Business moderated the conversation.

During the event, the officials touched on topics of relevance to the region including changes in the political landscape in Latin America, inequality and economic growth, strategic partnerships for countries in the region, and the role of youth and education in development. With regards to U.S.-Latin American relations, Ambassador Shannon mentioned three different tracks of engagement including, bilateral relations between governments, trade and investment, and people to people interactions, with the latter being the most important, in his opinion. Lewis emphasized the importance of developing strategies of engagement that take into account the diversity that exists in Latin America.  

Both Shannon and Lewis emphasized the recent progress and development of the region in terms of economic growth, its insertion into the global economy, and the potential of young people to shape the social and political agendas of countries, while also acknowledging persistent problems with inequality, corruption, and poverty.  

In terms of an ideal agenda for U.S.- Latin American engagement, Shannon pointed to four core issues: energy security for the hemisphere, food security, health security, and education. Lewis discussed economic partnerships, including free trade agreements, and highlighted the importance of education, particularly efforts to make the region bilingual with the teaching of English as a second language.   

The event concluded with a brief Q&A session during which panelists discussed President Obama’s visit to Cuba and Argentina, human rights issues in the region, and the role of youth as agents of change. 

The Georgetown Latin America Initiative is a university-wide effort to strengthen engagement with the region through research, teaching, and dialogue with leaders from the public sector, business, civil society, and the academy. It builds on Georgetown’s deep historic ties with Latin America, Washington, D.C. location, and Jesuit commitment to academic excellence and service to the global common good.   

Ricardo Ernst is a professor in Georgetown's McDonough School of Business.

Samuel Lewis is the former vice president of Panama and chair of Georgetown's Latin American Board.

Thomas Shannon is the under secretary for political affairs and a former U.S. ambassador to Brazil.