Remarks by U.S. Ambassador to Nicaragua, Laura F. Dogu
February 11, 2016
It is a privilege for me to deliver these words tonight. I have tremendous respect for the work that you and the 35,000 similar clubs carry out around the world. Rotary’s focus on “service above self” gives us a perfect example of how to live our lives, always reminding that we form part of a family, of a nation, of something bigger than ourselves. It is a valuable reminder of the importance of community in confronting collective problems.
I have served as the United States Ambassador in Nicaragua for 5 months now. During those months, I’ve had the opportunity to travel from Estelí to Rivas, from León to Bluefields. In all of my trips and meetings with Nicaraguan and United States citizens, I have been impressed by how many shared connections there are between the United States and Nicaragua.
Many Nicaraguans have family members that live and work in the United States. With more and more frequency, United States tourists are visiting the beautiful lakes, volcanoes, and beaches of Nicaragua, at the same time that many United States companies are investing and generating jobs here. United States educators and missionaries are contributing to create a more prepared workforce for these new jobs. United States medical professionals are providing medical attention.
We share economic, family and social ties that prevail before generations, geography and people. Relating to the foundation of these shared links, the United States Embassy is working as a partner supporting a more prosperous, safe and democratic country, totally integrated as a constructive member of the Americas and the world.
In the globalized and interconnected reality of today, no country can hope to confront the challenges of poverty, diseases, environmental degradation, economic development and security alone. The United States Embassy in Nicaragua hopes to be a contributing member of our community.
In the same manner that the Rotaries bring together members to address themes like maternal health, literacy or potable water, the United States is associating with different sectors in Nicaragua to confront some development problems.
We focus our efforts as partners, friends and members of the community of the Americas, always keeping in mind our respect for the sovereignty of Nicaragua and our commitment to the protection and security of United States citizens first and above all.
It would not be possible to achieve only prosperity, security, or democracy. Rather, it is necessary to achieve all three. All are connected.
Allow me to begin with prosperity. In the world today, prosperity depends on collaboration. Almost all of the items that we use daily are produced using products from all the world’s countries. A simple BIC mechanical pencil, for example, contains 14 products coming from 10 countries. The prosperity of Nicaragua and of the United States depends on their participation in these chains of value, on their contribution to our ideas and unique efforts in world markets.
The Central American Free Trade Agreement, CAFTA, has been a key tool to integrate Nicaragua into the world economic community. Trade has increased 160 percent since 2007. Currently, almost 120,000 Nicaraguans work in Free-trade Zones, helping to make products that are part of a global supply chain. The Agreement has also helped stimulate foreign investment, strengthening even further the economic ties between the United States and Nicaragua. The American Chamber of Commerce estimates that it has given jobs to more than 300,000 Nicaraguans thanks to United States investment in the country.
On February 4th, the United States joined with 11 other nations to sign the Transpacific Partnership Agreement. President Obama has asked Congress to approve this new Agreement, which reflects a shared vision of the future of trade and global investment, and that promotes a system based on regulations and governed by the market. The TPP is as good for the United States as it is for Latin America. It includes measures that will help women form part of the local and global economy. It will provide important economic benefits beyond the 12 participants and Nicaragua can utilize this period before it takes effect to reduce commercial barriers and help small business to integrate into world markets. But the free-trade agreements and the jobs that they generate are not sufficient.
The stimulus of innovation, productivity and training are fundamental to help Nicaragua play a valuable role in the integrated economic world. It is because of this that we continue collaborating with the government, the private sector, and universities to support entrepreneurship and a national network of development centers for small business that help provide training and advice to thousands of small business owners in the country.
We are also working to improve the teaching and learning of the English language to help Nicaraguans compete for well-paid jobs in global markets. Many of the United States companies in Nicaragua also serve as good neighbors implementing programs of professional ability creation through which they train and develop Nicaraguan’s skills.
Walmart’s Tierra Fertil program is creating technical ability among farmers so that they can sell their products at better prices and better quality. Cargill is working with hundreds of local farmers to develop the country’s sorghum industry. Sinsa is helping to train the next generation of engineers and architects in the country with internal training in the work center.
We applaud these efforts and are working closely with United States investors and companies to promote good management and corporate responsibility as members of the business community. We cannot forget our immediate neighbors if we have a global vision.
Nicaragua plays a crucial role in Central America and we support the country’s efforts to connect with the regional markets and infrastructures. We are concentrated on accelerating electric integration in the region. The expansion of electric interconnection increases the size of the market for renewable energy, creates scale economies that are attractive to investors and facilitates the cross-border electricity trade. In exchange, this creates competition between energy producers and permits a larger supply of stable energy at a lower cost in a wider market.
On another front, The Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) is initiating a 25 million dollar project to increase Internet bandwidth access with the object of connecting more Nicaraguans and therefore, the world. The support of these connections across borders creates person-to-person contact that helps spread ideas, create networks, and help entrepreneurs and small businesses.
Currently, Nicaraguan businesses with Internet access are using the Yellow Pages to establish an online market, Facebook to promote their products and connect with their clients and WhatsApp to take orders and to manage their logistics. With an additional investment in bandwidth infrastructure, Internet use will only grow and Nicaraguan businesses along with it.
A recent study by the World Bank reports that a 10 percent increase in bandwidth connectivity leads to a 1 percent growth of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) – further evidence of the importance of the economic connections of today. Even though the United States is focused on strengthening our economic relationship, we will continue promoting corporate environmental and social responsibility practices.
Through the CAFTA Environmental Cooperation program’s 82 million dollars, the United States is supporting its CAFTA partners in fulfilling its commitments through financial and technical assistance.
The Paris Climate Accord sent a powerful signal that the world is firmly committed to a future with lower carbon levels. Every business leader in every country should start to think about how to manage this transition and most probably, they are already doing so.
Nicaragua was one of the few countries that did not sign the COP21 Agreement, but we are sure that this Agreement will drive investment and innovation in clean energy in other countries. We encourage Nicaraguan businesses to start to think, from this moment, about how they can adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change.
The next point refers to security. Prosperity would not be possible without protection and security. Our connected world presents new opportunities, but also threats. The United States government is prepared to work together with Nicaragua to confront these difficulties. The spread of Zika throughout the region is a poignant example.
Since Brazil reported the first cases in the region in May, the virus has spread to 21 countries and territories in the Americas, which has created a significant challenge for public health.
Last week, an expert from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was in Nicaragua helping to build capacity and collaborating with colleagues throughout the region to confront the increase of Zika cases. The United States has developed a test that can confirm Zika cases in the first week and we continue collaborating with the private sector and health professionals to develop better detection methods and treatments to stop the spread of this disease.
In a similar manner, we continue working very closely with the Nicaraguan government to stop human trafficking and the trafficking of drugs and arms across international borders. Much like a virus, the trafficking of illegal goods hurts people in communities and we are working with local groups and national authorities in charge of law enforcement to provide training, strengthen the security of citizens and create alternatives for youth at risk.
The geography of Nicaragua is beautiful, but also presents unique risks. The eruption of Momotombo volcano in December and the earthquakes from the last few days are a striking reminder that we live in a geologically active country and we should take precautions to be prepared. We are supporting the Nicaraguan government’s efforts to update their volcanic activity evaluation network and to finance training in volcanology and seismology for Nicaraguan civil servants. United States agencies continue collaborating very closely with their Nicaraguan colleagues to guarantee that they maintain permanent security of the natural beauty of Nicaragua.
Unfortunately, some tragedies do and will occur. But it is especially in those moments when the strength of the community shines brightest. The capsizing of the ferry between Little Corn Island and Big Corn Island last month impacted us and saddened us. Within 24 hours of the Nicaraguan government’s request, a boat and a helicopter from the United States Coast Guard, along with other US military helicopters joined in a search and rescue operation. The United States answers aid applications in tragedies such as these, because this is what neighbors do in moments of crisis.
The third point is Democracy. Dynamic communities share ideas and work together. Their members can have disagreements, but all have the liberty to express their opinions and live in agreement under the same transparent rules. It is because of this that democracy is such a necessary component of our community in the Americas and extremely important for prosperity and security.
We recognize and respect that the United States and Nicaragua can have different opinions on political issues. But the people of Nicaragua and the people of the United States share a mutual interest in strong and sustainable democracies and in free, fair and transparent elections.
The United States continues being a great defender of universal human rights all over the world and this includes freedom of expression, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly. I continue being a strong proponent of these values and approach these topics in a respectful manner with political leaders around the country.
Finally, I’d like to direct my attention towards the future. We all live in a world that changes rapidly and we find ourselves at the beginning of the fourth industrial revolution, with technology that will bring, within the next 10 years, enormous changes to the global economy and our daily lives. There will be winners and losers in this new industrial revolution, just as there were in previous revolutions.
Nicaragua should construct a society today that can compete in the world of the future. This is the world in which work will go to the person or place that can produce at the lowest cost and highest quality. Robots will replace workers in many industries.
Imagine a world in which there are self-driving cars, which will mean that truck and taxi drivers won’t be necessary. Including, parking lots won’t be necessary as automobiles will be able to direct themselves alone towards their houses. We won’t need clothes manufacturing factories, because we will be able to print our clothes for the day using our 3D (three dimensional) printer at home.
Diseases such as cancer will be treated with genetic treatments, specifically designed to attack the root of the disease through a nano-robot, smaller than a grain of sand, injected into our bodies. This is not the vision of the world in 100 years; this will be the world in less than 10 years.
So, what does Nicaragua need to do to prepare itself for this future that is approaching while I am talking?
In his recent book, “Industries of the Future”, Alec Ross, a globally recognized expert in innovations, answers the following question: “What drives much of the growth in leading cities of the world?” He said “They share a common culture of openness…the cities that are advancing in the global economy, are those that are more open to the outside world”.
Cities that have historically been open to the world connect through a culture that welcomes people from all corners of the globe and encourages the free flow of ideas and goods that in turn, transform these cities into attractive places to live and work. The combination of first-rate infrastructure and a high population density, affords us access to other people: making it easier to communicate, gather together, and exchange.
Economic openness does the same at a commercial level, helping to break up the friction that costs time and money to achieve doing business. Political openness is a form of even higher efficiency, allowing all members of a society to congregate, meet and express themselves without the friction of unnecessary censorship or discrimination.
These growing degrees of openness provide us an indication of what it will take to reach a point of support in the “industries of the future”. What Alec Ross describes as the key ingredients are the three points that we discussed here today: prosperity, security, and democracy.
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