Secretary Antony J. Blinken Keynote Remarks at the Cities Summit of the Americas Closing Plenary

Secretary Antony J. Blinken Keynote Remarks at the Cities Summit of the Americas Closing Plenary

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Thank you very much.  Thank you.  Good afternoon.  It is wonderful to be with all of you here in Denver.  And Mike, let me just say to you first off, I can’t thank you enough for your extraordinary leadership in bringing all of this together.  The work you did to galvanize the community, to get the support that we needed for this summit, it’s a remarkable contribution not just to this community but to our entire hemisphere.

And I also want to especially thank Governor Polis, Mayor Hancock not just for your hospitality but for your leadership as well in bringing us all together.  We picked Denver to host the inaugural Cities Summit of the Americas in large part because of its track record in addressing global challenges at a local level.  And that’s really what this summit is all about for us.

I’m so thrilled to be joined by literally hundreds of mayors and governors, tribal and other indigenous leaders, along with dozens of networks which support them, like ICLEI, U.S. Conference of Mayors, C40 Cities Group.  We also want to welcome the many representatives of civil society and the private sector who are here with us today.

If you go back to last June, leaders from across our hemisphere came together in Los Angeles for the Ninth Summit of the Americas.  We agreed to ambitious commitments on issues that actually matter in the lives of all of our citizens: migration, climate change, democratic governance; sustainable, inclusive economic growth.

Each of you, as city leaders, are on the front lines of tackling these global challenges.  You’re welcoming and integrating migrants into your communities.  You’re planning for and responding to natural disasters, made more frequent by the climate crisis.  You’re addressing the issues that are facing your residents, from law enforcement challenges like ransomware, to public health crises like the COVID pandemic.  Your efforts day-in/day-out are helping us make progress on the commitments that we made as countries in Los Angeles.

Cities, when you come down to it, are where democracy is closest to its people.  And when cities are responsive to the needs of residents, they demonstrate democracy’s greatest strength: its ability to improve on itself, to empower citizens to hold their leaders accountable, to try out different solutions, and to allow the best ideas to rise to the top.

We’re hosting the Cities Summit of the Americas because our collective ability to deliver for our people and to tackle global issues depends on all of you.  It’s as simple and as straightforward as that.  And we look forward to continuing to elevate your voices in every dimension of our work in the hemisphere, including at the Tenth Summit of the Americas that’ll be hosted by the Dominican Republic.  And it’s also why we plan for this to be the first but not the last of many Cities Summits to come.  (Applause.)

Now, what we know is this and what I’ve learned over 30 or so years of doing this going around the world is this:  Somewhere, in some part of the world, someone has figured out the solution to a problem that many people are trying to solve; but if we don’t share that information, if we don’t share that knowledge, then everyone else just has to keep reinventing the wheel.

So our success in addressing the many issues that we’re trying to tackle right now depends on the best ideas being shared among all of you.  And it’s why I hope that the connections – and that’s the word that Mike used – is the word indeed that comes back again and again.  Connections, interconnectivity.  I hope the connections you’ve made here in Denver will last a long time and that you use them to continue to engage with each other, to share ideas, to share solutions.

And as I said, our success depends on these ideas being shared among you.  It also depends on national governments learning from you, incorporating the ideas and perspectives of our cities and communities into the policies that we’re making at a national level.

So what I thought I’d do today as we’re closing out this summit is to share just three areas where cities are leading the way, and where deeper connections between cities and national governments can make a profound difference in the lives and livelihoods of our people, starting with the first issue I’ll talk about: migration.

Now, if you step back for a minute and think about the moment we’re in globally, there are more people displaced from their homes around the world than at any time in recorded history: more than 100 million.  In our own hemisphere, more than 20 million people are on the move.

Back at the Summit of the Americas, we came together to try to address what is an unprecedented migration challenge across our hemisphere through something we called the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection, which reflected the first truly regional approach to the issue.  Twenty-one countries agreed that we have a shared responsibility to tackle the migration challenge together, and they agreed on a shared set of principles and priorities, among them expanding protections for migrants who are at risk.

So under the leadership of Mayor Claudia López, someone I’ve had the great pleasure of working with on many occasions – she’s here with us today, Bogotá has been putting this principle into practice since last year.

I had a chance to visit last time I was in Colombia one of the city’s pioneering migration integration facilities, which offers basically a one-stop-shop where people get a Temporary Protected Status card, they get connected to jobs, they get connected to schools, they get to sign up for essential services like health care.

Because of these efforts, Bogotá has welcomed more refugees in recent years than any other city in the Americas – or, as Mayor López likes to call them, “New Bogotános.”  Colombia as a whole has given refuge to more than 2.5 million Venezuelans who were displaced by their country’s crisis.

And because the protected status that Colombia gives them allows Venezuelans to work, they are also contributing to Colombia’s economy, filling jobs, providing services, starting new businesses.  These efforts are driving growth.  They’re creating opportunities for Colombians as well as Venezuelans.  And they’re showing that we can actually manage migration safely, humanely, and use it as an opportunity to strengthen our communities.

City leaders are also stepping up to tackle the second issue I want to talk about, and that’s the climate crisis.

Back in 2019, the Mississippi River Basin – and that’s an area that stretches across 31 of our states in the United States – that basin experienced historic floods, causing more than $6 billion in damages.  In the aftermath, mayors from more than a hundred cities and towns – led by Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons, who’s here with us today – have been helping prepare their communities for future floods to get ahead of the next problem, the next crisis.

Working hand-in-hand with local and global environmental organizations, the mayors and their partners are restoring 66,000 acres of wetlands, of forests, of marshes, and adapting the land to regulate stormwater flow, with a focus on building resilience for communities that have historically been overlooked.

Once completed, these restored lands will capture more than 165,000 tons of carbon from the air.  Now, that’s the equivalent of taking about 36,000 cars off the road every year.  And their efforts are making cities and towns more resilient against floods.  When the area around St. Louis – which is in the basin – was hit with a “once in a thousand-years rainfall” in 2022, the wetlands there soaked up enough stormwater to fill 750 Olympic-size swimming pools, and that saved millions of dollars in potential damages.

Now, often innovations at the city level start from the dedicated work of civil society leaders, and that’s the case for the third and final area I want to talk about today, and that’s transparency in our governance.

In Chihuahua, Mexico, members of a local anti-corruption nonprofit, Karaywah, came together to tackle lack of transparency in their municipal government.  In 2019, when this initiative started, only about 60 percent of municipal contracts were being publicly bid.  That meant that many companies were left out of the bidding process – reducing competition, driving up costs for taxpayers.

Karaywah teamed up with other Mexican NGOs, with the United Nations Development Programme, and with the U.S. Agency for International Development to put together a digital platform that tracks and publishes open municipal contracts, that follows the bidding process, that allows constituents to monitor where their tax dollars are being spent.

Now, 100 percent of municipal contracts in Chihuahua City are published online.  The tool has been so successful that it’s now being rolled out, free of cost, to 15 other city and state governments across Mexico – decreasing the potential for corruption, increasing people’s  participation and trust in government, something that is especially critical in the times that we’re living.

On issue after issue, in city after city, local leaders are pointing the way to effective solutions.  This week’s summit shows many more promising opportunities to deliver for our people, including one starting right here in Denver.

The City of Denver and the State Department signed an agreement to partner on building early detection systems to track the evolution of new synthetic drugs, like fentanyl, so that we can develop lifesaving interventions early on.  We’ll share our findings with partners across the hemisphere, so that we can inform locally-led efforts to counter this public health and security threat.

Now, this is a powerful illustration of how solutions that we’re finding and answers that we’re finding at the local level can have a powerful impact on the most pressing, most urgent national problems and international problems we face.  Fentanyl in the United States is responsible for more deaths among Americans aged 18 to 49 than anything else.  Think about that for a second.  The leading cause of death in our country for Americans aged 18 to 49 is synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

Last year, we seized enough fentanyl to kill every single American.  That’s the scale of the problem.  By definition it has to have an international solution, which we’re working on very hard at the State Department under President Biden’s guidance, but also national and local responses.  And I had a chance to see some of the incredibly important work that Denver is doing right here, and I’m grateful for the partnership that we have.

Dozens of cities from across the hemisphere also came together to sign the Denver Declaration, which reflects their shared commitment to addressing the challenges facing our cities, including affordable housing, migration, and the climate crisis.

And thanks to the leadership of Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes, more than 45 cities also launched the Anti-Racist Cities Network, through which cities will share best practices for promoting equity and inclusion in our societies.  Discrimination robs democracies, including ours in the United States, of the strength, the innovation, the creativity of so many of our citizens, which is exactly what we need to more effectively face the challenges of our time.  And that’s why efforts like this one are really important in empowering our full populations.

To strengthen the partnership between the United States mayors and their counterparts across the world, we at the State Department recently launched a new City and State Diplomacy Office.  So again, people might ask, how is it that we have an office at the State Department to engage at the subnational level?  Well, this summit here in Denver demonstrates exactly why it was important for us to do that.

Since October, Ambassador Nina Hachigian and her team have been working at building the ties that we’re seeing come to full fruition here in Denver.  Ambassador Hachigian has held senior positions at the White House, the State Department, and the city of Los Angeles, where she was deputy mayor for international affairs.  Nina and her team are here in Denver; if you haven’t had the chance to connect up with them yet, I hope in the remaining time that you have you’ll take the opportunity to do so.

The city and state diplomacy teams work as a key component, but not the only component, of the State Department’s substantive engagement with cities across our hemisphere.  Many of you in this audience have worked closely with our embassies in your countries, in your cities, on a wide variety of issues – connecting your cities’ businesses with the U.S. private sector.  Launching partnerships to strengthen our shared energy security.  Combating human trafficking.  Promoting global health.  In so many ways, the connectivity between our department and your cities is helping to produce real results.

Earlier today I also had a chance – and I hope, again, some of you, if not all of you, had the opportunity to do this – I had a chance to visit the Innovation Plaza at the summit, where many of our companies are displaying solutions that they’ve found to the challenges that you’re trying to address, from accessing government services to recycling and sustainability to housing.  These connections, too, between cities and the private sector are another very vital part of this gathering.

Now, to build on all of this work, we’re devoting additional resources to our engagement with cities.  Yesterday we launched something called Cities Forward, an initiative to help cities build a sustainable, inclusive, and resilient future.  Through this program, which we’re running with our implementing partners ICLEI, Resilient Cities Catalyst, and the Institute of the Americas, we’ll start by connecting 12 American cities here in the United States with 12 Latin American and Caribbean cities so that they can share directly experiences and lessons on everything from how they’re finding new ways to reduce air and water pollution to designing their infrastructure to better withstand more intense and frequent natural disasters.

We’ll also support participating cities with funding, technical assistance to develop and implement sustainability action plans that benefit all of their constituents, including those from underserved communities.  And while we’re starting with 24 cities, we plan to share our findings with cities throughout our entire hemisphere so that what we learn from this initiative, we can take that and we can scale it.  I’m doing a little advertising – the application for Cities Forward is now live.  Consider applying.

As you all know well, there is tremendous collaboration already happening in communities across our hemisphere.  To cite just one example, look at the work being done here in Denver by community leaders Kristin Lacy and Vivi Lemus, who are also here with us today.

When they first met, Kristin and Vivi realized how much that they had in common.  Vivi was born in Guatemala; Kristin had spent years working there.  They loved two things: coffee and cooking.  They shared a dream of creating a space to build community between Spanish and English speakers.  So they started putting away their savings.  They got financing from local lenders.  A fellow entrepreneur tipped them off to an open space, and city leaders stepped in to help them secure it.

Last year, Kristin and Vivi opened Convivio Café, Denver’s first women and immigrant-owned, bilingual coffee shop.  They source their coffee directly from Guatemalan growers.  That allows farmers to earn up to four times the profit they otherwise would, and they use the walls of their cafe as a space to display art that exposes customers to Guatemalan culture.

Connections like these are leading to tangible benefits for people across our countries – through greater exports and good-paying jobs that respect labor rights, that give workers a fair shot at getting ahead, providing for their families and their communities.  These partnerships are already being built – not only between our people and businesses, but also city and national governments, labor unions, civil society, multilateral organizations.

We’re increasingly bound together through these connections, and what’s so important is that we’re putting them to work, putting them to work to meet the challenges of our time, the challenges we have to face if we’re going to make a meaningful difference in the lives and livelihoods of our fellow citizens.

President Biden has said on more than one occasion that we have everything we need to deliver for our people right here in our own hemisphere – and work being led by cities across the region, which you’ve shared throughout this summit, shows exactly how we’re doing that.

So to each and every one of you who’s participated this week, and to each and every one of you who’s not only participating this week but engaging every single day in these efforts, thank you.  Thank you for your leadership, thank you for your partnership, thank you for the work that we’re doing together as we build toward a more secure, a more prosperous shared future in the Americas.  I, for one, am greatly looking forward to seeing all that we can accomplish for our people, and for our hemisphere, in the months and years ahead, following up on everything that’s happened this week here in Denver.  Thank you all so much.  (Applause.)

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