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The Inter-American Dialogue held its biennial Sol M. Linowitz Forum on November 14 and 15, 2014 in Washington, DC. The Forum brings the Dialogue’s 100 members together once every two years for an extended discussion of the most important issues in the Western Hemisphere. Outside analysts and officials join Dialogue members to explore diverse perspectives and stimulate fresh thinking and debate among participants. This year’s gathering marked the 10th meeting of the Forum, which was inaugurated in 1996. It was the nineteenth time Dialogue members have met in plenary session.
   
The 10th Linowitz Forum convened at a moment of great flux and uncertainty in the Americas. Although there are obstacles to economic and political cooperation among the governments of the region, the prospect for rebuilding constructive relations is better in Latin America than in almost any other region of the world. The policy environment in Washington is challenging, but there are grounds for hope for improving US-Latin American relations. As in past years, the Forum offered an exceptional opportunity for diverse Dialogue members -- leaders in politics, business, civil society, journalism, and academia from throughout the Americas -- to engage in debate and discussion regarding the hemisphere’s most pressing challenges and opportunities. 

To launch the 2014 plenary activities, the Dialogue held a gala on Thursday, November 13 at the Organization of American States. OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza welcomed guests, and Ray Suarez, host of Al Jazeera America’s “Inside Story,” served as Master of Ceremonies for the evening. His Eminence Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, offered the invocation, and Dialogue president Michael Shifter delivered opening remarks. Donna Hrinak, Dialogue board member and president of Boeing Brazil, introduced and presented the Leadership for the Americas video, which can be viewed here.

In recognition of their exceptional work in the Americas, the Dialogue presented awards to Salvador Paiz, co-chairman of Grupo PDC and chair of FunSEPA, and US Senator Tim Kaine (D) of Virginia. Enrique García, president of CAF – Development Bank of Latin America and co-vice chair of the Dialogue, presented Mr. Paiz with the Award for Civic Engagement, and Thomas F. McLarty III, co-vice chair of the Dialogue and chairman of McLarty Associates, presented Senator Kaine with the Award for Public Service in the Americas.

Forum activities continued the following morning at the Georgetown University Conference Center, concluding with lunch on Saturday, November 15.
     
The Forum agenda featured sessions on a range of pressing issues in the Americas, including the region’s economic forecast; US policy in the hemisphere; skills and their role in Latin America’s development; natural resource abundance and energy poverty in the region; crime, violence, and the rule of law; Latin America and the global economy; and regional relations, hemispheric affairs, and the role of the United States.

The Forum opened with a briefing session on the Americas’ economic outlook, with  remarks by Alejandro Werner, director of the Western Hemisphere department of the International Monetary Fund; Santiago Levy, vice president for sectors and knowledge at the Inter-American Development Bank; and Michael Kaplan, deputy assistant secretary for the Western Hemisphere at the US Department of Treasury. Enrique García chaired the session. Although the participants agreed that investment, productivity, and education are essential elements for economic growth, they differed slightly in their views regarding the region’s prospects for growth in the coming years, particularly in light of China’s recent economic slowdown.

A second briefing focused on the Obama administration’s Latin America and immigration policy agenda in the coming year. Cecilia Muñoz, assistant to president Obama and director of the Domestic Policy Council, spoke on immigration reform in particular, while David McKean, director of policy and planning at the US State Department, offered remarks on the United States’ policy in the hemisphere more broadly. Jim Kolbe, senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund and former US Representative (R-AZ), moderated the session. Participants noted that consensus exists regarding the need for US immigration reform, but politics and partisanship, not debate over the substance of reform, remain the primary obstacles. Hemispheric partnership is a widely shared aspiration, but the best approach to achieve that aim is not clear, and hard for the United States to put in practice. 

Following the briefings, Donna Hrinak chaired a session on skills and their role in development in Latin America. Lead-off speakers for the conversation included Michael Penfold, director for public policy and competitiveness at CAF – Development Bank of Latin America; Mona Mourshed, director of the education practice at McKinsey & Co.; and Felipe Ortiz de Zevallos, president of Grupo APOYO and former ambassador of Peru to the United States. Discussants commented on the dearth of skilled labor in the region, a shortage that often prompts the private sector to bring in personnel from overseas rather than tapping domestic talent pools. Collaboration between the public and private sectors can play a key role in addressing this gap, participants noted, as can investments in early education, support for worker mobility throughout the region, and shaping perceptions of professional versus vocational occupations.  

Participants continued the discussion of skills and education at Friday’s luncheon, when the Dialogue formally launched its Commission for Quality Education for All. Ricardo Lagos, former president of Chile and the commission’s co-chair, offered remarks before opening the floor to participants. The debate on education in Latin America and the Caribbean has evolved from focusing on years of school completion to improving the quality of instruction and how to evaluate its effectiveness. Although each country in the region faces particular challenges, certain themes remain relevant for all, such as the teaching profession, evaluation mechanisms, innovation, sustainable financing, and early childhood education. By elevating the education debate and offering recommendations, the commission is poised to play a pivotal role in shaping the region’s education agenda.
   
Following lunch, John McCarter, former president and CEO of GE Latin America, chaired the session titled “Managing Natural Resource Abundance and Energy Poverty in Latin America.” He was joined by lead-off speakers Marta Lucía Ramírez, former trade, defense, and foreign affairs minister of Colombia; William Reilly, senior advisor at TPG Capital and former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; and Carlos Pascual, former special envoy and coordinator for international energy affairs at the US State Department. Commentators noted the significance of the balance between energy economics and the environment, the impact of Mexico’s energy reform, the need to reevaluate the export of commodities as driving economic growth, and the effects of global oil prices on the region.

The final Forum session on Friday, “Crime, Violence, and the Rule of Law: Pending Challenges and Lessons for Better Policies,” addressed the pressing issue of human security in the hemisphere. Ambassador of Mexico Eduardo Medina Mora moderated the exchange. Lead-off speakers included Paulina Duarte, director of the department of public security at the Organization of American States; Eduardo Stein, former vice president of Guatemala; Pablo Sanguinetti, chief economist of CAF – Development Bank of Latin America; and Sergio Fajardo, governor of Antioquia and former mayor of Medellín. Participants agreed that violence remains a challenge for Latin American countries and cited weak states, narco-trafficking, low education levels, and poverty and inequality as contributing factors. While some noted the need for regional cooperation to address troubling crime rates, others emphasized the responsibility that each state has to its citizens and their security.

Friday evening’s dinner featured guest speaker Peter Baker, White House correspondent for The New York Times, who offered remarks on the Obama administration and especially US foreign policy.  Lee Cullum, columnist for the Dallas Morning News, presided. Baker engaged with participants in a lively exchange on an array of questions, including President Obama’s impending actions on immigration and prospective presidential candidates for the 2016 election. 

Forum activities continued Saturday morning with a session on Latin America and the global economy. Offering opening comments were lead-off speakers Arturo Sarukhan, former ambassador of Mexico to the United States; Barbara Kotschwar, research associate at the Peterson Institute for International Economics; and Antoni Estevadeordal, manager of the Integration and Trade Sector at the Inter-American Development Bank. Roberto Teixeira da Costa, board member of SulAmérica, moderated the exchange. Throughout the session, participants commented on the projected slowdown of Latin America’s economic growth in the coming years and debated the merits of sub-regional trade blocs such as Mercosur and the Pacific Alliance. Several remarked on Japan’s renewed focus on increasing its presence in the hemisphere, noting its determination to catch up with China. 

The final session of the Forum included opening comments from Leonel Fernández, former president of the Dominican Republic; Fernando Cepeda, professor of the University of the Andes and former permanent representative of Colombia to the United Nations; Rebeca Grynspan, secretary general of the Iberoamerican General Secretariat and former vice president of Costa Rica; and Abraham Lowenthal, emeritus professor of international affairs at the University of Southern California. Lagos chaired the session, during which participants discussed integration initiatives within Latin America, as well as the region’s relationship with the United States. Although Washington has recently afforded little policy attention to the region, one speaker noted that the United States and Latin America are increasingly connected through business and personal relationships, as shown through remittances, immigration, and investment.  

To conclude, Jorge Domínguez, Antonio Madero professor and vice provost for International Affairs at Harvard University, reflected and offered remarks on how the Forum agenda, and Latin America itself, has transformed since the Dialogue’s first plenary session in 1982.  Back then, the conversation focused on authoritarianism in Mexico, Argentina at war with the United Kingdom, civil war in Central America, Shining Path in Peru, and military dictatorships throughout the region. Domínguez pointed out that, as further evidence of the region’s changing priorities, only one session of the Forum focused on the United States, and “that may have been too much.” Latin American countries are making their own futures.