…I think it is undeniable what our unity of purpose is. Step by step, making our democracies stronger and our people more secure – in Guatemala, in Colombia, and throughout the Americas. And for the most part, I think you’ll agree with me the Western Hemisphere is unified in its commitment to pursuing successful democracies in the way that I describe.
But one exception, of course, remains: Cuba. Since President Obama took office, the Administration has started to search for a new beginning with Cuba. As he said just last week, when it comes to our relationship with Cuba, we have to be creative, we have to be thoughtful, and we have to continue to update our policies.
Our governments are finding some cooperation on common interests at this point in time. Each year, hundreds of thousands of Americans visit Havana, and hundreds of millions of dollars in trade and remittances flow from the United States to Cuba. We are committed to this human interchange, and in the United States we believe that our people are actually our best ambassadors. They are ambassadors of our ideals, of our values, of our beliefs.
And while we also welcome some of the changes that are taking place in Cuba which allow more Cubans to be able to travel freely and work for themselves, these changes should absolutely not blind us to the authoritarian reality of life for ordinary Cubans. In a hemisphere where citizens everywhere have a right to be able to choose their leaders, Cubans uniquely do not. In a hemisphere where people can criticize their leaders without fear of arrest or violence, Cubans still cannot. And if more does not change soon, it is clear that the 21st century will continue, unfortunately, to leave the Cuban people behind.
We look forward to the day – and we hope it will come soon – when the Cuban Government embraces a broader political reform agenda that will enable its people to freely determine their own future. The entire hemisphere – all of us – share an interest in ensuring that Cubans enjoy the rights protected by our Inter-American Democratic Charter, and we expect to stand united in this aspiration. Because in every country, including the United States, each day that we don’t press forward on behalf of personal freedoms and representative government, we risk sliding backwards. And none of us can accept that.
Even as we celebrate the democratic values that have spread throughout Latin America, we must also acknowledge where those values are being challenged…