10 Things: You Didn't Know about U.S.-Latin America Relations

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Much as President Barack Obama promised at the 2009 Summit of the Americas, the U.S. government has worked with its partners in the hemisphere on critical, broadly shared priorities such as economic growth, security and energy cooperation. But beyond these issues, we are also working with our partners to advance initiatives and issues that deserve more attention. Here are a few of my favorites.

1 Youth Ambassadors from Latin America.

What can a teenager do to make the world better? It turns out quite a lot, especially if you put the vision and energy of 15- to 18-year-olds into it. Starting as an initiative of the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia in 2002, our Youth Ambassadors Program now brings thousands of young leaders from disadvantaged backgrounds, representing 25 countries across the hemisphere, to stay with families in places like Mesa, Arizona; Moscow, Idaho; and Huntsville, Alabama, to perfect their English while working in local communities. More than learning a second language, many also return home to continue their civic efforts, like the 2005 Youth Ambassador from Brazil who, now 25, has completed her legal education and is a special advisor to the Second Civil Court of Manaus.

2Hemispheric Energy Integration

Think it's only Middle Eastern oil that fuels the U.S. economy? Not so. If current trends hold, it will increasingly be our Western Hemispheric partners. Already, more than half of U.S. crude oil and petroleum imports come from the Americas, including Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela. But the new energy grid will involve more than carbon-based energy. To better coordinate and expand our hemispheric supply and demand, the administration created the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ecpa) to coordinate policy on energy and climate change. Through ecpa, public- and private-sector officials from 15 countries have connected with 200 U.S. clean energy companies, supporting renewable energy projects in the region and resulting in over $18 million in U.S. clean energy exports. Our initiative, "Connecting the Americas 2022," is working to get more people on the electrical grid by promoting power sector development and electrical interconnection among countries. The goal: ensure that everyone in the hemisphere has access to electricity within a decade.

3 Inclusion for the Disabled

We are working on a number of fronts to promote social inclusion of the disabled. This includes supporting a partnership between Gallaudet University and the University of the Americas in Panama to establish an educational hub for deaf students in Latin America, developing Ecuador's first sign language dictionary, and working with the Arcángeles Foundation, a Colombian nongovernmental organization, to create a South American Quad Rugby Network across nine countries. Quad rugby, a wheelchair sport for players who have lost some degree of function in both the upper and lower limbs, currently has leagues in Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, and Peru; U.S. support for them is part of a broader development effort to use team sports to promote peace, empowerment and social inclusion.

4 Entrepreneurs of the Hemisphere Unite!

Small businesses and entrepreneurs drive job creation in the United States and across the Americas. The approximately 50 million Latinos living in the U.S. are opening businesses at twice the national rate, making more than 2.3 million entrepreneurs and generating over $345 billion in sales. Last April, President Obama announced the creation of the Small Business Network of the Americas (sbna) to connect more than 2,000 small business development centers serving 2 million clients across the Western Hemisphere. One example: the Mariachi Connection, a small business in San Antonio, Texas, that sources uniforms and instruments in Mexico for mariachi groups in the United States. …