By Sarah de Sainte Croix, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, were among the officials in Brazil early this week to continue bilateral talks. Secretary Clinton was previously at the Sixth Summit of the Americas in Colombia from April 13-15th, before traveling to Brasilia April 16-17th to lead the U.S. delegation for the third U.S.-Brazil Global Partnership Dialogue.
On April 17th, Secretary Clinton provided opening remarks with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff at the First Annual High-Level Meeting of the Open Government Partnership (OGP).
Launched on September 20th 2011, the OGP is an international initiative aimed at developing concrete commitments to prevent corruption, promote transparency, and harness new technologies to empower citizens and make government more open and accountable.
The goal of this dialogue is to build upon the agreements the United States and Brazil reached during President Obama’s visit to Brazil in 2011 and President Rousseff’s visit to the United States on April 9th and 10th, 2012.
More than 800 representatives from over sixty countries and more than 200 civil society organizations, came together for the two day meeting to showcase their commitment to open government, and to share experiences and examples of best practice.
Jorge Hage, the Brazilian Minister of State, said, “Open government means sharing responsibilities with civil society and strengthening democracy. Real democracy is not simply about having periodic elections, but making governments more accountable and transparent to citizens throughout their period in office.”
Clinton’s right-hand-woman, U.S. Under-Secretary of State, Maria Otero, said, “Governments, civil society organizations and businesses are coming together to demonstrate how openness is fast becoming the most powerful tool for improving service delivery and effectiveness in the 21st Century.”
The issues discussed over the two-day visit ranged from education, and science and technology, to social inclusion and human rights. Yet even with the activity surrounding the OGP, business and trade was at the forefront of many minds.
Peter Hakim, president emeritus of the Inter-American Dialogue, an organization of policy experts in Washington, D.C. remarks: “This trip [appears] rather anomalous in that Hillary Clinton focuses like a laser on business issues and opportunities — promoting bilateral tax and investment treaties, making a major speech to Brazil’s leading business group, meeting with the new head of Petrobras, emphasizing innovation as the core of the relationship.”
“I applaud all this because I do think that economics should be the core of U.S. relations with Latin America in general and Brazil particularly … But where was the the economic cabinet of Obama[?]” Hakim questions.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar was in Brasília on Monday, April 16th as well, to promote tourism in the U.S. and discuss the minimization of visa requirements between the two countries.
From January to March of this year, 296,637 visas to the U.S. have been processed in Brazil, an increase of 56 percent from the year before. Still Salazar said, “We want to continue working to attract and make it easier for Brazilians to come to the U.S.”
To this end, strategies employed by the U.S. include opening two new consulates in Brazil (in Porto Alegre and Belo Horizonte); slashing visa processing times by as much as 98.5 percent, from 130 days to two days in some places; and the signing of an Aviation Partnership, which will see flights between the two countries increased.