As we gather June 6-10 in Los Angeles for the 9th Summit of the Americas with conflict raging in Ukraine, a renewed surge of irregular migration and a potential recession on the horizon, it is imperative to discuss the role the Americas can play in the rapidly evolving geopolitical order.
As our region emerges from the worst of the pandemic, we have an extraordinary opportunity to reimagine our approach to the many interconnected issues – from migration to climate change – that impact our societies today and will continue to shape them in the future. Like many in our neighborhood, Panama believes that the nations of the Americas must prioritize multilateral cooperation to overcome the most pressing challenges we share, and to achieve the Summit’s promise of building a sustainable, resilient, and equitable future for the next generation.
The recent convening of several groundbreaking meetings in Panama has laid the foundations for the international community to build upon. Earlier this year, Panama welcomed high-level representatives from twenty countries to develop a joint road map to deal with the irregular migration crisis – perhaps the most visible challenge facing the Americas today, and the best example of how our fates as a region are interconnected. The framework emerging from that meeting brings together regional actors to track migration flows, ensure migrants receive the care they need, and dismantle criminal smuggling groups, establishing true hemispheric co-responsibility in the face of the phenomenon.
At the Summit of the Americas, we must sustain the momentum to address this critical issue. We have made real progress as a region – notably, the daily influx of migrants crossing into Panama en route to northern countries has declined from its 2021 peak. But so long as governments in our region fail to provide their citizens with opportunities in their home countries, they will continue to seek out a better future elsewhere. We need commitment from countries of origin, transit, and destination to secure funding to address the root causes of the problem. Migration impacts our entire hemisphere – we will need collaboration from every country to enact a meaningful solution.
The ripple effects of the conflict in Ukraine must also be addressed at the Summit. Recent surveys from the World Food Programme highlight our region’s vulnerability to rising food prices exacerbated by the war, with the number of severely food insecure people in Latin America and the Caribbean rising by more than half a million since December 2021. In the same vein, WTI futures predict a sustained rise in the price of fuel and in the cost of electricity for our region, threatening the safety and economic well-being of our people.
In Panama, as in the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean, we are beginning to pay the price for a distant conflict that is changing the world order. In response, Panama earlier this year convened a task force of Central American and Caribbean nations to raise awareness of the regional consequences stemming from this humanitarian tragedy. Over several days, the hemisphere gathered in Panama for unprecedented meetings that were amplified all over the world.
The Summit of the Americas presents a platform to build on this foundation. Recognizing that global challenges will continue to affect our region’s stability, Panama has put forward a consensus proposal to speak up with a single regional voice and promote a rapid response, before the war’s impacts grow even more severe.
We cannot be mere spectators, frozen in inaction as we stare at the horizon, watching the storm approach. Only with the effective cohesion of our region, mitigating challenges as a bloc and amplifying our voice through international mechanisms, will we build the united leadership needed to navigate this volatile global environment.
Panama’s success in the effective and timely acquisition of COVID-19 vaccines offers a roadmap to follow. Through swift government action and public-private collaboration, Panama secured an adequate supply of vaccines to inoculate 80% of our eligible population. That same strategic foresight is what we propose to replicate as a region, for example by anticipating the devastating effects of future crises and acting to bolster our resilience and guarantee our ability to meet the basic needs of our populations.
Each one of our countries has unique strengths to lend to this effort. Panama’s state-of-the-art port and canal system, for instance, stands ready to facilitate the distribution of food and humanitarian aid to countries in need. As we look to strengthen regional cohesion, we must pool exporters and pair them with importers, enhance the resilience of our supply chains and prepare regional frameworks to deal with economic challenges and mitigate inflation. We can all do our part, and map this out as a region.
As we all gather in Los Angeles, we must double our efforts to deepen regional ties and respond to shared challenges with one voice. Failure is not an option – the economic outlook is dire, and the pandemic and the consequences of the war in Ukraine are converging into a hemispheric perfect storm. Avoiding widespread hunger and poverty, irregular migration and inequality is only possible if we unite to define a clear roadmap. This Summit of the Americas represents a chance for our region’s leaders to move from words to action and prove that our countries are stronger and more prosperous when we act collectively. We must not let the opportunity go to waste.
Erika Mouynes is Panama’s minister of foreign affairs.