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Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman Remarks at University of Buenos Aires
April 14, 2023

Buenas tardes!  Thank you, Ambassador Stanley, for your introduction and for serving as an energetic and wise guide through Buenos Aires today and every day.

Vice President Yacobitti, Dean Pahlen, Secretary Conejero, and Professor Micha: it’s an honor to join you at the University of Buenos Aires, where you’ve educated presidents and trained Nobel laureates, and where, by lifting up the next generation of leaders, you give life to your creed — that “Argentine virtue is strength and study.”  Good wise words for all of us.

Before returning to government as Deputy Secretary of State, I was a professor, profesora, at Harvard University.  So whenever I travel to a university campus, I fall right back into teacher mode.

Don’t worry, I’m not handing out homework.  But I am giving you an assignment.  Let this discussion be only the start of your engagement in the US-Argentina relationship.  Be ready to take the reins of leadership because the future rests on your hopes, your passion, your priorities, your activism.

For me, when I consider the nation you will inherit, my first thoughts turn to my original impressions of Argentina as a tourist:  the breathtaking beauty of this country and its people; the wine, of course, and cuisine; the stunning glaciers in the south; the rich culture forged over a long history.  And for each of my two young grandsons, the best futbol player in the world.

Yet I also take stock of your more recent past and the marker you commemorate this year.  Not only the 200 years of our diplomatic relations, but in many ways, much more importantly, the 40th anniversary of Argentina’s return to democracy.

Oftentimes, when learning about these landmark moments in a classroom, progress can seem inevitable.  Progress can seem like it was fated to be.  But the truth tends to be more complicated, defined by fits and starts, twists and turns, times of terror competing with hours of hope.

The fact is, progress never unfolds on a straight line and rarely happens without someone’s hands on the wheel trying, against all the odds, to steer a nation in the right direction.

That certainly applies here.  In my country as well.  The reappearance of democracy four decades ago wasn’t preordained.  It was the product of ordinary citizens willing to sacrifice everything for their rights.

In the wake of the darkness of the “disappeared,” in the face of threats of imprisonment and torture, in spite of forces bent on retaining their grip on control, brave souls refused to be bystanders.  They were determined to be history’s authors.

Perhaps most central in this story were the Grandmothers, Abuelas, and Mothers, Madres, of the Plaza de Mayo.

This coalition of powerful women followed the instinct of any and every parent — to protect their children, many ripped from their homes without a trace.

Quickly, their demands turned into more — a movement for a democratic Argentina.  They cried out for justice and sounded the alarm for accountability, and ultimately, their righteous cause won the day.

They took to the streets to stand against the horrors of the time, but also to stand for something better — a government that heeds the will of the people, a society where free expression is defended, free speech is cherished, and free voices prevail.

They made change possible and progress real.  And their tale is a clarion reminder that democracy doesn’t happen by accident.  Not in Argentina.  Not in the United States.  Not anywhere.

Democracy, here and in the United States, is an unfinished enterprise, demanding energy and engagement and persistence.  It requires tending and attention, an active citizenry and a transparent government.

But there’s another essential element.  Democracy cannot be sustained simply because marches succeed, new leaders are chosen, or elections are held.

Democracy has to prove itself. Democracy has to demonstrate that, though imperfect and incomplete, it is our best chance for greater prosperity and possibility, for fairness and peace, for unleashing human potential and preserving human dignity.

To quote my dear friend, now passed away, and a former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright — she would always say, “democracy has to deliver.”  It has to make people’s lives better and open doors to jobs and opportunity, public safety and stability.  Because yes, people want to cast a ballot, but they need to put food on the table too.

So we have to ask ourselves: what does it look like for democracy to deliver?  What role can we play, in both our countries, to confront daily challenges around employment, health, and security, while amplifying the strengths of democracy worldwide?

These questions don’t lend themselves to simple or straightforward answers, but it is our responsibility, in the halls of leadership, in the halls of universities, to address them.

It’s far easier said than done.  The United States, like Argentina, is confronting stiff headwinds weighing on our policymaking and our politics.  Issues like inflation, economic inequality, the climate crisis, and partisan polarization.

And all of this is made more intense and complex by the rapid pace of technological change, by the explosion of social media, by the advent of artificial intelligence, by the ability of disinformation to spread like wildfire, by the competing capacities of the internet to both connect and to inflame.

None of us should underestimate the breadth of these fundamental challenges, nor should we assume that our democracies will automatically equip us with the tools to overcome them.

But democracy does give us a few clear advantages.  It affords us open spaces to deliberate.  It hands us the power to consider a wide range of options, rather than limit our imaginations to one-size-fits-all solutions.

It also binds us together across borders — because democratically-governed nations are more likely to work as partners to pursue peace, promote equitable growth, protect human rights, public health, the environment, and more.

We see that play out in the vital cooperation between the US and Argentina, now marking 200 years of diplomatic relations.  We can continue to deliver for our people, our region, and our planet as long as we keep working as democracies do at our best — together.

Together, we have a vast opportunity to feed and fuel the world.

Argentina’s oil and gas reserves can help spark the local economy and help global communities reeling from high prices while financing Argentina’s energy transition.

Argentina’s farmers can help families struggling to afford food at the grocery store.

Argentina’s lithium deposits and other rare earth minerals can help power batteries, electric vehicles, and clean tech made here, deployed here, and sold and delivered worldwide.

Argentina’s greatest strength is you.  Argentina’s human capital.  Humans like you, all of you, in helping to ignite the next wave of innovation for this remarkable country, enable Argentines to move up the production chain, and see the ideas for tomorrow’s products born here in this nation today.

Together, we are tackling some of the biggest issues on the global agenda.

Through our bilateral dialogues, we are supporting efforts under the Paris Agreement to tackle the climate crisis by promoting green energy investments, decarbonization, and the sustainable development of natural resources.

Through our diplomatic work, we are seeking ways to ensure our companies can stay engaged in one another’s markets by increasing access to foreign capital in Argentina, creating greater predictability for investors, and setting clearer export and import standards for businesses.

Through engagements across the Americas, we are advancing concrete actions to bolster supply chains, deepen public-private partnerships, and forge the conditions for safe, orderly, and humane migration in our hemisphere.

Through last year’s Summit of the Americas, we joined private sector, youth, civil society, and government representatives from this entire region to endorse and drive a robust agenda on health, resilience, clean energy, climate, digital transformation, and democratic governance.

Through the Summit for Democracy, the US, Argentina, and international partners committed to a set of steps to fight corruption, expand respect for human rights, promote workers’ rights, open markets, and strengthen civil society.

All of this speaks to another key building block of our common efforts: if we want to see democracy deliver, if we want democracy to succeed and thrive, then together, we must stand fast for democracy anywhere it is under threat.

This is one of the biggest, tallest tests of our time.

This requires us to be clear-eyed about what’s happening on this continent.

How places like Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba are more defined by repression, violence, and economic collapse than dignity, human rights, and prosperity.

How Argentina and likeminded neighbors must keep faith with the right to peaceful assembly, transparent governance, and vigorous discourse.

How Argentina is building on 40 years of progress by openly addressing its authoritarian past, investing in restorative justice, and expanding gender equity, LGBTQI+ rights, diversity, accessibility, and inclusion.

This cause demands our unity on the world stage as well.

We are taking on big tasks like nonproliferation, and it should be a source of pride to see two Argentines like Rafael Grossi and Gustavo Zlauvinen helming key pillars of the global nonproliferation regime.

We are tackling energy, food, and economic security because where authoritarian regimes try exploit these problems for political gain, democracies must show that we do have the answers that are required to feed our families, put gas in the tanks of our cars and buses, and power our homes.

We are responding to Russia’s unprovoked, illegal invasion into a sovereignty country, Ukraine, with unity in international forums, with unwavering support for Ukraine’s ability to defend itself, with unflinching backing for the principles in the UN charter of national sovereignty, territorial integrity, and the right of every country to determine its own destiny.

Together, we must demonstrate what democracy can achieve when we believe in our course and our cause, when we uphold the rule of law, when we work as a team toward common goals of justice and fairness for all.

Just a few months ago, the world bore witness to another field where unity of purpose yielded incredible results — I mentioned this at the beginning — as Leonel Messi and the Albiceleste secured a third World Cup trophy for Argentina.

It was amazing.  I was at the Secretary of State’s house.  He had called us all together for a holiday brunch.  We couldn’t start because we were all glued to the television set, because we kept thinking the game was going to be over.  Several times.

Seeing this win bring such exuberance to Argentine fans, watching millions — and I went to the soccer museum today — watching millions take to the streets in celebration was a remarkable sight.  It inspired soccer’s faithful everywhere.

It might seem a little odd for me to bring this up at the end of a speech focused on democracy in Argentina and across the globe.

But for anyone who understands the power of futbol, for anyone who appreciates what sports can do, the connections are clear.  Because what the Argentine players achieved is about more than their physical gifts or athletic glory.

What they showed us is how soccer — and sports writ large — can unify and uplift.  How it can serve as a binding force and a universal language.  How it can transcend borders and teach us about perseverance and persistence, communication and cooperation, grace in victory and respect on and off the field.

Put another way: that beautiful game instills in us a sense of our common humanity, of what is possible when everyone has a role to play, everyone has a chance to make their mark, everyone can compete fairly, and everybody belongs.

That is a recipe for success on the pitch.  These are the ingredients for progress in democracy as well.  A system that works best when each citizen has a stake and each family and worker sees a place for themselves in thriving communities, healthy environments, and open societies.

When that happens, we feel invested in seeing our democracy survive and succeed, grow and deliver.  We feel a renewed sense of commitment to building an Argentina, a United States, a region, a world, and a future that is safe, stable, secure, and free.

I look forward to working with you and watching us create that future together.

Gracias a todos.