Former U.S. ambassador speaks at UNF on relations with Latin America

Courtney Green, News Editor

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On Tuesday, September 17, former Ambassador to Panama Barbara Stephenson gave a talk at UNF’s Adam W. Herbert University Center on “The Latin Americans: Their Love-Hate Relationship with the U.S.” 

Barbara Stephenson is recognized as a distinguished diplomat. She has recently been selected as Vice Provost for Global Affairs and Chief Global Officer at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. 

Stephenson’s talk, which was part of Global Issues Lectures series, revolved around the United States’ evolving relationship with our neighbors to the south, how things have changed, and reasons for our continued involvement in the South American continent.

Key themes the former ambassador touched on included Latin America’s shift from authoritarian to democratic governments, from closed to open economies, from exclusive to inclusive societies, from isolation to global engagement, as well as Latin America’s changing relationship with the U.S., which Stephenson said could be best described as shifting “from paternalism to partnership.”

Retired U.S. Ambassador Barbara Stephenson speaks at UNF Herbert University Center. Photo by Romario Gardner.

Throughout the talk, she drew on her background as the Ambassador to Panama and connected Panama’s growth the larger trends of positive growth in Latin America.

“Panama is a small country, but its trajectory is a microcosm of the broader transformation that is taking place in our hemisphere,” she stated. “I will ask us tonight to reflect on those broad long term trends and bring those to the forefront so that we don’t overlook them over the competing messages about Latin America filling the airways.”

“This story is much bigger and much more positive than news stories about Venezuela, caravans, and criminal threats from the south. I will ask us to think tonight of the Western Hemisphere as a strategic reserve– a place rich in natural resources where we are at peace with our neighbors, share core values and many ties, from kinship to trading agreements.”

Partnership with the Latin American’s was the guiding policy during Stephenson’s tenure as U.S. Ambassador to Panama. She identified Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Tom Shannon, as the one who encouraged the move from paternalism to partnership. The concept, she said, worked powerfully in helping move the relationship toward the “love end” of the relationship.

“It’s a whole lot easier for our Latin American neighbors to love us when they don’t feel like they’re being treated disrespectfully and dismissively,” Stephenson said.

In future talks this season, expect to see David Sanger of The New York Times, Roger McNamee, Admiral James Stavridis, Malcolm Turnbull and Brett McGurk. You can view the line-up of future speakers and dates here.

In a future season of the Distinguished Voices lecture series, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright is expected to speak at UNF.

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