UM hosts Concordia’s 2022 Americas Summit: President of Colombia, Prime Minister of Bahamas, many more attend

David Luna, executive director of the International Coalition Against Illicit Economies, leads a roundtable to discuss free trade zones and illicit trade.
David Luna, executive director of the International Coalition Against Illicit Economies, leads a roundtable to discuss free trade zones and illicit trade. Photo credit: Patrick Mccaslin

Current and former heads of state, chief executive officers (CEOs) , lawyers, executives, ambassadors and local officials convened in the University of Miami’s Shalala Student Center for Concordia’s 2022 Americas Summit on July 13 and 14.

The summit, a two day event taking place on Wednesday and Thursday, brought together about 50 leaders to foster unconventional connections and friendships with the goal of innovating solutions in the Western hemisphere for issues such as democratic backslide, climate change, pandemic recovery and more.

“Concordia exists on the core tenet that human connection is the foundation by which anything gets done,” said Matthew Swift, co-founder and CEO of Concordia.

Concordia’s decision to host the Americas Summit in Miami reflects the city’s position as a geopolitical and economic capital of Latin America. The University of Miami further acts as an influencer in the Americas with plans to open offices in Latin American countries and through its role in the Hemispheric University Consortium.

“One of the big ideas in our strategic plan towards the centennial, the Roadmap to Our New Century, is to make the University of Miami a hemispheric university, meaning a university that has presence, influence, across all of the Americas,” said University of Miami President Julio Frenk.

Swift echoed this sentiment, saying UM’s intention to become a hemispheric institution has been the bedrock of the university.

“The University was founded on documents that recognize the importance of creating a pan-American university,” Swift said.

Swift and Frenk opened the Summit with remarks on the importance of Concordia’s work for the United States’ engagement in the Western hemisphere, an often overlooked region in American politics.

“The very meaning of the word, ‘Concordia,’ to bring hearts and minds together, aligns beautifully with one of the key roles that the university performs” Frenk said in his speech.

Secretary general of the OAS, Luis Almagro, speaks with journalist Paola Serna on the importance of gender equality in the Americas.
Secretary general of the OAS, Luis Almagro, speaks with journalist Paola Serna on the importance of gender equality in the Americas. Photo credit: Patrick Mccaslin

The Summit opened with a roundtable discussion on Free Trade Zones and the effects of illicit trade within the Americas, an issue Miami is in the throes of. In Dec. 2021, Florida Politics reported that Miami grapples with up to $2.2 trillion in illicit trade, including human trafficking, drug smuggling, counterfeit goods and exotic animals.

Jose Carillo, the executive director of AidLive, spoke on the importance of reframing the flow of migrants and refugees as an opportunity rather than a crisis. He stressed the role of education in accomplishing this.

“We are standing in the living proof that the mindset of development is much better than the mindset of seeing migration as a crisis,” Carillo said. “Universities play a key role.”

UM’s vice provost for innovation, Norma Kenyon, transitioned to a discussion of environmental sustainability in Latin America.

Crucial to that discussion is China which spearheads sustainable infrastructure projects, such as dams, in Latin America through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Professor June Teufel Dreyer, an expert on China, spoke on some of the failures and potential threat of the BRI to the United States, especially given Latin America’s proximity to the United States.

“One of the issues is pollution,” Dreyer said. “There was recently a major protest in a Chinese mine in Peru against the case of environmental destruction.”

Ralph Gonsalves, prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Philip Davis, prime minister of the Bahamas, together spoke to the “value of regional cooperation in bolstering economic growth and crises responses.” These alliances are especially important in the face of international challenges.

“The relationship between south Florida and the Bahamas is more than just visiting. It’s friendship, kin and blood,” Davis said.

Gonsalves emphasized the vast Caribbean community in southern Florida and the billions of dollars generated by the cruise industry.

“We are joined umbilically,” Gonsalves said.

In a change of pace, UM student athletes took the stage alongside Jose Mas, co-owner of InterMiami, to elaborate on how sports empower students in their personal and professional lives and how this can apply on a transnational level.

“Coming up from squalor, there’s no way you should leave college broke,” said Demetrius Jackson, former defensive end for the Miami Hurricanes football team, who also advocated financial literacy and entrepreneurship.

Debbie Ajagbe, former thrower for UM’s track and field team, elaborated on her power as a public figure.

“I have the ability to advocate for others,” Ajagbe said. “I’m able to advocate for Black women, Black people.”

The following conversation featured several distinguished speakers including Alvaro Uribe, former president of Colombia, Luis Alberto Lacalle, former president of Uruguay and Luis Almagaro, secretary general of the OAS, to discuss the future of democracy in the Americas, a critical issue to many public and private institutions.

Uribe spoke primarily about remittances, the practice of migrants sending money to their family in their home country. Latin America receives 131 billion United States dollars (USD) in remittances per year, Cuba receiving a large portion of this, according to Uribe. In Miami, a city of over one million immigrants, this is a common practice.

Uribe criticized the lack of oversight of these cash transfers from migrant communities, like those in Miami, to Latin America.

“It is without political co-responsibility, without interest in the governed democracy,” Uribe said.

The day closed with remarks from Ivan Duque, president of Colombia and recipient of Concordia’s Leadership Award and Francis Suarez, mayor of the city of Miami. Duque thanked co-founders of Concordia, Nicholas Logothetis and Matthew Swift, for their work.

“The battle for democracy will continue. I encourage Nick and Matt to continue making Concordia this place where we defend private sector initiative, free press, independent institutions and the rule of law,” Duque said.

Thursday, UM will host similar conversations, highlighting the issues of migration and refugees in the Americas, a downturn in mental health, the role of women in national security and more general discussions of collaboration between the private and public sectors.