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Diplomacy in Action

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's February 28 to March 5 Trip to Latin America

FPC Briefing
Arturo Valenzuela
Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs
Foreign Press Center
Washington, DC
February 26, 2010

Date: 02/26/2010 Location: Washington, DC Description: Arturo Valenzuela, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Briefing at the Washington FPC on Secretary Clinton's February 28 to March 5 Trip to Latin America. - State Dept Image


 2:00 P.M. EST

MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. Welcome to the Foreign Press Center. We would like to welcome the students from Georgetown University. Thank you for being with us. I think that it will be a very special event for you all,
All right. Today we have Assistant Secretary Arturo Valenzuela, who is going to speak to us about Secretary Clinton’s trip to Latin America. I would just like to remind you all to please wait for the microphone, to state your name, the name of your organization, before asking your question.

Dr. Valenzuela, please.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Thanks very much. Muchisimas gracias. Thanks very much. Welcome, students of Georgetown University. It’s great.

It’s my pleasure to be here with you today to give you an overview of the Secretary’s trip to Latin America. It’s a five-day trip, but it’s going to be a trip that covers a lot of ground. It’ll start out by her attending the inauguration of President Mujica in Uruguay. So we start out in the Southern Cone with a long flight directly on Sunday to Montevideo. And at that celebration of the installation of the new president of Uruguay, she will have a bilateral meeting with President Kirchner of Argentina.

From there, the Secretary travels to Santiago, Chile. She will have dinner with President Bachelet and then join, on the next day, on the 2nd of March, the president in one of President Bachelet’s signature social projects that she’s been very proud of. As you know, she’s finishing her term of office. She leaves office on March 11th. And she has a long relationship with the Secretary and they will be able to visit this project in Santiago.

She will then meet with President-elect Sebastian Pinera for a discussion of bilateral issues moving forward and general concerns that the United States has that we’ve been working on with the Chileans over the – and to get a sense also of where President Pinera would like to take his administration. So this will be a really good opportunity for the Secretary to meet with the president-elect of Chile.

From there, she travels then to Brazil and will be arriving late in the evening for early morning meetings on the 3rd of March with President Lula in Brazil, followed by a series of bilateral meetings with the foreign ministry, with Foreign Minister Amorim. And in the afternoon of March 3rd, she’ll then travel from Brasilia to Sao Paulo. And in Sao Paulo, she will be visiting a university, which is a university that focuses primarily on Afro Brazilian students.

And so that will complete our day in Brazil. Unfortunately, distances are really long. For the Georgetown students, it’s farther to go from Washington to Montevideo than it is to go from Washington to Moscow. And if you’re going to fly from Sao Paulo to San Jose, Costa Rica, it’s seven and a half hours of flying time, just to remind you that Brazil is bigger than the entire continent of the United States. And so they were talking about really, really, really long distances.

At any rate, so on the 3rd, then we fly to San Jose, arriving – actually, we fly out to San Jose on the 4th in the morning, very early in the morning. So she will overnight in Sao Paulo, leave early in the morning for San Jose, arriving around noon, at a time when she will participate in this meeting of the Pathways of the Americas, which is a program that’s been structured now for some time. In fact, this has been scheduled – both these meetings had been – this meeting had been scheduled quite some time ago and she had made a commitment to go to that meeting. This is one of the signature projects that the United States Government has in its engagement with the countries of Latin America.

And then after the ending of the Pathways for Prosperity meeting, she will then meet with President Arias of Costa Rica and also with President-elect Chinchilla and they will have dinner that night.

And the following morning, the Secretary travels to Guatemala – this is now March 5th – for a meeting in Guatemala City with President Colom. And President Colom has invited, in turn, the presidents of several other Central American countries.

Let me just briefly, if I might, sort of underscore what some of the objectives are. The fundamental objective really is in this continuous process of engagement that the Obama Administration has with the countries of the Western Hemisphere. It’s an engagement that began, as you know, with the President’s trip to the Summit of the Americas. This took place in Trinidad and Tobago last year. It was followed by Vice President Biden’s trip to a meeting in Santiago de Chile, which was a high-level meeting dealing with issues of progressive governance. And the Secretary herself also traveled to San Pedro Sula in – I guess it was in April, right, of last year – to the OAS General Assembly meeting in Honduras. And subsequent to that, she also traveled to Mexico.

So this is a process of engagement that began last year. She is continuing that. This will be her first trip to the Southern Cone and to Central America. However, she’s been there before. I could say that this is not the first time that she’s traveled there. As First Lady, she traveled fairly extensively there, so she has a lot of – she’s familiar with many of these countries and has worked with them in the past.

So this is – but this is an opportunity for engagement. An engagement on what basis? Engagement on the basis of sort of mutual respect, and what we are looking for is partnerships to address common problems. We’re all conscious of the enormous progress that the countries of the Americas have made over the last 25 years. Let’s not forget that not too long ago, you had civil wars in Central America, you had authoritarian regimes through the ‘70s, in the ‘80s, in every country in Latin America except for three in Latin America – except for three. And you also had a period of significant economic crisis in the 1980s with a debt crisis, as it was known, hyperinflation, stagnation.

We’re in a different world in that sense. We’re in a far more positive climate where the countries of Latin America, for example, were effective in weathering the financial crisis, pretty much – most of them across the board. In the past, the old saying in Latin America was that when the United States caught a cold, Latin America got pneumonia. And this time around, the United States got pneumonia and most of the countries in Latin America weren’t affected as significantly as they might have been in the past by this, so they caught a bit of a cold. So we’re in a different world.

To stress, then, that in this different world, in this far more positive climate, what we’re seeking is an engagement with countries on critical issues of national interest. And there are three baskets, really, that we’re looking at as we pursue our conversations, and they have to do with things that we all care about.

The first basket is the issue of competitiveness, but also social exclusion. This is not just simply about trying to raise the capacity of countries to compete more in a highly globalized world, but that’s very important – we need investments in the infrastructure, we need investments in people – but also the enormous inequalities in the countries of the Americas. It’s something that we all take very seriously. And so the Secretary, in particular, is very committed to trying to see what we can do in working with others to address the issues of social exclusion. And this is one of the reasons why she’s chosen the two projects that she’s going to be looking at, both in Brazil as well as in Chile.

The second basket is the basket of what is called seguridad ciudadana in Spanish – citizen security – the real challenges that most countries face with both common crime, organized crime, drug trafficking, and so on. Well, it’s our commitment because, in some ways, we’re also responsible for these sorts of things where the demand in the United States drives some of this phenomenon in the region. But we’re working to design programs together to – with mutual respect, as I say, to address the problems of demand, the problems of production, the problems of also interdiction. And we’re looking to do that in various different places.

And the final issue is how can we work – and this is something, for example, that will be addressed in the Pathways for Prosperity meeting in Costa Rica as well as in the discussions that we have with the Central American presidents – and that’s how can we work together to increase and strengthen democratic governance, and particularly get the kind of resources, state capacity, rule of law, and things like that that are so important in order to be able to achieve the other two objectives. You can’t really have competitiveness and address the problems of social exclusion or the problems of citizen security unless you have significant resources, state capacity, and that kind of thing. So it’s what kinds of reforms are needed in order to address these things.

This is a broad dialogue. It’s a dialogue that we’ve been having with multiple programs that we have across the board. It’ll be her chance to review these issues with her counterparts in all these different countries. So with that, without further ado, I’ll then turn it over to you for questions.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Patricia, can we start here? Just – the microphone, thank you.

QUESTION: Patricia Campos-Mello with O Estado de Sao Paulo. I have three related questions. First, is Secretary Clinton –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: I’m very slow, so if you can just do two related questions, that would help me.

QUESTION: Okay, two related questions. Is Secretary Clinton going to meet with the Sao Paulo governor in Sao Paulo? What’s – and what’s the university? And are you going to talk about Iran and Brazil’s position in the Security Council – UN Security Council?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: I don’t happen to have the schedule in my – do you have it there? Do you have the trip schedule?

STAFF: (Inaudible.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: No, but could I look at it? The trip schedule is not here. I just – I forget the name of the university, but the – as far as looking at it, that’s why I wanted to look at it. The university is an Afro Brazilian university in Sao Paulo. It’s – and I just forgot the name so I couldn’t remember it, and it – we’ll get you the name of the university.

And the other – oh, wait. I’m not sure whether the Sao Paulo – it’s not clear, but she’s going to Sao Paulo so there may be an opportunity for her to meet him, but that’s not clear on the schedule as yet.

QUESTION: As opposed to actual (inaudible).

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Right. No, I understand that. And when he gets there, we’ll probably be looking for a way also to see whether the schedules might coincide.


ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Well, as you know, the – in fact, the Under Secretary of State is in Brazil today, Under Secretary Burns. And while we are cognizant of the fact that the Brazilian Government has reached out to Iran and has been approaching the Iranians, it’s very much on our agenda to try to insist with the Brazilians that in their engagement with Iran, we would like them to encourage the Iranians, of course, to meet with their international obligations.

The Iranians have not met their commitments. They haven’t been transparent. They haven’t made clear what their objectives are in terms of what the international community fears, which is that – the fact that they have a nuclear arms weapons program that violates the UN resolutions and they have not cooperated with the International Atomic Energy Commission, as the commission has made clear before. And we would just need to – would like to encourage the Brazilians to make it very clear to the Brazilians that the Iranians have been pursuing this in violation, as I said, of international commitments, but also encouraging terrorism and also violating human rights within their own countries.

QUESTION: But what about Brazil’s position in the Security Council against sanctions?

MODERATOR: Please, the microphone.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. Just because Brazil has been saying that they’re not going to favor sanctions. What about this position? Are you going to --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Well, when we talk to them, we’ll say yes, we think that, in fact, that’s a mistake, and that we would encourage them to press the Iranians if they have a relationship with them, as they’ve been building one, to, in fact, meet their international obligations.

MODERATOR: Julio, please.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’m Julio Marenco with La Prensa Grafica of El Salvador. I would like if you could speak more about the meeting she’s having with the Central American presidents, who – of them have already confirmed – and if you’re working on a document that they will sign after that? And what are the issues she’s going to discuss with them?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Well, there’s been a continuous engagement with Central American presidents. In fact, on March 8th, President Funes from El Salvador will be coming to Washington, will be visiting with President Obama. And the Secretary saw last Friday President Colom from Guatemala, so they had a meeting in Washington.

We have been in very close touch on a host of reasons – matters with the Central American presidents and also with the president of the Dominican Republic. Remember that the Dominican Republic is part of CAFTA-DR, which is this trade agreement that they have, particularly over the Honduran crisis. And President Lobo of Honduras will be attending this meeting.

My understanding is the final list has not been fully completed, but I know for certain that President Funes, that President Colom, that President Arias and that President Fernandez, I believe, also will be in attendance. So we’re still trying to see what the final list is. In fact, they themselves, the Central American presidents, have been working to coordinate this meeting. And it will be a good opportunity to not only review the crisis that took place in Honduras, but also to explore matters of common interest.

QUESTION: Are you expecting to have a declaration about Honduras and the return of the country to the OAS?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: We’re not expecting any declaration coming out of this presidents meeting, but let me make clear that we see with favor the steps that have been taken by President Lobo in Honduras, the fact that he did create a government of national unity, the fact that he’s moved in a forthright way with the Organization of American States to set up a truth commission into – that can look into some of the events that were involved in the period of the coup d’etat and thereafter. And so we’ve been discussing with other countries the return of constitutional democracy in Honduras and look forward to Honduras also returning to the Organization of American States.

MODERATOR: Silvia, next one.

QUESTION: Thank you. Yes, I am Silvia Pisani from La Nacion in Buenos Aires. I would like to ask you, I know the Department of State respect the declaration of Mr. Cristina Kirchner – Mrs. Cristina Kirchner about Mr. Obama. I would like to ask you, what do they mean in terms to build a relationship? What do they change, these declarations, in the relationship between the United States and Buenos Aires? Or maybe they don’t change anything. Maybe in the opinion of the Department of State, this means that maybe Buenos Aires is closer to the position of Venezuela today, critics – in the critics of the policy of the United States.

And the second question is if there is any possibility that Mrs. Clinton consider with Mrs. Kirchner in their meeting the possibility of a meeting between Mrs. Kirchner and Obama in next April, when she’s going to be here. Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Let me say that this is the first trip that the Secretary is taking as Secretary of State to the Southern Cone as well as to Central America. Our effort is to engage in a – there will be a brief bilateral meeting between the Secretary and President-elect Mujica at the day of his inauguration. And these meetings are meetings that are designed to review elements on our sort of bi-national agenda, as well as to discuss various international topics.

And the agenda with her, with President Kirchner, will be a comparable one. It’ll – there will be a review of some of the issues that we’re looking at in terms of international cooperation. We value what the Government of Argentina has done, in fact, on Iran, which is an issue that we talked about earlier, and the position that Argentina has been taking on matters of international terrorism. And we look forward to seeing whether we can construct a relationship with Argentina that is a constructive relationship moving forward.

QUESTION: So it doesn’t change anything. (Laughter.)


QUESTION: Thank you. Ruben Barrera with the Mexican news agency Notimex. I would like to ask you a question on the issue of security, Dr. Valenzuela. This week, the Department of State announced they were closing temporarily the consular office in the border city of Reynosa, Tamaulipas due to the security issue, the security situation in that part of Mexico. Do you think with – I think it was two days ago – Secretary Napolitano, testifying before Congress, she told that there is no rule of law in Ciudad Juarez. So the fact that the State Department decided to take this decision seems to recognize in some way what Secretary Napolitano told members of the Congress.

So the question is: What is the assessment that the Department of State has regarding the security situation in the border between Mexico and the U.S., and if you are considering to reinforce securities in your consular office along that area?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: As I said earlier, as I gave you an overview of the objectives of the trip, I noted that if there is an issue that is kind of driving public concerns in most countries in the Western Hemisphere, whether it’s the Caribbean or whether it’s the Southern Cone, whether it’s Brazil and Rio De Janeiro, is the issue of crime – organized crime – and narco-trafficking in particular. And it certainly is of concern with regard to Mexico, the outline of our approach to working with Mexico on this Plan Merida and some strengthening of Plan Merida is precisely that.

And we’re pleased that there’s been extraordinary cooperation between both countries. As the Secretary said in her trip to Mexico last year, this is an issue where the U.S. has to engage because of its co-responsibility with these phenomena. These are criminal phenomena. And there’s no question that this is an issue that is affecting particularly state and local communities in Northern Mexico.

So, as part of this effort to collaborate together to address this problem, this is not simply a fight against narco-trafficking organizations, but it’s also an effort to collaborate together to address that, to fight criminal organizations, but also to strengthen police institutions, to strengthen local governance and other things like that. So we’re working to share experiences, and in this sense, we’re pleased with the progress, but we’re also obviously concerned with the trends in the area, and we want to continue to engage with our Mexican counterparts to be able to address these problems.

QUESTION: I’m wondering, I mean, are you considering any --

MODERATOR: The microphone, please.

QUESTION: Are you considering any change –


QUESTION: -- in security in your consular office in (inaudible), Mexico?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: At this particular point, we’re not. But I actually don’t have – I haven’t – I don’t have a full briefing on the current situation right there, but as far as I can tell, at this particular point, no.

QUESTION: Thank you. Silvia Ayuso from the German Press Agency. Two quick questions about Central America: You said you have some confirmations of presidents going to meet Mrs. Clinton. Is there any consideration that Mr. Ortega and Mr. Lobo could attend to the meeting?

And the second question is: Regarding Brazil and Iran question, is somehow the U.S. considering the – Brazil’s reaction to the question you’re going to ask them, to consider the sanctions as a test of or as a way to wage if the U.S. would eventually support Brazil’s bid to get a permanent seat at the UN Security Council? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: With regard to your first question, the – I’m not certain exactly what the last list of confirmations are for the meeting. My understanding is that President Colom has reached out to President Ortega as well, and – to see whether in fact he might be willing to attend the summit as well. President Lobo has agreed to attend, so he will be attending, so it’s something that we’re still waiting on. But it would be good if all of the presidents of Central America would be able to attend. President Martinelli of Panama had a previous commitment, so he’s not going to be in the region at all, so he will not attend. And so our expectation is that most of the presidents will (ph) be able to attend.

And then let me just reiterate again we are engaging with Brazil on a host of different matters. And when Under Secretary Burns travels to Brazil, when the Secretary travels to Brazil, I can assure you that there’s a very, very broad agenda that we’re talking about on a whole host of different matters. It’s not just about the issue having to do with Iran.

As you know, we have a partnership that focuses on biofuels. There’s even a very creative program between both Brazil and the United States to compare notes on how one can fight racial discrimination, for example, which is very interesting. There was a meeting in Salvador last year between U.S. delegations and Brazilian delegations to compare notes on issues of fighting racial discrimination. And there will be a subsequent meeting in Atlanta, Georgia on that.

So, there’s a – what I want to stress is there’s a broad set of issues on the agenda, and to reiterate, with regard to Iran, we are concerned about what Iran is doing, and we would like to obviously encourage the Brazilians to be more forceful with the Iranians in bringing to their attention the concerns that the international community – not just the United States, but the international community more generally – has with Iran’s lack of compliance with international – its international obligations.

MODERATOR: All right. And our last question for the afternoon. Yes, in the back, please.

QUESTION: Hi. It’s Macarena Vidal from the Spanish News Agency EFE. And going back to Cristina Fernandez Kirchner’s declarations and what it means about the certain discontent with Obama’s policies in Latin America, I was wondering whether you feel that that’s something that is generalized in Latin America, and whether this trip is going to – could be the – could prepare a visit of President Obama to Latin America to abound on the goodwill of the United States to Latin America.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Well, first of all, I would respectfully disagree that President Obama has not been engaged or that his Administration has not been engaged with Latin America. We’ve had some difficult issues to deal with. Honduras certainly was one. And the most recent crisis in Haiti, the tragedy in Haiti, was another. This has absorbed an enormous amount of attention and time. We value enormously how the countries in the Western Hemisphere have come together to address this issue. This has been a work of international solidarity like the kind we’ve never seen.

But then, perhaps the tragedy in Haiti is of dimensions that we haven’t really seen in the contemporary historical record. I mean, a city that played such an important role in the life of the country being devastated and decimated the way it was required, not only for humanitarian reasons, but also just for moral reasons, a rapid and determined response of the international community. And we’ve seen that happen. What is extraordinary is how everybody has come to the table. We’re working as we speak to find out how we can move from this first phase of saving lives to this next, second phase of trying to build some stability in Haiti, to a third phase of attempting to help Haiti reconstruct. So the narrative, I think, is a very good one of cooperation and collaboration throughout the hemisphere.

And let me just simply say that I wouldn’t agree with the notion either that this Administration isn’t valued in Latin America. If you look at the public opinion polls, you will see that both President Obama and Secretary Clinton are figures that – public leaders, international leaders that have very, very high levels of approval. In fact, in most countries, the approval for President Obama and the Secretary exceed the approval ratings for their own presidents. So I think that if you think about the engagement that the United States is doing and the President – the figure of President Obama is extraordinarily valued by the peoples of Latin America.

Now, that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a lot of work to do ahead. But it’s an engagement that we want to do on the basis of mutual respect, of working to solve problems together. This is not about rhetoric. It’s not about – it’s about really trying to pull together our collective interests and our collective efforts to make for a better Americas, to improve the lot of the peoples of each one of our nations.

Thanks very much.