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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Review of President Obama's Travel to Mexico and Costa Rica

Ricardo Zuniga, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs; and Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs
Washington, DC
May 15, 2013


2:30 P.M. EST


MODERATOR: Good afternoon and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. Today, we are pleased to have Ricardo Zuniga, who is the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs, and Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. They’re here to discuss President Obama’s recent travel to Mexico and Costa Rica. They will both open with some remarks, and then we’ll go to a question-and-answer period.

So with that, I will turn it over to Ricardo Zuniga.

MR. ZUNIGA: Thank you very much. So I’m going to just give a quick overview of the visit itself, and Roberta will take on some of the context and give some more information about how this fits into the broader efforts that we’re undertaking in the Americas.

President Obama visited Mexico for – and Costa Rica, May 2nd to 4th. He wanted to do this early in his second term to demonstrate the level of importance that we place on our relations with the Americas, and to meet with leaders in Mexico and Central America to talk about some of the challenges that we’re facing, that he have in front of us right now, but also about future opportunities. And I think really the core message of his visit was that we see the Americas as a region of opportunities, not only for ourselves but for the countries that are progressively more important in global affairs and that are working hard to elevate large sectors of the population out of poverty and into the middle class. And so that was really one of the central themes of the visit to both Central America and to Mexico.

As I said, we’re very positive about the emerging trends in the region and the possibility of creating jobs, both in the United States and in the Americas, as a result of these trends, and to work with our partners on issues like education, climate change and energy, and citizen security.

So the President started his visit in Mexico. He met with President Pena Nieto and members of his cabinet on the afternoon of May the 2nd. The United States wanted to start that visit by recognizing the strategic relationship between the United States and Mexico, and that stems in part from the $1.5 billion in commerce between the United States and Mexico every day, and the half-a-trillion-dollar economy that exists with us on – between us on an annual basis, as well as our work together in global institutions and global mechanisms such as the G-20 and our participation – our joint participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

So it’s a large, it’s a broad relationship; we wanted to highlight that as part of this visit. The presidents, during their meetings, launched the High Level Economic Dialogue to elevate our economic and commercial relationship, or at least to demonstrate the importance of that relationship, which is already there but perhaps hasn’t received as much attention as it merited. He – President Obama announced that Vice President Biden would help launch the High Level Economic Dialogue later in 2013. They also discussed our forum on higher education, innovation and research, which is part of our broader effort to promote competitiveness, North American competitiveness.

And the – another issue they discussed was our border and the – our work to develop a 21st century border. Obviously that is also closely integrated to the issue of competitiveness and to making North America both more secure and more efficient in terms of its trade. They reaffirmed, the two presidents, the importance of security in the bilateral relationship, our security cooperation, and our work against organized crime and drug trafficking. President Obama expressed United States support for the Mexican Government’s position to focus on reducing violence and that – he also noted that we looked forward to continuing cooperation – close and effective cooperation in this area.

President Pena Nieto hosted the President and members of his delegation in a small dinner later on May the 2nd, as well, and they were able to continue the conversation from that morning. On the second day of his visit in Mexico, President Obama addressed a group of young Mexicans from a range of universities around Mexico City to talk about the deep ties between our countries and the positive vision for our shared future. He also talked about the importance that he placed on common sense immigration reform in the United States, which is obviously an issue that’s important both in the United States and in Mexico and throughout the Americas. He also met separately with a group of entrepreneurs to talk about the emerging opportunities in the Mexican economy.

Then we went on to Costa Rica on May the 2nd and 3rd. In Costa Rica, President Obama met with President Chinchilla, who later hosted a meeting of Central American and – Central American leaders and the President of the Dominican Republic as part of SICA. This was the first meeting between us and SICA member states with the United States as an observer of SICA. So it was a good opportunity to be able to talk about not only the excellent cooperation that we have bilaterally in Costa Rica, but also how that fits into our larger regional efforts in Central America.

President Obama, after his bilateral meeting with President Chinchilla and the press availability following that, met in a working dinner with the SICA leaders. And among the top issues on the agenda were continuing security concerns, high energy costs and ways to deal with high energy costs, comprehensive immigration reform, of course, was an issue of great importance to the leaders who were present there, and ways to address the need to reduce trade barriers within Central America and take most advantage of a market that’s now more than 40 million people.

President Obama noted the commitment of the United States to continue working with Central America on issues related to security, including through the Central American Regional Security Initiative, which, thus far, has led to a contribution of about $496 million in U.S. cooperation since 2008. And this is an area where we’re going to continue to work together.

On energy, President Obama said that the United States was ready to work with Central American governments on issues related to not only renewables and clean energy and finding a more clean-energy matrix in Central America, but also ways to help address the high energy costs which are a – definitely a constraint to Central American competitiveness in the world. There’s a lot of emerging trends that the leaders wanted to talk to us about, not only in the United States but in North America as a whole, so that was a big part of the discussion.

On his second day in Costa Rica, President Obama joined President Chinchilla, and also present there were President Perez Molina and President Martinelli, for a discussion hosted by INCAI (ph) regarding constraints to growth in Central America and ways that we can work together to build inclusive growth.

As I mentioned, comprehensive immigration reform is an issue that was raised throughout the President’s meetings and it was something where the President wanted to highlight the optimism that he feels with respect to that particular project and the prospects for success this year on that topic.

So I’ll end it there and turn it over to Roberta.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Thank you, Ricardo. Thank you, Jean. I think Ricardo has outlined really well the – what the President did and how these are priorities for the Administration in its second term. Let me just talk a little bit about some of the broader context into which these goals fit.

The President clearly wanted, with this trip, to emphasize the strengths of the economic partnership with our neighbors, and he reaffirmed the concept of partnership, the concept of working together throughout the meetings, whether it was multilateral or bilateral. It’s been very clear for us that Mexico’s economic competitiveness has created jobs on both sides of the border. Ricardo talked about the $1.5 billion in trade that we do every day across that border, and the importance of Mexico and the U.S. continuing to make that border more efficient and more workable in infrastructure projects and working together as well.

But it also highlighted the role that many of the countries in the hemisphere are playing globally on economic issues, whether it is, as Ricardo mentioned, in APEC and G-20, Mexico leading on the global climate change talks a year or two ago. And what was different it seemed to me when the presidents, all of these leaders, talked about trade issues for example, which was a central theme, was that obviously with these partners we are no longer talking about our own trade agreements, which have been in place for some time, but what the agenda is after them – what comes after that bilateral trade agenda. And obviously with Canada – with Mexico and Canada now part of the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, that was a big part of the conversation. So I think one of the most exciting things that they talked about was what are the next steps in trade globally for both the United States and the countries of the hemisphere?

The President also talked about his enthusiasm for the work that Mexico is doing as part of the Alliance of the Pacific, with Chile, Colombia, and Peru, Costa Rica poised to enter, others interested, and the integration that they are embarking on.

The High Level Dialogue was already mentioned. I think that is a classic example of where we have some economic dialogues already taking place, but we wanted a mechanism in which we could bring those all together, expand and deepen those, and obviously the leadership of the Vice President in that will be crucial in moving that ahead.

The conversations in both places turned pretty quickly to energy issues. That really was a central theme of the conversation. And the focus was really on diversification of energy supplies, new energy resources in the Americas, the way in which the global energy map is increasingly focused on the Americas, both in fossil and traditional fuels and in renewables, and new fuels, whether it’s shale oil or shale gas or other things.

And so there was a lot of conversation about how to take advantage of this American moment, if you will, on energy throughout the hemisphere. And there was a lot of conversation with the Central American leaders in particular on ways of working more regionally. As Ricardo noted, you’re talking about a 40 million person market when they work regionally, and really all of their own advances in terms of energy and bringing down those costs and advancing economically will really have to come in a regional forum, in a regional mechanism. It’s really difficult to do that individually or bilaterally.

The Americas obviously produces more than half of U.S. oil imports, almost one-third of its natural gas, nearly 30 percent of global electricity. And so we look forward to the possibility that in two decades the United States will rely almost exclusively on hemispheric sources of energy. And I think that’s an incredibly important point in terms of shifting strategic partnerships, that all of the countries of the region are feeling that greater importance in some ways because of the global energy map.

Clearly, obviously, security and the state of democracy throughout the hemisphere was a subject for conversation in both locations. President Obama talked about citizens in Mexico standing up and rejecting both violence and impunity, a courageous press that is working under very difficult circumstances, holding leaders accountable, and under threat themselves, an increasingly robust civil society in all of these countries, and the partnership that we, as governments, have to make with civil society, as well as specifically with defenders of human rights, those who demand dignity and rule of law, labor leaders, and others.

So we talked a little bit about the state of democracy, and I think the President and leaders all recommitted their own leadership throughout the hemisphere in the principles that we have all agreed to, whether it’s the Inter-American Democratic Charter or other global documents.

When we talked about security though, I think one of the interesting things in these conversations – the 10 leaders altogether, if you take the trip as a whole – was that it was a very pragmatic conversation. It was not ideological; it was not blame or accusation. It was how do we work together against this problem, this scourge?

The leaders referenced the recent meeting that was held here in Washington between the North American countries and SICA on very pragmatic problems. Part of what we talked about, for example, was precursor chemicals – things like that where we can work on very pragmatic solutions to security problems and ways that we can advance this ball and learn from each other, including partnerships with Mexico in Central America, partnerships with Colombia in Central America, as well as others outside the region who are contributing to efforts there, such as our European colleagues and others.

So the President – when he focused on citizen security, he emphasized – and I think this is the message that occasionally gets lost – he emphasized the holistic approach, that we have never really focused solely on security forces or the law enforcement perspective, but really wanted to emphasize in this trip, in keeping with the message overall, that we were focusing on social and economic circumstances, partnering with communities for work on at-risk youth, how we made government services more effective, job opportunities more present for those who might otherwise choose lives of crime.

And then finally I would say obviously education was a big part of the President’s agenda. I think the speech in Mexico really emphasized that and was pretty exciting for the young people who were able to hear it live. The President underscored repeatedly in that speech his enthusiasm for the 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative that he launched just about two years ago and the partnerships that are developing out of it to ensure that we have greater student exchanges and students who really are prepared for a global labor marketplace. And obviously he launched the new bilateral forum with Mexico where we will try and focus on increasing our partnerships, increasing some of the high-tech R&D, high-end cooperative agreements that we have, focusing on STEM as well as other areas for young people.

One note about a visual that I thought was particularly wonderful: When the President arrived in Costa Rica, he was met by Dr. Franklin Chang Díaz, who is a – leads Costa Rica’s Strategy for the 21st Century, but was an astronaut, served with NASA. And with him were four students, young Costa Rican science students who have won scholarships to study in the United States. So this was a very graphic example of the efforts that we’re making together with other countries to try and put into practice those efforts to increase our economic, our education agreements, and work on making those opportunities available, not just, frankly, at the high end, the high tech, those who have the greatest skill sets, but frankly also bringing the international exchange opportunity to those who may be studying English for English teaching, to those who may study in community colleges who may not come for a year or four years but may only come for shorter courses, so that we can broaden the pool of students who have the experience of traveling to Latin America for an exchange program as well as those who come from the region to the United States.

So let me end it on that broad concept, and we’ll go to questions.

MODERATOR: Okay. We’ll open it up. You can just wait for the microphone to come to you, and just identify your name and your outlet. Okay. We’ll go to Sonia.

QUESTION: Hi. Sonia Schott with Globovision Venezeula and the Diario las Américas. You never mentioned Venezuela, but --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: I don’t think the President went to Venezuela. (Laughter.) We were talking about the President.

QUESTION: But you mentioned that you are going to rely on energy issues on the Western Hemisphere, so can you please elaborate a little bit more on that? Without Venezuela or with Venezuela? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Let me just say one thing, and Ricardo may have more to add to this, but we have a very robust relationship with Venezuela on energy. That’s been ongoing for a long time. I don’t expect that to change in the near future. What I was talking about, which I think is incredibly exciting and really wasn’t intended as a comment one way or another on Venezuela, but what I was talking about was new energy resources that are coming online in the Americas which are enormously important, I think, for this hemisphere’s energy security, for reduction of prices in parts of the hemisphere that are paying too much for energy – Central Americans pay three times more than Americans for their energy, for example – and to the millions of people in the hemisphere who still do not have reliable access to electricity, for example, which was part of the reason the President launched the Connect 2022 initiative with the Colombian Government in Cartagena last year.

So I don’t really connect those two things except to say that I think it is important for the hemisphere as a whole that there are enormous new possibilities for energy in the hemisphere. Obviously, Venezuela will continue to be an energy partner. That relationship is going to continue, I would certainly expect. But there are other forms of energy and locations for energy in the hemisphere that are coming online that will be beneficial for all of us.

MR. ZUNIGA: I think that’s right, Roberta. I would say – the only thing I would add to that is that in general terms, as Roberta was outlining, we see energy as a unifying theme in the Americas, that it’s clearly something that tends to bring countries together because in the Americas you see both vast opportunity and a lot of the continuing challenges.


MR. ZUNIGA: And so bringing those two together and linking them together, and thinking about not just the Americas but the impact of the development in the Americas in the global energy supply and on the global markets is critical. And that’s what we’re seeing come out of the Americas. And Venezuela certainly is part of that story as well, given its vast productive capacity and future potential.

MODERATOR: All right. Next question, we’ll go over here. Right here.

QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Maria Luisa Rossel, with RPP Noticias in Peru. Today as we talk here, in Lima, Peru they are celebrating the 17th-round conversation of the TTP. You have mentioned the TTP before. How do you see the advances of those conversations, and how do you see the coming visit of President Ollanta Humala to Washington, D.C.?

MR. ZUNIGA: So we’re very positive about the advances that we’re seeing in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. We hope to reach an end of the negotiations by the end of the year. That’s certainly our target, and we’re continuing to work towards that. I would say that we’re – it is certainly going to be a topic of discussion when President Humala is visiting President Obama and others in Washington on June 11th. And the issue is clearly something that the United States and Peru have worked very closely on in terms of the broad negotiations. Obviously, it’s – the idea here is to link the economies of the Pacific Rim and to make sure that the countries in the Americas are linked into the fastest-growing markets, fastest-growing economies in the world, and are able to latch onto that. And we’re seeing a lot of that same growth along the Pacific Rim in the Americas as well as in Asia. We want to make sure that we have a high-end, 21st century agreement that really hits at a lot of the issues that have been covered in previous free trade agreements but in a more comprehensive and more forward-leaning way. So Peru is definitely going to be a part of that.

I don’t know if – Roberta, anything –

MODERATOR: Okay, next question in the middle here.

QUESTION: Thank you. Silvia Ayuso from the German press agency, Spanish wire. Kind of a follow-up – I mean, President Obama was in Mexico and Costa Rica. Vice President Biden is doing another tour, Colombia, Brazil, and Trinidad and Tobago. The President is welcoming a couple of presidents in June, and according to Vice President Biden, he announced that in the fall there were more to come, which – I don’t know if you could comment anything on a little bit. My question – I have a couple of questions. Why now this seems like the Latin American quarter somehow, how are these countries chosen, and why are some big ones still being left like Argentina, for example, that it’s a big player in – it’s in G-20 and other – but there’s like a big silence around, for example, this country when we talk about the Americas relationship?

MR. ZUNIGA: Let me just – I’ll just speak for a minute or two and let Roberta address it as well. I mean, I think that the – as we opened at the beginning of this, we do see the Americas very much as an area of opportunity for the United States. Clearly, there is a major economic stake. As Vice President Biden mentioned in his comments at the State Department last week, when we look at the needs of the United States, when we look at the important targets of the United States in terms of its own creating opportunities in the United States, we have to start in the Americas. It’s such a large part of not only the U.S. economy, but U.S. society and we have, frankly, greater connections in the Americas now than we’ve had even over the long course of our history. It’s just much more clear at this point, and we see it in terms of the opportunities it creates for Americans in the United States, and what we think governments and societies are creating in the Americas themselves that we want to be a part of and that we think is important to the United States as well.

I don’t know, Roberta, if you have –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: I think that’s absolutely right. And I think to be perfectly honest, given all of the challenges we have domestically – and we do have a lot of them – second terms are often times when Presidents can do a great deal of foreign policy work. The great thing about the Americas, as I think Ricardo has hinted, is it really kind of brings those agendas together.

It is obviously foreign policy, how we interact with the countries of this hemisphere, but it is so directly and really almost daily relevant to Americans in terms of their lives, whether it’s family connections, whether it’s the economic and competitive connections of our borders, both north and south, whether it’s the 40 percent of U.S. exports that go to this hemisphere, or whether it’s the energy security future, it seems to me that in advancing his own agenda, the President’s own agenda for the second term, we’ve come to this very wonderful moment in which the Americas really does represent so many of the items that the President wants to highlight on his own agenda. He can get so much done with these partners that obviously it makes good sense to engage with these partners and to do this kind of travel and to have the Vice President do the travel as well as others.

I think in looking for how you want to interact with different leaders in the hemisphere, you’re looking at where there may be an opportunity where there may be a partnership. We have lots of engagement with other countries in the hemisphere, including ones that aren’t necessarily going to be visited on the first round of trips. So I don’t know that I would make an assumption on the – why these and not those. Obviously, when leaders can meet as a group the way they did in San Jose, that is a particularly fruitful conversation, frankly, with sub-regions. I think that is very, very useful for presidents. I think that will be a lot of the way in which our leaders meet at the OAS General Assembly when foreign ministers get together.

So I think there will be a lot of interactions coming up that are in addition to those trips, not just the trips themselves, although I realize that those get a lot of the headlines.

MODERATOR: In the back.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’m Julio Marenco with NTN24. You both mentioned in your remarks that you were approaching these (inaudible) with a sense of pragmatism and not with ideological sense. Are you willing to apply the same sense to all the other countries who are not exactly as close to the U.S. in the hemisphere, namely Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador?

And a second question on the visit in Central America: There was a big deal of attention to citizen and security, and one of the – if you want more innovative approaches, you see the truce between the gangs in El Salvador, and there are other countries that are already thinking of applying the same model in these countries, especially Honduras. Do you see the truce as an experience like worth replicating in other countries?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: A couple things. I think – your question on the non-ideological approach, I have to thank you for it. It’s really an important question. Our approach is the same. Our approach is to be pragmatic. The reason we’re non-ideological, to be honest, is because those old ideological divides and categories, it seems to us, are frankly meaningless at this point. They don’t guide us because they’re not useful anymore. And so what we find we advance the most with leaders who are equally pragmatic and with whom we can talk about doing things that are in our mutual interest. That’s what all leaders want to do. It’s not charity, it’s not altruism. Where our interests align, and it does in so many cases in the Americas, leaders will be able to come together and do things that benefit both their populations. And so that’s really what we’re talking about.

That is exactly the approach that we want to take with many of the countries of the hemisphere with whom we don’t currently have the best relationship. Whether it’s Bolivia or Venezuela, that’s exactly our approach. We hope to have the same kind of productive relationship with those countries, but so far it hasn’t been that easy because they come sometimes to those relationships from a different aspect, less pragmatic, perhaps.

So I’m still optimistic. I’m an inveterate optimist, because our approach is going to be to see where we can find ways to work. In some countries, it may be certain issues where we have interest and we can work and progress. In others, it is other issues. They’re not exactly the same everywhere, and that’s as it should be.

On the second issue, on the gang truce in El Salvador, I think – it’s been very interesting, obviously, to look at the situation in El Salvador and how the truce has affected the situation of violence in that country. We do feel pretty strongly that looking at alternative ways of reducing violence in Central America is absolutely imperative. One of the reasons, therefore, that we are working in Honduras now on mediation and gang prevention efforts, is precisely because there are some cities in the United States that have very positive experiences with things that are not quite the same as the truce in El Salvador, but are based on the same premise that you have to try and bring people out of gangs and work towards different ends.

And so we’ve begun programs in – AID programs in Honduras, working with Los Angeles, working with Chicago and others to look at mediation and at gang prevention programs based on different models of truces, in some cases. So we think that’s incredibly important and we’ve had lots of good conversations with Central American leaders and communities about how we can be more supportive of some of those efforts.

MR. ZUNIGA: So the only thing I would add to that is that, as Roberta outlined, from the beginning of the Administration, of his first term, President Obama made clear that this was a different relationship. We saw this as a different kind of relationship that we wanted in the Americas, and one of partnership and shared responsibility, and that means – and we’re seeing that. We’re seeing that countries are much more active on the global level than they had been in previous decades, and that is part of that partnership, part of that relationship.

I would say the other thing that’s important is that what we’re guided by is not ideology, but by how we see each other working to meet our regional commitments on issues like democracy and social development and freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and so forth. So it’s more about how countries are living up to their shared commitments that we have together in the Americas than a particular political position, and we’ve made that clear from the beginning, and I think we’ve been – we’ve followed that pretty closely throughout.

So that’s it.

MODERATOR: The next question is Silvia.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you. I understand the pragmatic point of view of the thing. But I would like to ask: I know that you have been talking about trade and TPP. For the countries that are in the TPP, I would say that that’s a very important common point between the United States and these states. But how is the situation with the countries that are not there and they are not going to be in the next future there? The TPP seems to help a lot in the relationship with a lot of countries, with the countries that are in. But does it become a difficult or perhaps a handicap to the countries that are not? That’s the first question. And particularly in the case of Argentina, that is asking for more – for the increasing of the exportation to the United States.

And the second point is you talked recently about freedom of expression. It has been an issue in Argentina in the last month, and it’s still there. In the last hours we have seen how some states in the country are developing some kind of laws to protect the media and the journalists from the pressure of the national, or of the federal, government. I would like to know if you have any comment or any particular opinion about that. Two questions, so thank you.

MR. ZUNIGA: Do you want me to start with TPP?


MR. ZUNIGA: Okay. So – and with regard to the trade relationships, I mean, clearly what we’re trying to do is encourage economic growth throughout the Americas to the extent that’s possible. Countries have to determine for themselves what kinds of arrangements are best for them and how they see themselves fitting in the international trading structure. What we want through TPP is a high-end agreement that is going to stimulate growth both in the Americas overall and in the United States. Growth in the Americas is good for the United States; growth in the United States is good for the Americas overall. These are sort of mutually reinforcing, and that’s kind of the launching point on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

We have free trade arrangements throughout the hemisphere, across – particularly throughout most of the Pacific Rim. And as we pursue these other agreements, we’re ensuring that we are in compliance with and attentive to the existing trading arrangements that we already have in the Americas. Those are not left to the side. The idea is to build from those and create even stronger trading arrangements.

Roberta, I don’t know if you want to take that one, or --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: No, I think that’s right. I mean, I think the one thing that Ricardo has implied but I think we can be more explicit about is how many countries would like to be part of TPP and aren’t yet. And there’s just no doubt about that. The President certainly heard that in Central America. The demand right now is greater than the forum can actually absorb. But I think this is a moving process, right? We want to get through these conversations to have the conclusion of these negotiations by the end of this year, but there is no doubt that other countries will eventually be part of the TPP and are doing things to get themselves ready for that because they too are looking to the Pacific Rim and those markets.

And so I don’t think that in the end, TPP becomes a bar for countries that want to be part of that high-end free trade agreement with the Pacific Rim; it becomes an aspiration that I think, ultimately, countries that are serious about wanting to do that will be satisfied on. It just won’t be at the very beginning, if you will.

Let me just say on the issue of freedom of expression, and really writ large, I think Ricardo did a great job of elaborating this as a counterpart to what I was saying about the non-ideological and practical and productive relationship. Overall, our goal with countries in the hemisphere is to have those functional and productive relationships while being very clear about the principles that we support and that are not going to change, and frankly, doing what Americans do routinely, which is kind of calling it as we see it – even in cases where that may not be in agreement with every government in the hemisphere.

We spent a very long night on March 22nd in the OAS, many of you with me, defending not only the inter-American human rights system, but frankly, in particular the Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression from attack by some countries as somehow inappropriate or excessive, after all of us had signed up to the Inter-American Democratic Charter. So we will continue to speak out where we feel rights of free expression, rights of a free press are not being honored, not being observed, because we think that’s critically important to our own policy in the hemisphere, and frankly, critically important to the Americas continuing to lead both on democratic practice and in the economic progress that they’ve made and the social inclusion that’s been achieved – things that really need all of those structures of democratic governance to occur.

The President was in Costa Rica either on the day of or right after World Press Freedom Day, and I think that was a wonderful way to sort of underscore this message in the hemisphere.

MODERATOR: For the next question, we’ll go to Luis.

QUESTION: Hello, thank you. I’m a little bit hoarse today. I’m in the teenager years, so – (laughter) – my voice is treating me --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: It might have been a rough D.C. United game. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah. I would like to go back to the question Silvia posed earlier about the possible dignitaries coming from (inaudible) in the fall, according to Vice President Biden. Before President Rousseff and President Mujica, who else is coming (inaudible) Brazil?

MR. ZUNIGA: So the – no, no, no. He – in his speech he mentioned president of Chile and the president of Peru.

QUESTION: We already wrote that, so who else now?


MR. ZUNIGA: Next story.

QUESTION: Brazil and Uruguay, I understand, are coming in the fall. Who else?

MR. ZUNIGA: So look, I mean, at this point, those announcements come when they do. And what I can tell you is that we’re going to have a continuing sort of pattern of high-level engagement throughout – certainly throughout the rest of the year, but certainly well into the administration. And you see that not only in the presidential and vice presidential travel, but also in – on the cabinet-level travel that’s going on even today in the region. And it’s going to continue.

QUESTION: If I could ask about the OAS report on drugs. I’m sure you guys already read it. Does it satisfy your expectations? I understand it has no recommendations at all. Does that make it weaker or not? Is that what you were expecting or not?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Well, I’ll have to confess in public that I haven’t read the whole thing. And part of that, of course, remember that the OAS report is in two parts, right? The first part of the report are I think what are called assessments and the second are scenarios. And the assessment part was completed significantly ahead of the scenarios part, so I have not read all of that.

I think in the end, what we’re going to have in Antigua and Guatemala is a good conversation about a lot of things that are in that report, a lot of information that will hopefully illuminate a debate that has been a little bit two-dimensional; that is, I think the point of getting the OAS to write this report was to try and educate all of us on things that have been tried, things that have worked, things that haven’t worked, while letting every country in the end obviously make its sovereign decision on how it’s going to proceed on the issue of narcotics and transnational crime in its own space.

So I expect the report to be helpful in framing a debate that I think, if it follows the kind of pattern that was set by leaders in the dinner in Costa Rica, will be a very civil and very respectful debate of different positions on where people think we might make more progress against a threat that, frankly, is similar for all of us, which is crime and the pernicious problem of drug abuse and the corruption and weakening of our institutions that it can bring with it. So I expect it to be positive in that it helps us have a really good debate on the subject, which is what we look forward to in Guatemala.

MR. ZUNIGA: Just to add on that very quickly, as Roberta mentioned, the discussion on this in Costa Rica was actually very productive, and that was in part because the leaders had come informed by the release of the U.S. ONDCP 2013 drug strategy, which clarified that we do not take a two-dimensional view in the United States regarding drugs and treatment of drugs, and that is it actually a holistic approach that emphasizes demand reduction, that talks about drug abuse as a health concern and that is addressed in part through health programs, and that also has a law enforcement component that requires a certain level of creativity to make sure that we’re incarcerating people who should be incarcerated and finding alternatives for people who are not violent offenders, who have other – for whom there are alternatives available. That very much helped frame that discussion and we hope it’ll help frame the discussion in Antigua as well.

MODERATOR: So that’s – actually, we have time for one or two more questions.

QUESTION: Thank you very much (inaudible). Well, we will have a very interesting moment in the U.S. and Brazilian relationship with this visit of President – Vice President Biden to Brazil, and perhaps with official visit of President Dilma to Washington this year. I wanted to know, in this sense of new and pragmatical, (inaudible) logical, and the interactive relationship between United States and Latin American countries, how do you see the relations with Brazil regarding the fact that energy we can have a very good agenda but not in trade because Brazil is part of MERCOSUR and to have a free trade agreement would be impossible.

MR. ZUNIGA: So let me start on this one. So first of all, we have a – we already have a fairly substantial – we have an important trading relationship with Brazil, about $76 billion in trade annually right now. That’s still performing lower than it should be. I think both governments agree that there is much more that we can do. But let me take a step back and say that we’ve pursued over the last several years a strong relationship with Brazil because we see Brazil as an active global player that we need to have a strong relationship with, that we have very strong shared values with regarding faith in the – in democracy and markets to help lift people out of poverty. Brazil has demonstrated the tremendous potential of democracy and markets to lift tens of millions of people out of poverty, and we think that Brazil has a lot to share not only in the Americas but throughout the world. And we want to be Brazil’s partner in doing this on issues like food security, on issues like health, and on issues like development and energy. There’s a lot that we can do together. We’re world leaders in food production. We’re world leaders in biofuels. There’s an ample scope for cooperation, and we’ve spent the last several years building the architecture for that kind of cooperation. Now we want to take it to the next level and see what else we can do – we can do together. So that relationship is absolutely vital, and we’re going to continue to do what we can to reinforce it.

MODERATOR: All right. We have time for one more question and maybe a follow-up then after that. So to that question right there.

QUESTION: Hi, good afternoon. I am Silvia Chocarro from Radio France International. Presidents from Chile and Peru are visiting – well, are going to meet President Obama very soon. Could you give us some information about what are the main issues that are going to be discussed in these both meetings?

MR. ZUNIGA: So the – with Chile and Peru we have very strong sort of relationships across the board. I would say that with Peru in particular we’ve built a very strong relationship based on a shared commitment to social development, social inclusion. That’s been a core component of our work together, and that is something that we want to continue building on. With Chile and with Peru we also have a strong commitment to the Inter-American system and to the reinforcement of the Inter-American system, and that’s an area that’s also going to be a topic for discussion.

Obviously, these are two countries that are also important to us in the context of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And because of the ongoing discussions there, which happen to be in Lima right now, the current round is there, that’s going to be a subject of some discussion as well and seeing what we can do together to help bring those negotiations to a successful conclusion.

So those are some of the core elements. It’s not everything because we have a very broad agenda related to education, related to the environment, related to energy, and related to other topics.


ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: The only thing I would mention is having served in Peru just over 10 years ago, one of the things that strikes me in having grown and really deepened in our agenda is the counternarcotics relationship with Peru. This is a government that has increased its eradication totals twice and tried – I think last year exceeded its totals even though they were higher than it actually had initially promised. And more importantly, it’s replicating a model of alternative development and reduction of coca production that has been incredibly successful in San Martin in Peru.

And I think there are lessons to be learned elsewhere in the hemisphere, but it is deepening a partnership on counternarcotics that I think is really remarkable and very positive. So I’m sure that that will be part of the conversation as well, but in some respects these are two presidents who can sort of applaud each other’s efforts. We are trying to support Peru as much as possible, but the Peruvians are leading in a way that really is dramatic and successful there, and we want to continue to do that.

MODERATOR: I think, unfortunately, that’s all we’re going to have time for today. I want to thank our speakers for coming and hope they will come back again soon. Thank you both.

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