NEW YORK FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, 799 UNITED NATIONS PLAZA, 10TH FLOOR
MS. STAVROPOULOS: Good morning, everyone. My name is Daphne Stavropoulos. Thank you for joining us today at the New York Foreign Press Center. We’re very pleased to welcome back to the Foreign Press Center the Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson. I’ll be turning over the floor to her in just a moment. After her remarks, we’ll open the floor to questions. We just would ask you to wait for the microphone, state your name, your media affiliation. We also have some colleagues, our media joining us in Washington, D.C., so we ask that you step to the podium and we’ll recognize you in time to ask your question.
And with that, thank you very much for joining us, and welcome.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Thank you, Daphne. Thank you all. Good morning. I apologize for the fact that I’m bringing my tissues with me and my bottle of water. I’ve now got two because I have – I’ve got a nasty cold, which I would call a spring cold except I’m not sure it’s spring still. But it’s nice to be here with everyone today.
It’s lovely to be back here at the Foreign Press Center. Let me just say two seconds on a plug for my colleagues, because I’ve now been here three, maybe more, times, which I always really enjoy, but I particularly enjoy it because of Daphne Stavropoulos, who’s done so much great work, and Alyson as well. Alyson will be leaving shortly to bigger and better things, as is our wont in the diplomatic corps. But they always make life easier for me, and they’re on top of things, and I know they’re good colleagues to you as well as to me, so I thank them. Thank you.
Let me start off with one sort of important comment about why I’m here in New York. And I really want to emphasize this just briefly – I won’t take too much of your time – because to me it’s so much a part of what we’re trying to do in the hemisphere. I came to New York primarily to participate in an event on financial inclusion in the hemisphere. This was an event that was sponsored by a really interesting coalition of organizations. It was ourselves, it was the OAS, it was an organization called Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund, which is run by Jonathan Mintz, who was formerly with the Bloomberg Administration and who made enormous strides in expanding financial inclusion in New York City, and also sponsored by New York City and their incoming Commissioner for Consumer Affairs Julie Menin.
What this did was it brought together a dozen or more ministers, vice ministers, or government officials from around the hemisphere who work on social development issues with partners in the private sector, especially the financial community here in New York, and folks from New York City, San Antonio, Miami, and other cities around the country to talk about how do we reach people who have neither access to the financial system or who are fearful of that system and don’t participate. And so we’re talking about things like: How do they make sure they’ve got a bank account and are no longer keeping large sums of cash around their home, making them victims potentially to robbery? How do we ensure that people have access to credit and get loans? How do we ensure that people can get remittances back to their home countries for productive use?
All of these things are challenges that face many of the countries in the hemisphere and Latin America and the Caribbean, but also face many communities in the United States, especially in big cities and in migrant populations. And New York City has been a leader in this initiative. And in 2009, Secretary Clinton inaugurated the Inter-American Social Protection Network, which is designed to reach out and give greater access both in financial and social services to people who don’t have them, and she launched that with Chile and Colombia and New York City. And so we felt it was really appropriate a couple years later to come back with New York City, which has made so much progress not only here in the city but on replicating this model elsewhere in the country, and take a look at what more could be done.
And the reason I think this is so crucial is we’ve seen very large economic growth and achievements in the hemisphere over the last decade or 15 years, especially in South America, but elsewhere as well. Those numbers at the macro level are very positive. Millions of people move from poverty to the middle class – very strong social policies, whether they’re conditional cash transfers or other programs to help families move out of poverty, but we have also seen that millions of people are left behind. They’re not yet getting the benefits of that growth. And that’s the sectors that we want to concentrate on now. They may be those who are historically marginalized – women, Afro Latinos, indigenous populations. They may be rural. They may have a fear of the formal financial sector, as is the case in so many migrant communities in the United States. And we need to find ways to bring those people into the financial system and, hopefully, help them begin to participate in the economy and benefit from its growth.
So when we talk about economic prosperity in this hemisphere as a very high priority for this Administration, we need to talk also about social inclusion. How do we make sure that that prosperity is the broadest possible opportunity for the most people in each of these countries?
So I think that was a really great event. When I went to the networking reception last night, I was incredibly excited to see people from the New York financial community talking with ministers and vice ministers from around the hemisphere about what works and how we can do this better.
Last night, just one clip to tell you about: There was a woman who was representing Granada who was there speaking with Jonathan Mintz from the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund about programs that this woman had begun when she was minister of social development in Granada in 2003 on youth employment. And Mintz had started many programs in New York City on youth employment, and they were comparing notes, and it was great because for the first sort of five minutes of the conversation they said, “Well, did you do this?” And the other person said, “I did. That’s what I did, and it worked,” and, “I did the same thing.” And they were kind of an on even level for about the first five minutes.
And then Jonathan Mintz said, “Well, we went and stepped further and opened programs that channeled kids’ money that they earned in these summer programs into a savings account to get them banked instead of paying them by check and to stimulate savings.” And it was a program called Save. And she said, “That’s the part that we didn’t do, and it’s incredibly important, and I’m going to go home and I’m going to talk about how we can add that to our program.”
So it was really practical discussions about how we can make these programs stronger and get kids trained, and jobs, and get opportunity and have them move into the formal banking sector and be able to save money and have access to credit, and some of them start their own businesses.
So that is an incredibly important part of our agenda, and I think this was a great example of concrete actions that governments, the private sector, and social service agencies can take to improve the lot of many people around the hemisphere.
Beyond that, let me just say that there is a lot going on in the hemisphere, although it doesn’t always reach the front pages of U.S. newspapers. My own view has been that is always a good thing – if you look at crises in Ukraine or in Syria or elsewhere, I’m not sure you want to be on the front pages of the U.S. press. But that said, there are still huge challenges in the hemisphere. I know that we’ll probably talk a little bit about Venezuela, but that is one of them right now. There is a process underway for dialogue, and that is critically important. It is critically important at this point not only that people talk to each other, but that they begin to achieve some increased political space for those who’ve not had it, and we are encouraging that dialogue among the members of the dialogue in Venezuela, which is being supported, obviously, by the UNASUR countries, by the Vatican, and the rest of us trying to do what we can to help in that dialogue process.
So with that, let me open things up to questions on whatever you’d like to talk about, and thank you again for being here.
QUESTION: I’ll start. So, Ana Baron from Clarin. Thank you for doing this again; we love it. I just wanted to follow up of a question that they did yesterday in the Council of the Americas about Argentina and the case of the debt that is in the Supreme Court now. You said that United States has supported Argentina from the juridical point of view because of problem of principle, but also you said that the United States didn’t agree with all the decisions that Argentina has taken. I wanted to know which kind of decisions there is disagreement on. And also, if you know if the United States, due to the efforts that Argentina is going – is doing to normalize the relationship with the community, when the United States is going to lift the ban on loans in the World Bank and the IDB.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Thanks for the question. I appreciate that. And let me just clarify a few things. First of all, I should start out by saying that the real answer to those questions and the real experts on that is the Treasury Department, and I don’t necessarily want to get too much further into their business. It’s not only dangerous, but it’s liable to give you incorrect information. So I’m only going to cover things that I know, and I would urge you to talk with the Treasury Department about other aspects of the Argentine case and the judicial process.
But I don’t think it’s any secret that over the last couple of years, we have felt that it’s been important for Argentina to normalize its relation with the international financial community. And among the things that we have been encouraging Argentina to do were to resolve cases of arbitration that were in ICSID, which I never – CIADI, which I never remember the actual acronym, so I’ll – the word --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: -- CIADI or ICSID, which has moved forward. We’ve felt it very important for Argentina to have – to come to a resolution and negotiation over the Paris Club debt – that too has begun – as well as to – I don’t know what the right word is – to come to agreement in its relationship with the IMF, and as well that is underway.
So those are among the areas where we have felt it was important to make progress. But I think overall, the fundamental goal here and the area that we want to see movement on, which had not been the case in the past, is that it’s important, we believe, for Argentina, for its benefits and its progress, to normalize its relationship with the international financial community, all of its elements.
On the case of loans in the international financial institutions, I want to just be clear about one thing, which is we have not voted against all loans. We have made clear that in loans that clearly are focused on the poorest in Argentina, we would still support such loans. I can’t say exactly when that policy will change, and that would be something that would be for discussion with my colleagues in the Treasury Department, obviously.
QUESTION: People’s Daily. I wonder if the American administration has a plan to set up a kind of specific financial and trading system in Latin America, similar to NAFTA or something like that.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Well, I think obviously we are celebrating NAFTA’s 20th anniversary this year. The leaders of the three countries were in Toluca, Mexico about a month ago, a little over a month ago, and had a very good conversation about what comes next. But since NAFTA, in those 20 years, you’ve seen an enormous growth of free trade and other agreements, whether it’s ourselves with Chile, with the Central American countries and the Dominican Republic in CAFTA-DR, or most recently with Peru – sorry, did not forget Peru before – as well as most recently with Colombia and Panama.
Those agreements, each of them have been, I would say, progressively to higher standards. It’s one of the reasons that at this point, the effort is clearly being made – and you saw this in President Obama’s trip to Asia most recently – the effort is being put into the Trans-Pacific Partnership now, which really, in a sense, builds on all of the free trade agreements that have been implemented in the past and includes high standards in a variety of areas, but including labor and the environment, with 11 countries on the Pacific Rim. And it’s always my job to remind people that that includes four countries in the Western Hemisphere – Chile, Peru, Mexico, and Canada, obviously as well as the United States.
So in some ways what we’re seeing is the next steps in the policy that began with NAFTA, which I really do think was groundbreaking and, remember, began with the free trade agreement with Canada, bilateral free trade agreement. The next step, in some ways, is to link up regions across the Pacific, countries that are growing, countries that have many of the same interests. But beyond that, what we see taking place in the hemisphere is a movement towards greater integration among countries that have open markets and free trade agreements in, for example, the Pacific Alliance countries – Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Chile. I think shortly, or maybe already, Costa Rica, and others are very interested in it. We’ve become an observer to the Pacific Alliance and we’re very enthusiastic about that process.
So I think the movement that, in some ways, begins with open markets and free trade agreements progresses to other forms of economic integration in ways that can be very beneficial. And that, I think, is a trend that we’re seeing throughout the hemisphere.
MODERATOR: We’ll take a question from Washington. Please state your name and organization.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: I just want to say how excited I am to see my reporter friends on the podium. And I want to know if that means I can ask you a question. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Yes, indeed. Hi. How are you, Roberta? Sonia Schott with Diario las Americas. Since you are mentioning or encouraging dialogue in Venezuela between both sides, I would like to know how is the dialogue between the U.S. and Venezuela? And what will be the major points that you would like to talk to the Venezuelan Government?
And second part of my question, I know that the Embassy of Caracas established a visa service. I would like to know what is behind that or how did you come to this conclusion, if you have any comments on that. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Sure. Let me start off with that, if I could, just because I think that one’s pretty easy. I – this is one of those rare occasions where I say something one day on a subject and the next day I have something quite different to say, and that’s exciting, and I’m delighted about that. And that is that yesterday, when I was answering a question, I talked about the reasons that we had suspended new visa processing in Venezuela, not renewals. And that reason was entirely pragmatic. We simply didn’t have enough officers to process the numbers of applicants that we were receiving. And to ask people to wait months and months and months and pay their fee seemed really unfair to us.
However, as was announced earlier this week – and I’m really pleased – we have gotten some additional consular officers in Caracas, and we hope we will have further reinforcements to our colleagues on the ground. And so because that was the sole reason that we suspended visa processing, we are able to begin to take appointments again. We – I don’t know that – how many appointments we will take at the beginning. But we are very pleased that we’re able to start doing that again and to start serving the public in Caracas. And we will be able to increase those numbers as we get additional officers back into a full complement.
On the subject of the bilateral relationship, I think there’s a couple things I want to make sure I say about that. The first is that the Secretary has made very clear – and I want to reiterate it – that we want a positive relationship with the Venezuelan Government. It is our goal to have that relationship. But we’ve also made clear that at this particular moment in time, when there is so much polarization in Venezuela, and where for so long members of the opposition and civil society were really not communicating or able to communicate with the government in Caracas, we felt and continue to feel that the first priority is to ensure that Venezuelans are talking to Venezuelans and that they are making progress on an agenda to open political space for all, to ensure that the voices of many in Venezuela which have not been able to be heard or their concerns addressed begin to be addressed. There is an agenda for that dialogue now, and we strongly support the dialogue and hope that it will lead to improvements in that communication and improvements for civil society and the opposition to have their voices heard, to play a role in the national political life of the country, and frankly, as is one of their agenda items, to address some of the economic problems in Caracas, in Venezuela, which are really so severe.
So we think that the focus has to be on Venezuelan internal situation first. But that said, we hope that we will get to a point where we can begin to have that dialogue with the Venezuelan Government again, which has been, unfortunately, interrupted because of the very polarized situation in Venezuela. And we would hope that that conversation could be, as we’ve stated many times, around issues of mutual concern. Even in relationships – honestly, even in relationships where there is a huge amount of tension and disagreement on many issues, there are always things we can work on together. And I think that’s where we’d like to put our attention. I would hope that some of those would be some of the issues which we’ve talked about before as being of concern to us, whether that’s narcotics trafficking or cooperation on security issues or economic and energy issues. Some of these areas should be areas where we can work. For example, in countries where we have very difficult relationships, we sometimes are able to do enormous good work on education and educational exchanges.
So I would hope that there would be a productive dialogue in areas where we can agree. That does not mean that we will not continue to disagree on some issues and that we will not speak out with respect on our part, and we hope on the Venezuelan Government’s part, on areas where we disagree. But we believe that a pragmatic policy of engagement should be possible once there is further progress in this dialogue taking place in Venezuela now.
QUESTION: Hi, I’m Jorge Pontual from (inaudible) Globo Brazil, and my question is about the NSA surveillance. As you know, since the revelations came that out the Brazilian president was targeted, she asked for an apology. She – beyond that she wanted substantive talks about the internet surveillance, the privacy, governance. She has just hosted an international meeting about that. But she wanted something from the highest level, and the apology didn’t come. She canceled her visit to Washington and she’s still waiting.
And the relations between Brasilia and Washington have been colder than in any time in the near past. How is your Administration planning to address that issue and mend its relations with Brazil?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Well, thank you for the question, and I certainly think that the President and the Administration have been very clear in the last – let’s see, what are we at? April 30th – in the last four months or so – that after a very lengthy and high-level review, the President gave his speech on January 17th or so, I think, on this issue. And he outlined what he believes to be the most important policy and values-driven goals of such programs. He’s made clear that there are threats and enemies out there and that intelligence is vital for every country. But he’s also made clear that this review was important because it allows us to better align our intelligence practices and policies with our values and our policies and our alliances. And so he has made, I think, the statement that is the definitive one on how we’re going to be moving forward on this issue. And he thinks that that was an important response to the many leaders around the world who have talked to him on this issue.
We’ve obviously continued to have a very important diplomatic dialogue with Brasilia on this issue since the beginning, and those conversations continue. We were extremely pleased to participate in the NET Mundial meeting a week or two ago. I think it was a very important conversation and a very positive one to be having at this particular moment. There are a huge number of issues that we all need to deal with, and I think you saw a U.S. Government that came to that meeting prepared to respond very favorably in a lot of cases to some of the challenges that we face moving ahead.
But I would also say that during this period of difficulty, I’ve actually traveled to Brazil twice since these things occurred, and it’s important to understand how much we’re still doing together, whether that is on the Science Without Borders and 100,000 Strong educational exchange, whether that is on a whole range of policy issue that we continue to work on together, whether it is on discussions that we continue to have about moving the relationship ahead on the economic, the energy side. There is a lot of work that continues. I think it’s exciting and important that the Vice President is going to go and attend one of the U.S. games at the World Cup shortly, and he’s looking forward to speaking with President Rousseff at that point. He did speak with her in Santiago when they were both at the inauguration of President Bachelet. We continue to be in touch with our Brazilian counterparts on the issue of Venezuela where they’ve played a crucial leadership role within UNASUR.
So I think it would be a mistake to think the relationship is at a standstill, and we look forward to moving ahead with that relationship in a positive way as the Brazilian Government is comfortable and as we move forward on conversations that continue in the diplomatic sphere as well.
QUESTION: Hi, my name is Frederico Bardier from Radio Carve in Uruguay. I wanted to ask you if you expect that the last changes in the U.S. financial and monetary policy will affect the relationship, or in some way affect the relationship with the Western Hemisphere countries and also these programs, these financial inclusion programs that you were talking about in the beginning.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Well, let me say on – if what you were talking about initially was sort of overarching U.S. financial and monetary policy globally, I am so the wrong expert to answer that question. My economics teachers would be horrified by any answer I gave, as would my Treasury colleagues. So I’m going to say that the conversations that we have with countries in the Western Hemisphere on financial matters are actually really critical, whether they’re members of the G20, whether it’s conversations that are largely bilateral. This is why Jack Lew was in Brazil not long ago. These are pretty senior conversations. I’m sure those will continue. And honestly, I am not the expert on those, and so I’m just not going to venture into that area. I’ve learned one of the best things about getting older is that you are, I think, more willing to admit what you don’t know, even as you hope you’re still learning. So I’m not going to actually answer fully that question.
But let me also address the issue of the financial inclusion issue, because one of the things that’s really interesting about that issue is that there is not a country in the hemisphere that isn’t affected by it, right? Even countries that are doing well economically and have very strong sort of rule of law and there are – their populations have a pretty high confidence in the institutions – and frankly, I would say Uruguay is clearly one of those – have issues with getting people to enter the formal sector as opposed to the informal sector, or to ensure – and this is another part of this.
We saw in the U.S. financial crisis – we saw circumstances in which predatory lenders had an ability to convince people to engage in financial practices, whether that was mortgages or other instruments, where people didn’t understand what they were getting into, they were taken advantage of, and they ended up in situations of debt which were just horrific, right? That’s what happens when people are not financially literate, when people don’t understand the risks and the instruments they’re getting into. The financial system, quite honestly, is opaque sometimes to even those of us who think we understand it. And we all actually have to do a better job to make sure that people can’t be taken advantage of.
One of the things that I also think is really important about this program is that this is so clearly not a case of the United States saying, “Hey, look, we got this right and we’d now like to transplant this everywhere else.” This is very clearly one of those problems in which we approach a meeting or any kind of a conversation about it by saying, “You know what? We have serious problems in this area.” And there are things that we can learn from others, and we would like to get together to ensure that none of us ever actually experience this again while we help those populations which, both in the United States and overseas, have been taken advantage of and have so much fear around. The Mexican consul here in New York – Sandra Fuentes told me that they are opening what they call a financial inclusion window for Mexicans here in the United States to become part of the banking system and to be able to enjoy some of the protections of that.
And so I think this is one of those areas in which everybody learns together and puts the emphasis on this because every one of us has these problems in our system.
QUESTION: Another one.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: All right. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I am lucky today. (Laughter.)
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: You are. It’s your day. It’s the blue boots. I love the blue boots.
QUESTION: Thank you. No. I just wanted to know a little bit more of the relationship, other aspects, because we always know in this moment we’re always with the debt but there are other aspects. And one thing that is worrying a lot in Argentina in this moment is narcotraffic and all the problems linked to narcotraffic. So I wanted to know: How is the relationship, the cooperation between Argentina and the United States? Because I know that after the incident with the plane, it came down, so I know that there is an attempt to come back. But I would like to know a little bit how you see the problem and what kind of cooperation there is now. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: It’s a great question, (inaudible). And I appreciate it. And I appreciate it because what we’ve seen in the last few years – and I’m not enough of an expert to know whether this is quite honestly partly a result of economic growth in countries, and obviously Argentina has always had a large middle class. But when you have, quite honestly, more disposable income, or people move out of poverty, unfortunately, we also see that with that can come – not always, obviously – but can come a greater increase in consumption of drugs at home. And what we’ve seen in Argentina most – I think most importantly in some ways, in terms of numbers in Brazil, is that the amount of consumption domestically in those countries has gone up, and it’s gone up pretty dramatically.
So one of the things you recognize is that it’s very hard these days to talk about supplier and consumer countries, right, because those lines have blurred. They’ve blurred because consumption is now a problem in just about every country of the hemisphere, because transit is a problem in almost every country of the hemisphere, because drugs are not only moving north to the United States, but they’re moving south through the southern cone. They’re moving east into Africa and then north to Europe. And so all of us in some ways have become victims of this problem in ways that we weren’t necessarily 25 years ago. And I think there’s a recognition of that in Argentina, and a recognition that we all actually need to be working together on these issues in ways that are not traditional.
One of the things that’s been very frustrating over the last couple of years is there’s been a whole debate as to whether counternarcotics policies have worked in the hemisphere, and I think that’s a very healthy debate. The President said so at the last Summit of the Americas. But what you sometimes lose in this is the shift that this Administration made on counternarcotics policy, which actually responds fairly directly to some of the previous criticisms, right? This is an Administration that immediately upon taking office shifted funds to prevention and treatment, and out of some of the supply areas, spending over $10 billion a year on prevention and treatment in a tough budget environment; which is focused much more on a public health approach than on a law enforcement approach. We’re still obviously strongly going after traffickers, but as many have said in this Administration, you can’t arrest your way out of this problem, right? You’ve got to be working on the public health and the prevention side of it.
So there’s a lot that we have in common with critics in the hemisphere about how policies need to shift, and in some ways Argentina and others in the hemisphere benefit from that debate in being able to craft policies that don’t – that are based on lessons learned, right, that are based on things that work. We are interested in cooperating with Argentina in that area. I think there is some interest on the part of the Argentine Government. It is not a secret, as you said, that that cooperation has been reduced over the last few years, and we look forward to continuing to have cooperation – conversations, rather, on how we can do that most effectively. These are not drugs that are coming to the United States, obviously, but we hope to be able to share whatever experiences we’ve had that are relevant in Argentina, and vice versa, so that we can learn from their experiences as well.
MODERATOR: I think we have time for just one or two last questions.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Okay.
QUESTION: Hi. Rafael Mathus-Ruiz from La Nacion. Following up on that question, I was wondering if you have managed to collect any information about Uruguay’s experiment with legalization, which is the same or similar to the one that Colorado and Washington implemented in the U.S., and how do you feel that might help to manage the increasing consumption that you just talked about?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: You know, I think one of the things that we all have to recognize about – whether it’s Uruguay, or whether it’s Colorado, or Washington, or Portugal, or the Netherlands, is every one of these initiatives is different. And they’re different not just because they may be legally different in their definition, scope, and implementation, but they’re different because the environment in which they’re operating is different. So the first thing is it’s hard to draw any broad conclusions about those individual initiatives yet. But what we can say is there is a desire for experimentation in models that we’re seeing not only in the Western Hemisphere, when people talk about, “Isn’t there a big disagreement with the United States over whether we should do some of these things?” It’s an honest debate that’s taking place in the United States as well, given the situation with those two states and others considering similar types of initiatives.
I would say I am, again, the wrong person to answer the question about how Uruguay is doing on this or what the lessons are yet, because the first people to answer that question probably should be Uruguayan. But I also think that it’s probably – and I’m not an expert in this either – it’s probably too early to say exactly what the implications are and how such initiatives may work, or may have to be adjusted, or may be coming out. So I think that we probably need a little bit of time for experts, whether that’s in the UN drug control program or other organizations, to look at these experiments and see whether they have an impact on reducing income to drug-trafficking organizations without raising significantly public health concerns, which is frankly the underlying concern that the U.S. government has had, and the reason that the President’s been very clear that he does not believe that’s the way to solve this problem, and thus federal law is not changing in the United States.
MODERATOR: I think we’re out of time. We want to thank the Assistant Secretary very much for sharing her time this morning, and with that we’ll conclude the briefing.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Thank you all so much, and I made it through without sneezing, so – (laughter) – good shape. Thanks so much, everybody.
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