Special Briefing on Secretary Clinton's Travel to Latin America

Arturo Valenzuela
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs
Washington, DC
February 26, 2010

MR. TONER: Good morning, everybody. Very happy to have with us today Assistant Secretary Arturo Valenzuela who’s going to walk us through Secretary Clinton’s travel to Latin America next week. As you know, she’ll be traveling to Uruguay, Chile, Brazil, Costa Rica, and Guatemala – again, from February 28th to March 5th.

And without further ado, I’ll turn it over to Assistant Secretary Valenzuela. Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Good morning. Yes, we’re delighted that the Secretary will be traveling this week to the Southern Cone and then to Central America. As you know, last year the Secretary did travel to Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago for the OAS General Assembly. And this travel this year is a continuation, of course, of our efforts to engage the countries of the hemisphere on a whole multiplicity of issues. As you know, President Obama and the Secretary have pledged greater engagement with the countries of the Western Hemisphere. We’re working on a whole host of bilateral issues with all of the countries in the region.

They’re grouped into sort of three general baskets. The first basket is what you might call competitiveness and on issues of social equity and social justice. The second basket is issues of public security, which is a major concern for most of the countries in the region where we’re trying to look to how we can repackage and rethink the way in which we do our collaborative work with countries in the hemisphere on such things as crime and organized crime and also the counterdrug effort. And finally, we’re concerned about how we can partner with other countries in the region on such issues as democratic governance and how we can have more effective governance in order to enhance the quality of life of the citizens of the hemisphere.

This is actually a very exciting time to go. As you’ll remember, this is – 2010 is the 200th anniversary of the independence of the countries of the Americas. The actual independence in different countries comes at – on different dates. This time around, it’s Argentina – 2010 Argentina, Chile, Mexico, and Colombia.

We have common histories of having established in the New World societies based on the concept of popular sovereignty, profoundly influenced by the enlightenment that these are – this is the continent of the republican forms of government, so the 200th anniversary is a very important time. These societies are very similar in many ways: fragments of Europe established in the New World on – in countries with indigenous societies, with forced migration of slavery, with a narrative of emancipation, with a search to try to strengthen the concept of democratic governance, based on the notion of social justice and equal opportunity to everyone. So have common, common sort of goals and history. And this is what we’re trying to do in our engagement with the hemisphere to have discussions that are respectful, that – where we are not going to come down and tell people what they need to do, but rather where we’re going to seek to come up with common solutions to common problems. And that’s what our dialogue will be in the entire – on the entire trip.

We begin in Uruguay on March 1 with the inauguration of President Mujica. This is the second time that the Uruguayans have inaugurated a president of the left, and it should be an exciting time. Uruguay, as you know, is a country with a long and strong democratic tradition. It’s a country that punches way up beyond its weight in terms of its engagement in the world. Uruguayans have always been well thought of, their leaders have been respected. And let me remind you that Uruguay is the second largest contributor to peacekeeping operations per capita of any country in the world. And indeed in Haiti, the Uruguayan contribution before the earthquake to the Haitian stabilization effort through the UN was almost equivalent in terms of its size to that of Brazil, and just a little bit lower than that of Nepal. The three countries were – had over 1,000 troops. And Uruguay continues to be very much interested in working in that regard.

From Uruguay, we travel then to Santiago, to Chile, that same day in the evening, March 1st. She will be meeting with President Bachelet the next day. The Secretary has a relationship with the president. This will be her last week in office. They will attend an event, one of the signal events that – or projects that President Bachelet has to address issues of social inclusion, which has been one of the marks of her government. And then there will be a bilateral meeting with the president-elect, with Sebastian Piñera, who takes office on the 11th of March.

From Chile, the Secretary will travel to Brazil. She will have meetings with President Lula, with the Foreign Minister Amorim in Brasilia, and then travel to Sao Paulo where she will be visiting certain activities in Sao Paulo, particularly an Afro American – an Afro Brazilian university in Brazil.

Then from there, the Secretary travels to Costa Rica for the Pathways for Prosperity meeting, which is a ministerial meeting of hemispheric ministers, and will be discussing many of the themes that I outlined at the top. Pathways is one the Secretary’s signature initiatives. She has expanded this initiative that began earlier to add a whole host of other components, including such things as micro credit, ways in which you can empower women. It all fits in within the theme of trying to look for ways to enhance competitiveness, with a significant component, too, of encouraging private-public partnerships in the search for greater competitiveness and to address issues of social inclusion. Issues like corporate social responsibility, for example, are also on the table.

She will then, on that same day, have a bilateral meeting with President Arias, who is also, as you know, leaving office, and will be meeting with the president-elect of Costa Rica Laura Chinchilla, as well.

And then finally on the final day of her trip, which will be next Friday, she will travel to Guatemala and meet with President Colom in Guatemala, at the same time, with several of the other presidents of the Central American countries, including President Lobo of Honduras, President Funes of El Salvador. President Fernandez is coming from Dominican Republic as well. So this – and President Arias will attend.

The full attendance to that meeting is not quite settled because people have been adjusting their schedules. At any rate, that’s kind of our objective on this trip. We’re very excited about it and the Secretary is very excited about it, and I look forward to taking your questions on the trip.

QUESTION: Can I ask you about two countries that she’s not going to, Argentina and Honduras, and why not?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: On all of these things, it’s always a complication as to how you schedule trips in terms of everything from flight time to some of the other priorities the Secretary --

QUESTION: What’s the flight time between Montevideo and BA?


QUESTION: About 10 minutes?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZULA: My impression, it has to do with --

QUESTION: And the flight time between Costa Rica and Guatemala and Honduras –


QUESTION: -- is about?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: The flight to Uruguay is an overnight flight, and so it’s – just in terms of the logistics of the flight, it made much more sense to just go to Uruguay and then have a bilateral meeting with the president of Argentina, and so that will be held on the afternoon of March 1st. This trip was built around the Uruguayan inauguration. So when we looked at the schedule and we saw how can we touch as many of the countries that we can in the Southern Cone around the Uruguayan inauguration, that’s the schedule that we came up with.

And the return trip also, the flight from Sao Paulo to Costa Rica, is something like seven hours as well. So it’s very – it’s a reminder of how large the continent is. And in fact, remember that to travel from Miami to Montevideo is probably equivalent as traveling from Miami to Moscow.

QUESTION: Right. Well then, I mean, you say it was built around the Uruguayan election. It could have just as easily have been built around – I mean, the inauguration – it could have just as easily have been built around the Chilean inauguration, no?


QUESTION: So is there some kind of --


QUESTION: Is there some kind of signal that you’re trying to send here, that --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: No signal whatsoever, trying to send. It had to do in large measure with the scheduling issues that the Secretary has. And in an ideal world, we would attend all of these inaugurations, but obviously it’s difficult to do that. So when we looked at the calendar, the fact that the Pathways meeting had been on the agenda for some time earlier, and this was the best combination of things. And I think – I’m very pleased with the way in which we were able to sort of, I think, cover all of the interests that we wanted to cover.

QUESTION: Sir, the inaugural events in Montevideo are going to attract leaders from across the region, some of the leftist leaders that have been antagonistic at times with the United States – Morales, Chavez – I think even Raul Castro may come. Is that correct?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: I don’t know. I don’t think so. I don’t think he’s – yeah.

QUESTION: Okay, I’m – will there be bilaterals with some of these people? And in the case of Chavez and Morales, will the Secretary interact with them at events?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Well, precisely because this – the focus of this was to be a Southern Cone trip, the only bilateral that is on the books is with Cristina Kirchner, the president of Argentina.

QUESTION: Can you elaborate on what the two will discuss, then, with the president of Argentina? Will the Falklands figure in pretty highly there? Are you concerned about what’s going on there?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: There’s an ample agenda with Argentina, and I think that with Argentina we’re not going to be discussing just simply bilateral issues but also some of the international issues. The Argentines have been fairly outspoken on issues like Iran and international terrorism. These are questions that we will discuss with them. We will not be discussing the Falklands issue with them. This is a matter for Argentina and for Britain. And it’s not a matter for the United States to make a judgment on.

MR. TONER: Could I just remind folks to give your name and media affiliation?

QUESTION: I’m (inaudible) with CNN en Espanol. Mr. Secretary, yesterday or a couple of days ago, President Kirchner spoke to us on CNN en Espanol and basically said that she was very disappointed of the way President Obama was handling all the issues and all the relationships with Latin America, that everything was very disconnected, and especially the issue with Honduras was really disappointed. (Inaudible) Chavez also said something along those lines. What is the reaction and is an okay environment to talk to Argentinians and kind of like bringing another message after what happened last year?


QUESTION: I don’t know if you can speak that in Spanish also later. Is that possible, please?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Do you want me to do a little bit in Spanish?

QUESTION: No, if you cannot --

MR. TONER: Transcription –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: She’s entitled to – obviously to her opinion on this issue. We just simply disagree. We think that not only have we had a very significant engagement over the past year with countries in the hemisphere while at the same time having to focus on two very difficult and significant crises, the first being, of course, the Honduran coup d’etat that took place last June and then also the more recent earthquake in Haiti, which has really absorbed a lot of our attention and where we see, by the way, significant cooperation across the countries of the Americas, including the contribution that the Argentines have made to the peacekeeping operations in Haiti.

On Honduras, as we can see today, the – one of the reasons the Secretary is participating also in this meeting with the Central Americans is precisely because the Central American countries have taken a very significant leadership role in trying to bring about a resolution to the Honduran crisis. And we see indications now that not only the Central American countries but other countries in Latin America are moving forward to recognizing the Government of President Lobo and to – thinking about reinstating Honduras back into the Organization of American States.

So we see the outcome in Honduras is a very successful case of standing for a very fundamental principle and that is that you cannot tolerate a coup d’etat in a country. This sets a terrible precedent. And in that sense, we join the unanimity of the hemisphere in this regard. But at the same time, a solution had to be found to Honduras. As one Central American president told me in conversations, we cannot afford to have Honduras be Myanmar. We need to work to try to see how we can engage it back in. The election was an election that has been recognized by the international community as a valid one. It certainly reflected the desires of the Honduran people. At this particular point, the steps have been taken to move ahead to restore Honduras to the inter-American system and to fully restore the democratic and constitutional order in Honduras.

QUESTION: But if I can follow up on that, what about just meeting with Cristina Kirchner, what is that meeting going to be after saying that there is disappointment on the region and basically very vocal between Kirchner and Chavez saying that they are not – they are very disappointed with the way President Obama is handling the relationship with Latin America?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Well, when we have meetings, we also have meeting with people with whom we might disagree. In fact, one of the reasons why it’s important to schedule a meeting like this and we offered this meeting was precisely so that we could have an exchange of views on some of these issues. And I think that if that is indeed her position, we would disagree on the way in which the Honduran situation evolved.

But let me stress again that in our dialogue with the Argentines, there are a whole host of things that we’re doing on a bilateral – on the bilateral basis that are very constructive. There is very, very good cooperation on law enforcement issues that I stressed earlier are very important. And at the same time, we’ve been pleased at the votes that the Argentines have taken in the International Atomic Energy Agency on Iran. And the Argentine position on international terrorism has been a very good one.

So this is a conversation that we’ll have. I think many things – we share very many things with the Argentines, and we would very much like to be able to strengthen our relationship with Argentina as we move forward.

QUESTION: I want to ask you a question about Brazil (inaudible), although I am from Argentina (inaudible). The question is that – is this: In May, President Lula will travel to Tehran. And yesterday, it was said in this same room that the – although Brazil has a lot of influence, also have to have responsibility. I want to go directly to the point: What kind of conversations are – is going to be with Lula? Are you going to tell him, Lula, you need to press more Iran? What is the real factor in the meeting with Lula in relation with Iran?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Well, as you know, Under Secretary Bill Burns is in Brazil today, and so he’s going to be having conversations with his counterparts on many issues, but also on this particular issue. And the Secretary will have the same conversations there.

And let me make it absolutely clear that we will be telling our Brazilian counterparts that we encourage them to encourage Iran to regain the trust of the international community by fulfilling its international obligations, which we feel that they have not fulfilled. So we will be urging the Brazilians to take a constructive role with regard to their engagement with Iran.

QUESTION: Assistant Secretary, you talk a lot about the common things that the United States has with the region. It seems the region, in recent months, and since this Administration came into office, is feeling a little bit more divided from the United States in that – you know, just last week, countries in the region formed a new regional alliance that left the United States out and included Cuba, for example. There have been divisions over Honduras, some would say disappointments with the U.S. over Honduras. There have been divisions over the base’s agreement with Colombia, disappointments for some countries.

And so they are – in some cases, these countries are forging economic and political relationships that supersede relations with the United States, and some say go against U.S. interests like Brazil and Iran. So does the United States at all feel perhaps that in its effort to sort of stop ordering the region around, it’s also beginning to lose influence in the region?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: I don’t think so, and if you actually go back and look at the history of the relationships between the United States and the region, I can think of many periods where there was a far greater dissonance between the United States and the countries of Latin America. And we can go way back if you want to, but we don’t have time to do that.

But certainly in the 19th century, the United States began, as I said earlier in my remarks on the celebration of the anniversaries of – the 200th anniversary of independence – the United States did support the countries of Latin America against the colonial powers when they were trying to re-impose colonial rule in the region. That was the famous Monroe Doctrine, at that particular time, was to have the European power stay out of the region.

There were – the period of big diplomacy was a very difficult period where the United States actually occupied several of the countries in the region. And then of course, we had the Good Neighbor Policy under Franklin Roosevelt and then the very difficult period during the Cold War. And if I think back at these various particular times and at the difficult moments, even as recently, for example, as the problems that we may have had over the Central American wars, this is a time that’s very, very different.

It’s the post-Cold War era. There really isn’t that much significant difference between the United States and the countries of the Americas. We have very common goals. We’re seeking the same objectives. We want to improve the quality of lives of our people. This is a continent where we don’t have the same kinds of challenges that we have in other places in the world. And it’s one of the reasons why the United States appears to pay less attention to the region at the level of, say, the President.

But that’s not the case. We’re continuously – the fact that we don’t have the problems in the Americas, for example, of nuclear proliferation means, of course, that that’s a whole area that we don’t have to deal with the Americas on. In fact, there’s consensus on so many broad issues. And what we’re looking to that is to sort of strengthen those – that consensus. And I know that there are dissonant voices out there, but let me get to your first observation.

Also, we do not see the fact that the countries of Latin America are trying to put together some of their own mechanisms for integration as, in any way, deleterious to the objectives that the United States are pursuing – quite the contrary. If, in fact, through efforts at integration, they can build better confidence measures between countries, if they can avoid protectionisms which they often have between their countries in order to expand trade, if they can build a better sense of integration, this reduces intrastate conflict. All of these things are important. They’re not deleterious to U.S. interests.

And let me say one final thing. This does not – the fact that they’re talking about setting up some of these other organizations, which they have done in the past as well, does not mean that they’re going to be abandoning the OAS. And the Organization of American States is a qualitatively different kind of institution. It’s one based on treaties. It’s one based on broad agreements like the Inter-American Charter, but also the Inter-American Human Rights Convention, and all of those sorts of things. These are obligated treaties that go way back. And we see an importance now of strengthening, in fact, the Organization of American States. The fact that other institutions arise too is not necessarily a problem.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. TONER: One or two more questions.

QUESTION: To follow up on the --


QUESTION: -- last question, but Secretary Clinton last year pointed out that during what she said was a lack of engagement during the previous administration, other countries had made inroads there – China and Iran and I think maybe Russia as well. I can’t remember the exact countries she mentioned. But that – implicit in that is that the U.S. had lost influence in the region, so, I mean, are you gaining back influence, and how?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Well, if we looked at trade flows, if we looked at investment flows, if we looked at cultural flows, if we looked at flows of people, if we looked at such things as remittances – they’re what, $50 to $70 billion in remittances from the United States to the countries of Latin America also show the enormous integration of our hemisphere, and the important role that Latin American immigrants have played in the United States, and in forging greater bonds between our countries. So I see a really strong, strong process of engagement culturally, as well as on all of these other efforts that we’re making.

Now, on the question of China, this has also been a period that’s been very – where Latin America has been very successful economically. The – if we go back to the 1980s, at the time that we talked about tremendous disconnects in the region, we also had societies where you had – economies where you had hyperinflation and stagnation. And the reason why the countries in Latin America were able to resist the international financial crisis was because they did do some fundamental reforms and they began to really export to other countries. And China has become a very, very important exporter destination for the countries of the Americas.

So part of the answer is we want to encourage countries to export, we want to encourage countries to grow, to be more dynamic, to create jobs, and to become more engaged in the international community. So we don’t see that necessarily as damaging to our interests; quite the contrary, successful societies and economies are in our interest. What we would have to worry about would be incursions of countries like Iran. And it’s not quite clear what maybe some of their objectives might be in the region.

But generally speaking, Latin America engaged with the rest of the world – this is why the Chileans have been so successful. The Chileans have, I think, something like 57 free trade agreements with countries across the world, and their economy has grown enormously and they’ve reduced since 1990 poverty rates from 40 percent to 12 percent. It’s an engagement with the world which we welcome.

Thank you very much.

QUESTION: The engagement with Iran – can I just ask just one thing?

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: The engagement with Iran by Brazil, do you see that as helpful to the United States? I mean, I’ve heard conflicting reports that the United States in one way believes that Brazil can serve as an important mediator, in a way between the United States, and perhaps there’s some benefit to Brazil’s having a relationship with Iran. Can you tell me, does the United States see this as a good thing or a bad thing?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Well, let me say this. And in my conversations and other officials of the U.S. Government’s conversations with the Brazilians, they do say that. They say we want to be able to engage because we want to be able to have influence, and by having influence, we would be able to press them.

What we want to try to tell the Brazilians is yes, if you have engagement with Iran, we’d really want to encourage you and urge you to, in fact, use that engagement in a way that you can push the Iranians, in fact, to meet their fundamental international obligations. If you don’t do that, then we will be disappointed. If you do that, then I think that that will be an important step that they can take.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.


PRN: 2010/224