Remarks With Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
April 17, 2009


SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much, Mr. President. And I greatly enjoyed our visit last night over dinner and then again this morning in our important meeting. I also wish to thank your foreign minister and other ministers and officials of your government for their cooperation and partnership on this visit, but, of course, in so many other ways.

Date: 04/17/2009 Location: Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic Description: Secretary Clinton shakes hands with Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez at the end of a press conference at the national palace in Santo Domingo, April 17, 2009.  © AP Photo

I am delighted to be back in the Dominican Republic. I have been here many times. I have been in this building on several previous occasions, and I am always drawn back by the energy and vitality of the Dominican people and the beauty of your country. As the president said, I am not the only one who has made this trip between our two nations. The vibrant exchange between the Dominican people and our citizens in the United States is extraordinary. More than 1 million tourists from the United States visit every year, and more than 1 million people of Dominican descent live in the United States, and I was very proud to call many of them my constituents when I served as senator from New York.

We are linked together by a commitment to shared values and our efforts toward shared prosperity. This is a cornerstone relationship for the United States, and I would like to thank you, Mr. President, for the work you have done to promote democracy and broad-based economic growth in your country. And I would like to thank you, Mr. Foreign Minister, for the work you have done in expanding commercial ties between our countries and commerce throughout the region.

Just as we share these opportunities, we also face challenges, and we have to work together to address them. This is especially true in these difficult economic times. At the heart of our relationship is a commitment to a partnership to address our challenges and seize our opportunities. And it is critical that we focus on security. The president and I spent a lot of time talking about the security challenge. Drug trafficking, drug-related gangs are threatening the safety of citizens, tearing at the fabric of our communities, and we bear a shared responsibility to tackle this serious problem.

The United States is and will be investing millions of dollars in improved law enforcement, improved information gathering and sharing, improved judicial systems and public institutions throughout our hemisphere. The Dominican Republic is doing its part. President Fernandez is showing leadership. He will be hosting a public security meeting later this year so countries in our hemisphere can discuss together how we will fight the drug-fueled crime and lawlessness we face.

And I did ask President Fernandez to work with us and assume an even greater leadership position in the region to work with the Central American and Caribbean countries on all of these challenges and opportunities. Later today, leaders from across the region will arrive at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago. We will be discussing concrete ways to improve the lives of people. I saw an example of that earlier today, Mr. President, at the Rosa Duarte School, where I saw the results of a strong partnership led by your administration and your minister of education to improve the language and mathematics skills of students and the governance of schools. And I was proud to announce the United States will continue to support these programs with an additional $12.5 million.

We want also to work with you to broaden investment, trade, and commerce in our region and hemisphere, to protect our environment, and to fight climate change, to look for more secure energy generation and distribution means. And I am very (inaudible), Mr. President, that the long and important relationship that we have had between our countries will begin to deepen and broaden under the Obama Administration and with your leadership.

So thank you for hosting me and my delegation here today. I look forward to continuing our friendship and our dialogue, and making concrete, positive changes in the lives of the people of our two nations and of our neighbors throughout the region and hemisphere. Thank you, Mr. President.


QUESTION: Thank you very much. I have a question for both of you, please. This morning in Venezuela, Raul Castro indicated that Cuba would be very receptive to a dialogue with the United States, and he said that all the issues would be on the table – human rights, the release of political prisoners, freedom of the press. I wonder, Madame Secretary, whether that constitutes the kind of reciprocity that you were calling for yesterday in Haiti. And if so, would – this could be the opening for a series of next steps, and what might those steps be?

And for the president, you spoke of the role that the U.S. would like the Dominican Republic to play with Cuba and Haiti and other countries. I just wonder how (inaudible) what your reaction was to what the Obama Administration announced earlier in the week with regard to travel restrictions and remittances. And would you like to see the Obama Administration go further (inaudible)?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Mark, let me begin by (inaudible) how earlier this week President Obama announced the most significant policy changes toward Cuba by the United States Government in decades. And we are continuing to look for productive ways forward because we view the present policy as having failed.

You are all familiar with the Administration’s general view that engagement is a useful tool to advance our national interests and our goals of promoting human rights, democracy, peace, prosperity, and progress.

So we have seen Raul Castro’s comments. We welcome this overture. We are taking a very serious look, and we will consider how we intend to respond.


QUESTION: (In Spanish.)


QUESTION: (In Spanish.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Hold it up close to your mouth and just – so I can hear you. Talk right into it. Just keep talking into it. Hold it up.


QUESTION: (In Spanish.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first let me say that our relationship is excellent. We cooperate on a range of important matters. Now between any two nations, there will be issues that have to be worked out. We have discussed a number of those in our meetings today. I think that some of what I could hear in your question is not factually based in terms of any conclusions or assessments that have been made. But there are issues that we have to resolve* better, and that’s what we’re doing. We’re doing it in a spirit of partnership and respect.

And as to the point you made about President Fernandez meeting with leaders throughout the region, we believe that is a positive undertaking by President Fernandez. The new Administration does not agree with the policies of a number of leaders in our region. We think they are not in the best interests of the people of the countries. But we also believe that we should be having more dialogue and discussion. President Fernandez has illustrated that. His leadership has demonstrated it. And we think that is not only to the benefit of the Dominican Republic, but to the entire region, and it is right that an opportunity for us working with President Fernandez to bridge some of these other leaders.

Finally, if I could say a word on Haiti, the prior question that went to President Fernandez – as you may know, I was in Haiti yesterday. I had a lengthy meeting with President Preval and other officials in his government along with representatives of opposition political parties. I attended the donors conference on behalf of the United States where we made a significant (inaudible) to assist Haiti with security, with (inaudible) payments, with (inaudible). We want to work on sustainable agriculture. This is an area where the United States and the Dominican Republic will work very closely together. The Bilateral Commission will begin working on the issues. The United States stands ready to assist Haiti and to work with the Dominican Republic to provide a greater opportunity for the people of Haiti. This is a complex challenge, but we are very committed to working together and we think we can make a difference.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary --

SECRETARY CLINTON: Lachlan, if you hold it real close to your mouth.

QUESTION: I’ll do it again. Is that close?

SECRETARY CLINTON: That’ll work better. Sometimes you have to really get into these microphones.

QUESTION: Thank you for your advice. So as you come up to the Summit of the Americas, will the recently warmed state (inaudible) between the United States and Cuba (inaudible) action (inaudible) of the United States, will they have a snowballing effect on the region? Will it take the bite out of your tensions with Venezuela and other leftist governments in the region, (inaudible) President Fernandez?

And finally, if I may ask, Senator Mitchell is traveling to the Middle East. What chance does he have to – Prime Minister Netanyahu to be back (inaudible) two-state solution (inaudible) Saudi Arabia, and what about the Saudi peace initiative (inaudible)?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, with respect to the Summit of the Americas, President Obama and I are very much looking forward to this opportunity. We will be meeting all of the assembled representatives in large plenary sessions and then in smaller groups as well, as some limited number of bilateral meetings.

But our message is the same. The United States wants to engage our hemisphere. This is our backyard. We are neighbors and friends and partners on so many fronts. We obviously have disagreements with some of the leadership in certain countries in Latin America. But we approach that from a practical, not an ideological perspective. Practically, we think that vibrant markets and open political systems and dynamic democracies and free speech and good governance and the rule of law are in the best interests of the people of all of these countries.

And so when leaders interfere with that and they substitute personal actions for rule of law and good governance, that’s troubling to us. Because what we want is for every child in this hemisphere to have a chance to live up to his or her God-given potential. When I was looking at those beautiful children at the Rosa Duarte school today, I could see that the government of this country is investing in these children. And therefore, they will have a better future. We want to help every country realize that dream for their own people. So let’s be united against the scourge of drug trafficking which robs people of their freedom, of their future, which undermines civil society. Let’s work together on social inclusion so that no group of people are excluded from any country’s civil, social growth. Let’s work together on health and education and our young people.

So there is so much that we want to explore with other countries at this summit. The United States will continue to defend our interests and our values and our security. That is what is our highest priority. But we think there are many opportunities for us to be more closely aligned with all countries. Indeed, our – as the President said in his inaugural address, holding out our hand if people unclench their fist, and that is what we’re hoping to see. Let’s put ideology aside. That is so yesterday. Let’s figure out how we’re going to help people. Let’s figure out how we’re going to have governments that are respected by their own people. Let’s work on solving transnational problems like drug trafficking. And let’s then have a spirit of cooperation and partnership in this hemisphere that will benefit us all. And that is our hope and our goal for this first summit that we’ll be attending.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, thank goodness. I’m so focused on Latin America and the Western Hemisphere, it’s hard to shift gears and think about the rest of the world.

Before I say something, though, in response to your question – and I hope you’ll forgive me. I’ll give an abbreviated answer. There will be time later for you and I to talk about the Middle East peace process. I did want to take a moment to express my concerns about the reports coming in of an earthquake in Afghanistan, in eastern Afghanistan. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people in that country, particularly in the affected region. The United States and the international community will work to help the areas deal with the impact of the earthquake, and I understand the first convoys from an American reconstruction team has arrived in the area, so we’ll get a clearer analysis of what is needed. But I can pledge that more help will be on the way for the people and Government of Afghanistan.

And finally, because I don’t want to impose on our friends here in the Dominican Republic, Senator Mitchell is in the region. He’s having very productive and fruitful talks with a number of governments throughout the area. The United States is committed to a two-state solution.
That has been our policy for a number of years now. Everyone in the region knows that is our policy. We have welcomed the Arab peace initiative, which, for the first time, put the Arab League led by Saudi Arabia on record in favor of a two-state solution, in which Israel will be granted the recognition that it deserves from its neighbors in the region. The new government of Israel has just taken office. We will be following up on the intensive conversations that Senator Mitchell is having in the days and weeks ahead. But I will just conclude by underscoring our commitment to a two-state solution.

QUESTION: (In Spanish.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I have been very candid in saying that the United States shares responsibility for the upsurge in drug trafficking and related lawlessness and violence because of the big demands within the United States. And that is why we want to work closely together with the Government of the Dominican Republic to come up with a plan that will work. There will be an important meeting in – next month in the region to discuss how we can better coordinate our efforts, what the United States can contribute in the forms of assistance, training, equipping, logistics in respect to preventing the continuing efforts of the drug traffickers not only to peddle their drugs, but to corrupt officials, intimidate people, take over areas within countries if they are able to do so.

All of this will be on the table. We will look at every aspect of how to get active drugs (inaudible) trafficking surge, and I look forward to working with the Dominican Republic. They bring great strengths to the table, and we’re going to have a very open discussion about what we all need to be doing.

PRN: 2009/T6-4