Remarks With El Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes
Secretary of State
PRESIDENT FUNES: (Via interpreter) Good afternoon, colleagues of the press, international/national press, we thank you for your patience and your high doses of tolerance for having – for being here in presidential house for the generation of news. We have just sustained a very important meeting with the Secretary of State of the United States of America, Mrs. Hillary Clinton and a part of her staff, where we have (inaudible) the commitment for improving our relationship (inaudible) during the speech this morning at the amphitheater this morning on the occasion of my speech. The relations with the United States for our government and for the Salvadoran people are strategic and fundamental relations, which we want to strengthen and reinforce.
We have the best purpose to (inaudible) interested in strengthening it – the United States – and can continue being a strategic partner to face common problems that are troubling both our nations. And as I just said, I thank President Obama and his government (inaudible) the interest that he has placed in Latin America and particularly the Central American region, and now our country, El Salvador. Traditionally, United States is a country whose governments have been concerned, are facing and calling on the countries of Central America to (inaudible) against organized crime, drug traffic, international terrorism. And I have said to Madame Secretary that you can find the new government of El Salvador an ally to work together on that.
But we also need the Government of the United States – we need their support, understanding, so that the Salvadorans can make (inaudible) go against an enemy that we consider as dangerous as organized crime, and this is to go against poverty and social inequality. And this is for the Government of the United States through the impact that it has in the multilateral banks and international monetary funds and IDB and World Bank can help us. As I have shared it this morning with the Salvadoran people, we are receiving a country in a critical situation and a government with very unfortunate public finances. And we need to (inaudible) to international credit. We need to (inaudible) to the request of new loans with international banks. As I have said and Mrs. Secretary has understood it well that as El Salvador reduces poverty, social inequality, and we can generate better and more jobs and improve the living conditions of the Salvadorans. We won’t have Salvadorans -- or at least we will reduce an important amount of Salvadorans that when they don’t see development possibilities here, they will move to United States.
I have heard with great satisfaction on the part of Mrs. Secretary of State the commitment of the Government of United States to continue giving us support that has been given up until now, and I have also listened with great satisfaction from Mrs. Secretary the interest to assist, to resolve helping – to help solve our problems that are common, not only here but in the United States, and to institutionalize a permanent dialogue mechanism that will allow us to get our governments closer with one sole purpose, to make of the United States and of El Salvador and all of Latin America very more prosperous, equal, and fair societies.
Therefore, in this first formal meeting that I have had with Madame Secretary, and now as constitutional president of the republic, I cannot do anything else but bring a sentiment of great satisfaction because of the (inaudible) of this meeting and having discovered or confirmed something that I had already found. Madame Secretary, a deep human feeling, a particularly clear feeling of solidarity with the problems that the Salvadoran people live and have publicly, Mrs. Secretary, my appreciation for those expressions that you have had for the Government of El Salvador and for the Salvadoran people.
MODERATOR: (In Spanish.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much, Mr. President. And it has been a pleasure and an honor being with your, your wife Vanda, your new government and the people of El Salvador today for this historic occasion. I am very excited by the energy and commitment that you’ve put forth in your inaugural address that we’ve had a chance to discuss in greater depth during our meeting. And I want to convey our warmest congratulations to you and your country on behalf of President Obama and the United States.
I know that President Obama is looking forward to building a personal relationship with you, and I extended an invitation for President Funes to come to Washington, D.C., as soon as the schedules of the president and our President can be arranged.
I have attended many inaugurations, but this was one of the most joyful, most exciting that I have ever been privileged to witness.
The United States is taking a new approach to our hemisphere, based on the principles of shared responsibility and mutual respect. And the conversation that President Funes and I just concluded reflected that spirit.
We discussed our joint commitment to promoting the security of our citizens by fighting crime and drug trafficking, expanding economic opportunity in order to diminish poverty and the effects that it brings in the lives of people, improving education, emphasizing social inclusion. We are committed to working with you to find common solutions for our common challenges.
So, Mr. President, as I told you, the United States stands ready to assist you and your new government. This is a commitment that President Obama and I share, and we will look forward to deepening and broadening our cooperation and to ensure that the very exciting feeling that was generated by this day with your new government, your transparency, your willingness to admit the problems that you face, your openness to find solutions to those problems, will result in better lives, better opportunities, and a better future for the people of El Salvador.
And Mr. President, I also wanted just to take this opportunity to recognize the decision by the Brazilian federal court today ordering a young American boy, Sean Goldman, to be reunited with his father, David. It’s taken a long time for this day to come, but we will work with the Goldman family and the Brazilian Government with the goal of ensuring this young boy’s return.
We want to see the rule of law. We want to see governments working together. But more than that, Mr. President, we want to see people-to-people exchanges and experiences. And so we are here today not only representing the Obama Administration and not only representing more than one million Salvadorans who live in the United States, but representing the people of our country who join with you in your commitment to making sure that your people have the best opportunities that a government can provide for them.
Thank you, Mr. President.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) And now we shall have the press conference. The first question, please specify the question and respect the agenda of President Funes and Mrs. Clinton. We only have time for one question for each (inaudible) on behalf of (inaudible) presentations (inaudible) Bloomberg News.
QUESTION: Thank you. Madame Secretary, we want to ask you first – you have expressed concern – am I being heard? Okay. Okay, Madame Secretary, you have expressed some concerns about the behavior of anti-U.S. leaders in this region and the growing influence of China, Russia, and especially Iran, while the United States was disengaged from the region. How do your efforts to engage left-to-center leaders such as President Funes fit into the Obama Administration’s strategy to mend ties in Latin America and promote U.S. interests here?
(Via interpreter) Mr. President Funes, we also have a question for you.
Do you support the U.S. position that Cuba, with whom you have decided to normalize relations, should only rejoin the OAS after it releases political prisoners and adheres to the OAS’s Democratic Charter? And if so, will you urge your fellow Latin American leaders who support the U.S. position in San Pedro Sula tomorrow?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, let me start by saying that the United States, under the Obama Administration, is committed to reengaging in Latin America, to working with all countries, and we have begun doing that. We believe that lifting people out of poverty in our hemisphere, narrowing the intolerable income gap that exists between the rich and the poor in our hemisphere, working for greater social inclusion, improved education and healthcare, these are our goals. This is what we believe. This is what President Obama stands for.
So I cannot speak for any other countries’ mercantile or political interests. I can only underscore the shared values, the common purpose that we feel we have with our friends and neighbors in this region.
And as we discuss a lot of our problems that we have in common today, it is very clear that President Obama and President Funes share so much in common. Some might say President Obama is left-of-center. And of course, that means that we are going to work well with countries that share our commitment to improving and enhancing the human potential. I want to see a region where every boy or girl has a chance to live up to his or her God-given potential, not just my daughter, not just that beautiful young boy that the president carried out of the inauguration today that he and Vanda are so proud of, but every child. I think that is our mission.
So we look forward to our close working relationship. Let me just say on the second question, President Obama has done more in four months to reach out to Cuba than has been done at least in the last eight years and longer, because we believe that it is in the Cuban people’s interest and the interest of our region for Cuba to be more integrated. So we are now going to be embarking on very important talks with Cuba on migration and mail service and so much else.
So we think that there is an opportunity for Cuba to be more involved. But at the same time, we want to see the peaceful transfer of power that we saw this morning possible in Cuba. We want to see democracy, like we saw this morning, available to the Cuban people. So we are working with our friends in the hemisphere so that we can have a commitment to democracy and human rights and social inclusion and the advancement of our people at the same time as we open up to a better relationship with Cuba going forward. And we don’t see those as mutually exclusive. We think that we’re acting in the best interests of the Cuban people as well as our region.
PRESIDENT FUNES: (Via interpreter) My dear friend of the press, I would do wrong to start my presidency (inaudible) the sovereign exercise the Government of United States has of normalizing its relationship with the people and the Government of Cuba according to the (inaudible) that the government of (inaudible). I took a decision, a transcendental decision for El Salvador. We normalized relations with the people and Government of Cuba that were interrupted since 1961. We did that because we considered that we could not be the only country in Latin America that did not have relations with Cuba, and we have had relations. There’s important Salvadoran (inaudible) have relations and business relations, direct business relations with the Cuban Government. The most important company and probably the only international airline travels to Cuba and its partner is the Cuban Government because the company (inaudible) relations with the Cuban Government (inaudible) another government that through all these years have been benefitted with a solidarity, potential that this government has shown to face the sanitary situation that all of Latin America countries have – you know what El Salvador has faced, ill diseases when its own resources have not been capable to decrease the impact in the poor people such as (inaudible) the Cuban Government, without having diplomatic relations with the other government, with the previous government, has sent members of the medical team and the repercussions to – it has helped the people of the country.
What I did today was a historical (inaudible) and pay a debt that other governments have not wanted to pay. It’s a necessary normalization of these relations. Other countries of the continent have relations with Cuba, and nobody (inaudible) them anything about it. Now the rhythm of normalization of relations that the Government of the United States wants to impress to the process that it has initiated and as Madame Secretary says, President Obama has done in the last few months more than other governments have done before. That is decision of the Government of the United States. It’s not me who will impose conditions, and much less am I going to judge the Government of United States for what they consider are the conditions that the Cuban Government should have in order to enter into OAS as far as democratic president, that Cuba enters again into the Organization of American States, and this is the aspiration that many presidents and leaders of Latin America have, such as some presidents expressed during the recent summit in Trinidad and Tobago. If the Government of United States has decided to place conditions to that entry, that’s the sovereign decision of the Government of United States, and I do not have to judge the conditions that the Government of the United States has placed. I want to say I respect and (inaudible) the conditions I wish to mention and highlight the interest and the effort that the Government of United States is doing under the leadership of President Obama to close a chapter in the relation – history of their relations that the Government of United States has with Cuba and (inaudible) regards the wills and the will of both heads of state so wishes, there will be a normality of relationships as soon as possible for benefit of both governments.
MODERATOR: Now we continue representation of the communication means of El Salvador (inaudible) Internet.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) I understand that you have underscored that one of the central axis of the meeting that you just held was combat to organized crime. In the region, organized crime has surpassed the efforts of the Mexican Government. It threats to surpass the efforts of the Guatemalan Government. And recently, we learned that high heads of the police of El Salvador may be involved with drug activity.
For President Funes, first of all, what concrete actions does your government intend to take in combating drug traffic (inaudible) in the state?
And for Madame Secretary Clinton, how can the Government of the United States (inaudible) the drug traffic continues devouring the countries in the region?
PRESIDENT FUNES: (Via interpreter) The penetration of drug traffic in instances of the state such as the case of the national civil police, and as could be the case of other institutions, is a problem that not only is for El Salvador, but we can also find it in the rest of the region.
We have been concerned about the information that we have read in the newspapers of possible links between organizations (inaudible) to drug traffic and money laundering with some heads of the police in the eastern part of the country. I was the first one as president-elect, and without having the power of intervening because I was still not president. President Saca was still the president of the republic. I asked that these investigations (inaudible) judicial, because from a press investigation you cannot derive into any important issues unless the authorities can investigate. There is no doubt that the police throughout all these years have been – has been contaminated. My commitment is precisely to provoke this decontamination. Therefore, I have taken special care by designating the directors of the national civil police, the director and deputy director, and some heads of important units that have to do with combating drug traffic precisely for them to be police who have had a career and who have throughout their career have had institutional way of working. They will have to initiate the investigations within the police, so that in case those connections could be found, then derive (inaudible) responsibilities. This is a mission that the new heads of the national civil police are to make a revision within the police and all of the members of police and establish those relations.
Of course, I’m concerned. And the (inaudible) thing I can allow is that drug traffic finishes with the institutions of state. But this is not a problem that has to do only with the heads of the police. This is a problem of political will. As president of the republic, I cannot allow that the heads of the police have connections with organized crime. I said it during my speech this morning. I’m going to be acting with a rigid hand, not only for the delinquents but also within the police. I am aware of the fact that there’s more honest police than the bad elements. The bad elements need to leave the police. And if we have to establish criminal responsibilities, we shall have them.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’m really impressed by the president’s commitment to the restoration of law and order and the end of corruption among public officials and the diminishment of the power of drug traffickers, because he understands so well that this is a cancer that can take over the state and undermine the good people of El Salvador.
We have worked closely with Colombia for many years. We have seen a lot of progress there, the strengthening of institutions, standing against the drug traffickers. We are now working with Mexico and, as you know, following that story, there is a great deal of courage being shown by the Mexican Government going after corrupt officials, police, electeds and others. We will do whatever the President believes is in the best interest of El Salvador. We will provide the technical assistance and the financial assistance that the new administration here needs, because we want to be on the side of a president who will take on these criminals and drug traffickers.
Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) The last question and representation of the media from United States, Lachlan Carmichael from AFP.
QUESTION: Hello, President Funes, for you first. Do members of your government and party still bear a grudge against the United States for the support it gave to the military and right-wing government during the civil war? And if this is so, does this make it difficult for you to pursue a more productive relationship with the United States, as you seem to desire?
And for Secretary Clinton, do you think it would be a good idea to apologize to some members of his government just to move things forward and forget the past?
PRESIDENT FUNES: (Via interpreter) The idea that there is some sort of rancor of leadership from the FMLN towards the United States (inaudible) of the support during the conflict, the then (inaudible) of United States is a concept that is probably in some maybe (inaudible), but it’s not in the leadership of the FMLN. For many times back, the leadership of the FMLN hasn’t (inaudible) to build an expedited flowing of relationship with different authorities of (inaudible) Government of United States, not only with this government but the previous administrations of President Bush. As a candidate to the presidency of the republic one month after I was proclaimed – and I’m referring to December 2007 – I visited the Department of State and I had a very important meeting with officers of the Department of State, and I was accompanied by important leaders of the FMLN, and at no point were there any expressions of rancor or rejection to strengthen the relations as a result of what happened in the past.
My friend, El Salvador is living challenges that bring them to have a different attitude than historically had been taken by leaderships and governing elites of the past. We are willing to turn the page, see the changes that are beginning around the world. You would have never imagined many months ago that Cuba could establish that open dialogue, frank and sincere, with the Government of United States, and vice versa. You would have never imagined a left-wing government and a candidate proposed by a party which was in the past was against the military, now at present is a commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Yesterday, I signed the orders of change that have allowed to constitute a new high command and defined new heads and new commanders of brigades in the military units, an order that has been well received in the different instances of the armed forces.
And here in El Salvador, nothing has happened. The FMLN won. I won last – past 15th of March, and the country is still standing. It didn’t enter into a crisis. The – and the money didn’t leave the country. The problems that we’re facing – and I recognize during my speech this morning – were not caused by the Salvadoran people, nor by us. These are the responsibility of elites that were governing in the past and who did not make good decisions, and the decisions at the moment – the historical moment allowed them to take. I am convinced that we need to turn the page and start to see the future. The past has to be examined to not repeat the mistakes of the past, but my leadership is not having revenge or confrontation. To the contrary, we’re going to build a national unity government and a tolerant government with our opposition, and I am convinced that the armed forces is an institution with the discipline, democratic, that is one of the institutions that has progressed more in these (inaudible) since the peace accords. And therefore the commanders that have been appointed members of the high command at different brigades necessarily and (inaudible) because of their military education and the context that we’re giving it, have (inaudible) the civilian authority represented by me.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I can only echo that eloquent answer by the president. We’re looking to the future. We have so much work to be done on behalf of the people who are depending on this president and our President to make decisions that will improve their lives. And that’s the substance of our conversation. That’s what we’re going to be working on together, trying to create that future that the people of El Salvador have voted for, and to make the changes that they so yearn for. And the United States wants to be a good partner and a friend to El Salvador, and we intend to do so.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Thank you very much, and with this we conclude. Thank you, President Funes, and thank you, Madame Secretary.