Remarks at the First Diplomacy Briefing Series Meeting, Focused on the Issues and Challenges of U.S. Relations With Latin America

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
December 11, 2009

MR. CROWLEY: A woman who truly needs no introduction, the 67th Secretary of State and our global rock star, Hillary Rodham Clinton. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Just don’t ask me to sing, that’s all I ask.

Well, it is a very great pleasure to be here today to welcome you to the first in a series of diplomacy briefings that we will be hosting here at the State Department. I want to thank all of you for being part of this because it is in keeping with our efforts to reach out and to have a dialogue about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it, and to seek your ideas as well.

I want to thank Assistant Secretary P.J. Crowley for his leadership and everyone who works with him in Public Affairs. Later, you will be hearing from our Assistant Secretary for the Western Hemisphere, someone who many of you know, Secretary Valenzuela, and you will be hearing from our Under Secretary for what are called the G family, which has to do with human rights, democracy, women’s rights, oceans, environment – I mean, it’s a very large agenda – Maria Otero. And I just walked in with a longtime friend of mine, Ambassador Ed Romero. Thank you for coming, Ed. We have our newly confirmed Ambassador to OAS, Carmen Lomellin. Thank you, Carmen, for being here. (Applause.) And I’d better stop, because I have so many friends and familiar faces in this audience.

I want to share a few words with you this morning about our approach to our neighbors, our friends, our partners in the Western Hemisphere. But the purpose of this event goes far beyond the important relationships that we have here in the Americas, because we want all of our citizens to be part of a broader foreign policy discussion. Here at the State Department, we want to listen, not just talk, and you’ll have a chance to talk to us as the day goes on, but also to hear your views and ideas.

Later this morning, you’ll have the opportunity to engage with some of our State Department leadership on the way forward in Afghanistan and pursuant of the President’s policy. You’ll be able to discuss ways that the United States intends to expand global economic opportunity and ensure citizens’ safety. We also have some community activists and students listening from New York City, San Antonio, Texas, and Miami, Florida. So we are also using technology to bring us together. The Western Hemisphere, we decided, was a fitting place for us to start this effort because of our deep ties, our shared history, so many familial and cultural connections. We are connected by geography and history, by shared challenges, and a common future that we all have the capacity to help shape.

We have, more than ever in today’s world, the chance to cooperate, collaborate, and innovate. It’s why the United States is committed to building what I’ve called a new architecture of cooperation, one where we leverage all the tools at our disposal, our diplomacy, our development efforts, civil society, the private sector, through crosscutting partnerships that are really necessary if we’re going to address and hopefully solve the complex problems we confront.

Now if you look at this hemisphere, particularly Latin America, we see a lot of positive trends – from rising wages to higher school enrollments to better health. But there remains a huge reservoir of potential that needs to be tapped to continue building on this progress over the years and decades to come, and we want to do a better job of partnering with friends and allies in the region.

As you know, here at the State Department, we are elevating diplomacy and development to be on the same level when we talk about our foreign policy and our national security with defense – it’s the three Ds. It’s part of a smart power approach that we are committed to. It begins with engaging in more robust diplomacy, both with and beyond governments. We have also a real commitment to making sure that development is always in our conversation, always in our mind, and always at the head of our priority list.

Now, we’ve been working in a number of areas, and I want briefly just to mention some. Some have tested our partnership and our approach over the last few months. Some are innovative new ways of bringing people together. Let’s start with Honduras. We have worked with a number of other countries on a pragmatic, principled, multilateral approach. We’ve engaged in intensive personal diplomacy. Since the coup, the United States has been committed both to our democratic principles and to providing help to the Hondurans to find a way back to democratic and constitutional order.

We condemned President Zelaya’s expulsion. We’ve taken concrete steps to demonstrate unequivocally our opposition. But we’ve continued to try to reach out and work with diverse sectors in Honduras, and along with others like President Arias of Costa Rica, to help the Hondurans themselves chart a way forward for a peaceful, negotiated end to this crisis.

Now, the culmination of what was a year-long electoral process occurred on November 29th when the Honduran people expressed their feelings and their commitment to a democratic future. They turned out in large numbers and they threw out, in effect, the party of both President Zelaya and the de facto leader, Mr. Micheletti. Since then, President-elect Lobo has launched a national dialogue. He’s called for the formation of a national unity government and a truth commission as set forth among the requirements in the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord. That is an agreement that the Hondurans themselves reached. We helped to facilitate it, but the Hondurans decided they wanted a local resolution.

In the days and weeks ahead, we want to be on the side of the Honduran people. We want to work closely with others in the region, particularly Central America, so that what is a real problem can be resolved by everyone coming together. As important as these diplomatic efforts are, though, we know that governments cannot solve these problems alone, and no one nation can. I’ve said from the very beginning of my tenure as Secretary of State that the United States cannot solve all the problems in our hemisphere or anywhere in the world alone, but the problems cannot be solved unless the United States is involved. So part of our challenge is how we get others to step up and work with us.

We’re enlisting a lot of different voices and some of the best minds in the public and private sectors to work on regional and global challenges like climate change. The Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas announced by President Obama in Trinidad and Tobago earlier this year will help to harness our collective ability to promote renewable energy and reduce emissions. We’re also trying to reach deep into societies to promote public diplomacy. The Alliance of Youth Movements, launched in Mexico City in October with the backing of the State Department, is helping young leaders drive positive change in their own societies, starting with little more than a cell phone and an idea.

We’re working with our partners in Latin America to find ways of ensuring economic growth that doesn’t just benefit the upper echelons of society. Anyone who spends more than five minutes looking at the challenges in Latin America knows that the income disparity is one of the biggest that we have to overcome. So how do we drive economic growth downward? Many of you are aware of the Pathways to Prosperity initiative, which I helped re-launch in El Salvador in June, along with ministers from more than a dozen other countries.

Our focus of pathways is to empower women as drivers of economic and social progress, and this fall, we hosted a meeting of promising female entrepreneurs from the region here at State, bringing them together with more experienced businesswomen who can serve as models and mentors. There are new ways of doing business founded on mutual respect and common vision, but also on shared responsibility.

Now the United States has, as I have said repeatedly, contributed to some of the problems we see in the region. But we are determined in the Obama Administration to be part of the solution. We are committed to partnerships not just in word, but in deed. And we want to forge stronger avenues of cooperation and collaboration, but we want to do it on many levels simultaneously. Seldom in this region has there been such agreement on the basic principles of freedom and democracy.

Now is the time to go forward with these principles as our foundation and our guide. That means making sure that we not only do hold elections, but that democracy delivers for citizens, so that people can see the results of these elections. And it also means that you don’t just have an election once. You actually have them on a periodic basis, in accordance with constitutional and legal precedent. It means a free press. It means protection of minorities. It means an independent judiciary. It means all of the institutional elements that make democracies sustainable.

We also have to make sure that when it comes to development, we’re not just providing aid, but we are empowering people to aid themselves. And we’ve seen a lot of good examples of that, but we’ve never taken any of them to scale in the way that they need to be. Now, there will continue to be challenges. But we feel like we are entering into a new relationship. It is one that we care deeply about, and that we intend to foster.

So just to end, just three brief examples. We are, as you know, working to support the Mexican Government in their brave fight against the drug traffickers and the criminal cartels. I really commend not only the Mexican Government, but so many Mexican citizens who have withstood the onslaught of horrific violence. But it’s not only that we’re providing more military equipment or training; we’re looking for ways that we can cooperate on bolstering institutional support for peace and justice, for human rights and democracy. And it is a long-term commitment.

When I went to Mexico early in my term, I said – and it was somewhat controversial here in the United States – that we bore part of the responsibility for what was happening to Mexico today, that it was our drug demand. It was a lot of our policies that unfortunately had helped to fuel this assault on the government and the people of Mexico. But we also have this youth alliance. And we sent some of our young entrepreneurial technophiles down to Mexico – you’ll meet some of them later today – to develop with young Mexican activists a network where anonymous reports of criminal activity and official corruption could be reported. And we were able to put this together with the help of the government, with the help of some of the biggest business leaders in Mexico to use technology to leapfrog some of the challenges that people who want to stand up against both crime and corruption face today.

And finally, we had an event at the United Nations General Assembly where we shone a bright spotlight on some of the policies that are homegrown in Latin America that are being adopted in the United States and elsewhere in the world – programs that are real pioneers in Mexico, in Brazil, in Chile to encourage families to keep children in school, to bring children to their health exams. By empowering families with cash payments to be able to afford to do what will be in the long term interest of their children and their children’s future, it not only helps individual children, but it creates a demand for these services from the community level up. So we’re optimistic that with new tools, new techniques, new ideas, we’re going to be able to revolutionize some of what has been the most intractable problems that we’ve faced in Caribbean, in Mexico, Central America, South America.

So with that, let me welcome you to the State Department. I think we’re going to take a couple of questions. And I am very pleased that you will later hear from my friend, Maria Otero, the first Hispanic under secretary in the State Department’s history, which I was shocked to learn – (applause) – and Arturo Valenzuela, who many of you know, a true Latin Americanist who I enticed out of the joys of academia to work 18 hours a day. You’ll hear from Assistant Secretary Lou C.deBaca, who we also recruited to lead our efforts on human trafficking, the modern day form of slavery, and so many others who are part of the leadership team here at the State Department.

So let’s get to your questions.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, the first one we’re going to take is from Luperon High School in New York City.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Hello, New York City. Can they hear us? Well, we have work to do on technology here at the State Department. (Laughter.)

MR. CROWLEY: Why don’t we take a question from in here. Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Good morning, Madame Secretary.


QUESTION: My name is (inaudible).

SECRETARY CLINTON: I can hear you.

QUESTION: My question is American investment in China, how help inspires the Chinese miracle? What will happen with China now that it’s cheaper to make products in Mexico and India, greater than China?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think that we should be positive about the growth in the Chinese economy. The Chinese are lifting millions of people out of poverty, which is a very important goal. We know that there are many problems that the Chinese economy poses not only to the United States, but to Mexico and others.

But I want to start from the point that here we are in the midst of a global economic crisis, and we need all the growth we can get because that will eventually help every country be able to overcome this recession, since we are so interdependent. I think it’s also important to say that I think that the North American market, of which Mexico is such a central part under NAFTA, is going to remain strong. The fact that goods can be manufactured and assembled in Mexico, cutting down on transportation costs, cutting down on the carbon footprint, which will become an even more important consideration in the years ahead, means that we’re going to continue to import and export to and from Mexico.

I think we also can do more, working with our Mexican partners, to increase the capacity of the Mexican economy so that they can export even a greater range of goods, because the best answer for Mexico and the best rebuke of the drug traffickers is to increase the economic prosperity of the people of Mexico. And I am committed to doing that and I think that other countries like China can grow. But Mexico will remain a critical partner to us in trade and economic well-being for many, many years to come.

MR. CROWLEY: The next question we’ll take here from (inaudible.)

QUESTION: Good morning, Madame Secretary. Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Rose Marie Segero. I’m the president of Hope for Tomorrow. I live in Washington, D.C., but I’m originally from Kenya.

I – mine is not a question. I just want to thank you, Madame Secretary, for the wonderful work you are doing. Our organization focus on violence against women and empowering women. We were in Africa and around the world talking about women issues. Thank you so much. You have taken it as a Secretary of State, a mother, and a parent. So the only thing I want to emphasize on is to put more emphasis on putting (inaudible) for empowering women. When you empower women, you empower the whole world. So thank you for empowering us.

And there is a message here for you for more information. I just wanted to be in your presence and thank you so much today for this wonderful event. And the collaboration is the most important thing of collaborating with civil society, private sector and you know problems affecting the world. Thank you so much.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, thank you so much. (Applause.) And of course, you could not talk about an issue that I was more passionate about than empowering women and providing more economic opportunities for women. I mentioned Pathways to Prosperity, but of course, all kinds of microfinance programs, training programs, skills programs are really at the forefront of our approach because we agreed that when you empower women, you really give the entire family a better economic future, and that’s what we’re committed to doing. Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: The next question we’ll take from the University of Central Florida.

QUESTION: Good morning. My name is Susana Molina and I’m from the University of Central Florida. My question is: Is democratic progress in danger by social unrest and the rise of the left in Latin America? Whether yes or no, how do these developments affect U.S. interest?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Great question, and I think the University of Central Florida may be in Orlando, not Miami. Is that right? (Applause.) Yes.


SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, I’ve – we have to coordinate our facts here. But that’s a really important question. I feel so strongly that we have to support the rights of all people to voice their opinions, and we want to further economic equality, not just prosperity, because for too many years, prosperity has increased in Latin America without being equally distributed. We want to build a strong base of democratic support for fundamental freedoms of all people, and governments need to be effective, accountable, and responsive to the needs of their citizens.

And I said earlier in my remarks that you really have to be supporting the entire institutional foundation for democracy. And we do worry about leaders who get elected and get elected fairly and freely and legitimately, but then, upon being elected, begin to undermine the constitutional and democratic order, the private sector, the rights of people to be free from harassment, depression, to be able to participate fully in their societies.

So I worry about how we get back on the track where we recognize that democracy is not about individual leaders. It is about strong institutions. Good leaders come and go. Obviously, we’ve had our own experience in this country with that. And so we need to make it absolutely an article of faith that any leader elected must not just further his own position and his power base, but respect the rights of the people who elected him and build up the democracy so that democratic development and economic development can go hand in hand.

I mean, obviously, we have expressed our concerns about Venezuela, about Nicaragua. We will continue to express our concerns, because it’s important that we sound a strong call to people and to leaders to really stay on the path of democracy. So I thank you for your question, and obviously, we all hope in the not-too-distant future to be able to see a democratic Cuba, something that would be extraordinarily positive for our hemisphere. (Applause.)

MR. CROWLEY: We’ll take the next question over here.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)


QUESTION: I have a concern because in the trafficking of passports from – especially from China, buying basically different – I don’t know if the State Department is doing any investigation or not – from different nations. And that seems to be like, once they buy a passport from, let’s say, a nation down in Venezuela, Bolivia, and they sell a business which seems to be a front for a – behind giant economic enterprise on there. So is the State Department doing some investigation on – another question also is the – in term – the penetration, basically, of China and other nations like Iran from Latin America. Of course, you mentioned Bolivia – I don’t think you mentioned Bolivia. You should also mention Venezuela, Bolivia, well – as well as other nations that are basically (inaudible) international, basically, security issue that I’m very concerned.

SECRETARY CLINTON: I thank you for raising this. We’re concerned too. In speaking to a number of the Central American countries, they have reported to us large numbers of people being trafficked into their countries, particularly Chinese, but not exclusively Chinese. And we do need to redouble our efforts to try to help our friends in Central America deal with this. I was told in one of the countries that there is a large detention area – detention center which has hundreds and hundreds of people who are there illegally from China.

So this is a problem that is affecting a number of our friends, and we are working with them to try to provide more resources and support to help them deal with it. And as you point out, we have no problem with any country such as China engaging in economic activities – business, commerce – with any country anywhere. But we do want governments to drive hard bargains. We don’t want to see corruption that benefits the fortunes of a few leaders and undermines the sustainability of the economy and the environment and the natural resources of any country.

We also are well aware of Iran’s interests in promoting itself with a number of other countries – Venezuela and Bolivia, as you mentioned – and we can only say that that is a really bad idea for the countries involved. And we hope that there will be a recognition that this is the major supporter, promoter, and exporter of terrorism in the world today. The Revolutionary Guard of Iran, which is increasing its control over the country because of the elections, which were a stark example of the abuse of human rights in action, is deeply involved in the economy as well as the security issues of Iran. And I think that if people want to flirt with Iran, they should take a look at what the consequences might well be for them, and we hope that they will think twice, and we’re going to support them if they do. (Applause.)

MR. CROWLEY: Unfortunately, the Secretary is running short of time. Our last question for her will come from Trinity there in San Antonio. Go ahead.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Hi, Trinity. I’ve been there. I love your campus.

QUESTION: Thank you. Good morning. Secretary of State Clinton, I along with millions of others who call this country home am the child of immigrant parents. Many of us have, if not experienced a migratory event, have lived the experience through our parents or family members. For us, this experience is very real. What are your efforts, if any, to humanize the relationship between Washington and Mexico and to steer the rhetoric that is used to discuss the difficult issues facing undocumented immigrants in a more positive direction? (Applause.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, as I’m sure you know, both President Obama and I are very committed to comprehensive immigration reform, and the President has said that we will be able to deal with this very important issue next year. And I think it’s absolutely imperative that we do. I’ve had a number of comprehensive, in-depth meetings and discussions with my Mexican counterparts, and it is, of course, a great concern to Mexico, to Central America, and even parts of South America.

We have to have a rational, compassionate, pragmatic, humane immigration policy. And we have a lot of good ideas about how to do that. We just have to make the case that our relationship with Mexico in particular, but with other countries as well, has to operate on multiple levels at once. And we just cause a lot of difficulties, it costs a lot of money, it is often very damaging to hardworking people here in this country to have the kind of immigration laws and their enforcement that we currently have.

Now, you have to enforce the laws and you have to protect your borders, and we just heard it’s not just hardworking people from Mexico or Guatemala who want to come for a better life. People are being smuggled into those countries to be smuggled into the United States for all kinds of purposes. So we do have to have laws, but we need to have the kind of comprehensive immigration reform that President Obama championed, that I’ve advocated, that we think could help us not only resolve the problem going forward, but send a very clear message to the millions of people here that if they meet certain conditions, they will be able to be on a path to citizenship.

So there’s a lot to do, but it remains one of our highest priorities, and it is an issue that I hope we will turn to in 2010. Thank you all very much. (Applause.)

PRN: 2009/1264