Interview With Leopoldo Castillo of Globovision
SECRETARY CLINTON: It feels very good, thank you. And I want to welcome you to the State Department. I also want to, in this format, wish Venezuela a happy independence day. I learned that your independence day is just one day after our independence day.
SECRETARY CLINTON: So we have a lot to celebrate: 198 years of independence for Venezuela.
SECRETARY CLINTON: So I want to wish all the people of Venezuela my very, very best.
QUESTION: Thank you, thank you.
Are you satisfied with the steps taking place in Honduras to resolve their political problems?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I’m very concerned about what happened in Honduras. We are supporting the return of the democratic constitutional order to Honduras. I have just finished meeting with President Zelaya, and I and my team have been working very hard the last nine days to bring about a mediation process so that all who are involved in this from Honduras can sit down and work out their disagreements peacefully.
President Oscar Arias from Costa Rica has stated his willingness to serve as the mediator, and President Zelaya told me he would agree, and the de facto caretaker president, Micheletti, has said he would agree. So we’re hoping that the mediation process will begin in Costa Rica very soon and that the parties will put everything on the table and that we will have a peaceful resolution to this very unfortunate situation.
QUESTION: For the Obama Administration, what would you consider the most sensitive topic regarding Latin America?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think that there are so many issues that join us together as neighbors in this hemisphere, and we are concerned about the economic situation. We want to help Latin America and individual countries be able to handle the economic global recession. We would like to get economic growth going again and have it more equitably distributed so that more people have a chance to lift themselves and their children out of poverty.
We are concerned about the ongoing threat to sovereign governments from criminal cartels. The narco-traffickers and the gangs and the other elements like militias that support these criminal organizations pose a grave threat to the stability and sovereignty and democracy of nations in our hemisphere.
QUESTION: If I mentioned to you issues like separation of power, human rights, political freedom, freedom of speech, civil and political rights, which one would you consider the weakest or the most fragile of states in Latin America?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, you have just listed many of the most important concerns that we have about our hemisphere. We think it’s imperative that people’s rights be respected, that there be separation of powers, and that different institutions within countries’ governments have clearly defined roles that they are able to exercise.
We support freedom of expression throughout our hemisphere. We are against the arbitrary use and abuse of power that would lead to political prisoners being confined. Because everything that you have mentioned is part of what makes up a vibrant democracy. Democracy is not just about elections. Democracy is about how governments are organized, whether they are able to protect the rights of minorities, whether people of different political persuasions have the right to speak out without fear of being persecuted, whether there’s an independent judiciary and an independent press.
All of these are parts of what make democracies dynamic and lasting. So whenever one of those is under attack, others are often under attack as well.
QUESTION: Considering that freedom of speech is a duty in the development of institutional order and the democratic practice in Latin America, what will be an official U.S. call if our government, the Venezuelan Government, shut down permanently an independent media and it continues to chase journalists, both legally and by official rhetoric?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, let me say that for the United States, freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of the press is a fundamental value. Now, I have been in politics for a very long time, and I probably have been subjected to as much press criticism as anyone you can find. And yet, I know that this is an important part of our democracy. When you’re in politics sometimes and you think you’re trying to do what is right for the people who you represent, it is easy to look at anyone who criticizes you as being out of bounds and that they have no right to do that.
But you cannot let the political concerns of any party or candidate or elected official undermine the freedom of expression. Because at the end of the process, whoever is elected and whoever is in office needs constructive criticism. Otherwise you are – it’s like you’re talking to yourself: Am I doing a good job? Oh, yes, you’re doing a good job. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s not a way to run a democracy. So we are very supportive of the freedom of speech, press, the media, individuals, political parties. And I do think that in your country, like other countries, there has to be protection for the press against political opposition.
QUESTION: We are living in a multipolar world. We see new political alliance and new economical partnerships. In this regard, how do you perceive the liaison between Iran and Venezuela?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that we have seen in the last weeks that Iran has not respected its own democracy. It has taken actions against its own citizens for peacefully protesting what they viewed as irregularities in the voting process. And I think it is not a very smart position to align oneself with a regime that is being rejected by so many of their own people. We obviously are concerned about Iran’s regime, the pursuit of nuclear weapons, which would be very destabilizing in the Middle East and beyond, the support for terrorism that Iran still pursues.
We are willing to engage, so we would never tell another country you cannot do business with the regime of Iran in order to figure out ways of helping to change their behavior. But we think it is not in the best interest of the world to be doing business with Iran to promote the regime. That is not smart. And so even though we are cautiously pursuing a policy of engagement, we are doing it with our eyes opened. And we understand that given the problems that Iran has just demonstrated, it may not be possible, in which case, we would ask the world to join us in imposing even stricter sanctions on Iran to try to change the behavior of the regime.
QUESTION: Talking about business, is your Administration satisfied with our legal framework to secure and protect the American investment in Venezuela?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we believe that there needs to be a dialogue between the United States and Venezuela on a range of issues. As you know, we have returned our ambassador to Venezuela. We have been pleased to receive an ambassador from Venezuela because we want to have that kind of dialogue. We want to be able to discuss what we view as concerns, and one of them is the legal order for doing business in Venezuela.
We think that Venezuela, like many countries, can benefit, as we do in our own country, from foreign investment, from people bringing in capital to improve business and the climate for business. And we would like to see a better relationship between our two countries.
QUESTION: Nowadays in Latin America, we are facing a new challenge because we have a president elected by their people trying to change their law in order to stay in power, which, at the end, in my opinion, it weaks their institution and minimize the balance of power.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, as a general principle, I agree that anyone who stays in power for too long, even if they are initially elected in a free and democratic election, runs the risk of taking on too much power. That is not good for a democracy. And part of what we hope we will see over the next months in Venezuela is a recognition that you can be a very strong leader and have very strong opinions without trying to take on too much power and trying to silence all your critics.
I always have believed that you are stronger when you learn from those who criticize you and when you try to persuade people peacefully to come to your point of view. So I think there are ways that the current government in Venezuela could maintain a very strong presence without, in any way, raising questions about the commitment to democracy.
QUESTION: Okay. Going back to your Administration, how would you describe the Obama strategy to deal with the inoculation of this new 21 century socialist raising in the most weak and poor countries in Latin America?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, I think you have to ask yourself, why does this happen? And part of the reason it happens is because Latin America does have the largest wealth gap in the world. The gap between the richest and the poorest in Latin America is very wide. So there’s a genuine concern on the part of many people – how do we get more income into the hands of the people at the bottom and help them have a better life?
I think there are a lot of ways of doing that, but it hasn’t worked yet the way that many people had hoped. So there’s a level of legitimate questioning – what do we need to do differently? But I’m one who believes that you should be very cautious about how you proceed because there are always unintended consequences. And I don’t think using democracy to undermine democracy is a good idea. I don’t think that being in a position of authority and then trying to prevent others from having the right to express themselves is a good idea.
QUESTION: The quote “freedom for Cuba and the Cuban people” (inaudible) a possibility for you under Castro political authority?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, as you know, we are engaged in discussions with the Government of Cuba about matters that we believe are important – migration, for example. But we have made it very clear that we could not do much more in dealing with Cuba unless Cuba changes. The political prisoners need to be released. Free and fair elections need to be held. I’ve always believed that if you think you’re doing a good job for people, then go out and try to persuade them to vote for you in an honest, free, and fair election. So we are opening up dialogue with Cuba, but we are very clear that we want to see some fundamental changes within the Cuban regime.
QUESTION: Finally, are we going to see a picture with President Obama and President Chavez at the Oval Office shortly? (Laughter.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, as you know, I think President Obama was quite surprised when he was given the book. But we’re trying to lower the temperature. We want to make it clear that there are ways for us to have a conversation with people we don’t agree with on many issues. We don’t want to see interference with other countries’ internal affairs. We want to see a vibrant democracy that reflects the very best that countries have to offer. We would like very much to see leaders being effective in helping to create greater economic opportunity for poor people.
But we think there are ways that that can work that are not anti-democratic that would be very effective in enlisting the opinion of people and the support of people, but leaving room for constructive and legitimate criticism. And that’s what we would like to see. We certainly live with that in our own country, and it’s worked pretty well for us for a very long time. So I would hope that it could be viewed as a good idea for others as well.
QUESTION: Thank you very much for the interview.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, sir.
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