Remarks With Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Guatemala City, Guatemala
March 5, 2010


SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much, Mr. President. I am delighted to be in Guatemala for the third time and very much appreciate your hospitality and the invitation which you extended to the leaders from around the region who have also come here today.

President Colom and I continued the discussion we began two weeks ago in Washington. We talked about our shared interests in advancing security, social inclusion, and broad-based economic progress. The United States supports fiscal reform based on a broad consensus to increase transparency in public spending and to strengthen enforcement of tax laws. We want to work with partners like Guatemala to pursue these reforms for the benefit of all citizens.

The president and I, over the last two weeks, have discussed the need for robust implementation and enforcement of labor laws here in Guatemala to protect the rights of workers and to promote truly sustainable and effective economic growth. We’ve also spoken about our mutual commitment to the region as a whole. In my trip, I have emphasized that we share so much and we must work together for the good of our hemisphere.

The two tragedies in Haiti and Chile demonstrated that we all must share responsibility in dealing with serious challenges. I also appreciate the president’s leadership in responding to the political crisis in Honduras. It has been a difficult journey, but there is now a democratically elected president who has made great progress in implementing the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord and fostering national reconciliation.

We support the work that President Lobo is doing to promote national unity and strengthen democracy. And I was pleased to announce yesterday the United States is restoring assistance, excuse me, to the people of Honduras. As the president said, security is the major challenge. That’s why to the Central American Regional Security Initiative, known as CARSI, and similar partnerships in Mexico and the Caribbean, we will combat organized crime, transnational (inaudible) and trafficking, and together, keep the people of Guatemala safer.

So Mr. President, thank you very much for everything you are doing and for the strong partnership we have.

MODERATOR: (In Spanish.)

QUESTION: (In Spanish.)


MODERATOR: (In Spanish.)

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, a question, if I may on Iraq and the upcoming elections: Can you tell us your expectations, there has been some concern among some commentators that any political setback could delay the US Military withdrawal and some concerns about Iranian involvement in the upcoming election and finally, can I also ask you about Turkey’s decision to withdraw its Ambassador – sorry --

SECRETARY CLINTON: Can you move the microphone closer to your mouth?

QUESTION: Would you like me to repeat the whole question?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, thank you.

QUESTION: I’ll start again: If I can ask you about the upcoming elections in Iraq and your expectations, that there’s been some concern among some commentators that any political setbacks could delay of U.S. military withdrawal. There’s also been some complaints from some observers about Iranian involvement in the election. And if I may also ask you about Turkey’s decision to withdraw its Ambassador, if you have any reaction to that. Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: The reports that we have thus far is that the voting which has begun in Iraq is proceeding well. There have been very few instances of direct attacks on polling places. Iraqis are voting early in countries outside of Iraq as well as certain populations inside the country.

We do not believe there is any basis that we’re aware of of not following through on our withdrawal plans, which were agreed upon between the United States and the Government of Iraq in the Status of Forces Agreement. So the commitment of the United States is to do all that we can to ensure a free, fair, credible election. We have trained thousands of poll watchers and election officials, and once the election is over we have worked with the many different parties within Iraq to encourage an expeditious formation of a new government. And then we will continue working with that new government, as we have with the existing government. So we don’t see anything that would lead to any change in our plans.

With respect to the withdrawal of the Turkish ambassador, as I made clear yesterday in Costa Rica, the Obama Administration strongly opposes the resolution that was passed by only one vote in the House committee, and we’ll work very hard to make sure it does not go to the House floor.

MODERATOR: (In Spanish.)

QUESTION: Can you hear me? Okay, thank you. First, Madam Secretary, we’d like to ask you about whether you’re planning to increase drug – anti-drug funding for Central America, particularly now that Central America appears – that Mexican drug gangs appear to be using Central America as a base, and the fact that in the Merida Initiative there’s very little money for Central American drug efforts.

And to, President Colom, I wanted to ask you about a U.S. State Department report that says anti-drug efforts in Guatemala have been hampered by police corruption and, in fact, this week your police chief and anti-drug czar have both been arrested and a former president is wanted for extradition in the US under money-laundering charges. So what exactly are you going to do to improve the situation? Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I will begin. The United States is very committed to citizen safety and security in Central America. We have a Central American Regional Security Initiative, known as CARSI that supplements and works with the Merida Initiative and similar efforts were undertaking in the Caribbean.

One of the reasons why I appreciate President Colom inviting the presidents of other Central American countries to come today is so that we can have a very in-depth talk about what they want in terms of help and how best we can support their efforts. We are committed to doing everything we can in the fight against corruption and impunity, in providing the equipment and the support that law enforcement and the military require, and helping to build civil society to stand against the scourge of drug trafficking.

But I want to be sure that what the United States has been doing is what the leaders in Central America believe is the best approach. So we’re going to forge an even closer partnership in the months and years ahead because we’re well aware that Central America is between the countries of Mexico and Colombia, which are waging their own very intense efforts against the criminal cartels with the effect that the violence and the drug trafficking, and unfortunately, even drug use has increased in the Central American countries. So the United States wants to support the efforts that these countries are undertaking.


MODERATOR: (In Spanish.)

QUESTION: (In Spanish.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well first, let me state very clearly that the United States under the Obama Administration recognizes and accepts its share of responsibility for the problems posed by drug trafficking in this region. You are absolutely right that the demand in the large market in the United States drives the drug trade. And we are attempting through many different approaches, better education and outreach about the effects of drug addiction, the dangers posed to one’s physical/mental health, family and friendly relations. Law enforcement is attempting to do more both to take charge of the situation to go after the major drug traffickers, but also to provide more support for drug addicts so that they can get treatment and not face the criminal justice system if they pursue their treatment. We are trying many different approaches, but we know that we are part of the problem. And that’s an admission that we have been willing to make this past year, and it’s one of the reasons why we feel so strongly about trying to help countries like Guatemala fight this terrible criminal scourge.

With respect to tax reform, we strongly support the tax reform efforts that are being discussed in Guatemala today for two reasons. Number one, Guatemala deserves better investment in public institutions like education and health and housing. And you will never get enough international aid to take care of the needs of the people, and if you look through this hemisphere and you compare to some of the neighbors in the hemisphere, there is a direct relationship between higher tax efforts aimed at the wealthy and better public services aimed at the poor. And we are working to support these tax reform efforts to include transparency and enforcement of tax laws because we think it is essential for the future prosperity and progress of the Guatemalan people.

And finally, President Obama is committed to immigration reforms and is working to try to create a political consensus within our Congress to be able to make some of the changes that we think are merited and would recognize the contributions that immigrants from Guatemala and other countries south of our border have made to our own country. So we have the commitment of the President but with so much, he is working to try to make sure he can get some of these changes done.

MODERATOR: (In Spanish.)


# # #

PRN: 2010/T23-16