Interview With Andrea Bernal of NTN24
Secretary of State
I would like to start with the immigration debate in the United States. The recently approved law in Arizona has presented sort of a difficult scenario for the President Obama Administration. According to some polling, half of the United States has approved this law and maybe other states would like to implement it. How’s Obama Administration dealing with this debate? Is the immigration law near reality?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Andrea, first, let me say how pleased I am that I have this chance to talk to you about these and other important issues. President Obama has spoken out against the law because he thinks that the federal government should be determining immigration policy. And the Justice Department, under his direction, will be bringing a lawsuit against the act.
But the more important commitment that President Obama has made is to try to introduce and pass comprehensive immigration reform. That is what we need. Everyone knows it, and the President is committed to doing it.
QUESTION: I remember two weeks ago a Mexican was killed by a border patrol last – like two weeks ago in the frontier. Do you feel, as a citizen, as well as a member of the Administration – of Obama’s Administration – xenophobia in the United States toward Latin Americans?
SECRETARY CLINTON: No, I don’t. But here’s what I think is the dilemma. I think not only Americans, but people in any country – Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico – believe that if you have laws they should be enforced, and we have laws about how to come legally into our country. Now for many years, people have been coming illegally without papers – everybody knows that – as they do in many parts of the world. And it’s been a very troubling situation because people have died crossing the desert. They have been mistreated by the smugglers. Sometimes the drug traffickers go back and forth. Sometimes an American is killed – like a rancher in Arizona, which really is what prompted this law being passed.
So what we believe is that Americans have always been welcoming of immigrants, but they also want to see the laws enforced. So we need better laws. We need laws that recognize the reality that we have many millions of people who are contributing to our country, they’re working, their children are attending and graduating from school, so we need to recognize the reality. And then we need to have a new comprehensive immigration law that people will follow, so that’s what we’re trying to do.
QUESTION: Let’s talk about now some issues about the region. Republicans in your country, as John McCain and John Ensign, are putting pressure in order to classify Venezuela as a terrorist state due to assumptions of nexus with FARC, Hezbollah, as well as with Iran. Does your government have any proof of this nexus?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, there is a law that has to be followed and it does require proof. If there is proof, the United States will follow it. But if there is not proof, the United States will not. This is not a question of politics. It’s a legal determination. And that is something that is undertaken by lawyers, not by people in politics.
QUESTION: But according to the classified document from the Pentagon, the (inaudible) deal here is turned to the Congress. The Revolutionary Islamic Guard from Iran, according to these documents, is operating in Venezuela as well as in Africa and Asia. Are you aware of that? Do you have any information?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, there’s a lot of information. But I cannot on this program say how this review will turn out because that would be prejudging it. This – all the information has to be looked at, and then it has to be measured against the requirements in the law. If the evidence is there, the government will act. If it is not, we will not.
QUESTION: Would you say Venezuela is helping in the war against terrorism, like other states are doing?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that we have raised many questions about actions. We would like to see greater cooperation because we think it’s in everyone’s interest, including theirs. But right now, what we’re trying to do is work and support our friends like Colombia and Mexico that are facing these very serious threats.
QUESTION: Is a concern for the United States the influence that Hugo Chavez has in the region?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we have made clear that if he wants to have a different relationship with the United States, we are certainly open to doing that. It doesn’t appear that he wants to. And of course, we’re going to work with our friends. We’re going to work with countries that share our values, with leaders who are open to the kind of relationship that we want.
I just regret some of what’s happening to the people of Venezuela because they are the ones who are suffering from some of the policies that are just not working for them.
QUESTION: And about what you’re saying about the people, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights of the OAS has done several recommendations to the organization, specifically about violations of human rights in Venezuela, talking about press as well.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right.
QUESTION: What do you think about – is the United States going to make some pressure maybe to the OAS or they kind of take that recommendation?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we took that study very seriously, because we do believe that freedom of the press, freedom of expression is a core human right. And if it is under assault anywhere, that’s a concern for us. I have spoken out about it. I have done an interview with one of the television stations that has been forced to close – or if not yet forced, under pressure to close. So we feel very strongly in any country, whether it’s Venezuela or Ecuador or any other country, we think that freedom of the press is essential and we’re going to support journalists and reporters and stations that try to stand up for that.
QUESTION: How would you evaluate what has been called an arms race in Latin America? Do you see it that way? Do you see it, like, an arm race? We’re talking about Venezuela, Ecuador as well, Brazil.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we’re trying to gather information about what is happening. It is clear that there is some effort to modernize militaries that is going on, how much we are studying. But yesterday at the OAS General Assembly in Lima, the main theme was for all the countries to decrease their military expenditures. And we think that’s going in the right direction.
QUESTION: Is it clear why the countries are getting arms?
SECRETARY CLINTON: No, it’s not. They give you different explanations, but I think it is in everyone’s interest to spend money on schools and hospitals and healthcare and better roads than to spend it on armaments. The need for that has diminished in this hemisphere over the last several years, so there really is an opportunity for governments now to spend money on other things.
QUESTION: What would you say are the actual problems that are facing the signatures of free trade agreements, especially from Colombia and from Panama, two important allies of the United States?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Very. And they are important allies and I am very committed to the two free trade agreements. I think they’re in the best interest not only of Panama and Colombia, but of the United States. There remain questions.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, on whether people who want to form and join unions are having their rights respected, whether human rights are being not only respected, but enforced. And we’re working hard to answer those questions which come from members of Congress because Congress has to pass the free trade agreement. And I am very hopeful we’ll get those answers and be able to get that passed.
QUESTION: You’re going to go tomorrow to Colombia.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.
QUESTION: What do you expect to see in those two candidates, Santos and Mockus? What do you expect from them?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I just want to make it clear that the United States has no position. We don’t support one over the other. We stand ready to work with whomever the people of Colombia elect. We do have a very strong relationship. It’s a valuable one that we are very committed to. And it is a great tribute to Colombia to see this vigorous election that has gone on. And we want to demonstrate that we don’t side with one faction over another faction. We’re for the people of Colombia and we’re for their democracy.
QUESTION: However, would you like to have a similar line in the political like (inaudible)?
SECRETARY CLINTON: That is up to the people and Government of Colombia. We think that Colombia has made a lot of progress in the last two decades and we want to help support that.
QUESTION: I would like to thank you very much for this interview. It’s been a pleasure to have you here with NTN24.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, Andrea. Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: My pleasure.
QUESTION: It’s been a pleasure.