Barack Obama photo

Interview With Juan Carlos Lopez of Corriente Latina

March 23, 2011

LOPEZ: I want to ask you about Libya and the latest developments [inaudible]. Question is, what happens now? U.N. mandate allows you, allows the coalition to protect the no-fly zone, to protect civilians, but it doesn't give any leeway to go after Gadhafi.


LOPEZ: So where does the mission stand now? What happens now? Will you stay in Tripoli [inaudible]?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, first of all, we have been successful so far in accomplishing the very specific objectives of the mission under the U.N. Charter, which was to establish a no-fly zone, to make sure that we provided humanitarian protection at a time when that was urgently needed. Gadhafi had turned his troops on his people and said that they should go into Benghazi, a city of 700,000 people, and show no mercy. And because the international community rallied, his troops have now pulled back from Benghazi. We are now seeing a no-fly zone being established. The United States came in early to shape the environment so that a no-fly zone could operate safely, taking out, for example, Gadhafi's air defense systems. And so U.S. planes have already been significantly reduced in the area, because what's now happening is that all the other members of the coalition are maintaining that no-fly zone.

You are absolutely right that Gadhafi may try to hunker down and wait it out even in the face of a no-fly zone, even though his forces have been degraded. But keep in mind that we don't just have military tools at our disposal in terms of accomplishing Gadhafi's leaving. We put in place strong international sanctions. We've frozen his assets. We will continue to apply a whole range of pressure on him.

But with respect to the military action, that specifically is done under the U.N. Security Council resolution, and calls for maintaining the no-fly zone and ensuring that the people of Libya aren't assaulted by their own military.

LOPEZ: Can you and will you give military support to the rebels?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know, obviously we're discussing with the coalition what steps can be taken. I think that our hope is that the first thing that happens once we've cleared the space is that the rebels are able to start discussing how they organize themselves, how they articulate their aspirations for the Libyan people and create a legitimate government. And you know, potentially what we may see is that all the enthusiasm the Libyan people had for a change in government that was occurring a few weeks ago but that Gadhafi, through just brutal application of force, made people fearful, that that can resurface. And it may be that it's not a matter of military might, but instead an idea that's come to the Libyan people that it's time for a change that ends up ultimately sweeping Gadhafi out of power.

But we are going to be examining all our options, but our first task right now is to shape the environment so that, you know, Gadhafi's forces can't attack his own people; maintain the no-fly zone. And the United States' role, once that environment is shaped, is actually significantly reduced because we've got a broad-based international coalition, including Arab states, that believe in the same thing that we do.

LOPEZ: Is it a contradiction when a Nobel Peace Prize winner authorizes the use of force on the eighth anniversary of the [inaudible]?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, listen, the -- when I received that award, I specifically said there was an irony, because I was already dealing with two wars. We were in the process of pulling our troops out of Iraq, and I was still dealing with an Afghanistan war that had dragged on for many years but had not been sufficiently focused in terms of accomplishing a clear goal of protecting the American people. And so I'm accustomed to this contradiction, of being both a commander in chief but also somebody who aspires to peace.

The situation here is entirely focused on making sure that the Libyan people can live out their own aspirations. You know, we're not invading a country. We're not acting alone. We are acting under a mandate issued by the United Nations Security Council, in an unprecedented fashion and with unprecedented speed. We had a limited task, a focused task, and we've saved lives as a consequence. And I think the American people don't see any contradiction in somebody who cares about peace also wanting to make sure that people aren't butchered because of a dictator who wants to cling to power.

LOPEZ: We want to talk about your trip and your message to Latin America. Many said that you said things that people expected, but there weren't details. That's [inaudible] and is part of a more [inaudible].

THE PRESIDENT: Certainly what's true is that the relationship between the United States and Latin America has evolved I think in a very positive way over the last several years. I mean, if you think about the countries that we're visiting, Brazil, a country that used to be under a dictatorship, transformed itself into a democracy, is now a growing economic giant not just in the region, but around the world. A center-left government, but one that embraces free enterprise and open markets and trade.

Then I went to Chile, also once was under a dictatorship, has now transitioned to a full-fledged democracy. President Pinera perceived to be a center-right president, but he's also somebody who cares deeply about social inclusion and alleviating poverty inside his country.

You come here to El Salvador, you've got President Funes, who was elected under the banner of the FMLN, a left-wing party, but is now operating in a very practical way. In some cases, it's causing him problems, both on the left and the right.

And what I think that shows is that the entire region is much less interested in ideology, much less interested in left or right. It's interested in practical results. How can we solve problems to help kids get an education, help people support themselves and find a job, help businesses develop, help the entire region grow. And that's the kind of partnership that we want. You know, we still have specific programs that we're involved with here in El Salvador. You know, they received a millennium challenge grant that provides over $400 million to help this country develop. They are one of four countries that we've selected for a partnership for growth that will involve us working very closely with their economic team to find out what are the barriers to economic development in this country.

So we still have, yes, very specific programs, but the overall context has changed, because we want to be seen as a partner to a region that is already growing, already vibrant, and that recognizes it's not coming hat in hand to the United States to solve problems. You know, Brazil, Chile, they're solving their own problems. In some ways, you know, they're doing some things that we should envy. I mean, Brazil's energy agenda right now is very robust. And they are a leader in biofuels. You look at Chile, how they've managed fiscally. They've done a good job managing their budget, even through a recession. And so this is a two-way street instead of a one-way street, and that basis of mutual respect, mutual interest, mutual trust, you know, that's what I think will forge a very strong relationship in the Americas, throughout the Americas, into the future.

LOPEZ: I want to ask you about immigration [inaudible], immigration problems, and they're asking, when will it be enough, when will these types of attacks [inaudible]? [inaudible] temporary protective status like Salvadorans have and legalize people [inaudible]?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, keep in mind that temporary protective status was targeted very specifically at people who were not just escaping economic challenges, but very real political challenges. And so that's not going to be the solution to the overall immigration problem.

I continue to believe we can get comprehensive immigration reform done. I'm going to need some help. I can get the majority of Democrats to support it. I need some help from Republicans. But we're going to put forward, as I said in the State of the Union, our proposals, our plans for comprehensive immigration reform. I will make the argument to the American people once again as to why this is necessary. And in the meantime, I think one of the interesting things that we're seeing, despite some of this crazy legislation that has been introduced by people who I think are just trying to get attention, and is offensive, on the other hand you've seen some legislation, for example in Arizona, that was proposed and now is being pulled back because businesses are starting to recognize this is not good for business. And perhaps some of my Republican friends are going to start recognizing if they looked at the last census, that they're going to have a very hard time winning any elections if they continue to deliberately target anti-immigration sentiment.

And so, using the bully pulpit, I want to be absolutely clear to the American people, we are a nation of immigrants. Most of us came from someplace else. And you know, there is a legitimate role to make sure that we have secure borders, that we have a strong process of legal immigration, that we're making sure that businesses aren't exploiting undocumented workers. But ultimately, we're going to have to have a comprehensive approach that also includes taking those who are already in the United States, living in the shadows, and giving them a pathway towards a legal status. And we're going to -- we're going to continue to fight for that.

LOPEZ: [inaudible]. He then met with you and now the ambassador, the U.S. ambassador has [inaudible] to Mexico. Is it a recognition that the assistance isn't going the way it's supposed to be? There was an agent who was murdered in Mexico. Some of the weapons came through the [inaudible] programs. So where is that aid and what is the decision?

THE PRESIDENT: Actually, the coordination -- and I think President Calderon acknowledged this when he was in Washington -- the coordination that my administration has committed to on dealing with transnational drug cartels is unprecedented. And overall, has been very robust and very effective.

There have been problems, you know. I heard on the news about this story that fast and furious, where allegedly guns were being run into Mexico and ATF knew about it but didn't apprehend those who had sent it. Eric Holder has -- the attorney general has been very clear that he knew nothing about this. We had assigned an IG, inspector general, to investigate it.

But the overall relationship with Mexico is actually very strong. The challenge is that drug cartels have gotten stronger. And President Calderon, rightly, is frustrated. So what I've said to him is, we have to share these burdens. We've got to make sure that we're investing in reducing demand in the United States, and I've budgeted $10 billion even in these hard fiscal times for drug education and prevention programs. We have to make sure that we are interdicting the flow of guns and cash to the south. It's not enough just to interdict drugs flowing north. And so, we've actually initiated a whole range of measures to make sure that we're reducing that southbound flow.

But this is a hard problem. It's a challenging problem, and it's one that the two countries are going to have to work on together for a significant period of time.

LOPEZ: Muchas gracias, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: Muchas gracias.

Barack Obama, Interview With Juan Carlos Lopez of Corriente Latina Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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