George Bush photo

Interview With Latin American Journalists

October 25, 1989

War On Drugs

Q. Mr. President, you know that the problem in Colombia is the fighting of -- this drug problem. And the newspapers in Colombia are very much in front of this thing.

The President. Yes.

Q. And we are fighting very strongly. We have been suffering a lot. But there is a concern in our country that in the United States there is not enough control and enough punishment on the consumption and distribution of the drugs.

The President. Yes.

Q. I personally had an experience just 2 weeks ago. I was in New York. I was invited to the Waldorf Astoria for dinner. And the person who invited me came to the Grand Central and walked from the Grand Central to the Waldorf Astoria, and in that short walk, four people offered him drugs. So, I say, why does this happen? Is it in the United States that there is not enough control and enough punishment, enough action in that way? So, what can you tell our readers about that?

The President. Mr. Cano [Luis Gabriel Cano, El Spectador, Colombia], first, I strongly supported what President Barco said when he called attention of the world and certainly the United States to the consumption problem. We have no argument with that -- he is right. And what I am trying to do in our new antidrug strategy is to go after not only the criminals that sell drugs to your friend in those two blocks but the people that use it. We're coupling with that an all-out education program that is not just government but private sector as well.

And I might say that it isn't just, regrettably, one country, the United States, that is a user. What concerns me and other leaders is that it's going not only into some countries in our own hemisphere, South America, but all through Europe. And I asked the Soviets if they had a problem with it, and it's everywhere.

But I think when President Barco, my respected friend, pointed out, look, you've got to do something about consumption, he was right. And I've used that in speaking to leadership groups in this room and in others to try to encourage support for our antinarcotics program, which still does have strong support in our country, and for the legislation we need, getting tougher on the people that sell it, and for the education, of educating against being a user.

Argentine Economic Reforms

Q. Mr. President, Argentina is trying to restructure its highly inefficient economy. And that implies some degree of social tensions. And President Menem was here recently to explain some of these goals. What was your perception of these goals and these problems? And what do you think the U.S. can do to assist or help a country like Argentina dealing with these economic and social problems?

The President. In the first place, I was most impressed with President Menem -- not just here when he came to visit but at the United Nations when we sat together and had a chance to have a quick meeting. I think there's been a universal respect for what he's tried to do. He came out of one political background, and he has broadened the appeal not just to have support in the Argentine but in the United States as well.

I told him we want to work with him on the debt problem. I realize it isn't easy because Argentina does have a very large debt. But the elements of the Brady plan are there, and they can be very helpful to him. We want to encourage and be helpful in privatization, and I think there's ways that we can encourage investment in Argentina, given these political reforms. So, it's across the board; it isn't just one program.

But the thing that's impressed me is the toughness of the man and his willingness to make the tough decisions on getting his economic house in order and, indeed, what he's doing on the political front.

So, I think you'll see a whole new relationship between Argentina and the United States. This is on my mind because the Argentinian Ambassador [Guido Di Tella] presented his credentials yesterday, and well, he really said just about what I'm saying here in terms of the feeling in Argentina about the United States. And I want to encourage as many of our top people to go there as possible; work closely with the finance people, the environment people, the military, whatever it is. So, we have a new era bilaterally; and I think, universally, there is a respect for what he's trying to do.

Chilean Democratization

Q. Mr. President, in countries returning to democracy, like Chile and so many others, what is the importance of the following three threats: first is subversion; second, the tensions in the military suspected of violation of human rights; and third, the economy and the foreign debt?

The President. Just to comment on each of those?

Q. Yes.

The President. Subversion: nobody is interested in doing anything other than to help stop possible subversion. Because as Chile moves towards its elections within the next few weeks, this is a very significant development; and it is one that, in my view, can result -- speaking as President of the United States -- in better relations with our country.

On the military violations, this obviously is a matter where the people of Chile and the Government and everybody else has to respond. There's not much we can do about it. But I do not want to see in any country a military subvert the will of the people when democracy is on the move in this hemisphere -- a general answer to a specific question.

And then the third one was what?

Q. The foreign debt and the economy.

The President. Foreign debt? Well, of course, Chile has been out in front of other countries in managing its economy, in spite of its difficulties in some areas. We talked about the politics, the political problem. But Chile, because of its -- I wouldn't say economic miracle, but they have done far better. And the elements of support from the international institutions -- and again, on the Third World debt or their debt problems -- are in place pretty much in Chile. So, I'm somewhat optimistic about their being about to cope financially, at least as we see it from the United States. I think people see that Chile has done very well, relatively speaking.

Soviet Arms Shipments to Nicaragua

Q. Mr. President, in spite of superpower negotiations on regional issues, Soviet-bloc arms continue to pour into Nicaragua. From January 1st to September 30th of the current year, there were 55 shipments, valued at over $400 million -- State Department figures. What does your government plan to do about this? And do you plan to bring this up at the coming summit in San Jose?

The President. I'll bring it up every chance I get. And what we're trying to do is educate our friends in Europe and people who strongly support democracy all over the world that this is happening. I think people don't believe it. And it's true.

Secondly, we will continue to work with the Soviet Union. We had a little argument -- not argument, but they felt we had challenged their word -- on this whole question, as you remember, not so many weeks ago. And we weren't doing that. We were pointing out the totality of the shipments, which are in the range that you've just outlined here.

So, we will make clear every chance we get to the Soviets that that is not in their interests, and certainly we view it against the security interests of the United States, and we view it against the tide in terms of democracy. Why should that military clique, who at one point were espousing their own Marxist beliefs, deny, through having a military force far bigger than is required and bigger than any of its neighbors, the will of the people?

So, it's a combination of these things. And I will be pleased to discuss it in Costa Rica; in Washington, DC; or anyplace else. And I think there's a little more understanding now in our country about it, but not as much as there should be, see, because the regime keeps denying this, you see.

Situation in Nicaragua

Q. Mr. President, according to the Tela accords, which were signed recently by the five Central American Presidents, the Nicaraguan resistance must be demobilized and voluntarily repatriated by December 8th. With the economy of my country in terrible shape, Honduras is insisting that the resistance leave its territory by this date, December 8th. If the resistance does not want to return voluntarily to Nicaragua, for whatever reason, will the United States take them? And will you take this up with President Azcona when you meet with him in San Jose on Friday?

The President. There were two conditions under Tela: one was voluntary repatriation, and I think the other was to democratic conditions, or something of that nature. And so, those two are the sine qua nons of demobilization, it seems to me. And so, I can sympathize; and, yes, I'll be glad to discuss it further with President Azcona. I understand it does cause some differences, but I do not want to push for anything other than voluntary and then demobilization into democratic conditions.

So, I think the major objective here should be to see that these elections are free and fair and that opposition -- and, yes, we'll help with repatriation on those conditions, absolutely; we will help. But I must insist that all of us in this hemisphere -- and I will try to insist on this -- do what we can to be sure that these elections coming up in Nicaragua are free and fair and that the opposition has a chance to take its case to the people. And I'm not just talking about 3 minutes on television at midnight. I think there's got to be a very fair presentation of the opposition case.

So, I don't want to sound insensitive to what's happened, to the burden on Honduras. I am sensitive to it and am perfectly prepared to discuss it further with President Azcona. We discussed it when he was up here. But we're getting close now in terms of time, and these elections are the key to a lot of things.

War on Drugs

Q. Thank you, Mr. President. There have been reports of the United States concentrating troops along the Mexican border for drug interdiction matters. A, can you confirm that for us? And, B, given the nature of our border and the fact that Mexico uses a substantial part of its own army for the same purposes, would you like to see an operation on the border constrained to the border of Mexico and the United States designed to break up drug traffic and arms traffic coming from the United States into Mexico?

The President. I'd like to see the utmost cooperation between the military. I'm not sure that I'm prepared to endorse a joint force, and I'm not sure Mexico -- President Salinas -- would want that. But I should tell you, we have reached a new level of cooperation because of the courage of the new President of Mexico. And in terms of our interdiction, what you may be thinking of is not a deployment of U.S. troops but using the National Guard in some areas on exercises to try to stop drugs from coming in.

The more cooperation we have with Mexico along the lines you're talking about to interdict -- whether it's illegal arms going one way or illegal drugs coming another -- to have that border policed and peaceful, the better it is. But I am very encouraged by the cooperation we're getting all up and down the line from the Salinas administration, and I hope they're encouraged, because this is indeed a two-way street.

And as one who feels very close to Mexico -- as you know, my grandchildren are half-Mexican, and this one is one that's real close to my heart. And I don't want to propose anything nor will I support anything that looks like an abuse of U.S. power. The way to do it is to work cooperatively with the Salinas regime and the officials in the military, policia, whatever it is, to accomplish the ends that both countries want. So, we will try. And I'm not suggesting we don't have border problems. We do; Mexico does with us. But the level of cooperation has really stepped up. And our visit with the President here -- I think the more my high officials -- my Cabinet people that saw him, the more impressed they were.

Q. Mr. President, in Peru we have two extremely serious problems: the economic crisis and the terrorist subversion. They limit and complicate any effective action which may be taken with regard to the drug traffic. In this respect, what will be the principal proposal of cooperation of your government in our joint battle against the drug scourge?

The President. Well, we have made some proposals on antinarcotics that affect Peru and affect Bolivia. But I think the way to answer that question is to say I enthusiastically look forward to participation in this so-called Andean drug summit, and we're going to be trying to set the -- along with -- as invitees and invitors. We said earlier we thought this was a good idea. Now we've had official invitation from Bolivia and Colombia and Peru. And I think to really definitively answer your question we've got to have that meeting, because I don't want them to be making proposals that just go counter to the culture in Peru. And I want them to understand, though, how strongly we feel about it and how prepared we are to help them.

So, we've made some proposals, and as you know, we've helped in the past, principally in Bolivia on helicopters and spraying. But I don't want to go further than that now until we have this summit. There's no point in having it if we have our minds already made up. I've got to hear from them. We've got to have a hemispheric answer, not just a U.S. proposal on it.

Oil and Gas

Q. Mr. President, ex-Secretary Schlesinger, writing in the Washington Post this morning, pointed to the increasing consumption of oil by the U.S. and the increasing dependency, as a result, on the Gulf region. Now, I know that, as a former oilman, you must be aware of the very large reserves in the hemisphere of heavy oil. What would be your ideas regarding the possibility of a hemispheric preference arrangement to decrease your dependency on the Gulf?

The President. I would be very wary of interjecting myself, our government, into the market. I'd be concerned about that. I can see the security argument that some might make, and it's valid. You have Mexico; you have the enormous resources in Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela; Colombia has some production. And you can make a case that there's more for the security interest of the United States in giving preference. My problem with it is it distorts the market, and it artificially could raise the price to the American consumer, or you could start regional conflict -- not military but economic conflict between the producing countries.

And Saudi Arabia and, to some degree, Kuwait and Iran dominate the international oil market. And if we move to preferences, if we move to regional compacts of this nature, I think you could set off a price war that would damage the economy not just of the -- of every producing country. And that would work opposite of increasing prices here, but it would not be good for the economies that need to optimize their revenue from oil and gas. And I'm talking about Mexico, and I'm certainly talking about Venezuela.

But I share Jim's -- I didn't see this article, but I share his concern about my country becoming ever increasing [dependent] on foreign sources. And that's why I've tasked Jim Watkins, our able Secretary of Energy, to come up with a national energy policy. And it won't just be hydrocarbons: It will be more use of domestic -- of gas, I'm sure. It will be a vital industry in oil, but it will be alternate sources as well. We are not going to back away from nuclear power in this country.

War on Drugs

Q. Mr. President, in Peru and my country, Bolivia, there are thousands of people working in the coca leaf fields because they don't have any other source of income. Unless there is a serious commitment from rich countries to help to create jobs -- through investments, for instance -- the narco traffic problem probably won't change. Mr. President, do you think that the United States Government would consider the possibility to initiate and encourage investments in those countries to try to change the entire situation for every -- --

The President. Julio [Julio Cesar Duran, El Diario, Bolivia], we certainly consider that. Again, that's a subject that I want to discuss with your new and, I'd say, very impressive President. Again, I had a good meeting with him. And I don't want to prejudge this so-called Andean drug summit, but we recognize that many of these small peasant farmers are dependent on coca crops. I also recognize that the business has gotten pretty good for them -- better than it used to be because more people, especially in my country, are using the damn stuff. So, we don't want to do -- I'm not sure it's just supply and demand that's working there.

But we've got to be openminded about alternative cropping. We've certainly got to be openminded about trying to get business opportunities that would take some of these farmers and get them involved in something other than producing coca. So, I'm openminded, but again, I don't want to prejudge the summit.

Brazil-U.S. Relations

Q. Mr. President, as you know, we will have Presidential elections in Brazil in 3 weeks. And the U.S.-Brazil relations have become a major issue in the political campaign. What I would like to know is your expectations regarding this election and what the new President, that will be elected by the people for the first time in almost 30 years, could expect from the U.S.?

The President. Let me answer your question, but let me ask for clarification. How has the U.S. become an issue in the election? Just so I can respond.

Q. These recent trade disputes and environment and so on.

The President. Okay. Well, first, this is an enormous country. And the heartbeat is democracy, I'm convinced of that; that hasn't always been the history. I think that's the heartbeat in Brazil. So, the United States should stand ready, as we have with Argentina, to see what comes out of the election -- clearly, not be involved in the election -- and then stand ready with a friendly country -- and I think we do have friendly relations with Brazil -- to iron out what has cropped up as difficulties, be it in trade or something else. And so, I would just say: Look, you've got a new regime. What do you stand for? What kind of relations do you want with the United States? And we're ready -- we are ready to deal with you. And Brazil faces horrendous debt problems, too.

One area that's been a little contentious has to do with the forests and with the environmental implications of that on global warming. And at first, I think there was a disconnect between Brazil and the United States, but now I don't think we're very far apart. We had a good talk with President Sarney in New York about this. And I think when we were talking about environmental set-asides he thought I was talking about intervention into the sovereignty or diminishing the sovereignty of Brazil. And heaven's sakes, we're not interested in that. We are interested in this concept of global warming and in working with Brazil in a constructive way.

So, I think we've ironed out what might have been major misunderstandings. Without knowing who wins the election and what that person stands for, I'd have to wait and see. I would simply go back to Argentina, when some were predicting, I think we would all recognize, great difficulties if President Menem won the election. We had a lot of sophisticated guys telling me, hey, this would be not good for me, for the United States, for our country. It turns out to be just the opposite. So, we can't prejudge. We've all been through campaigns; we've listened to campaign rhetoric -- espoused a little myself from time to time. But look at the facts; look at where we're going. And we want to do that with Brazil, and we will.

War on Drugs

Q. Mr. President, the drug fighting -- it's a matter of survival in Colombia and a way to defend our democracy. The Colombian Government established a reward of 100 million pesos to the person that provides any information in order to catch the big drug traffickers. However, they move to other countries, and the action has not been effective yet. We feel like if they are caught the drug problem is going to fall down a lot. Has the United States Government, through any international organization, considered the possibility of setting up a better and more attractive reward?

The President. I hadn't thought about the reward possibility. Maybe our Department of Justice has. So, I should hedge a little bit on that.

Bob [Robert Gates, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs], do you know?

Mr. Gates. No, sir. I'd be glad to -- --

The President. What we have done is set up -- or are in the process of setting up much more cooperation with others in terms of the problem itself. In the first place, we have, I want to repeat, a great respect for what President Barco is doing against a lot of tough forces and against -- good God, here you guys are in the newspaper business, and just for printing the truth and standing up against this, you've been firebombed and had great difficulty. So, we can identify with that. So, I think it's going to be -- everyone knows our stance on extradition, and I understand it's not a particularly popular stance in some areas in Colombia. But the administration, President Barco, has been very good about that.

Whether the reward -- I know we have some rewards, but whether it applies to this or not, I'd have to get you an answer. Marlin, if you would -- I'm embarrassed to say I don't know the specific figures. And there isn't, on my desk, a proposal to increase the rewards. If there was some feeling on the part of President Barco, on other leaders in the hemisphere, that this would be useful, I can guarantee you I would give it fast consideration, because we have got to show that we're doing what we can against consumption -- your point -- and that we want to cooperate in every way possible to bring these people to justice.

Q. Mr. President, the drug cartel has sent various messages to the Colombian Government and to the Colombian Congress seeking some sort of dialog to end the war. In their last message 2 days ago, they even proposed that this subject should be put to a referendum. They have specifically offered to dismantle all their operations, to retire completely from the business, and to eliminate drug trafficking from Colombia. What would be your reaction if the Colombian Government would eventually agree to this dialog?

The President. I would let the Colombians make their determination on how they want to treat problems in their own country. But I would be very wary of taking the word of an indicted drug dealer. I would be extraordinarily worried about that because I don't think they keep their word. I think these are people that -- the background on some of them, you know -- well, were common criminals until they got into the lucrative business of poisoning the kids not just in the United States but in Colombia as well and every other country as well. So, I'm not sure the Colombian officials need free advice from me, but I would be very wary about that negotiation. And I think that the Government of Colombia has been very wary about that kind of negotiation because they know the kind of people they're dealing with.

Q. Mr. President, Colombia's war on drugs can only be sustained if the country's economy is strengthened. Eighty-seven million dollars, which was given to our country basically in military equipment, is a welcome aid. We were very grateful for your help. But we feel that in order to maintain the proper political attitude of the Colombian people towards drugs much more for the country's economy is needed. Could you consider -- and perhaps the meeting at the Andean summit might be the place to give, eventually, discussion to this -- would you be able to consider a type of Marshall plan for countries such as Colombia that are decidedly and deeply involved in the war on drugs?

The President. Well, again, I would be willing to consider anything. And I hate to cry poor mouth -- we are living under constraints on the economic side that I wish we weren't living under. But we did discuss with the President of Colombia the egregious effect that the coffee agreement has had on the overall economy and, thus, the resources available to help fight narcotics. So, we told him, look, we're going to try to help reinstate this agreement. It is not a popular thing in this country because people think, hey, I'm going to have to pay more for a cup of coffee; but we ought to go the extra mile here in trying to help Colombia. And so, it's with that in mind -- on that one facet of the problem I think we can try to help.

But, look, if there's some bold plan that can come out of this summit that will help in the areas that produce it -- and then Colombia, which has both production and has become this factory, really, for these people -- we should be openminded about it and go the extra mile to try to help on the economic because I do see the connection. We don't just say, look, you do something about these drugs -- crime, criminals, explosions, arms -- and then forget the economy. We're not going to do that. But I've got to stop a little short until I know what the view of these leaders will be when we get there.

President Ortega of Nicaragua

Q. The celebration of the 100 years of Costa Rican democracy will make you coincide in our country with Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega.

The President. I've thought about that. [Laughter]

Q. Is there a possibility that you will be meeting -- or would you be willing to meet -- President Ortega in Costa Rica, and what topics would you be willing to discuss with him?

The President. No. We're there as guests of President Arias. And there's no meeting planned. Certainly there will be interaction. This is a multilateral approach, coming there to salute democracy. I find it somewhat ironic that Mr. Ortega is there to salute democracy, but nevertheless, so be it; that's good.

We want to have a tribute to 100 years of Costa Rican democracy, and what we don't want to do is inject a lot of regional tensions into their meeting. But I'm going to be polite, charming -- [laughter] -- and if I had an encounter, it would be very firm because I don't see why that one Sandinista regime is swimming against the tide, as Chairman Mao used to say. Why not? The aspirations in our hemisphere, in all these countries, is for democracy; and you see it happening all the time -- just heard about it around this table by your very questions. And Marx's star is fading -- not just in this hemisphere but look at Eastern Europe, look around the whole world -- and human rights are rising up, and pluralism is coming on.

So, let the Nicaraguan people speak to this question. They don't need George Bush telling them how to do it. Let them speak to it and be sure that the opposition has every opportunity to take their case to the people of Nicaragua. But it's not going to help to have me go through this once again with Mr. Ortega. I had a chance to do that in Brazil. He knows how I feel about it, and everybody knows we have a tense relationship. So, I don't want to act like we're waltzing around there in great harmony, because we're not. And there are so many ways that they can prove that they want to join the family of nations in this hemisphere -- stay with it, and stop subverting El Salvador in the process would be a good way to begin. We stopped a major shipment of arms -- interdicted the other day going into El Salvador.

So, I have no agenda with Mr. Ortega. And as he takes a step that might lead to democracy, great, I'm for that; but we're not going to solve any problems there in Costa Rica. I'm there as the guest of the country, guest of President Arias. I wish Mr. Ortega had been there when Arias was sworn in, and I'll tell you why. I realize that the United States has varying degrees of problems in our own hemisphere for a lot of historic reasons. Maybe you were there this day I'm talking about. I represented the United States as Vice President. You had 30,000 people in a stadium in the capital. Remember that day?

Q. The national stadium.

The President. The national stadium, exactly. And what you did was to go in there, everybody lined up behind their flag. And I'm saying to myself, I don't know what kind of reception I'm going to get -- the U.S. Stars and Stripes and the Vice President of the United States -- I know we've got good relations with Costa Rica, but a lot of other countries represented. I swear to God, to the day I die I'll never forget the reception for my country. It wasn't me -- they didn't know who the hell I was -- but marching in behind the Stars and Stripes with our little delegation, and people were cheering, and it was democracy. It overlooked any kind of regional differences, and it was so moving and touching. And when the Nicaraguan representative walked in there, they were whistling and giving it the old cheer that you give when some guy gives you a bad call in a soccer game.

And it said something. I'm standing, listening very carefully to this -- what are the people trying to say? -- and it's not "we love you, North Americanos" or anything like this. It was democracy. And it made a profound impression on me. And I don't think there's going to be an occasion for that kind of thing. But if Mr. Ortega had been there instead of his representative, Vice President Ramirez, he would have heard this, and he would have sensed it. He would have understood what the Costa Ricans were talking about when they had this peaceful transition -- yet again the will of the people being exercised.

Sorry to end with a lecture, but it's a good ending point because we're not going down there to have some battle with Mr. Ortega. I'm not uptight about his being there. But I'm there to celebrate the Costa Rican democracy, 100 years of it, and to join other democratically elected Presidents in saluting the democracy of this country -- and recognizing that it hasn't been easy for Argentina or Brazil or some countries to come out of a different kind of a past, even though the people probably never lost their confidence in democracy. Chile is a good example.

And so, that's what we're going there for. And I just hope that it doesn't get cluttered up by the photographers that work for you guys wanting to see a picture of me and Ortega together. That has nothing to do with democracy in Costa Rica -- nothing.

Thank you guys very much, all of you.

General Noriega of Panama

Q. Mr. President, on Mr. Noriega -- we each asked our question. Will you answer one question on Noriega?

The President. Yes, be delighted to. He isn't my favorite character, but what is it? [Laughter]

Q. You've been criticized in this country -- politically and some of the media -- for the way you reacted in the coup in Panama.

The President. Yes.

Q. You said that you acted according to what you felt.

The President. I wasn't criticized by any of the Presidents of the countries around this table, I noticed -- not one.

Q. Right. But some of the media in this country and some in Congress -- --

The President. We've got a lot of hawks out here; we've got a lot of macho guys out there that want me to send somebody else's kid into battle. And what I will do is prudently assess the situation at the time, and I've seen nothing in terms of intelligence or fact coming in later that would make me have done something differently. And that doesn't mean that under some provocation or some denial of our rights as the United States of America, that I'd be afraid to use force. But for these instant hawks up there to -- those doves that now become instant hawks on Capitol Hill, they don't bother me one bit because the American people supported me by over 2 to 1, and I think I sent a strong signal to the countries represented around this table that we are not going to imprudently use the force of the United States.

If somebody lays a glove on an American citizen there in the Canal Zone or where we have certain treaty rights, then we've got a different story.

Q. Will you participate in the next uprising?

The President. And this man must be brought to justice. This man is an indicted drug dealer. And I haven't changed. You know, one of the hits they gave me is I said that we have no argument with the Panamanian Defense Forces. We don't. And some of our more sophisticated columnists, perhaps who you are referring to, say the minute the President says this, this implies that he's going to use U.S. force. Ridiculous. I'm not going to do that. But it doesn't imply I'm not going to use force. Look at the situation.

So, I'm not going to say what I'm going to do -- force or no force -- but there's no implicit guarantee that when some guy jumps up and causes a coup, that the United States is going to send in the SOUTHCOM [Southern Command] forces. So, we took a few hits on it, but not too much. I think it's come out reasonably well. But when I had the Prime Minister of Spain [Felipe Gonzalez] here the other day, he understood it. And it's very important to me, I think, as it relates to this hemisphere that we all love so much, too.

But this man has to go. And I'll tell you what: The minute Noriega gets out of there, the minute he's gone -- unless replaced by a tyrant, so I reserve that -- but the minute he's gone, we have instantly improved relations with Panama. We have good relations with the people of Panama. And I'll be darned if we should sit here, as countries that respect democracy, and let this man beat up the Vice President, Guillermo Ford, beat the hell out of him and bleed him out there, to avert democracy. We're talking about the trend for democracy, and Panama is entitled to it. And it can't be superimposed by the United States, but they spoke in a free and fair election, and they are entitled to it. And I'm going to do everything I can from up here. I'm working with our colleagues in the hemisphere, Venezuelan President [Carlos Andres Perez] and others, to try to see that the will of the people is respected.

And Noriega is the fly in the ointment. Many of those Panamanian Defense Force officers were trained in the United States. They're not hostile to us, and we darn sure aren't hostile to them, but we are hostile to a man who aborts democracy and gets tied up in this international narcotics business.

Q. Will you accept a man named by Noriega as head of the Panama Canal Company, sir?

The President. What's his name? If he's named by Noriega -- --

Q. Will you support -- --

The President. -- -- that will give the poor guy -- if he's supported -- --

Q. He's already named him. I don't know his name.

The President. Well, I don't know who it is, either, but I'll tell you, he doesn't have much chance of getting through the Senate. In our system, you've got to go up to the Hill to get something confirmed. And if he goes up under the mantle of Mr. Noriega, he'd get two chances -- slim and none. Those are the chances.

Q. Will you support it, Mr. President -- the next uprising? Will you support it?

The President. I can't say that. How do I know what it is? I want to see Noriega out, democracy in. And I would give support to something like that. But you can't give a carte blanche; you've got to know what the facts are. And that's why I did what I did in this last thing -- or didn't do what some would have me do. The facts were quite different than some of the perceptions.

Thank you all very much.

Note: The interview began at 11:38 a.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. Marlin Fitzwater was Assistant to the President and Press Secretary. A tape was not available for verification of the contents of the interview. The interview was released by the Office of the Press Secretary on October 26.

George Bush, Interview With Latin American Journalists Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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