Press Briefing on the President's Trip to Latin America
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
10:44 A.M. EST
MR. HADLEY: Good morning. In a few hours the President will deliver remarks in advance of his upcoming trip to Latin America. In his speech today, the President will announce new initiatives to benefit the people of Latin America. He will announce additional money to be committed for better health care in the Americas, an innovative education initiative to benefit disadvantaged youth, and initiatives to make it easier to start and grow small businesses, and help lower-income citizens of Latin America be able to purchase a home.
Latin America has made great political and economic progress in the last several decades. It is a region now firmly committed to democracy. Some 34 members of the Organization of American States have democratic constitutions. And only one member country lives under a leader not of his people's choosing.
It is a region that has seen rapid economic growth. Real GDP growth for Latin America and the Caribbean is estimated at 5.3 percent for 2006. This is the fourth year of consecutive growth that averaged around 4 percent. Life expectancy is up, infant mortality is down, and overall development has improved.
But the benefits of democracy, free markets and economic integration have been slow in reaching many in the region, especially the poor, the disadvantaged and the indigenous. Poverty, inequality and social exclusion in the Americas is unacceptably high. The result is that an estimated one in four in Lain America live on $2 a day, or less. Too many have inadequate access to education, health care, and housing and jobs. And the President is committed to further efforts to address these issues.
The President in his speech will outline ways we are helping democracies in the Americas to do three things: provide government institutions that all sectors of society, especially the poor and marginalized, can trust; better deliver basic social services, like education and health care, to all the people of the region; and assist in creating economic conditions that give ordinary men and women a chance to escape from poverty and to rise in society.
Some of this work government can do. Since taking office, the President has doubled U.S. foreign assistance to Latin America, to about $1.6 billion per year. This includes development assistance, military assistance, and narcotic assistance.
Latin America is also an important focus for the Millennium Challenge Account Initiative, which provides increased aid to governments committed to governing justly, fighting corruption, investing in the education and health of their citizens, and helping lift people out of poverty through the power of free markets and free trade.
The President will also highlight the extensive interaction outside the orbit of government between the United States and Latin America. Government-to-government programs are only a small portion of the societal, cultural and familial interaction that occurs between the citizens of the United States and our neighbors in Latin America and the Caribbean.
This private interaction dwarfs everything else. Let me give you some examples. It includes $45 billion in remittances to the region from the United States each year; $180 billion worth of duty-free exports from Latin America to the United States; and $350 billion in U.S. investment in the region, not including investment in Canada. And this investment contributes to the creation of nearly 2 million jobs in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Private interaction also includes non-government organizations, church groups, local civil associations, and volunteer medical teams. These activities involve literally thousands of private American citizens who give their time and donate their personal funds to help people throughout Latin America.
The President looks forward to highlighting these and other accomplishments in the region, as well as meeting with his partners in Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico. He will discuss how we can continue to help the people of Latin America enjoy more opportunities for employment, quality health care, a solid education, better housing and secure, reliable energy resources.
With that introduction, let me outline the trip day-by-day. On Thursday, March 8, the President and Mrs. Bush will depart Andrews Air Force en route S o Paulo, Brazil. They will arrive in Brazil on Thursday evening.
On Friday, March 9, the President will participate in an event for employees of the U.S. Consulate in S o Paulo. Later that morning, the President will participate in a tour and briefing on biofuel technology. The event will highlight Brazil's outstanding progress in developing and industrializing this technology.
That afternoon -- still Friday, March 9 -- the President will meet with President Lula of Brazil. They will have lunch, and both Presidents will then participate in a joint press availability. The two leaders will discuss exploring ways to deepen the U.S.-Brazil relationship, including working together to strengthen democracy and international economic cooperation, and to develop alternative energy sources.
I want to note that President and Mrs. Bush will host President Lula and Mrs. da Silva at the end of March, at Camp David. This will be the first time a Latin American leader has been at Camp David since 1991.
Late that afternoon on Friday, March 9, the President will participate in a community roundtable at the Meninos do Morumbi Community Center. The center is located in a S o Paulo neighborhood where very rich and very poor live close together. That visit will highlight programs to give poor and disadvantaged youth new opportunities.
That evening, the President and Mrs. Bush depart Brazil en route Montevideo, Uruguay.
On Saturday, March 10, in Montevideo, the President will participate in an event for embassy staff and families. Following the U.S. Embassy event, the President will meet with the President of Uruguay. The meeting with President V zquez will be in Anchorena Park. This is Uruguay's official presidential retreat -- their Camp David, if you will. Following their meeting, the two leaders will host a joint press availability.
The President and Mrs. V zquez will then host President and Mrs. Bush for a social lunch. Following the lunch, the leaders will tour Anchorena Park, which is both a national park and an example of a quintessential Uruguayan ranch.
Late that afternoon, still Saturday, March 10, the President will participate in a reception for the Uruguayan government and business leaders at the U.S. Ambassador's residence. The President and Mrs. Bush will overnight in Montevideo.
On Sunday, March 11, the President and Mrs. Bush will depart Uruguay and travel to Bogot , Colombia. Upon arrival in Colombia, the President and Mrs. Bush will participate in an arrival ceremony at Casa de Nari o. This is the office and official residence of the President of Colombia.
Following the arrival ceremony, the President will meet with President Alvaro Uribe. Following a working lunch, the two leaders will host a joint press availability.
Late that afternoon, Sunday, March 11, the President will meet in a roundtable with a number of Afro-Colombians who have benefited from educational opportunities provided by various U.S. and Colombian programs. Afro-Colombians comprise about a quarter of Colombia's population. Following the roundtable, the President will be briefed on and view products from alternative development programs that provide farmers alternatives to growing illicit crops.
Late that afternoon, Sunday, March 11, the President will participate in an event for U.S. Embassy staff and their families. The event will be at the U.S. Embassy compound.
The President and Mrs. Bush depart Colombia after the embassy greeting, en route to Guatemala City, Guatemala. They spend Sunday night, March 11, in Guatemala City.
On Monday, March 12, in Guatemala, the President and Mrs. Bush will start the day by traveling to Chimaltenango -- it's a department, or state outside Guatemala City. They will first visit a U.S. military medical readiness training exercise, known as a med-ready. This med-ready will consist of 18 U.S. military medical personnel from the U.S.-Virgin Island National Guard. These personnel are providing basic medical care to Guatemala citizens as part of a U.S. Southern Command training exercise that was previously scheduled for Guatemala.
Following the visit to the med-ready, the President and Mrs. Bush will visit Santa Cruz Balanya. They will meet with President Oscar Berger and Mrs. Berger. Santa Cruz is a town of about 10,000, the overwhelming majority of the population being indigenous. The town was founded by a Spanish bishop in 1787. In 1976, a major earthquake devastated much of Guatemala, and Santa Cruz Balanya was completely destroyed. No structures in the town today pre-date 1976. But with assistance from the United States, Canadian, and European governments, the town of Santa Cruz Balanya was able to rebuild.
Just outside that city, the President will visit Labradores Mayas, the Labradores Mayas Packing Station. This is an agricultural cooperative consisting of 66 member organizations that provide jobs for 200 indigenous farmers. Between 2001 and 2006, annual sales from this cooperative increased from $45,000 to $650,000. This cooperative is taking advantage of the breakdown of trade barriers within Central America. It exports its products, for example, to Wal-Mart Central America.
One of the goals of CAFTA, as you remember, is to increase Central American integration. And this is an example of that coming to pass. Another objective is to increase job opportunities for all sectors of Guatemalan society, and this cooperative is an example of that progress in that regard.
Following the event at Labradores Mayas, the President will visit Iximch . These are Mayan ruins. They are the inspiration for the name "Guatemala," derived from "Guatemalan," meaning "land of many trees."
Upon his return to Guatemala City -- still Monday, March 12 -- the President will participate in an arrival ceremony at the National Palace. Following the ceremony, the President will meet with President Berger, and the two leaders will participate in a joint press availability.
The President will end his visit to Guatemala with an event for the staff and families of our embassy, followed by a social dinner hosted by President and Mrs. Berger.
That night, the President and Mrs. Bush will travel to M rida, Mexico.
On Tuesday, March 13, the President will travel from M rida to Hacienda Temoz n to meet with President Calderon of Mexico. The two last met in November, when then President-elect Calderon came to the White House. The site of the meeting, Hacienda Temoz n, was formerly a sisal-producing farm that has been converted into a resort.
After the bilateral meeting, President Calderon and Mrs. Zavala will host the President and Mrs. Bush for a social lunch.
After lunch, the first couples will tour the Uxmal ruins. This is one of the most famous and best preserved Mayan cities and is designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
That evening -- still Tuesday, March 13 -- the President and Mrs. Bush will be the guests of President Calderon and Mrs. Zavala for a social dinner at Hacienda Xcanatun in M rida. The President and Mrs. Bush will overnight in M rida.
On Wednesday, March 14, the President and President Calderon will participate in a joint press availability. The President will then greet the staff and families of the U.S. Consulate in M rida. Following the consulate event, the President will depart Mexico and return to Andrews Air Force Base. He will be back at the White House late afternoon on Wednesday, March 14.
That's the trip. I'd be glad to take any questions you might have.
Q: In Brazil, the President is expected to sign an agreement to help make ethanol more available. Can you talk a little bit about the agreement?
MR. HADLEY: Yes. And the President will talk a little bit about it today. It really has three parts. One is cooperating on the development of ethanol. As you know, the United States and Brazil are the two biggest global producers of ethanol.
Secondly, it's also an effort to, together, encourage greater cooperation in Central America and the Caribbean to promote local biofuels production. Those areas, as you know, are looking for assured energy sources, had been looking at oil. The President's view is there is a real opportunity for that region in biofuels. We want to work with Brazil to try and encourage that direction.
And, finally, the two countries are going to participate in the international biofuels forum. There was a meeting on this just last Friday in New York. It is a forum to try and promote the development of biofuels by focusing on standards and codes and information exchange to, if you will, kind of standardize the industry for biofuels. That's the gist.
Q: Will there be discussion of reducing the tariff on importing sugar cane ethanol?
MR. HADLEY: No, the tariff is not under negotiation and we have no intention to propose altering the tariff. That's obviously a congressional matter.
Q: One last, can I -- some people have dubbed this an ethanol OPEC that the President is trying to form with Brazil. Is that a fair characterization?
MR. HADLEY: No, it's not about production-sharing, it's about encouraging development and encourage the Caribbean and Central American countries to get into the game, and also to establish a set of standards and the like that will open the industry and standardize the industry, not close it. At this point, it needs to be encouraged to open up and more countries, both producers and consumers, need to get into the game.
Q: How much of this is an anti-Chavez tour?
MR. HADLEY: It's really not. The President has had Latin America and the Western Hemisphere, generally, as a priority since he came into office. Gordon provided some numbers for me coming in. This will be his 11th trip in the Western Hemisphere; a couple of those were to Canada. He has had, this year alone [sic],* 20 meetings with hemisphere leaders. He's had over 40 phone calls just this year with heads of state. He has been involved and committed to Latin America throughout his presidency.
It's not gotten the attention it deserves. That's one of the reasons we're doing this trip, to both make it clear to the people of Latin America, really, three things: one, that we are committed through democracy and economic opportunity to help bring the people of Latin America out of poverty; secondly, that we, both the government, our private sector and non-governmental sector, have made an enormous contribution to that; and, third, that we remain committed and have some additional ways of providing initiative to trying to achieve those objectives.
What we want is a partnership with right-thinking governments that are making the right decisions for their people and that are making an effort to develop -- to deliver the benefits of democracy and economic opportunity to their people. That is what this is about.
Q: Do you expect the Chavez issue to come up in some of these private talks?
MR. HADLEY: I think there are a range of issues in the hemisphere that will come up. One is the plight of democracy in the hemisphere, which is something that has been an enormous achievement of the last half of the 20th century; it's something we don't want to lose. I'm sure that will be discussed, sure, and other regional issues, of course.
Q: Why is the President spending so much time in Uruguay, which is a pretty small, poor country? Can you explain why so much focus on Uruguay?
MR. HADLEY: One, it's a country that has for some time now made right choices. And part of the President's message is that if governments will make right choices, they will have a partner in the United States. And the Uruguayan government is a government that has been making right choices. It is not a political complexion particularly like the current administration in Washington, but President V zquez has led his country, he's making right choices, fighting corruption, providing good government, investing in his people's health and education, and is opening -- encouraging free trade and free markets.
And this is -- the President's message is this is the path to prosperity and a better life in Latin America. Unfortunately, in too many cases, these principles of democracy and free markets have not delivered to the most disadvantaged, and one of the things he wants to talk to those -- those countries whose leaders are committed to the right principles for benefiting their people, how we can work together and get the benefits of democracy and free trade down into the societies, to the most disadvantaged, the indigenous and others.
And President V zquez is a good interlocutor for that purpose.
Q: Mr. Hadley, to what extent did the events on 9/11 and the Iraq war and Afghanistan affect the President's original priority, stated in 2001, to make Latin America his top purpose?
MR. HADLEY: I think it's continued to be his top focus, and I hope one of the things you'll get from the speech and from the visit is that it has been a top focus and an area where the United States has made considerable effort.
And, unfortunately, I think a lot of the 9/11 coverage has obscured this. It has also obscured, for example, the President's agenda in Africa, which I won't go through, but in terms of HIV/AIDS and malaria and all the rest, he has a terrific case to be made for what he has done in Africa. I'm afraid one of the casualties of 9/11 and the war on terror is that these things have not been reported and covered as much as they should. That's one of the reasons he's conducting this trip.
Q: So you're saying it was under-reported -- why do we hear --
MR. HADLEY: Look, this isn't -- please, this is not a rap on the press. It is just -- I think it has gotten crowded out in the war on terror. I think one of the problems we have in Latin America is that people thought that the American agenda was counter-terror, trade and counter-narcotics. And clearly that is something that is very important, because it is terror, narcotics, that gets in the way, in many ways, of governments being able to act in a non-corrupt way to benefit their people.
And so one of the problems we have in Latin America is that the trade, terrorism, counter-narcotics agenda has caused people not to pay enough attention to the other half of his agenda, which is not just making these areas safer but making them better. And that is the focus on good government, health, education, housing, these things that he'll be talking about today.
So it's something we have not done well enough as getting out the full scope of the President's message. The President said that he wanted to have an initiative and a trip that would showcase the other half of his agenda. He's been wanting that for some time, and we are finally, hopefully, going to deliver.
Q: Why do you think that, when we talk to analysts across the political spectrum down there that we hear the world "neglect" so often, in terms of their view of us?
MR. HADLEY: I think it's what I said, I think what they have heard coming from us -- what they have focused on is the terrorism and counter-narcotics, which is something in which we all have an interest, but I think has deflected attention from these other aspects of the President's message, and, as I say, that's why he's giving the speech today, and that's why we're doing this trip, so the people of Latin America understand that this President and this administration stand with them in their efforts to better the lives of their people.
Q: I have two questions on two separate issues. First of all, just to pick up on what we're talking about here right now, is there a concern that with a supposed lack of promotion of the U.S. agenda down there that it's left an opening for, sort of, leftist movements and anti-American political movements? And is that part of that concern, that we need to promote --
MR. HADLEY: Well, as you should have gotten from my comments today, we have been pursuing the agenda.
Q: Yes, well, the promotion of the agenda.
MR. HADLEY: Well, there's an issue about public promotion, but the agenda has gone forward. Look, we've got trade agreements now with the CAFTA-DR countries, plus three pending additional. I think at the start of this administration, there were a total of two trade agreements. So the trade agenda obviously has gone forward in a very ambitious way.
And as you can see from my comments, the MCA program, the Millennium Challenge Account program is focused in Africa, but also in Latin America. We have almost doubled our annual development assistance. So I would say to you, the agenda has gone forward. But what the President wants to do is to highlight it, put it in a broader context and make people aware, and greater attention to the full aspect of the agenda.
Q: Right, but in terms of that perception issue, then -- which is strictly what I meant in terms of my question -- is there a perception issue where you feel like this needs to be promoted more aggressively because it hasn't left an opening for leftist political types to rise?
MR. HADLEY: Well, the region has gone in the last 14 months through 15 elections of heads of government; I think that's the right number. And it's been very interesting. There have been -- the issue of Chavez efforts to intervene in some of those elections has been an issue. And a number of candidates have run successfully against that intervention.
So that certainly is an issue in terms of Latin America, but what the President wants to do is focus in a positive way on our agenda, what we're doing, what is the formula, which really is that Millennium Challenge Account formula, for what works in bringing people out of poverty. There are a lot of false promises today. What we know from experience is good governments that fight corruption, invest in their people through health and education, and are open to the power of free trade and free markets. That is a formula that works. And it is important for the people of Latin America to see the results of governments that have made those investments, and the impact it has in raising people out of poverty. That's what the President wants to shine his spotlight on.
Q: Thank you, Mr. Hadley. When you talk about development, that's one angle, but we'd also like to talk about aid, cash aid. By reports, it's going down considerably by 2008. Is that a little counterintuitive? How do you promote development, and yet you're shrinking the aid to the region?
MR. HADLEY: I don't know what you talk about in terms of aid. What I've got is the figures I gave you, which we've gone from about $800-plus million a year to over $1.4 billion** a year. So that I know is going up --
Q: But by '08 it's supposed to go down, correct?
MR. HADLEY: I'll take a look at that. I don't know what that number is. The other thing is the reason why you have to look at it in totality is, for example, the MCA -- Millennium Challenge -- Millennium Challenge Corporation is looking at additional compacts in Latin America. And, as you know, those are pretty big-dollar items. So we'll get you the answer on 2008. I don't have it in front of me.
Thanks very much.
END 11:15 A.M. EST
**The President's FY2008 budget request for the Western Hemisphere is $1.47 billion; this does not include MCA funds.
George W. Bush, Press Briefing on the President's Trip to Latin America Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/272985