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Remarks Prior to a Meeting With President Jose "Pepe" Mujica Cordano of Uruguay

May 12, 2014

President Obama. Well, I want to welcome President Mujica to the Oval Office and the White House. You know, why don't—do I have my translator? Why don't we translate this statement? Come on over. My Spanish is shaky right now.

[At this point, the interpreter arrived and sat next to President Obama.]

Here we go. Let me try it again.

I want to welcome President Mujica and his delegation to the Oval Office. I have had the pleasure of, on several occasions, having discussions with President Mujica and have been consistently impressed with the progress that Uruguay has been making under his Presidency.

The United States and Uruguay has developed a strong relationship across a wide spectrum of issues. Our trade and commerce has expanded significantly. On the international front, we are very grateful that Uruguay is one of the largest contributors to U.N. peacekeeping in places like Haiti and Africa and has been responsible for helping to facilitate peace in some very volatile regions.

President Mujica personally has extraordinary credibility when it comes to issues of democracy and human rights, given his strong values and personal history, and is a leader on these issues throughout the hemisphere. And we share an interest in strengthening further the people-to-people bonds between our two countries, particularly around the issues of science, technology, and education.

So this gives us an opportunity to find ways that we can further deepen this relationship. We both think that there is room for additional work to expand trade and commerce between our countries. We want to see if we can expand exchanges, particularly for teachers and students. I want to hear from President Mujica additional ideas of how we can strengthen the broad trends of democratization and human rights in the hemisphere.

And we have a shared interest in social inclusion. Economically and socially, in both Uruguay and the United States, we have a potential great strength of a diverse population, and we want to exchange ideas about how we can make sure that our societies are open and benefiting all people and not just some.

So I very much appreciate the President's visit, although I will say, the first thing he said to me was that my hair has become much grayer since the last time he saw me. [Laughter]


President Mujica. Thank you. First, let me recognize the American people and its institutions that are represented by you, Mr. President Obama.

We live in the south. We have a soul of the south. We belong to a continent where our mother tongue is more or less Spanish. And we live in a time where we need to learn English —yes or yes. And you will have to become a bilingual country—yes or yes. Because the strength of Latin women is admirable, and they will fill this country with people who speak Spanish and Portuguese too—and Portuguese too. Well, we have been looking towards everywhere, but towards ourselves a bit also. And from the humbleness of my little Uruguay, my people, who is there amongst an enormous area of fertile and much water, come here to seek out knowledge and research in all groups of the biological sciences, particularly in land, that require local research, because the continent must produce much food for the world. And besides, this is the most advanced country in the world for biological sciences, but we don't want to merely send students out, because they get married—[laughter]—and the American corporations pay more money, so we lose these qualified people. We have to bring U.S. teachers so they can come, but we need to make arrangements so that they can continue to contribute to Social Security here. Wisdom must be looked for there where it is.

And I must tell you that in Germany, I asked the same thing from Mrs. Merkel. And with the efficiency that Germans have, she set up a plan for 10,000 qualified retirees that are on call to spend some time and convey knowledge. And that I believe that in the long term, that's worth much more than money, everything that is being asked for. We must fight to get our children in the new generations new capacities, new knowledge. And that is going to be the best way to surge freedom, independence, rights.

Mr. President, who is speaking is an old smokes man. But in the world, per year, 8 million people are dying for smoking. And that is more than World War I, World War II. It's murder. We are in an arduous fight in Uruguay—very arduous—and we must fight against very strong interests. Governments must not be involved in private litigation, but here, we're fighting for life. And nobody must be distracted in this fight for life, because out of all values, the most important one is life itself.

Well, thank you. I'm wholeheartedly grateful to you. And I am getting old, and to be old means you don't want to leave home. I would like to be a little bit younger to see Mississippi, MIT, know the ranches in Los Angeles, the milk farms, other things. But please convey a hug. I embrace all agriculturalists of this Nation.

President Obama. All right. Thank you.

Thank you, everybody.

NOTE: The President spoke at 11:06 a.m. in the Oval Office at the White House. President Mujica referred to Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany. President Mujica spoke in Spanish, and his remarks were translated by an interpreter.

Barack Obama, Remarks Prior to a Meeting With President Jose "Pepe" Mujica Cordano of Uruguay Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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