Contact: White House, Office of the Press Secretary, 202-456-2580
March 6, 2007
9:03 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thanks for coming. I'm very much looking forward to my trip. I believe that a peaceful neighborhood and a prosperous neighborhood is in the interest of the
I gave a speech yesterday that I outlined a vision of a nation that cares about the human condition. I spoke in terms of dollars being spent, but more significantly, I spoke in terms of programs that are actually empowering and helping people improve their lives. And that's my message. My message is that the
I'm really looking forward to going down and visiting with the respective leaders with whom I'll be meeting. These are men I respect. These are people whose opinions matter. And I'm confident we'll have a good trip.
And with that, we'll go around the room and answer questions, and then I've got to go give a speech to the American Legion, and you're welcome to come and listen to it if you'd like to. Are you going to listen to it,
Q Yes, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: That's good.
THE PRESIDENT: Will you cover it objectively? Of course you will; what am I thinking? (Laughter.)
Do you want to start. Jose, where are you from?
THE PRESIDENT: So are you from
THE PRESIDENT: We'll go this way -- this is the order of the trip:
Q So I start, right?
THE PRESIDENT: Please.
Q Mr. President, my first question is, I would like to know what is the importance of the development of this new ethanol market, regional market, in political and economical terms? And how is that going to strengthen U.S.-Brazil relations?
THE PRESIDENT: First, U.S.-Brazilian relations are strong. I can remember my first visit with President Lula. He wasn't sure what to expect when he came to the Oval Office. And, frankly, I wasn't sure what to expect when he came. You know, people have reputations that precede them in life. And, yet, after we spent a brief period of time, we both came to realize we share the same concerns -- particularly for the poor. And we both represent big, influential nations; and that we can work together to achieve common objectives.
And one such objective is human rights and rule of law, a civil society that empowers individuals; that we believe government ought to respond to people and that people ought to have the ultimate say in the fate of government. And those were common principles. We came from different political directions, I readily concede; but, nevertheless, when we listened carefully, we found common ground. And that puts us in a position where we can work in practical ways to address significant problems.
One such problem is trade, and President Lula and I will spend time on the
The other area -- another area of common ground is changing our energy uses. My last trip to
So I now return to
The political implications of that, at least for the
Anyway, thank you. Daniel.
THE PRESIDENT: As anti-imperialist? Fine, that's -- I would hope he would define my government as pro-freedom. But back to the free trade issue. I think that -- first of all, there are countervailing pressures in my own government. People shouldn't take for granted that the
And so I will go to
And, again, I will assure the President that I will be -- we want to listen to concerns, we will work closely as friends. And I will remind him that here at home it's not an easy sell, necessarily, and that if he believes trade is in the interests of his country and I believe it's in mine, we've both got to work constructively to achieve common objectives.
As to characterizations of the
Anyway, I'm looking forward to the trip. It's going to be -- I'm told it's a beautiful country. I've never been to
Q Thank you, Mr. President, for the invitation.
THE PRESIDENT: Por nada.
Q Por la invitación
THE PRESIDENT: Sí. Por nada.
Q Thank you. In the last few months,
THE PRESIDENT: President Uribe has made it very clear that he is going to -- he promotes and expects there to be a full investigation of any allegations. And as a result of strengthening the prosecutorial offices, he has sent a signal that if, in fact, there are allegations that are worthy of further investigation and the facts lead to prosecution, he will fully prosecute. And to me, that gives me great comfort in seeing his strong leadership. And I believe that that leadership will stand him in good stead with our Congress.
The budget I've submitted is one that's a little less than last year but, nevertheless, is a strong commitment to a Plan Colombia 2. One of the reasons why the budget is a little less than last year is it goes to show the progress that
Q Hi, Mr. President, thank you very much.
THE PRESIDENT: How are you? Thanks for coming.
Q Mr. President, a lot of people in Guatemala and in Central America is worried about the violence that might be generated by organized crime, gangs and drug trafficking. How severe would you say this problem is? And how the government of the
THE PRESIDENT: Well, that's a common issue that we have with our very important friend to the south. It is an issue that concerns both
My attitude is that the
In terms of narco-trafficking, the first thing the
Secondly, we can enforce our borders and make it harder for drug dealers to be able to get their drugs to market. One way to better enforce our borders, besides stepping up presence on our border, is to pass a comprehensive immigration bill in the Congress, one that says that the person coming to do work that Americans aren't doing doesn't have to sneak across the border, thereby enabling our Border Patrol to be able to focus on narco-trafficking. In other words, you can raise the cost of getting drugs into our country by making it harder for them to penetrate our borders.
Thirdly, we can work internally with governments, and do. We do a lot of bilateral work. I don't want to jump to -- I'm not going to jump to the next country, but one perfect example is the cooperation and collaboration between
Fourthly, we have got Central American gangs in the
The best way, however, to ultimately deal with crime, besides reducing the demand for their product, is to enhance prosperity. And that's why CAFTA is an important agreement. We would rather people try to make a living honestly. And, therefore, there needs to be hope; there needs to be the possibility of that honest living to be able to be made so that youngsters don't turn -- feel they have to turn to crime.
And, finally, a social program, social justice programs, like education. The
THE PRESIDENT: Sí.
Q Thank you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Sí.
Q Again, thank you for the invitation. And my question goes in the same sense as my friend, Eduardo.
THE PRESIDENT: I thought so. I thought it might. (Laughter.)
Q Yes, as you know, President Calderon has positioned himself at the forefront in the war against drugs, and especially on violence that derives from drug trafficking. What do you think should be Mr. Calderon's next step? And would his efforts now motivate the
THE PRESIDENT: It's a very interesting question.
I'll repeat what I said earlier about comprehensive immigration reform. I'm a strong supporter of comprehensive immigration reform. I believe strongly that a comprehensive bill will make it easier to focus on drugs and guns if people don't feel like they've got to sneak into the
Secondly, such a bill will enable us to -- it will help us dismantle an industry that has sprung up that uses human beings as product, as chattel. And that's unacceptable to this country. Now the incentive is for people who want to do work that Americans aren't doing is to pay money, to be stuffed in the back of an 18-wheeler, for example, and driven across and ducked out in the desert, where they hope somebody will come and rescue them and take them to a motel, or a house, where they have to rent, and then they finally work their way toward work. The industry that has sprung up as a result of the current immigration law is inhumane and it doesn't reflect the values of the
So to answer your question about drugs moving one way and guns moving the other, immigration reform will help. It will mean that the people and assets we have on the border can be focused on precisely that which you're concerned about.
Now, as to President Calderon's next steps, that's up to him, and one purpose of my visit it to listen to his strategy. It's a Mexican strategy. I have confidence that this man, elected by the people, will devise a strategy that is best for
And part of my visit is to be a listener and a partner. And I appreciate the strong stance that President Calderon has taken. He has shown courage because he is committing the stake to take on some very powerful, very rich, and very lethal people. And that takes courage. And I admire courage when it comes to leaders in public office.
Patricia. We'll go one more round, then I've got to go give a speech, which
Q There's a perception that one of the objectives of your trip is to strengthen relations with the countries that are
THE PRESIDENT: Each leader is going to have to adopt a governing style and an economic model that they believe yields to prosperity for their people. I strongly believe that government-run industry is inefficient and will lead to more poverty. I believe if the state tries to run the economy, it will enhance poverty and reduce opportunity. So the
My trip is to remind the people of Central and South America that we live in the same neighborhood and that the
I would like to cite some statistics for you, just to help prove my case. Since I have been the President, the line-item for traditional bilateral aid has doubled, from about $800 million a year to $1.6 billion for the region. And that's a total, when you total all up the money that is spent, because of the generosity of our taxpayers, that's $8.5 billion to programs that promote social justice -- for example, promote education and health.
The reason I bring that up, it's very important for me to remind our own people as to why it's important to continue to be generous in our neighborhood. If you're interested in peace, then you've got to be interested in prosperity and hope. Our programs are aimed at encouraging hope.
Secondly, there's about -- make sure I get this right here -- there's about $350 billion of direct foreign investment in the region. Now that's important because investment yields jobs. And wise economic policy recognizes that investment can help improve the lives of the worker, or the person who's anxious to make a living.
In my speech yesterday, I pointed out the fact that, by far, the vast majority of people in our neighborhood are really hardworking, decent, family-oriented people who just need a chance. And a direct foreign investment -- that means somebody believing that the investment climate is worthy of investment -- helps that working person, that hardworking person find employment.
And so our presence in the region is sometimes very quiet, but very effective. And one part of -- main purpose of the trip is to tell people that we take the region and its problems very seriously, and have got a good record.
And we'll let others make their case as to how best to proceed. We'll let others come and explain why their point of view makes sense. All I can tell you is that I believe that the system of government and the system of economies that we promote is fair.
Now, I fully recognize that until people actually feel progress in their pocketbook, that there's going to be frustrations with forms of government. But that doesn't mean you kind of revert to something that I don't believe will work. It does mean you've got to make sure that the aid and the progress that you're making actually helps.
Q I'm going to do a follow-up on that question --
THE PRESIDENT: Okay. Sure.
Q For example, we, in
THE PRESIDENT: Look, I dare -- I go a lot of places and there are street rallies. And my attitude is, I love freedom and the right for people to express themselves. I bring a message of goodwill to
And it is very important for the American people to hear firsthand our concerns about our neighborhood in order for them to continue to support programs, such as the Millennium Challenge Account, which is an $855 million program and encouraging good governance in the region; or the education for the -- we've got a new teacher initiative we've laid out, and we believe by, I think it's 2008, we'll have trained 20,000 teachers.
There are a lot of -- you've got to understand that in a country where there are isolationist tendencies, where people sometimes say it's not our problem, that the President has got to be constantly reminding people that poverty in our neighborhood is our problem. So the trip gives me an opportunity to highlight successes and to point out challenges so that the American people stay engaged.
One of the great assets in our country is the fact that there are compassionate people that are willing to go into parts of the world where there's desperation and poverty. You know, our faith-based programs, for example. I'm not sure to the extent to which they've gone to
Our military -- people think of the
Q Mr. President, in
What will your administration do to increase the possibility for the approval of the FTA? And should
THE PRESIDENT: First, I will defend our budget strongly, that we've submitted to Congress, which, as I described earlier, does have a reduction, but only because we think
Free trade with
And so I'm -- this will not be my first trade battle, nor will it be my last, hopefully -- but it's going to be a battle. And we look forward to working with the government to get it passed.
Q Mr. President, so far, what's your evaluation of the impact of the free trade with
THE PRESIDENT: There are great expectations when trade agreements get signed that all of the sudden there's going to be instant prosperity. But that's not the way it works. Economies develop. And I fully understand that in parts of Central America, when people heard that
Part of my messaging in
This was one such program. It was what, a micro thing, but nevertheless, the co-op was able to then develop an irrigation system, which then made their production of high-specialty crops more efficient. I can't wait to see this. The one reason I go is to herald what is possible. It is a reminder that the
So I will try to help deal with expectations, Eduardo, about how markets evolve. And one way for me to do so is to remind people about the effects of NAFTA with our important neighbor to the south,
When I grew up in
And yet today, obviously, it's 2007, and this is 16 years later. Now, when I was the governor of
To answer your question, in the long run, what ends up happening is, again, I think the Mexican model is good to look at, because we're constantly dealing with trade disputes. There will be the argument over the -- whatever. Since I've been President, we've dealt with
And that's why my discussions with President Lula on the
(Continued, see part 2)