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Diplomacy in Action

First Diplomacy Briefing Series Meeting: Issues and Challenges of U.S. Relations With Latin America


Remarks
Arturo Valenzuela
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs
Washington, DC
December 11, 2009


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MR. CROWLEY: (In progress.) Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs. Arturo has only been on the job since November 10th and I think he’s probably already exhausted. (Laughter.) He was saying as we were listening to Maria that he spent all last evening on the phone with President Arias, President Fernandez, other leaders in the region trying to solve the challenge of Honduras, and as has been stated, not only to work through the transition, but also to provide a means to begin to heal the divide or empower Hondurans to heal the political and social divide that exists in that country.

So without further ado, Arturo. (Applause.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZULA: Thanks very much, P.J. I have a prepared text that I was going to read, but I think in the spirit of having a closer dialogue, maybe what I should do is just give you a few overall pointers and then we can open it up to more questions than we might have otherwise. And if you want a prepared speech, I can send it to you. (Laughter.)

But look, I’m very honored, frankly, to have been appointed to this position. I’m grateful to Secretary Clinton and to President Obama. It’s a challenging moment in our relationship with the hemisphere. I was privileged to work in the Clinton Administration in a couple of capacities, but my lifelong endeavors have been in academia, so in that sense, for me, it’s another detour from my work as an academic. And I’ve been following, of course, the events and processes and the difficulties in Latin America for over forty years. And by the way, Ambassador Romero, it’s great to see you and great to see so many other friends – friends from my work at NCLR and other organizations as well. And I am very, very proud to be, I think, the first Latino in a Democratic administration in this position. And I’m the first political appointee in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs in a Democratic administration since 1968, when I – (applause).

Where do we stand? Let me give you a little bit of background. This is a – I want to say first that I see the situation in Latin America as a half – the glass half full, rather than glass half empty, and maybe that’s kind of the bit of the historian in me. If you look back not too long ago, we had a situation in the hemisphere where, through the ‘60s and ‘70s and ‘80s, you had authoritarian governments in every country except for three, every country except for three, with the horrific experiences that we saw, of course, in places like Argentina with 30,000 disappeared. We also had, of course, civil wars in Central America, some of which went way back. The war in Guatemala really began around 1954.

And you know that in the ‘80s, there were open conflicts in a series of countries in Central America. The economic situation through the ‘80s was devastating for the region; in particular, the famous debt crisis. In fact, Latin America invented stagflation – significant, significant inflation levels, but with very, very low growth levels by contrast with other regions in the world.

In fact, I just – as I was going through my – looking for some currency exchange, because I’m traveling this week to Brazil, I grabbed some old bills, but then I made a mistake of picking up a Banco Central do Brasil quinientos mil cruzeiros. (Laughter.) Quinientos mil cruzeiros? These quinientos mil cruzeiros were worth maybe about a dollar at the time of really high inflation in Brazil, and Bolivia was the real champion on this. At some point, they had 250,000 percent inflation. It was one of those situations where you stood in line to buy milk, and the price of the milk would go up as you went to the front of the line. It was that serious.

So where are we in general today, then, by comparison with that period? With the end of the Cold War, with a shift towards democratic institutions, today, every country in Latin America, save Cuba and at this particular point Honduras, is governed by an elected leader. Sixteen presidents, however, did not finish their terms, so there is instability in democratic governance in Latin America.

And then the economic situation did improve fairly significantly by comparison with the – with even the early 1990s. We saw a boom in this last decade, and the boom was driven by exports, but also by the fact that fiscal management and economic reforms did take root in many countries in Latin America. And you see in some ways, one of the interesting aspects of the international financial crisis today is that Latin America has been somewhat more insulated from the international crisis because of some of the reforms that were taken before.

Now, having said that, the glass is only half full; I want to make that very clear. Because democratic institutions are fragile in the region and the economic recovery is still very much of a work in progress. Latin America as a whole is still falling behind, as opposed to Asia, for example – the Asian countries. At one point, the GNP of Mexico was comparable to that of South Korea. Today, South Korea is way, way ahead.

So where are we in terms of our engagement? Let me just simply preface it by we want to have a whole new tone. I think that’s the most important thing that I can tell you today. We want to reengage with the hemisphere on the basis of mutual respect, of working together to solve common problems, where the United States is being a partner. We want to be able to listen. The Secretary has already traveled to the region. The President has traveled to the region. The Vice President has traveled to the region. There have been several trips at the highest levels where this particular theme has been conveyed: We want to work with you together with mutual respect in order to solve our common problems.

I myself, now that I’ve been on the job now since November 10th, have been to Mexico, to Canada, and I’m leaving on Sunday to the Southern Cone. And I’m going to be visiting Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay, and to – again, to pursue this policy of engagement. What we’re concerned about, of course, is in this policy of engagement we need to address two very broad – three very broad things. In my formal speech, I think I have about eight things that we need to address, but let’s reduce it to three things.

One, of course, is that still the key underlying problems of Latin America, despite some of the advances in economic policy and that sort of thing, is lingering poverty, unspeakable poverty in many countries of the hemisphere. Mexico itself has 40 million poor. And as the Secretary said in her remarks, the Western Hemisphere is the continent with the greatest degrees of inequality of any continent in the world. So, significant efforts have to be made in order to address that. And we’re going to be working – we are working already – with a whole series of different kinds of programs in different countries. The Secretary referred to the Partnership for Prosperity initiatives, but we have a whole host of other initiatives that address the problem of competitiveness that Latin America faces.

It used to be that we used to say it’s trade, and not aid. Well, today, we have to say trade is important, but trade is not enough. Trade is not enough. What is needed, really, in terms of the economic and the social basket – fundamentally, what is needed is improving the competitiveness of the countries of the region. And the competitiveness can only be improved if there really is significant investment in two things, and that is in infrastructure, capacity, but at the same time, in people. And this means safety nets for the people who are at the poorest levels of the economic ladder, but at the same time, programs like, particularly, education. Education is absolutely a critical element of this.

And in my speech, I had a series of different examples of the ways in which we’re working with different countries in areas of education. Science and technology – the continent is not going to really make progress unless it really does get into – significantly into improvements in science and technology in this highly globalized world.

So this is a very, very, very important basket we want to work more effectively in partnership with others. And here, we’re looking at private as well as public partnerships in all of these programs and efforts we’re engaged in.

Let me mention a second challenge, though, that the Latin American countries and the Caribbean countries are facing right now, and that’s public insecurity. If you take surveys throughout the region and you ask people what worries you most, in every country, even countries with fairly low levels of common crime, there really is an incredible concern, and a rightfully so concern, over public insecurity. And this is because of the encroachment of organized crime as well as petty crime in so many countries. It’s related, of course, to situations of poverty and inequality. And in some cases, the challenges are dramatic. And as the Secretary also said, we have a co-responsibility with some of these problems, particularly the narcotrafficking that fuels much of this public insecurity and crime levels that’s corroding institutions and is very, very serious.

In that sense, the Merida Initiative with Mexico, which we’re working to expand into Central America, is a very important part of our work, also the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, because all of these things are interrelated. When you look at something like the challenge that narcotraffickers pose, it’s not just a phenomenon in one country. It’s a transnational threat and needs to be dealt with in a transnational way.

But of course, that particular threat cannot simply be addressed by measures that – a hard hand or tough measures or three strikes you’re out or mano dura, as they say in América Latina. It has to be addressed with a far more comprehensive package that addresses the social problems, but also addresses the issues of state capacity, of rule of law, and that kind of thing. So this is a very, very important part. Ultimately, the question of criminal and public insecurity is related to very, very weak institutions, particularly at the state and local level.

And that leads me to a reflection on institutions, democratic governance in Latin America, the third point. So I talked about social inequality, I talked about public insecurity, and now I’d like to address the issue of democratic governance. I said earlier – we used to say trade is what we need, not aid. And I’m saying no, we need as well to focus on competitiveness and particularly investment in people and in infrastructure. But a very, very important missing link in that kind of thing is success in economic and social terms is also based on the quality of institutions, and the institutions are the institutions of democratic governance. And in country after country, you see that there’s a lack of capacity of governing institutions.

You see this particularly at the local level. And Plan Merida, for example, in Mexico is now focusing much more – at first it started out as a federal-to-federal project. Now – and I was just in Mexico on Monday and Tuesday reviewing all of this with Carlos Pascual, our Ambassador in Mexico, who is absolutely terrific and I love working with him. And he’s in contact – and we met with sectors of – all sectors of Mexican society – opposition leaders, civil society leaders, and others – as we look at how we’re supporting Mexico. By the way, when we work on Mexico and we deal with Mexico, we’re not dealing with Mexico just on the counternarcotics side, just on the criminal violence side, even though that’s very important. We have such a broad, broad range of relationship with Mexico across the board, and many of them are wonderful, good stories.

But this particular issue of the criminal violence in Mexico is something that we need to take very, very seriously now, because as I was saying, we – the first approach to this was to look at the federal level. Now we’re really concerned about how it’s going at the local level as well. This is an issue of building state capacity and law enforcement capacity and judicial systems at the local level as well. That’s very important.

Now, institutions do matter. Institutions are absolutely critical. And this is why what we have to absolutely ensure, not only because it’s right, because our values dictate so, we need to ensure that democratic institutions are not interrupted. One of the tragedies of Latin America – and here I put on my historian/political science hat – is that forever and ever, the problems of democracy were resolved by people coming in and disrupting democracy through some kind of a military coup or some kind of an authoritarian project, and that did not allow then for democracy to consolidate itself in many of the countries in the region. It is absolutely essential, and this is why I’m going to talk now about Honduras, that the precedent of a coup d’état not stand.

Forty percent of all changes of government in Latin America from 1930 to 1980 were via military coups, coup d’états of various different kinds, or different iterations of military coups. And I said earlier only three countries did not fall into that pattern. We just simply can’t afford to have this come back. And this is why the countries in the hemisphere are so concerned about it, and the United States shares this concern.

What happened in Honduras was a coup d’état. There was some problems leading up to the coup d’état. There was a significant amount of conflict within the country. There’s a degree – a high degree of polarization. There was a worry about the – some of the policies that the president undertook and so on. But it was simply not justifiable, and unanimously, the countries in the hemisphere spoke on this. It was not in any way justified to take a head of state or any citizen for that matter – any citizen for that matter – forcibly out of the country without some kind of due process of law, some kind of due process of law. And that’s basic – that goes back to the Magna Carta in 1215. We learned that in elementary school.

What is the United States policy, then? It’s to stand with the other countries in the hemisphere in condemning the military coup or coup d’état that took place – different people have defined it in different ways – and to make absolutely sure that this not happen again. And our position has been very clear on this. We don’t accept the legitimacy of the de facto government, as the Secretary earlier said. What we have done is, however, looked for a solution, and working with others to do that. And I’m really proud to see how other – we’ve been able to work with a series of other governments in the region to try to address this question.

The formulation ultimately had to be – had to be – that the election itself was also part of the process of resolving the problem in Honduras. Some people question that assumption, saying that no, it’s impossible to have a de facto government run an election. And there’s a real – there’s a good point to some of that, because if, in fact, human rights or the fundamental conditions for an election are not allowed by a de facto government, then of course, it’s very difficult to validate that. On the other hand, there are lots and lots and lots of experiences worldwide where authoritarian regimes, in order to move away from the – well, actually run elections and that leads to democratic governance.

In this particular instance, one thing is very, very important to underscore, is that the electoral process in Honduras began way before the coup d’état. The Vice President Santos – Zelaya’s vice president actually left office in November of last year, ran in primaries within his party as others ran in primaries in other parties, and that electoral process was on its way. In fact, we were close to the end of the Zelaya administration when the coup d’état took place. So to have said “This means that we need to stop an electoral process” would have simply been a mistake on two grounds. It’s an exit strategy for Honduras, but also, it would have deprived the Honduran people of an electoral act that they were already participating in from an earlier period.

Now, having said that, as the Secretary also emphasized – and the reason why I’m taking a little bit more time on Honduras because it’s very much in the news – is, as the Secretary said, the elections may have been a necessary step for an adequate outcome in Honduras, but not a sufficient one. For Honduras, in fact, to return to the Inter-American system, to be voted back in to the Organization of American States as a member again, it would – it’s going to have to restore its democratic institutions, and in order to restore its democratic institutions, it has to follow a certain path.

And that path is with this agreement that was brokered through the Organization of American States with the work of President Arias in Costa Rica to try to put down some key conditions – a government of national unity, a truth commission, a verification commission, so that you could – so that ultimately, the Hondurans could do the reforms. In fact, the truth commission would also give them some advice on reforms to their constitutional process, and I remember the question earlier of the Secretary, I think, on constitutional reform. Constitutional reform is very necessary, probably, in Honduras. It’s up to the Honduran people to decide that. But there really were clearly some significant deficiencies in the constitutional frameworks in Honduras, as there are in other countries.

Anyway, where are we today with Honduras? Various efforts have been made. Zelaya tried to go back at one particular point and didn’t get in. He did go back and he did get in. He’s still at the Brazilian Embassy. The Mexicans tried yesterday an initiative to try to have him leave. It didn’t work. It was not necessarily structured within the framework of the agreement that the Central American presidents were working on. But I’m fairly optimistic that with the commitment and support of the other countries, particularly in Central America, of a correct resolution of the Honduran crisis, that there is going to be an agreement, there will be a government of national unity, and steps will have to be taken by the next president also to restore the credibility of democratic institutions in Honduras in order to permit Honduras, at a later stage, to return to the Inter-American system.

It’s still a work in progress. My friends, one of the things you learn, P.J., in public affairs – and this is very different from being an academic. When one’s an academic, one can sort of write all about things and opine about all things and have all kinds of endgames that you want to pursue. And one thing that you learn as a policymaker, that in crisis management, you have a thousand different kinds of variables coming at you all the time, and the situations change over a period of time. But what is absolutely crucial when you’re dealing with a foreign policy challenge is to have fundamental principles that back you up in the way in which you approach these issues. Without those principles, you don’t – you won’t succeed.

Our principles, I think, in the hemisphere are really quite clear. We want multilateralism to work. The pushback in the hemisphere towards the United States was very much because the United States, in recent times, said no, we’re not really that interested in multilateralism. Latin America, of course, of all regions in the world, is very worried about a concept like preemptive war. It’s not something that’s in their lexicon. They have worked very hard over the years to create a sense of – a collective sense of security and democracy. We want to work with the Latin American countries in a true partnership in this direction. We see – we’re hoping that we can get beyond the Honduran crisis soon in order to pick up all the various other elements of our policy towards the region – the ones that focus on people, that focus on social justice, that focus on economic opportunity, that focus on fighting and defeating the scourge of criminal violence and instability in order to have a prosperous hemisphere.

I’m very optimistic. Our values are similar. We have a lot to do. We need to get beyond certain kinds of misconceptions that we may have, lack of trust, and work as hard as we can in order to be able to build a good relationship moving forward. Thanks, P.J. (Applause.)

QUESTION: Good morning. My name is Gilberto Amaya and (inaudible) from Honduras. I represent the Central American Black Organization here in Washington, D.C. And as Under Secretary Otero said this morning, you know, we often get lost in the discussion as a minority, and we are very concerned about the situation in Honduras right now. And in fact, we just had a general assembly in Belize as part of our declaration of solidarity with the people in Honduras. We believe that the regime change that took place in Honduras is very concerning to us, and we’re still uncertain of what the future holds for us as a community, and also the other countries in the region who are members of our organization.

But I would like to expand from Honduras and look at the Afro-descendent situation in the entire region, we are more than 150,000 Afro-descendents in Latin America and the Caribbean – if you add the indigenous communities, we are close to 200 million people. And together, we make 60 to 70 percent, or even 80 percent – you know, because they have no official figures in the situation – of the poor in the region. So in that context, we would like to ask how we can work with the Government of the U.S. and civil society to address these issues of poverty, especially when we look at the deadline for the millennium development goals in 2015. We still see that this situation in which we find ourself is the result of long years of exclusion and discrimination. You know, you don’t see us working in the banks, in the airports and – you know, the corporations in our region. We look for equal opportunities to participate in the free trade agreements, for example, and also in more of the investments that you mentioned in the human capital and infrastructure.

There was a recent report from the Government Accountability Project on the Inter-American Development Bank, for example, saying that only 0.13 percent of the investment from the bank in the region goes to Afro-descendent and indigenous communities. So those are areas of great concern for us, and we would like to know what the State Department thinks and how they believe they can – you can address the issues with us. Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Thank you very, very much for your question and your comment. And I myself, we’re going to have – since I have been on the job for three weeks, I’m going to have to find out a little bit more about what programs, in fact, the State Department may have. But the central message of your question is an extremely important one. There are lots of communities, but the Afro American community throughout the Americas is a community that has often been neglected. I know there’s been special efforts to work with Afro-Columbians, for example, in some of the programs that has been – that have been run by the United States Government in Colombia, as the government moved away just simply from a security focus to a focus that focuses much more on some of the issues that I talked about earlier, and that is that we need to address the problems of inequality and social justice in various areas. But this also means paying particular attention to lingering patterns of discrimination and exclusion that exist in many of these countries where minorities within the countries have been excluded.

The other side of the coin, if I might say, is also a clear one. There are countries, too, where majorities have been excluded, particularly indigenous majorities, and this has been one of the patterns in the Andean area. And what you’re seeing in Bolivia is really, for the first time, really indigenous populations in Bolivia being able to assert themselves politically, through a democratic political process. We need to welcome that phenomena. It’s a very, very important one. On my first trips to Bolivia, I was always stunned when I would go to the congress and walk down the congress and all you saw on the walls were pictures of bearded white men. And it seemed – so in congress, in a society which is so overwhelmingly indigenous, both Aymara and Quechua and other communities as well.

So this business of democracy finally allowing for the empowerment of excluded sectors is very important, but minorities also should not be neglected. There’s a real danger that majorities will, at the same time, neglect minorities and that’s something that we need to very much work on. And I would be – I would welcome your suggestions. Contact us through the State Department and see how we might be able to work more specifically to address some of the concerns that you have.

When I reflect on the Western Hemisphere as a whole, on the Americas as a whole – and by the way, this is a very exciting time because the countries of South America, many of them are beginning to – some have already begun, Bolivia already did so, Haiti already did so – to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the independence of the Americas. This is an extraordinary process, and in some ways, we in the United States share a common history with much of ideal America. And the common history is that fragments of Europe coming to a continent where there are significant indigenous populations, but also because of the slave trade, these massive flows of people, particularly to Brazil, also to Central America and to the southern United States, creating these nations – these multiethnic and multiracial nations with a terrible narrative of cruelty and injustice behind this, but also – with also a narrative of working to try to overcome these sorts of things.

Emancipation is a story that is a story that touches on South America as well as on North America. We have a common background. We have a common history. Ambassador Romero’s family has been in New Mexico since, what, the 17th century, Ambassador? Even boundaries between countries have been defined differently, as this raza cósmica, as some of the great scholars of Latin America would define this sort of multiethnic society. So that’s what the United States is, that’s what the countries of Latin America are as well – countries of immigrants with strong indigenous populations that have been marginalized in the past and that have the rightful – right to be at the table. This is what we want to do – work with other countries, share our experiences, and see how we can work better together to be able to ultimately empower our people. That’s what this is all about.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Congratulations on your first month in your new job, and hopefully, many more months ahead of you, Dr. Valenzuela.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: I hope so too. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I just wanted recognize the goods words of Secretary Clinton and also the U.S. Ambassador to Argentina Vilma Martinez addressing the issue of Argentina’s need to regularize its relationship with U.S. and other investors. As you know, a lot of U.S. investors, and we’re talking about sort of bond holders and these are teachers’ pensions and the pensions of U.S. community college professors and researchers, et cetera.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Are you talking about TIAA-CREF?

QUESTION: They’re numerous. I mean, them included. And they were offered a very unsatisfactory deal when Argentina was trying to restructure its debt, after its 2001 debt default. Now, the Argentine Government is making some noise about wanting to revisit this and offer a better deal, but it’s kind of playing some politics with kind of picking and choosing who it wants to offer this deal to. And I just want to ask if the Administration will continue to call on the Argentine Government to negotiate in good faith with all parties and not just pick and choose a few.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: I think your last sentence was a good summary of this. I’m not briefed in completely on this particular issue, so I don’t have much detail of it. But I think that your last formulation is the correct one. We would call on the Argentine Government to try to work with all of the bondholders and creditor – without discriminating against one or another. Yes, that’s a good formulation.

QUESTION: I would also like to congratulate you on your recent and much delayed confirmation. I’m Mary DeLorey. I’m a policy advisor with Catholic Relief Services. And I just wanted to ask, earlier this week, 53 members of the House sent a letter to Secretary Clinton, with a CC to you, calling for a reorientation in the U.S. policy towards Colombia. And it very much focused on bumping up attention to a greater degree and the array of human rights abuses that are occurring in the country, including the issues of threats against human rights defenders, focused on greater attention to the humanitarian concerns.

And certainly, as you know, Colombia has the second-highest rate of internal displacement in the world with very little attention globally given to that fact. And certainly, the emphasis in the letter is not only on greater aid to the internally displaced, but also support for the restoration of their rights and particularly of their lands, which is central to the conflict. And it also calls for a more proactive role that the U.S. Government can play in promoting politically negotiated paths towards peace that are inclusive, multilateral, et cetera. Could you – given the principles and values you’ve stated here, which are very encouraging, could you give us an idea concretely of some of the changes that could be possible or anticipated from the Administration with Colombia?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Well, thanks very much for your question. And let me say that one of the things that I have been able to do while I was waiting for my confirmation to come through was to have a lot of briefings. It was kind of lonely. As I said in the senior staff meeting, I sat in this little hovel at the bottom of the State Department over here, which is called the transition team, which at one point was a very hopping place. And I sat there and I sat there. And others came in. They took those offices and then they migrated to the upper floors of this building to take over their responsibilities as I sat in solitude for – (laughter) – waiting for the U.S. Senate to finally make a decision to confirm me. It took five months. And when – well, here, I won’t say anything more about that. But I would say (laughter) --

QUESTION: You’re wise now.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: I would say – yeah, wise now, that’s right.

But one of the things that I was able to do – two things, really – one was I got to know much more the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, and thanks to the good work of Juan Gonzalez, my executive assistant who was over here, who keeps me on track. Juan is great. And – but often when you come into these positions, you have to really hit the road running, as I have indeed. I haven’t – really haven’t had any yet – time to really much think since I got into this process.

But during the period that I was here in the Department to get to know the bureau, get to know some of the desk officers, get to know the offices, and they’re doing – there are lots of people who do extremely good work, and I was very pleased to see people who work in the offices, in the planning offices, the policy offices, the offices that deal with the relationships with the different regions of the Western Hemisphere, as well as the offices that actually run the relationship with the embassies in the region. They are 40 posts in the Western Hemisphere, including the embassies and consulate generals. It’s a fairly big operation, so it was good to do that.

But the second thing I was able to do was to have people like Ginny Bouvier (ph) and others from WOLA and other organizations from the – to brief me on a series of issues, including Colombia. And I think this is very important. The work you do is extremely important. Sometimes when we’re in government, we have a certain policy orientation that we need to – and we have to juggle and perhaps – we have a series of different kinds of values that we’re pursuing. It’s very, very important for human rights organizations and organizations that have this kind of commitment to stay focused and push us really strongly as much as you can.

We value that. We need your information. We need your concern. We need your commitment, really, because it makes us better as policymakers. And indeed, all of the issues that you raised in your letter and in your comment are things that we’re taking very seriously. We want to look at this. We’re working with the Government of Colombia on a range of issues along these lines. We take very seriously the problems of human rights.

The point you made about displaced persons, I think it’s something like 2 million people who are displaced persons and there are more than that in Colombia. There’s no question that the assistance programs are being and have to be recalibrated to look more at the sort of human and social conditions in the country. And greater efforts need to be done to ensure that human rights are protected. It’s a very difficult situation in Colombia. I’ve had some experience with it from my earlier service in the government. But this is something we take very, very seriously, and we do appreciate your input and your comments, and we’ll take them into consideration as we move forward.

QUESTION: We’ll take one more question over here.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: You decide.

QUESTION: I want to say thank you for spending so much time to talk about Honduras. It’s obviously very important. And I appreciate everything that you’ve said, but I can’t help but feel there’s a little bit to it that’s just a lot of rhetoric, and that makes me feel like I’m being lied to. I would like to say that I think it’s pretty clear the elections in Honduras were fraudulent. The U.S. Government is supporting a fraudulent election that’s being used to rubber stamp a coup. We’ve got 1980s-style repression on the streets right now, Battalion 3-16 is back in action with members, graduates of the School of the Americas, people are dying on the street, 36 killed since June 28th, thousands of human rights violations, you know, thousands of illegal arrests, people’s freedom of speech are being violated, freedom of the press is being violated.

And if the U.S. Government is going to say, okay, so now the elections are here, so democracy is coming, what about everything that happened before, we can’t just move on from here – and this isn’t a question. I’m demanding, as a U.S. citizen, I want to see the State Department take positive action. Why wasn’t Zelaya allowed to be reinstated? He’s still the president – the democratically elected president of Honduras. And we, the people, want to see the U.S. Government stand up and be more on par with our neighbors in Latin America. The entire hemisphere of the entire world is waiting for the U.S. Government to do more, not just say that it’s a coup months after the fact, but to actually do something about it and not support the coup government.

(Applause.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Thanks very much for your comment. I appreciate it very much. And I welcome this perspective. It’s a perspective that we need to consider in all of what we are doing. We have been concerned about the human rights situation that the de facto government has permitted during this period. Let me say that from the outset, the United States did join right after the June 28th coup – the other countries in the hemisphere in condemning the coup. That has been something that’s quite clear.

We don’t recognize the government of Mr. Micheletti as the legitimate government of Honduras to this very day. We recognize President Zelaya as the legitimate president of Honduras. However, I tried to explain earlier that in looking at the ways in which we could get some kind of a solution to the problem, we had to balance a couple of critical objectives. And one of the most important objectives is what do you – what does one do in a situation where there is an electoral process that’s already been ongoing, which is an electoral process that began earlier, which involves a series of candidates that are already participating and candidates across the political spectrum?

If you look at the number of candidates that withdrew from the race, there were actually only a very few of them. Most Honduran people wanted to be able to vote and to have some kind of an outcome, an electoral outcome. In some ways, had the position been, oh, the coup d’état, would have wound up depriving – if we had said no to the election, it would have deprived the Honduran people not only of their legitimately elected president; it would have deprived the Honduran people of the possibility of voting for the successor, which was a process that began earlier. And this is really quite different from a situation where you have a de facto government coming in, or a coup d’état that takes place, and where a regime is looking to try to justify its actions through an election, to whitewash a coup d’état through an election. It was a process that was there earlier. In that sense, it’s a process that’s part of the solution to the situation in Honduras.

Look, we’ve had a lot of experience in many other places of authoritarian regimes holding elections. And authoritarian regimes hold generally not very good elections. I myself was deeply involved in my native Chile’s return to democracy, and was very, very deeply involved in 1988 in the plebiscite that was held by the Pinochet government. And many of my friends and colleagues at the time said, “We can’t participate within the framework of this particular election because it’s run by the Pinochet government.” And yet, we did. We – a lot of us participated in it. And Pinochet was defeated in the plebiscite, despite the fact that the – all the rules were stacked against the opposition.

So what we had to weigh in this particular case is to what degree did this election, with all of its faults and a process that was beginning earlier, not one that was construed in order to justify in a coup d’état – to what degree was this process part of the solution? And our formulation has been very clear. The election is not sufficient to resolve the problems of Honduras. It’s – this is not about giving a de facto government a pass. The election is simply that – a necessary step perhaps for – a necessary step for an outcome, but not a sufficient one. And this is where we’re still working with the other countries in Central America. They’re taking the lead on this. It’s President Funes in El Salvador, it’s President Colom in Guatemala, it’s President Arias in Costa Rica, it’s President Martinelli in Panama, it’s President Fernandez now in the Dominican Republican all working with President Zelaya and with others to try to get the kind of accord that Honduras needs in order to move forward. And that’s what we’re – our policy is, but I do appreciate your perspectives. Thanks very much.

(Applause.)

MODERATOR: I know we would like to stay and ask more questions, but we are facing the tyranny of the schedule, and we’re already impeding upon the break that we had promised you. So let’s take a rapid break, say about 10 minutes or so, and we’ll reconvene into the breakout sessions. Thank you very much for a spirited morning so far.



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