Secretary Clinton: Thank you very much for the your excellent questions sent during my recent trip to Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Trinidad and Tobago. Four main themes appeared throughout all of your questions. Listed below are my responses to the important issues you raised.
What are the most pressing challenges faced in the Caribbean region and across the hemisphere which the U.S. can help alleviate, and by what means?
As I discussed at the Digital Town Hall of the Americas in the Dominican Republic, the rise of democracy and free markets has unleashed the potential of people across the Caribbean region and the broader hemisphere over the past 15 years.
At the same time, however, the global economic downturn threatens to erode these gains. What was already an unacceptable gap between rich and poor in Latin America -- the greatest gap of any region in the world -- is expected to widen as exports decline, credit tightens, family incomes level off, remittances dip, and growth rates slow. And the impact will be most acute for those on the bottom rung of the ladder of every society - the poor, the young, women. As tempted as we each may be to withdraw inward in the face of economic challenges, it is precisely in such moments that we must extend a hand outward. The failures and fortunes of every nation in our hemisphere are bound together, and so is our progress.
Education is also a principal challenge. While enrollments have swelled throughout our hemisphere, too many young people still don't complete their studies, or they're not benefiting from the quality of education they richly deserve. I was proud to recently announce that the United States will invest $30 million in education projects in the hemisphere, but there is still more to be done.
The issue of malnourishment and the crisis in food access and cost is also of paramount concern, and could not have been more apparent on my recent visit to Haiti. As the global economic crisis deepens, the poor face survival challenges. For many people throughout our hemisphere and around the world, it means the difference between food on the table or nothing at all. In places of extreme poverty --throughout the Caribbean and the broader hemisphere - people subsist on less than one dollar a day and hunger stalks them. Children are malnourished which stunts their growth and mental development. Food security is not only a source of suffering. It is a direct threat to economic growth and global stability.
At the G-20 conference, President Obama committed to providing nearly $100 million in food assistance to countries most affected by hunger in the Western Hemisphere. But our goal must be to reach the roots, the causes of food insecurity. There's an old proverb -- yes, alleviate hunger by giving someone a fish, but alleviate long-term hunger by teaching them how to fish.
Lastly, it is hard for people to escape poverty or fulfill their potential when they're not physically safe in their homes and neighborhoods, their schools, their workplaces, or on the roads traveling for commerce or pleasure. None of the advances that we make can be achieved without improvements in public safety and efforts to stem all forms of violence, including violence in the home. We all think about the violence that the drug traffickers bring with them, and this must be our highest priority. The United States must work to reduce demand for drugs and stem the flow of guns and drug profits traveling from our country for use in the drug trade.
To that end, President Obama recently announced measures to ensure that our country is doing all we can along the Mexican border. In Mexico, when I had the privilege of visiting, I announced that the United States was pledging additional resources to support training, equipment, and other means of bolstering President Calderon's courageous struggle against the drug traffickers. This is part of the Merida Initiative, to improve security in Central America, an $875 million dollar commitment over two years.
As we do more in Mexico and Central America, however, we know we also face threats in the Caribbean. I had discussions about this with both President Preval and President Fernandez on my recent visit to Haiti. That is why we are planning a strategic security dialogue with the Caribbean countries to confront rising crime, illicit trafficking, and border security issues, like disaster preparedness.
One last thought: As we take on these challenges, we must remind ourselves that in our diverse hemisphere, one size does not fit all. We need to look at the unique needs of each country and shape our effort to meet those needs in a spirit of openness and cooperation.
The drug trade and drug related crime is flourishing in Trinidad and Tobago. Has the region done enough to effectively combat crime? What should be done?
This is a very important problem in Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean, and throughout the hemisphere. President Obama and I agree that more must be done to determine specific plans that will enable us to address this critical issue.
As I have said repeatedly, the United States has acknowledged we share responsibility for what is happening with the drug trade and drug related crime in South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. I said when I was in Mexico that the demand for drugs in the United States fuels the lawlessness that President Calderon and the people of Mexico are fighting, and the movement of guns and the money laundering from my country south enables the drug traffickers to pose such terrible threats to so many. We have acknowledged that we have a responsibility and the hemisphere must now act in concert as we try to address this.
There are many aspects of fighting the drug gangs and the narcotraffickers that we have to address. On the supply side, we have to do a better job in the United States. But countries like the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and others should get on top of the supply issue. Drug traffickers try to get people in these countries addicted to drugs, so that if times are tough or they want to make extra money, they don't just have to think about the market in the United States. We are looking at better ways to deter, divert, treat and prevent drug addiction and continuing drug use in our country and we need to share those ideas with the broader hemisphere facing so many of the same issues.
The hemisphere also has to do a better job training, equipping and preparing police. We have to root out corruption in police forces, in the military, in government. It is very tempting when these drug traffickers offer people money. But the problem is, once you take money from a drug trafficker, they own you. They own you and they own your family. You can never escape their reach. Part of what we have to do is prevent people in our institutions from falling into that temptation. That means rule of law, tough judicial systems, good policing, and corrections systems that work.
We're going to have a summit on security in May. The Dominican Republic and President Fernandez, are leaders of this effort. The United States will do what we can to support the plans that individual countries come up with. But we have to work together. It doesn't do us any good to drive the drug traffickers out of Colombia if they find a safe haven somewhere else.
We have come too far and too much progress has been made to see it corrupted and undermined, and to create conditions of lawlessness and insecurity for honest, hardworking people.
Aside from bringing Venezuela into line with our other partner countries in the hemisphere, what specific benefits derive to each country from a renewed and improved relationship?
At the Summit of the Americas, President Chavez and I discussed the return of ambassadors to Caracas and Washington. As we have stated previously, exchanging ambassadors will help advance U.S. interests and would be a necessary step for improving communications and our bilateral relations.
The subject of many of our meetings and conversations at the Summit of the Americas was the launching of a new era of partnership between the U.S. and nations throughout the hemisphere. We saw many potential positive signs in the nature of the relationship between the U.S. and Venezuela. But as President Obama has stated: "The test for all of us is not simply words, but also deeds" I am eager to see President Chavez begin promoting democracy and understanding that democracy is not just about elections. Democracy is about a free press, free association, the rule of law and an independent judiciary. We believe it would be in Venezuela's interest to promote a free market economy and not fall into the failed policies of the past.
What is the current political and economic situation in Haiti? What can we do to help?
As I said at the recent Haiti Donor's Conference in Washington DC: for some of us, Haiti is a neighbor, and for others, it is a place of historic and cultural ties. For all of us, it is now a test of resolve and commitment.
Today, Haiti is the poorest nation in our hemisphere, with one of our region's biggest gaps between the "haves" and the "have-nots." But just two years ago in 2007, Haiti achieved the highest rate of real economic growth since the 1990s. It is on track to reach the completion point for the IMF's Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative in the next few months. Now, that will mean that significant debt relief is on the way, freeing up approximately $4 million a month, money that Haiti can invest directly in improving the lives of its people and building futures of self-sufficiency and confidence.
Haiti does have the region's highest rate of HIV/AIDS, the highest rate of maternal mortality and child mortality. But the numbers of maternal deaths have stabilized and the numbers of HIV infections and child deaths are coming down.
Not long ago, from the 1950s until the 1980s, Haiti endured a brutal military dictatorship. The U.S. removed a military dictatorship in 1995, clearing the way for democracy. And after several years of political disputes, common in any country making a transition, Haiti began to see progress. And the national and presidential elections in 2006 really moved Haiti's democracy forward. The President and the Prime Minister are seeking is to maintain a strong commitment to democratic governance.
Like many nations, Haiti struggles against crime, particularly the global scourge of drug trafficking. But reforms to improve policing, strengthen the justice system and fight corruption are now underway. And a peacekeeping force, led so ably by Brazil, has helped to bring stability to many communities.
Haiti has made these strides through the efforts of its government and its citizens and many of the nations and institutions represented here. This represents the full range of resources and relationships, from businesses and universities to NGOs and religious and cultural groups, as well as committed individuals, which is at the heart of smart power.
The trajectory of progress for Haiti, however, has been undermined by the combined winds of hurricanes and the global economic recession. Haiti is in danger of stalling.
The Haiti Donors Conference gave us an opportunity to reignite Haiti's path to progress by working as a team with Haiti at the helm to advance a comprehensive, long-term strategy for Haiti's growth. The United States will target our support toward four areas that President Preval and Prime Minister Pierre-Louis have requested, all of which are essential for national and regional progress; improving safety and security, supporting a strong infrastructure -- particularly the improvements of roads, alleviating debt obligations through significant contribution, and providing a strong agricultural base for the people of Haiti to become more self-sufficient.
This work is not only a matter for governments, but it is a mission for the people of our countries. I've heard from you and many individuals and groups who care deeply about Haiti, but they don't know how to invest their time and money in a way to make a real impact. In addition to pledging $57 million to Haiti at the Donor's Conference, we will help to create a 501(c)(3) charitable organization that the Haitian Diaspora and the United States can contribute to. And we will help coordinate other NGOs, particularly those that have been started by Haitian Americans who want to give back and are looking for the best way forward.