State Outlines U.S. Priorities in the Americas
Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs
September 16, 2002
Foreign Press Center. New York, New York
SECRETARY REICH: Hello. In the interest of time, I'll just introduce
myself. I'm Otto Reich. We've just saved about five minutes.
Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere and I've been up in New
York for the last few days accompanying Secretary Powell and other members of
the State Department in their meetings in the U.N. General Assembly.
that we discussed, as you can imagine, cover the range of political and
economic, trade, social, terrorism, narcotics and others
on the agenda of U.S. relations with the nations of the hemisphere. We, of
course, talked about the effects of the attacks of September 11. Most of the
nations once again reiterated their sympathy with the United States, and the
United States reiterated its appreciation for the support that we have received
from the nations of the hemisphere in our battle against terrorism.
talked about counternarcotics efforts in the hemisphere, emphasized the
connection between illicit narcotics, trade – the illicit narcotics trade --
terrorism and other international crimes. We also talked about some of the
underlying causes of poverty in the region which some of the organized crime
syndicates, the narcotics traffickers, the terrorists, some demagogues or other
leaders take advantage of and making false promises that some people who are in
a desperate state sometimes listen to.
about the support or the response on the part of the United States to some of
these conditions, primarily the importance of the Free Trade Area of the
Americas. We highlighted the passage of the Trade Promotion Authority by the
Congress in July, the Congress of the United States, the ongoing free trade
negotiations with Chile, the initiative with Central America towards a free
trade agreement. We talked about reinvigorating the hemisphere's security
architecture, looking forward to the Mexico-hosted conference in the year 2003
that will complement the existing security mechanisms. We talked about redoubled
efforts to combat corruption, which we believe is one of the principal obstacles
to economic development in the region. There were many, many other issues, as
you can imagine, with 34 nations. Many had individual issues that they raised.
We, of course, talked about Iraq, and there, there was very little need to
reiterate the U.S. position -- it's well known, particularly after the
President's speech to the U.N. last Thursday.
that, I'll just open it up to questions and try to answer whatever I can.
QUESTION: If you could just speak for a moment generally on
what you see as the biggest issues facing Latin America, and if you think those
issues, those needs, may be overshadowed in the event that we do go to war with
-- or in the event of a U.S.-led attack on Iraq.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY REICH: Well, the issues
in Latin America, as I mentioned, are many. I mean, one of the biggest problems
is how to re-start the economic growth that the region had begun to enjoy in the
late 1980s and early 1990s, but in the late 1990s began to slow down
considerably and has been accompanied now by a number of financial crises in
countries such as Argentina, Uruguay, to a lesser extent Brazil, and others.
problems in the region include terrorism, of course. There's widespread
terrorism in Colombia. The State Department has designated the three principal
combatant groups in Colombia as Foreign Terrorist Organizations, or FTOs for
short. There is apparently some resurgence of terrorism in other countries, such
as Peru. There are reports of terrorist cells in places like Buffalo, New York,
as well as some other places in the hemisphere. If we can find them here, you
can find them anywhere, I guess to paraphrase the famous song. So we're
constantly looking for connections between some of these terrorist
issues, as I mentioned -- trade, corruption, et cetera. What impact a Middle
Eastern conflict would have on the region is very hard to tell. Frankly, it
depends on how long it lasts, what amount of damage it does to the international
economy, or perhaps it might even help the international economy in the long run
by providing more oil. I don't know. That's strictly speculation. So the fact
is that we have to deal with a clear and present danger in Iraq that threatens,
if not dealt with, threatens to affect our national security.
QUESTION: Could I have a follow-up on that? With Colombia
specifically, do you think it would affect beefed-up efforts now with Plan
Colombia and the focus? The U.S. is very involved in fighting terrorism and
drugs in Colombia. Would that be lessened in the event of that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY REICH: In case of some
problem in the Middle East? No, our efforts with Colombia have been pretty
consistent. Plan Colombia was designed by the previous Colombian administration
and approved by the previous U.S. administration. It has since been enhanced by
the incoming Colombian administration and supported – the expansion of it has
been supported by the Bush Administration. Even before the election of President
Uribe, we asked the Congress for additional resources and expanded legal
authorities to support the then-Pastrana administration in combating narcotics
and terrorism, which in the case of Colombia are one and the same, in many
strategy towards Colombia is independent of our strategy in the Middle East.
Obviously -- well, let me just leave it at that. Yes, sir.
QUESTION: The former head of the nuclear program of Iraq had
an interview published today in the Times of London in which he accuses Brazil
of -- not accuses, but he said that if Iraq builds a bomb it will be with
uranium smuggled from Brazil. So I'd like to know if the administration has any
information about that, if in his previous Congress briefings he mentioned it,
and if it has to do, in your opinion, it would have to do with the triple
frontier in the south region of Brazil in which Brazilian officials maintain,
still sustain, that there is no terrorist activity until now.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY REICH: Well, I think those
are two different things. First, I haven't seen the report that you mention and
I don't know anything about it. This is the first that I've heard of it. But
remember, this is not my area of the world and, you know, our intelligence
information is highly compartmentalized. If you don't have a need to know, you
don't have a need to know. So I don't know anything about that particular
report. All I know is that I read it in the press.
far as the triple frontier -- Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil -- we're watching
it closely and we're in touch with the countries in the region, and it's pretty
evident that there is more activity perhaps in one country than in others or in
two countries than in all three. But it's certainly worth watching because
sometimes people and goods tend to cross borders relatively easily and not only
in that part of the world, but as we know from our own experience, in our own
part of the world.
QUESTION: I was wondering more broadly if you've looked at
the rise of leftism and populism in the region over the past couple of years
and, with it, a rise in anti-American sentiment, especially in the Andes, also
in Argentina and Brazil, and whether you think the actions of this
administration had anything to do with that and what you might be doing to
ASSISTANT SECRETARY REICH: Well, you talked
about three "isms" -- leftism, populism and anti-Americanism -- and they're not
necessarily connected. There's right-wing populism in some countries, there's
left-wing populism, there's populism that doesn't appear to have any ideology.
You know, there definitely is more populism, I think, but as in most "isms" it
doesn't offer any true solution to the problems of the region, and I think this
too shall pass. We agree with Winston Churchill that democracy is the worst
system of government with the exception of all the others. And by the way, if
you're going to translate that, please translate it properly because I just got
through having to -- my press officers in the back having to explain to a
Peruvian paper that I didn't say that democracy was the worst of all systems of
government. I said it was the worst with the exception of all the others.
there are a lot of simple solutions that are presented by politicians of all
stripes that in many cases don't work. I mean, nothing comes easy. And we
believe that the free market is the best system of economics; that with all of
its problems, it provides the best opportunity for the largest number of people
in solving the largest number of problems and creating the largest amount of
wealth. Certainly socialism didn't do it. Communism didn't do it. Nazism didn't
do it. All the other forms of fascism didn't do it.
stick to our belief that democracy and free markets are the best systems. In
fact, most of the people in this hemisphere understand that and there is no
great anti-Americanism, in spite of all the problems that exist, because I think
they see the United States as trying to help, trying to help both bilaterally
and multilaterally. The problem is that some of these problems are so huge, the
amounts of money required to solve the problems of an Argentina or Brazil are so
huge, the United States can't do it alone. In fact, the developed world together
probably can't do it alone. This is why we work with the International Monetary
Fund, the World Bank, the other international financial institutions and
answer lies within the borders of each one of these countries. There is no
reason, in my opinion, why countries as rich as the countries of this hemisphere
have not developed further. They've made a lot of progress, frankly, but there
can be a lot more. And I think it's due to the fact that they haven't properly
implemented the free-market policies. They've had, in some cases, democracy
defined in a very narrow fashion; that is, just elections every few years
without being sufficiently concerned about building the institutions of a
democracy. And they've also not implemented the institutions of a free market.
There's been far too much intervention on the part of the state into the
financial transactions, not enough transparency, for example, in financial
statistics of governments, et cetera.
making progress. If you look at the hemisphere today, as opposed to 20, 30, 40
years ago, we're making enormous progress. Thirty years ago, the vast majority
of the people of this hemisphere lived under military governments. Today, only
Cuba is the exception to a democratically elected government. That's 2 percent
of the population.
the governments perfect? No. There are no perfect governments in this world
because there are no perfect people in this world -- present company excluded,
of course; the same with economic systems. They have not properly implemented,
I think, some of the free-market policies. There has been too much intervention,
too much cronyism in
cases, too much corruption in many cases. And this is one of the reasons why
we're making, the Bush Administration is making, such a prominent -- and, we
hope, broad-based and effective -- attack on corruption.
QUESTION: Did you or Secretary Powell meet at any point over
the past days with Colombia and Mexico foreign ministers regarding Iraq,
specifically about Security Council action?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY REICH: I did not. I
don't know if Secretary Powell did because he had separate meetings. I mean, we
just left a meeting where Secretary Castaneda and Foreign Minister Barco were
present, but so were the foreign ministers of the rest of South America. It was
a meeting with South America plus Mexico.
QUESTION: What was discussed there?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY REICH: Everything that I
mentioned in my opening statement. Everything: terrorism, economic development,
trade, narcotics, the links between all of those issues. The Secretary mentioned
Iraq but he did it in the same way that I did it at the
that there's no need to repeat the U.S. position; it's well known and it is what
the President said on Thursday.
QUESTION: Why was Mexico included with South America?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY REICH: Because, at one
point, this was going to be a Rio Group meeting, but then we decided to have, in
the interest of more discussion, we had a separate meeting with the Central
American countries, a separate meeting with all the Caribbean countries, and a
separate meeting with the South American countries. That would have left Mexico
by itself, so Mexico was nice enough to participate in South America. But as far
as we know, it has no geographic connotation. You shouldn't read anything --
there's no tectonic movement that we have detected.
QUESTION: Just two questions. Just first on Cuba, you were,
if I understand correctly, one of the authors of the Helms-Burton law, whose
application has been restricted by president.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY REICH: I'm sorry, I
can't understand your question very well.
QUESTION: Just on Cuba, I wondered if you could explain to me
whether you feel that the application of the Helms-Burton law, the application
of a presidential veto on that, given the fact that you were one of the authors,
I understand, of that law --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY REICH: I'm afraid you've
been misinformed. I had absolutely nothing to do with the -- that's one of the
many things that have been written about me that are incorrect. I wish I had
been one of the authors, but I wasn't.
QUESTION: Okay. Maybe you could just explain just two things
on Cuba. Is there any possible -- are we going to be seeing any -- is there any
sign there may be an easing of the embargo on Cuba? And secondly, in terms of
just on the application of Helms-Burton, would you feel that at some stage that
presidential veto should be lifted?
And my second question is on Venezuela. I just wondered if I
could ask you if in the event that another coup took place in Venezuela, would
the administration be so rapid in supporting a new government?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY REICH: Let me answer the
second one first. If you have any evidence, any piece of paper or any
declaration, that shows that the administration supported the events of April 11
to 14, I'd like to see it, because I have never seen it. We never issued such a
statement. We, in fact, condemned the breaking of the constitutional rule in
It is just
amazing to me -- and I can say this because I'm not a career diplomat, as you
can probably tell, how falsehoods are repeated in their entirety without people
checking things. I mean, somebody came out shortly after the events of 11 to 14
April in Venezuela and said the administration, the Bush Administration, had
supported the coup. The Bush Administration never did. In fact, we said,
clearly, that the -- we said to the government that had declared itself to be
the government of Venezuela that they had to restore constitutional
didn't. And we all know what happened after that. That was the official U.S.
position. And, you know, obviously I'm not going to speculate as to what's going
to happen next in Venezuela or in Costa Rica or in any other country -- in
France -- because I'm not very good at reading the future. I'm a lot better at
reading the past. I can tell you what happened in the past in Venezuela, and
it's not what you said.
So what we
had told the Venezuelans, both sides -- or all sides, because there's more than
two sides -- is that we support constitutional rule in Venezuela. If the people
of Venezuela are unhappy with their government, there are peaceful, democratic
and institutional ways of demonstrating their disagreement with the government,
just as there are in this country. There are a lot of people who disagree with
our policies, and they do it peacefully, democratically, and if they disagree
intensely, they can vote the party out of power at these regularly scheduled
As far as
Cuba, I'm not sure that I understood the question because you said, "Can the
veto be lifted?" There's been no veto.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY REICH: You mean the
waiver? Oh, the waiver. There's a waiver that's part of the law in Title III,
and only the Congress can lift that waiver. There is no waiver on -- Title III
is the trials, or the lawsuits, I should say, by former property owners against
persons who are currently using those properties.
presidential waiver that both Presidents Clinton and Bush have signed every six
months. And they have done so because they have stated, and the law requires
that they believe it's in the best interests of the United States to continue to
waive that law, or that provision of the law because other countries, primarily
the Europeans, the ones who would be affected, are -- have stated publicly that
they're not going to provide or do either aid or trade with Cuba until there's
political reform on the island.
is the, exactly the position, well, that is very similar to the position of the
United States. President Bush stated on May 20th that he would go to
the Congress to ask for a modification of the embargo and a lifting of the
travel ban if the Government of Cuba instituted just a free election -- to have
an election with access to the media, with at least two parties or more than one
party, multi-party elections as exist in every other country in this hemisphere.
Cuba be the only exception to the rule of democracy in this hemisphere, is what
we're asking. So that's our policy. We're going to continue the policy of
denying our markets to Cuba as long as Cuba denies rights to its people.
QUESTION: I would like to know if the issue of the ICC has
been on the conversations and if so, what's the answer you've found in Latin
America's ministers about the efforts of the American administration to reach
ASSISTANT SECRETARY REICH: Yes, the issue was
raised at practically every meeting and this morning the Dominican Republic was
the first country to sign an Article 98 agreement with the United States. We
were informed by the foreign minister of another country today that they will
sign an agreement on Thursday. We were informed by another
and I will let them, let those countries, you know, inform their publics and the
world who they are. The Dominican Republic is open because they've already
announced it. But we know of at least three countries that intend to sign such
agreements this week with the United States.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Honduras?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY REICH: No, I can't. As I
said, I would rather that they -- it's not up to me to decide. They should
decide when to announce it.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY REICH: Yes. You know,
there are some countries that have internal problems with signing a treaty. In
has to go to their Congress or it has to be studied by the lawyers, et cetera.
Other countries are a little bit more agile. But the answer is pretty positive.
I think they all realize that it's in the interest of the international
community to allow the United States to continue participating in these
peacekeeping operations without the threat of having U.S. military or civilian
officials being dragged off to some international court.
we are pretty severe with people who commit crimes, even if they're accidental,
such as the bombing of the Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan or the accident that
occurred in Italy with the gondola that was cut by an airplane. I mean, I think
people know that we are serious about keeping our forces disciplined and we
don't need some international court telling us how to do it.
QUESTION: You mentioned in your opening remarks talks about
hemispheric security architecture. How do you reconcile these upcoming
conferences with Mexico's decision to withdraw from the ITR?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY REICH: Well, you know,
that was obviously Mexico's sovereign decision. They had announced it a year ago
and President Fox --
QUESTION: He said he was going to consider, and then he
ASSISTANT SECRETARY REICH: Well, I believe
he said when he was in, yeah --
QUESTION: He said he was going to --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY REICH: Right. But I believe
he said they were going to do it within a year. And it was exactly 365 days
later. So, you know, we believe that the Inter- American Treaty is a very
important part of the hemispheric security architecture. We very much
appreciated the Brazilians and Canadians taking the lead last year to invoke the
Rio Treaty after September 11. It meant a great deal to the United States and we
appreciated it. And, as well, by the way, it's the entire hemisphere voting
unanimously to invoke the Rio Pact at the time. So we think it's a very
important element, but there are other elements to a security architecture and
we're curious to see what Mexico proposes.
QUESTION: Do you expect Mexico to backtrack or --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY REICH: No. I think that
question needs to be addressed to a Mexican official and not to me.
QUESTION: One quick follow-up. You talked about the United
States working with the International Monetary Fund. You also talked about an
excess of intervention in free markets. Was the State Department consulted at
all over the $30-billion aid package to Brazil, which was announced in August,
and if so, what was your position?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY REICH: Well, actually,
the Treasury Department is the one within the U.S. Government, the one that has
the relationship with the international financial institutions. As far as the
internal policy recommendations of the U.S. Government, I would rather not get
QUESTION: Thank you. Just one other quick question about
Colombia. Thank you. As I'm sure you know, just in this past week, President
Uribe has taken some further steps under the state of unrest that was declared a
week into his presidency such as curfews and restricting travel. I'm just
interested in the U.S. perspective on those steps he's taking, which, you know,
some human rights and different politicians in Colombia are saying are extreme,
and if you see that there is a line that he could go too far with this?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY REICH: Well, as far as I
understand, all the measures that the Government of Colombia has taken are legal
and constitutional. The real threat to Colombian security and the real
violations of human rights are clearly coming from those three terrorist groups,
particularly the FARC. I mean, I happened to be in Bogotá on August the 7th in
the Legislative Palace when the FARC indiscriminately fired -- you can call them
rockets, you can call them mortars, it's, you know, it's different descriptions
-- but they fired weapons designed to kill people. And they did. They killed
about 80-some people, mostly innocent, I mean not all of them, I believe, all of
them innocent civilians including a pregnant woman and three of her children, or
three children. I'm not sure if the woman was the mother of the three children.
I believe that I read one report where it was the mother and three children in a
house. That's terrorism. That's what the human rights groups really should be
condemning and I'm sure they are.
actions of the Government of Colombia are legal and constitutional, and are not
a violation of human rights, then I think they're a legitimate response to this
kind of vicious attack by armed groups, in most cases supported by illicit
activities like narcotrafficking and kidnapping. Those are the two major
sources of income of the FARC, the ELN and the AUC -- narcotrafficking and
kidnapping. And what these groups are, is they're organized crime syndicates. I
don't think they have any kind of an ideology. If they did, 30-40 years ago, it
would have been sort of Stalinist. And it may still be, because they haven't had
much interaction with the outside world except for terrorist instructors who
have come to them, such as, for example, three IRA bomb-makers who were captured
in Colombia by the Colombian Government teaching the FARC how to make more
powerful bombs; one of whom, by the way, was the resident IRA representative in
Havana, which I think is certainly worth somebody looking into as to the
connections. What are the connections between the IRA and other groups or
countries such as Cuba, which is still on the U.S. Government's terrorist, or
list of terrorist-sponsored states, sponsoring states.
QUESTION: Just to come
back to my question, please. Has the Department asked any cooperation to the
Brazilian officials regarding that matter of the selling of nuclear material
during the '80s?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY REICH: Well, as I said,
I just learned about that today, and I learned about it right here when I came
in, so don't know if the Department has or has not. I'm sorry I can't help you.
I just found out about it.
QUESTION: What are you thinking of when you talk about
demagogues in the region that take advantage of poverty to make false promises?
Anybody special you were talking about?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY REICH: No, nobody in
particular. No. Just use your imagination. But it's not new. I mean, one of my
many vices is that I've been studying Latin American issues for 30-some years,
and you know, you go back to the history of the hemisphere and it's full of
demagogues. I mean not that Latin America has a monopoly on demagogues; they're
spread pretty evenly around the world. It's just that I happen to have studied
more of them, I suppose. So it's nothing new. You know, you want an example?
Fidel Castro, I suppose. But there have been many, many others. Okay? Well,
thank you very much.
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September 23, 2002