Town Hall at George Washington University
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs
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MODERATOR: (Inaudible.) It’s pioneering. It’s the first time that we’re taking advantage of these 21st century technologies, and it’s really amazing. This event is livestreamed in Spanish, English, and Portuguese, and it’s allowing broad participation throughout the hemisphere.
Through embassy networks and our own outreach efforts, we are joined by at least 15 universities, as well as student federations and NGOs from throughout the region. Embassies and consulates have organized more than 20 viewing partners in various countries throughout the region. So in all, about 1,500 people will be joining us for this digital town hall. It doesn’t look like that here, but that’s the numbers, 1,500 people.
We’re delighted, for example, that Guatemala’s youth-directed NGO, Guatemala Visible, is with us, as is the Diplomatic Academy at Peru’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and also the Centro Franklin in the Dominican Republic. We are thrilled, too, that professors have set up their classes around this event and that students have arranged viewing parties, and most importantly, submitted questions to Assistant Secretary Valenzuela.
Around 100 questions have been submitted to Assistant Secretary Valenzuela, and he will be responding to the questions that have been most frequently asked of him. Other questions will be responded to via social media platforms, so please keep an eye on the Facebook page of the Western Hemisphere Bureau at the State Department.
Assistant Secretary Valenzuela is joined on stage – I hope you can see everybody – by Andrea Devis, and she’s an undergraduate student here at GW, and Amanda Milarío, who is a graduate student in the Latin American Hemispheric Studies program here at GW. Andrea and Amanda are our moderators for the event, and they will be alternating between questions from you, our live audience, and questions submitted virtually.
We’ll have time for only about two to three questions from our live audience, so if your question isn’t answered, please send it from your smartphone or from your computer, again, to the Western Hemisphere Affairs Facebook page, where Assistant Secretary Valenzuela is going to continue over the next few days to respond to these questions. But for now, do set your phones to silent so we won’t have any interruptions during the event.
Again, this is the first time that the State Department has organized an event of this kind of media nature using new media. So it’s very exciting, and we’re hoping that this will set an example for other departments in the State Department so that soon, these new technologies will be taken advantage of much more broadly within the U.S. Government.
It’s now my honor to introduce Assistant Secretary Valenzuela. Assistant Secretary Valenzuela is known to many of us as Professor Valenzuela. For many years, he was professor of government and director of the Center for Latin American Studies at Georgetown University. He is a renowned scholar. As I think most of you here know, he’s the author, or co-author, of nine books with vast expertise on the dynamics of democratization, on electoral systems, political parties, U.S.-Latin American relations. I think many of you here know his classic book on the breakdown of democracy in Chile, one of the most frequently cited books in all of Latin American politics. Also, he is – has served in both the Clinton Administration and now in the Obama Administration. During the Clinton Administration, he was the Latin American expert at both the White House and also at the State Department. And now he’s, of course, the most senior official for Latin America at the State Department.
Let me add, too, that at a personal level, I have known Arturo for many years. And he is both brilliant and very engaging. He is a great guy. So that’s really terrific that we can welcome him, and I do want to welcome Professor, Doctor, Director, Assistant Secretary Arturo Valenzuela. Thank you. (Applause.)
ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Thanks so much, Cynthia, for that very, very kind introduction. I’m absolutely delighted to be here at George Washington University, but also not only at George Washington University but also reaching out to all of you who are joining us in this virtual town meeting. That’s something we couldn’t have done 10 years ago and that we can do now with all the technologies that we have at our disposition to communicate instantly with one another. And indeed, that’s what we want to try to be able to do with all of you.
It’s a delight to see students again. I miss my teaching. At some point, I will go back to it. It’s a different world, a world of policy, but it’s always important to see how the world of, sort of, universities and thinking and reflection can meld with the world of policy.
Let me just simply say something very quickly about what – how we see the Americas. As Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, I am in charge of all of the countries of the Americas, including Canada. And we really see a continent on the move. We are very excited about the Western Hemisphere and the Americas. This is going to be a great year for the Americas. In fact we’re talking about 5.9 percent, maybe six percent, growth rates next year. This is an extraordinary achievement.
Maybe the century of the Americas is the 21st century. People talk about the century of Asia, but in Latin America there’s a lot of momentum, a lot of movement. Latin America has weathered the financial crisis much better than other places in the world. And let’s remember that this wasn’t the case that long ago. In the 1980s, we had authoritarian regimes in practically all of the countries of the Western Hemisphere, in South America, Central America. We had a debt crisis. We had civil conflicts in Central America. We also had what was known as the lost decade of the 1980s, with a severe debt crisis, where Latin America invented the concept of stagflation, with high, high levels of inflation. In fact, I carry a 500,000 cruzado bill in my wallet to remind myself of what that was at the time. And high levels of inflation but also very low growth rates. And that’s changed around significantly.
The reforms of the 1990s were important. They brought about macroeconomic stabilization policies, trade opening policies, structural adjustment policies that we all know of, and have set the groundwork towards progress. And on the political side, of course, this is the single longest period of democratic governance in the entire history of the countries of Latin America’s independent republics, and that is a really notable achievement. In country after country with very deep – with very shallow democratic traditions, we’ve seen elected governments.
Now, that doesn’t mean that every thing is fine. Quite the contrary; we’d be naïve if we thought that. There are enormous deficits still, particularly on this – in terms of inequality, poverty, of social injustice. And in many ways also, democratic institutions and institutions of governance are still weak. And there are significant challenges, as you know, one of them being not only the issue of poverty and inequality but also citizen security and that kind of thing.
So I want to very briefly in the few minutes that I have – I don’t want to monopolize the conversation. My problem, Cynthia, is that, as a professor, I’m tuned to sort of speak for exactly 50 minutes without stopping. (Laughter.) But I’ll try to keep it brief.
What is our policy towards the region? Our policy towards the region is based on four broad pillars. The first is that we really want to engage with our partners in the Americas on issues of competitiveness, how the economies can grow more. There is a significant deficit in competitiveness in Latin America. And also, we have to address, again as partners, issues of social exclusion, poverty, inequality. Those remain significant challenges.
The second pillar that we take very seriously is what any survey in – throughout the Americas will suggest is the primary concern of citizens, and that is the problem of insecurity – crime, drug trafficking, gangs, and that kind of thing. And this is particularly the case in places like Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean, but also in other areas. And we want to effectively have policies towards that as well.
Thirdly, we’re very much focused on alternative energies and climate change as a significant threat. Unless we really, really come to terms with those, it’s going to be very difficult to have the kind of sustainable development that we foresee for the future.
And then finally, the fourth pillar is really how do we make democratic governance work better? How do we strengthen state capacity to be able to respond, in fact, to the challenges that we face?
Now how are we approaching this dialogue? With mutual respect. This is a time when we’re not going in and telling people what to do. We’re not out there to lecture anybody on this. We’re really seeking to have mutually respectful partnerships with the countries of the Americas, based on a sense of co-responsibility. We’re all in this together.
For the U.S. – and I’ll finish with this – for the U.S., the Americas are a vital interest. It is a very, very important area. Forty-three percent of U.S. trade goes to the Americas. That trade is now $1.5 trillion. The North American Free Trade Agreement is the largest trading area in the world. Mexico this year is going to achieve with the United States, its commercial relationships; exports to the United States are going to reach $400 billion. That’s $25 billion back at the beginning of NAFTA; today, $400 billion. So there’s an enormous amount of exchange. That’s in the interest of the United States to maintain that momentum and that progress.
Ultimately, the success, stability, growth, achievements of the countries of the Americas is the fundamental interest of the United States and we want to try to work that with our partners in a respectful fashion. That’s what our policy is about.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much for outlining – for your opening remarks and for outlining the clear relationship between the U.S. and the countries of the hemisphere. I mean, it is very hard to deny, with our geographic proximity and our shared values, how close we are. I mean, not to mention cultural and commercial and demographic ties. I mean, this is precisely why we are having this conversation, because it’s very important for us of the youth here in the United States, as well as in the countries of the hemisphere, to realize the impact we can have with students in shaping the region and thus securing the prosperity of our societies.
Having said that, beyond this live audience here today at George Washington University, we are being joined, as was mentioned by Dr. McClintock, live via Livestream throughout the entire hemisphere, U.S. embassies as well as consulates have organized viewing parties to be able to participate in this event, so we want to give a shout out to Toronto, Canada; Juarez, Guadalajara, Mexico; San Salvador, El Salvador; Guatemala City, Guatemala, Tegucigalpa, Nicaragua; Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; Managua, Nicaragua; Bogota, Colombia; as well as Caracas, Venezuela; Lima, Peru, Asuncion, Paraguay; and last but not least, Santiago, Chile.
So having –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: (In Spanish.) Saludos a todos. (Laughter.)
MODERATOR: So having all this wide audience, our goal today is definitely to address as many questions and issues as possible and trying to include all our mediums. We will take questions from the audience today. Also, there we will – I think become some from Livestream and some from our YouTube platform. Amanda and I will open the floor, so we encourage all of you to take this opportunity and ask your question to Dr. Valenzuela. Just raise your hand and a microphone will be brought to you.
However, we, for the sake of our kind translators in the back, we do ask for you to state your question in English. Last but not least, we are streaming this live, Tweeting this live, at the address shown on both of your side screens. So if any instantaneous question does come to mind, please write us.
What are we waiting for? Let’s get this conversation started.
MODERATOR: Thank so much, Andrea. We’re going to start things off with a video – video question submitted. It’s submitted by (inaudible) of George Washington University. So let’s see that question.
QUESTION: (In Portuguese.)
MODERATOR: And for everyone who doesn’t speak Portuguese – (laughter) – myself included, unfortunately – should Brazil use more of its power regionally in South America, especially with respect to Venezuela and its attitude towards the FARC and other countries and Chavez in general?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Listen, it’s obviously a decision for the Brazilians to take in terms of how they conduct their own foreign policy towards the hemisphere, and that’s the case with all sovereign countries. But certainly, Brazil has played a very constructive role and continues to play a very constructive role in the Western Hemisphere.
And when it comes to things like boundary disputes, or when it comes to conflicts between countries, it’s very, very important for all of us to stand up and make it clear that we want a Western Hemisphere at peace where, if difficulties arise between countries, that these are solved peacefully. And I think that all of us, including Brazil and others, have a role in doing so. There are also organizations, like the Organization of American States, UNASUR, other organizations that can play constructive roles in this respect.
MODERATOR: Thank you, (inaudible). Regional stability is certainly very important. We will now take our first question live.
MODERATOR: Hi. Do we have the runners? Raise your hands high so we can see.
QUESTION: Thank you. Good morning, Dr. Valenzuela. It’s a pleasure being with you here. Congratulations to George Washington University and especially to Cynthia McClintock for promoting this event. My question would be related to the recent agreements between Venezuela and Iran and about their impact in the Andean region. As you know, they are agreements basically on nuclear facilities. And also, Iran has been accused of being supporting or working tactically with the FARC, the terrorist government in Colombia that also, according to the media, has been supported by Chavez of Venezuela. So I would like to know your impression about the impact of these agreements in the Andean region. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Thank you very much for the question. Look, every country has a right to develop a peaceful nuclear program, and that certainly is the policy of the United States. But as you are aware, the United States has had some significant concerns over Iran’s nuclear policy. And the United Nations Security Council has made very clear that Iran needs to become much more transparent with regard to its own nuclear program. And it’s something that is of very high importance.
There’s nothing more serious in the current environment, in our world in the 21st century, than the problem of nuclear proliferation and the possibility that nuclear weapons could get into the hands of particularly non-state actors. So this is very significant. And that, in turn, means that we expect countries also to meet with their own obligations with regard to nonproliferation issues and to push back on the Iranian ambitions in this regard. So we find it not constructive for countries to engage with Iran in disregard for these international obligations that all countries have.
And let me just say that Iran has made an attempt to engage more with countries in Latin America. Obviously, countries have a right to engage with other countries. But we do look with significant concern at Iran’s ambitions because of what I already outlined earlier, Iran’s noncompliance with the international community on such a critical matter as nuclear technology and their nuclear ambitions.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Dr. Valenzuela. And along the same vein of the conversation, we’re actually going to take a video question submitted by Luis (ph) in Brazil.
QUESTION: Hello. My name is Luis (inaudible). I’m 17 and I have a question. We know the Cold War finished in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall. However, (inaudible) Socialist government, which (inaudible) in other countries such and China and Cuba, if the Socialists increase this power (inaudible) a second cold war, what would be the influence of this issue to the rest of America? The extreme students would suffer any kind of retaliation? Thank for the opportunity to question.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Thank you very much for your question. Those of you – of us who experienced, perhaps, the height of the Cold War – and that sort of dates a few of us in this room – certainly understand that the danger of returning to that kind of a cold war is very, very, very minimal. That was a period when there were two utopias essentially in conflict, a kind of a Marxist-Socialist vision of the world versus and kind of a capitalist, liberal democratic vision of the world. That kind of conflict is – with the collapse of the Soviet Union and with the collapse of what was known as the real socialism, sort of socialismos reales, as we could translate into Spanish – that has pretty much disappeared.
Now, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t significant challenges still in the world with authoritarianism, with countries that have totalitarian sorts of tendencies. But I think that what we see more broadly is a coming together – countries that used to be very much sort of Marxist. You mentioned China is developing a very significant, in some ways capitalist sector. It – and so the trend tends to be more towards a greater commonality on the part of economic systems in the world, and we need to continue to encourage that. So I don’t see this sharp division that you outlined. I don’t think that it is a danger. I think that we see democratic and free market institutions strengthening throughout the world.
MODERATOR: Okay, thanks. I mean, rather on economic commonality, Luis. We will take the next question from Asuncion, Paraguay. Our contact asks: What is the new vision of U.S. foreign policy in relation to Mercosur countries? Have we really become more equal partners or do we continue to be your backyard?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Well, look, no country wants to be anybody else’s backyard. (Laughter.) And we certainly understand that, and that is not the way we view any country in the Western Hemisphere or anyplace else in the world. We want to engage with countries, and very much with Paraguay. We have a very good relationship with President Lugo and with the government in Paraguay, with sectors even of the opposition in Paraguay, because when we engage with societies, we engage with the governments but also we have broad relationships across the board. We want to engage in a respectful fashion. We want to be valued partners to try to resolve problems of mutual interest as we move forward.
And then that leads me to just simply conclude by saying that Mercosur, we welcome Mercosur. And we welcome Mercosur as an effort on the part of countries of the southern part of South America to build a much better and more effective economic integration system that’s good for those countries. And if it’s good for those countries, it’s good for the United States.
MODERATOR: All right, perfect. Thanks so much. We’re going to shift gears a little bit and take a question from one of our own GW sophomores, Ariel Kersky (ph). So let’s see that video.
QUESTION: Hi, my name is Ariel Kersky, and I’m at a sophomore at the George Washington University. And my question is: Con respecto a la población indígena, hay muchos países como Bolivia y Guatemala donde la mayoría de las personas son indígenas. Sin embargo, estos grupos son los más pobres de sus propios países. También, hay una amenaza de que los gobiernos tomaran su tierra. Mi pregunta es: Hay algo que los Estados Unidos haga para ayudar a los indígenas? Trabajarán con los gobiernos de Latinoamérica para mejorar el bienestar de estas personas?
MODERATOR: And just to reiterate, Ariel was asking: How will the U.S. work with countries like Bolivia and Guatemala to protect the rights of indigenous peoples?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Well, as I said at the beginning, one of the key pillars of our policy is to address issues of social exclusion, whether it’s through the Inter-American Social Protection Network and with various other strategies that we have, as well as doing it with our own assistance on a bilateral basis with each of the countries. There’s nothing more important than addressing the problems, not only of the poor but also of certain particular groups within these societies, whether it’s Afro-descendants, whether it’s indigenous populations that have been traditionally left out of the mainstream and that really require more attention on the part of governments and the international community to bring them in as real citizens of these societies where they can make significant contributions.
Let me say that we see a very positive trend in that direction in the sense that more and more countries are taking this seriously and that there is an effort to reduce poverty levels. This has been a decade where there’s also been a significant reduction in poverty on the basis – in many countries because of very effective poverty reduction mechanisms, and we continue to support those sorts of things.
MODERATOR: Okay. And I guess expanding on that point of social exclusion and coming back to American policy here regarding to yesterday’s midterm election, we have a question from Kareen CiCi (ph) at the American Society and the Council of the Americas. She asks: If this election worsens the political climate surrounding immigration and the possibility of immigration reform, what effect do you believe it would have on our relations with Latin American countries, which react strongly against Arizona’s immigration law?
UNDER SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Well, look, a couple of quick points. One is that it’s far more constructive when U.S. foreign policy is a bipartisan foreign policy. And I think that that is something that we should strive for and we should look to try to achieve, and particularly with Latin America. There is no reason why we should have significant differences between Republicans and Democrats, and it’s our commitment to try to see how we can work more effectively on a bipartisan fashion with regard to critical foreign policy equities that we have in the Western Hemisphere.
With regard to immigration, this is an important domestic issue in the United States. The President is committed to bringing about comprehensive immigration reform. This is of importance in our relationships with countries like Mexico and in countries in Central America and other places like that. And I hope that we’re going to be able to move forward domestically to try to, in fact, enact immigration reform.
MODERATOR: Okay. And that question really highlights the close linkages between the United States and America and how politics in our country affect Latin America, so we appreciate that question.
Right now, we are going to take a question from our livestream in the back.
QUESTION: Thank you. This question comes regarding Chinese involvement in Latin America. The question regards how can we, as countries in Latin America work together with the Chinese to involve them in what’s going on, at the same time, balancing the role of the United States? Thank you.
UNDER SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Thanks very much for that question. I was privileged in August to go to China for a consultative mechanism that the United States has with the Chinese on Latin America, so I met with my counterparts in the Chinese Foreign Ministry, also in the Ministry of International Commerce in China, with some of the Latin American ambassadors in Beijing and others to discuss the policy that China has towards Latin America and to discuss our policy towards Latin America.
Let me say one thing very clearly: We certainly welcome the effort on the part of countries in Latin America to export more to other countries, including China; that we welcome investment opportunities that countries might seek as well. The United States remains the single largest exporter towards Latin America. Forty-three percent of all our exports worldwide go towards Latin America. And 37 percent of all direct investment in Latin America comes from the United States. The United States still plays a very, very significant role. But a country like Brazil and a country like Chile, for example, have really significantly benefited by very important exports to China. What does this do? If there’s greater commerce, if there’s greater exports, if there’s greater investments, this helps to improve living standards throughout the Americas, and that is good for all of us.
MODERATOR: Perfect. Thank you. The next question comes from a student at the University of Chile. The individual asks: Haiti faced recently a devastating earthquake, and how is it dealing with the cholera outbreak right now? If real change doesn’t come of the November elections and there continue to delay the daunting economic, social and demographic development, how long can MINUSTAH remain on the ground? Are there alternative options and do exist and do alternative options exist? And what would be the role of the United States?
UNDER SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Well, that has about five or six questions there – (laughter) – but I’ll try my best to wrap them up very closely. Obviously, the earthquake in Haiti was probably the single greatest catastrophe that has ever happened in the Western Hemisphere, historically. And it was just in one – in two minutes the equivalent of 10 million people in the United States, in terms of population difference, would have died, and that is just so devastating. And Haiti has had weak institutions and had weak economic conditions in the past. So to overcome those after this earthquake is a significant challenge.
The elections will be important. It’s important for Haiti to stabilize its governing authority. The United States remains extremely committed and strongly committed to Haiti. But I perceive that also other countries in the Western Hemisphere that have been so important in Haiti. And I’m referring to countries like Brazil, for example. Or we forget often that Uruguay is the second-largest peacekeeper in the world in terms of the size of its own population. And other countries in the Americas have been continuing to cooperate with Haiti. And we see that continuing as we move forward because we are hopeful that we can begin to turn the corner on Haiti despite the difficulties.
MODERATOR: Perfect. Thank you so much. At this time, we’re going to take a video question submitted by Michelle Marshall (ph) from here at George Washington University.
QUESTION: My name is Michelle Marshall from the George Washington University. According to some figures, the U.S. provides more aid to certain countries outside of our hemisphere than it provides to all of Latin America combined. How is this spending justified, and how does it affect our image within our own region as many neighboring countries continue to develop?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Well, that’s a very good question. It’s a complex one because in some ways it does depend on what aid consists of. In some cases, for example, one can make a tremendous difference not with large amounts of money but with trying to come up with effective programs of assistance. If you’re talking, for example, about things like judicial reform that are so important in areas like Central America, often this doesn’t require large amounts of money. It requires the ability to get in very effective kinds of programs. So it’s not the overall amount of money that really counts.
There’s a significant amount of commitment on the part of the United States. Our budget for Latin America on assistance is about $2 billion. That does pale by comparison with other regions in the world, but we think it’s effective if we can also combine it with that of our partners. And we are in continuous conversation, for example, with the European Union, with other Europeans, with the Canadians and others to see how we can better address some of the development assistance issues in Latin America.
And then there’s a great paradox, and you mentioned the importance of the ties between our societies in terms of the populations from Latin America, particularly Central America and Mexico, living in the United States. Today, $62 billion returns from the United States through the remittances to the countries of Latin America. That 62 billion is larger than the entire assistance of the United States in the world, which is about $40 billion. That shows the commitment of families and it also gets back to your question about how we also need to address things like migration reform. Thanks.
MODERATOR: Yeah, and in addition to those remittances, there is also a sort of side aspect that comes from the – on the ground. And this question comes from (inaudible) in Santo Domingo, from the Dominican Republic, and it was submitted by the U.S. Embassy via the Santo Domingo’s Facebook page. (Inaudible) asks: If the United States knows federal governments are corrupt and that the money that you lend us is being poorly used, or sometimes even robbed altogether, why do you continue to lend us money? This is further impoverishing of our countries. How do you – what is your reaction to that question or statement?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Well, look, it is a challenge to strengthen, as I mentioned earlier that one of our pillars in our foreign policy assistance is the whole question of strengthening democratic governance and that kind of thing. By that, we mean capacity. It means better taxation systems. It means better practices to go after, in fact, corrupt practice and this sort of thing. It is a problem. Ultimately, it’s a problem that the countries themselves have to resolve. And increasingly, the international community is putting down more conditions in that regard. So you’ve got – for example, the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s approach to these sorts of things, is that we’re going to provide assistance but you also have to show us some benchmarks of improvement in areas like this so that we can give confidence not just to the governments but also to the citizens, like the young man that asked the question that, in fact, the assistance is provided to authorities that in turn will be able to spend them wisely.
MODERATOR: Great. Thanks. And continuing along the theme of economics in Latin America, we have a video question submitted by JC (ph) of George Washington University.
QUESTION: Hi. My name is JC. I’m from George Washington University. My question is: Free trade agreements that are unpopular in Latin America, in countries such as Chile as well as Mexico – going forward in the future, is the United States interested in free trade agreements with other countries in Latin America? And if so, what would these countries be? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Look, trade lifts all boats. I think that economists have figured that out a long, long time ago. The question is also how you do agreements and how you mitigate the impact that certain kinds of free trade agreements have on particularly vulnerable populations, particularly rural populations and so on. And so as we move forward, we’ve tried to come up with free trade agreements that consider very significantly labor rights and consider significantly environmental rights and things like that.
And it’s our commitment to continue to try to find how we can move forward to have a free trade regime throughout the Americas. That’s the commitment. Some of you know that there are a couple of free trade agreements that are stalled right now; one is with Panama and the other one is with Colombia. And the President and the Secretary of State have made it very clear that we are going to move forward with those free trade agreements when we are able to do so here in Washington.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Shifting gears from economic trade agreements, we would like to tackle the theme of security. This question comes from Guatemala Visible, a nongovernmental organization in Guatemala. They ask: Please describe the status of Central America Regional Security Initiative also known as CARSI.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Well, look, we’ve spent a significant amount of effort in communicating with our colleagues in Central America. I just got back from a trip to Central America. The Secretary of State has been there a couple of times. She had a meeting with the presidents of the Central American nations in Guatemala this past year and we are moving forward more significantly to strengthening CARSI, which is the regional security initiative for Central America because unless we are able to focus on Central America as well as Mexico and Colombia, things are going to get worse in Central America in terms of their security challenges. And as we make progress with Mexico and we make progress with Colombia, it’s really important to focus on Central America.
And what are we looking at there? We’re looking at the same sorts of things we do elsewhere. This is not just about fighting drugs, gangs, and cartels and criminal organizations. It’s also about strengthening institutions, police, judicial systems and things like that. But it’s also about making sure that there are public policies that address the problems of youth that don’t have opportunities and that sort of thing. So it has to be an integrated approach. Our approach both on the drug issue and on the criminal issue focuses on an integrated multi-pronged approach. It’s the only way to go forward.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you. And now we’re going to go to a video question submitted by Katie McConnick (ph) of GWU.
QUESTION: I’m Katie McConnick. I’m a student at the George Washington University. My question is: What do you perceive the impact of joint Russian-Latin American naval exercises in the hemisphere is for U.S. foreign policy?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: My impression is that there aren’t that many of those sorts of exercises, but obviously, countries have a sovereign right to make agreements and to carry out exercises with other countries. And on that basis, it’s not something that concerns us. And in fact, we do have naval exercises – the United States does – with countries throughout the Americas on a very routine basis. So this is something that’s often done internationally among states. And for us it’s not a problem.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Oh, we just received a sign from the back. We’re going to take one question livestream.
QUESTION: So this question comes from our embassy in San Salvador. They have a group of students there who are tuning in and they’re interested to know what sort of opportunities are available in terms of scholarship for students coming from Latin America, and if those opportunities may be growing sometime in the future.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Well, thanks so much for the question because one thing that we really take seriously – and I think that this town hall reflects that – and that is we want to be much more in touch not only with people throughout the hemisphere but particularly with youth, and see how we can use some of these new media technologies to communicate better, through Twitter, through Facebook, through YouTube, and other things like that. But education has to be a very, very important part.
I mentioned earlier that one of our pillars is the business of competitiveness. How do we – how do you achieve competitiveness through strengthening of education? And one of our significant concerns is to see how we can make contributions to better educational opportunities in Latin America. And that’s through English language training, for example, that we’re doing through a series of different programs, but also to provide opportunities for individuals, as you suggested.
In various countries, we have an ambassadors program, where high school students can become part of this program and travel to the United States. And there are hundreds of students who’ve been able to – high school students who’ve been able to come to the United States through the U.S. Ambassador Program.
And then remember that, through Fulbright commissions – 23 countries have Fulbright commissions; we want to expand that – between 1,500 and 1,800 students travel between the United States and Latin America for further study. We want to encourage that. And our universities in the United States very much want to have diverse student bodies and are welcoming international students from the entire region. So we would like to encourage you to do that.
And then at some point, you could also, if you’re interested in international affairs, particularly those of you here, look into the opportunities that we provide in the State Department for internships and things like that. Ten thousand people applied for internships in the State Department last year, and these are wonderful opportunities for those of you who are interested in international affairs.
MODERATOR: Thank you. I mean, you have certainly touched – we have certainly touched upon a lot of things today – security, economics, policy. So, I mean, some question must be brewing in our audience’s mind, so we’re going to open it up to you and see who is willing to ask away.
QUESTION: As you stated, 43 percent of our trade overall goes to Latin America. And we see ourselves not in a cold war. Nowadays, it’s been more of an economic cold war with China. So does the U.S. see China – not in relation to Latin America, but to ourselves – as a threat entering into Latin American economics?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Well, as I said earlier, we don’t see it as a threat. We see this as an opportunity for countries to get more investment, to send exports. The Chileans, for example, account for 20 percent of all exports from Latin America to China, and it’s copper. The problem for Latin American countries right now is the Chinese are primarily interested in raw materials. And they’re primarily interested in iron ore, they’re primarily interested in soy beans, and they’re primarily interested in copper. And Latin American countries want to, if they’re going to really progress, that they’re going to want to be able to export finished goods as well as simply raw materials. And so they’re going to have to work out some kind of an agreement. The Chinese are going to have to, I guess, also be interested in importing finished goods from Latin America if China is going to play more of a role in its commercial exchange with Latin America.
MODERATOR: It looks like we have time for another video. This next video comes from Caracas, Venezuela, submitted by Rodrigo Diamante (ph).
QUESTION: Hi. My name is Rodrigo Diamante. I’m from Caracas, Venezuela. And my question is, I would like to know which is the position of the United States Government about the over 30 political prisoners (inaudible).
ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Well, thanks for the question. We track – through the work that we do on human rights and so on, we track cases throughout the hemisphere, and we encourage countries to resolve issues like this in accord with their own – with due process of law, which is a fundamental human right. So we are concerned about cases like these.
MODERATOR: Okay. Do we have another question from the audience? Please state your name and university before asking your question.
QUESTION: Thank U.S. and Secretary Valenzuela. My name is Philipe Estefan (ph) and I am with the Syracuse University’s public diplomacy program. I was hoping I could ask you a question about my home country of Colombia. I know you were just there, and I was hoping if you could tell us a little bit of what is your assessment of the current human rights situation in Colombia, what is the United States Government doing with the government of Colombia to improve the human rights situation, and whether the human rights situation in Colombia can affect other items of the bilateral relation like energy or technological exchange.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Thanks very much for your question. You’re right; I just got back from a trip to Colombia. I went with Deputy Secretary Steinberg. In fact, it was a very good trip because it underscored the density of the relationship between the United States and Colombia. And this is something – this relationship between Colombia and the United States is now no longer simply about just security issues but about a whole range of things, including human rights.
In fact, I chaired the bilateral session with Vice President Garzon, the vice president of Colombia that focused specifically on human rights questions. And we spent about four hours going through a whole host of issues. And there are – they explained to us the steps that they’re taking in order to improve the human rights situation in Colombia. And we welcome the efforts on the part of the Santos Administration to address human rights questions, to in fact defend human rights defenders, as President Santos himself did when he issued a statement, for example, condemning attacks on WOLA, the Washington Office on Latin America, which is a very prominent human rights organization here in Washington.
So we look forward to this continued dialogue with Colombia on a range of issues. We have about five or six important issues – have to do with climate, have to do with science and technology, have to do with to do with security issues, that have to do with trade and so on, but where human rights is really a very significant part of our engagement.
MODERATOR: And then now we’re going to take a question from the back.
QUESTION: Thank you. This question comes from one of our Facebook fans, actually. They’re wondering about the impact of nontraditional security issues like water, energy, and food security in the region. Could you comment?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Absolutely critical. When I mentioned earlier that one of our pillars is alternative energy and climate change and so on, within that sort of that rubric, what the Administration has emphasized are some of the global initiatives, where climate change, of course, is absolutely critical. It deals with issues like deforestation. We have to work much more carefully on mitigation. We need to make some significant progress in that regard. But food security is a very, very important problem. If we don’t address food security, there are significant populations that are left out.
And let me add to that that within our programs, we have particular concerns. The Secretary of State, Secretary Clinton, emphasizes in all of her work particular programs that address the problems of women and the role of women, and also the role of young people. And without programs that specifically focus on groups like women and youth, it’s going to be very difficult for us to overcome some of the deficits that we find in our societies, in our own as well as abroad.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Dr. Valenzuela, for all your answers. Sadly, we have run out of time. We would like to thank everyone for coming and for tuning in. Do you have any closing remarks?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Well, let me just simply say that thank you, both of you, for the wonderful work. Thanks to George Washington University and for the enthusiasm that you’ve put into this, for the excellent questions that you have raised, and for the participation of all of you, not only in this auditorium but all through our embassies and in our other venues. I look forward to maybe trying to do something like this. Do follow us on Twitter. Do follow us on Facebook. We try to stay in touch that way. If you’re in a course and you’re doing a course on U.S.-Latin American relations, the links to our information will be very valuable and very useful to you. And you can follow me in my own travels as well.
MODERATOR: Perfect. Thank you so much, Dr. Valenzuela. Thank you to everyone here in our live audience, and thank you to everyone tuned in live online. Unfortunately, we couldn’t take everyone’s questions today, so to continue the discussion, please leave your questions on the Western Hemisphere Affairs Facebook page.
I’d like to take this opportunity to invite everyone upstairs to the second floor of this building. We’re going to have a reception where State Department employees will be on hand to talk about careers at the State Department. And on behalf of the Elliott School of International Affairs and the George Washington University, thank you all for your active participation today. (Applause.)