Remarks
Arturo Valenzuela
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs
Washington, DC
June 2, 2011


MR. TONER: Good afternoon. Actually, we have a special guest with us to lead off the briefing. Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela has come down to talk a bit about the decision yesterday to readmit – (laughter) – okay, go ahead, that’s okay – to readmit Honduras into the OAS. Without further ado – and he’ll also be able to take just a few questions, and then I believe he’s got another interview he’s running off to.

Arturo.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Thanks very much. Thanks. What I’d like to do is first read a statement that the Secretary put out late last evening:

“The United States welcomes yesterday’s decision by members of the Organization of American States, OAS, to lift the suspension of Honduras’ participation in the organization. This moment has been long in coming. It’s an important milestone for Honduras, for the OAS, and for the Americas.

“The crisis and coup in Honduras was a test for the OAS in its ability to act swiftly and decisively to safeguard our shared democratic values. The Inter-American Democratic Charter was invoked. Honduras was suspended. Thanks to the steadfast efforts of President Lobo and his commitment to national reconciliation, and the tireless efforts of several OAS member states, democracy was restored. This accomplishment has strengthened the OAS’s ability to deal with future challenges to democracy and the threat they pose to peace and prosperity. But there’s more work to be done.

“A return to the OAS allows Honduras to resume its rightful place in the American system to help other countries in the hemisphere address common challenges and seize new opportunities. Honduras's Government and people have the tools to improve governance, strengthen democratic institutions, and safeguard human rights so that all Hondurans have the chance for a brighter future.”

That’s the end of the statement. And I’m happy to take any questions you might have.

QUESTION: A lot of reports of lingering human rights abuses in Honduras by the government. Is that still an issue of concern for you?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Yes. It is an issue of concern for us. We take it very seriously. We also applaud the fact that President Lobo, for example, has appointed a minister of justice and human rights to specifically address these questions. But there are some really significant problems in Honduras in this regard. Part of it is due to the fact that Honduras is facing also a very significant crisis with the criminal organizations and the narcotics trafficking organizations there. But human rights is a very important objective for the U.S. Government and it’s an important objective for the Honduran Government as well.

QUESTION: Talking about drug trafficking and the impact in Central America, do you have any comment on this report on the Global Commission on Drug Policy that recommends really to – dramatic changes in how governments address drug trafficking and the problem of drug abuse?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: We’re aware of these efforts that these commissions have been making. Our position is very clear on this, that we support an integrated strategy, a comprehensive strategy, in combating the problems of drugs and drug trafficking. We have to look not only at issues of elimination of the cultivation of drugs and eradication, interception, and that sort of thing, but we also have to approach this with a focus on the demand side, and this is the policy of the Administration in this regard.

And we’re working very effectively, I think now, with our partners in the region to address these issues in a comprehensive way. It’s also an international problem, so more and more we’re working with others to try to see how we can have a coordinated strategy. And more specifically – and I’ll end with this – with regard to Central America, we’re very, very concerned about the situation, and this relates back to the importance of Honduras returning to the OAS. As you know, next week there will be a regular general assembly of the Organization of American States. It will deal with security kinds of issues in the region, and we will certainly be addressing the problems of drug trafficking.

MS. FULTON: Okay. If there are no further questions, we’ll move on to the regular briefing. (Inaudible.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Thanks very much.

MR. TONER: Thank you so much, Arturo. Thank you.

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PRN: 2011/890