Interview
Arturo Valenzuela
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs
Washington, DC
June 27, 2011


DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS CHERYL BENTON: So I kept promising, and guess who’s walking down the hall on his way in the door? And we’ve already given you his bio and made his introduction. So Arturo will walk through the door any second. Here he goes. Come on up. (Applause.)

Good. How are you, dear?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Very good, thanks. Good to see you. (Laughter.) Thanks very much for this opportunity to share some brief remarks with you. I had the privilege and I see some faces here from folks who were in Jamaica last week when the Secretary had a meeting with Caribbean foreign ministers. This was the second meeting that she’s had with the Caribbean foreign ministers; the previous one, the previous year, was in Barbados, and it was a meeting that the Secretary really, really wanted to do. She fitted it into her incredibly busy schedule because of her commitment to the Caribbean, her concern over what is developing in the Caribbean, both on the positive side as well as on some of the negative side. And she, as I say, was very, very committed to this meeting. We were delighted that it actually took place, and so I just, in fact, had the privilege of accompanying her from a meeting of the Central American Security Initiative in Guatemala the previous day and then this trip to the Caribbean.

At the meeting, she said that she was delighted to do it because it meant that now she’s established the precedent of having a foreign ministers meeting with the foreign ministers of the Caribbean on a yearly basis. And she pledged that, in fact, she would go back again next year. And this is the kind of level of engagement that I know she’s wanted to do. When she asked me to do this job several months ago – it seems like, sometimes, a decade ago – she did say, look, one of the things that I’m most, most concerned about is that we pay the kind of attention that we should be paying to the countries of the Caribbean.

And let me just say at the outset that the policy of the United States to the Caribbean is based on the fact that we have real interests in the Caribbean. All foreign policy is based on interests, and what are our fundamental interests with regard to the countries of the Caribbean? Our fundamental interests with regards to the countries of the Caribbean is that the countries of the Caribbean be successful – that they be successful, that they are able to meet the challenges they face. We have too much in common, we share too many binds, and there are so many things that bring us together. And of course, the success of the countries of the Caribbean is in the fundamental national security interests of the United States.

And our policy is a broad one. It’s one that touches on a whole range of issues. I remember very well the meeting in Barbados – previous year – where I also accompanied the Secretary, where we discussed at some length at that particular meeting issues of youth at risk, for example, where we were quite impressed by the efforts that various countries were making to try to address this particular problem, both through effective state policy, state actions, as well as through the work of civil society organization and the – addressing the fundamental economic and social issues that are challenges for countries of the Caribbean is a cornerstone of U.S. policy.

We’re mindful of the fact that there are other challenges as well, and at the meeting in Jamaica just this past week, the Secretary announced that the Caribbean Climate Change Initiative – and in fact I was really quite taken myself at the length of time that was spent at the meeting with the foreign ministers discussing issues of climate change with many of the foreign ministers in a very passionate way, arguing that this is a – indeed, not just a priority but an essential issue that speaks to the very survival, really, in some cases, of small island states, which are looking at the whole issue of global warming and its potential implications for the – as I say, for the survival of a way of life in the countries of the Caribbean.

This is something that we’re very much committed to. The Obama Administration made it very clear from the outset that this was going to be a high priority. The President raised it at the meeting of – in Kingston – no, sorry, in Trinidad and Tobago, the Summit of the Americas, when he first came into office. This was in March – April of 2009. And it’s something that we continue to try to work for. We all know that there have been some real challenges at the global level in the discussions on climate change, but there’s a strong commitment on the part of the United States to try to see how we can work with our Caribbean partners to address these issues.

And then we’re mindful, too, of the fact that we share common values – we share values of human rights, we share values of democracy. The countries of the Caribbean have been examples, for the most part. There are – there have been some difficulties and some reversals, and we know about the difficult situation in Cuba, and we’ve known about some of these difficulties, we all are conscious of them. But also the countries that draw on that Westminster tradition and so on and so forth have played a very important role in advancing democratic values in organizations like the Organization of American States. And indeed, it was the countries of the Caribbean that worked, for example, to help Honduras – with others – to come back into the Organization of American States. And then our commitments to fundamental human rights are important as well.

However, having said all that and trying to underscore a very important principle and that is that we have a broad-based foreign policy towards the Caribbean. We are mindful of the fact that, as societies, we’re also very closely, closely linked, and this meeting certainly demonstrates that. And that’s the importance of our conversations with the diaspora. But I’m mindful of this broad range of connections.

What I want to do is just, briefly, mention what we’re doing with regard to security, because at this particular point, if one took a poll as polls have been taken in many places, there’s just simply no question that uppermost in people’s minds throughout the Caribbean is a question of citizen security – the fact that, in many cases, drug traffickers or criminal organizations and so on are overwhelming institutions and making it much more difficult for people to live their lives. And the United States is very conscious of this, and as such, in 2010, the President did launch the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, CBSI, and it’s an effort to deepen cooperation with the Caribbean states themselves as they develop their own strategies, as they work together through their own regional organizations such as CARICOM – is to try to see how, in fact, the United States can better cooperate to try to fight the trafficking organizations, the criminal organizations to improve justice systems and things like that.

This broader CBSI initiative will increase citizen safety by working in three fundamental areas: To substantially reduce illicit trafficking, and by that we mean not only just drug trafficking but other kinds of trafficking, such as trafficking in persons and other sorts of trafficking; advance public safety and security; and of course, promote social justice, because in some ways, all of these go together. We would be engaged in a pyrrhic victory if we just simply found ways to take down criminal organizations, if, in fact, we don’t have strong justice institutions to be able to make sure that the rule of law can remain effective over a period of time. So it’s not just a matter of just bringing down organizations, but to make sure that our institutions work properly.

But at the same time, we have to address the underlying social problems that contribute, then, to a situation such as this. And this, again, goes back to the comment that I made at the beginning on the importance of paying attention, for example, to such things as youth at risk or the condition of women or the condition, also, of marginalized populations. This is something that we’ve been increasing in our own dialogue with the Caribbean, such as, for example, the position of LGBT communities, and that this is something that is a little bit more difficult to discuss, perhaps, in the Caribbean and other places. But we’re concerned about the fact that the overall climate of security also is related to fundamental social issues.

The United States provides more than 45 million to support CBSI in the first year. This is after it was announced. And now, as the Secretary said in her meeting with the foreign ministers last week, she pledged that there would be $77 million allotted towards citizen security alone, and that’s a 70 percent funding increase. And you know very well – I don’t have to tell you – how difficult it is in this town at this particular time in this day and age to try to see how we can plus up additional funds for an international initiative given the enormous budget constraints that the United States Government faces here and the enormous constraints that we face also in our domestic programs. But this is in the fundamental interest of the United States to provide better security assistance to the Caribbean.

Now, how are we implementing this CBSI? What we’ve done is we’ve worked with individual countries, but also with countries as groupings to develop a better regional strategy and a better operational framework based on joint assessments of priorities. And as the program implementation moves forward, we’re continuing to dialogue over technical working groups, which will be follow-up groups designed to ensure effective implementation of different kinds of programs and to identify, indeed, future programs and policy needs. And so we can adjust the policy as we move forward to make sure that we’re being effective in this regard.

And if I could just share with you just very briefly some of the categories that we’re looking at – this is not an exclusive list. But priorities in the first year of CBSI included about $50 million to strengthen Caribbean partners’ ability to control maritime borders. This is by providing interdiction boats, communications equipment, and training. And this again is just what we did in the first year – about $11 million for law enforcement capacity building, through regional data sharing, police professionalization, border security, and other justice sector reform efforts; or $20 million in crime prevention programs focused on education, in programs that divert youth from drugs. Additional prevention initiatives include juvenile justice sector reform, anticorruption measures, community based policing, and the like. I just use those as illustrative of the kind of work that we did in the first year. And as I say, we’re increasing our funding by 70 percent so we will be able to look at this mix of programs and see how we can make them better moving forward.

I think that – I just want to stress that more than just a series of programs, however, this is a collaborative effort that draws and helps develop the capacity of the Caribbean and the United States to, together, better coordinate our common efforts on interrelated challenges. And CBSI also serves as a coordinating venue to attract and incorporate the greatest possible support from extra-regional partners in pursuit of our key objectives.

Now, let me just say a quick word about that. One of the things that we discovered when we were working on Central America in particular, which we also want to try to expand with regard to the Caribbean, is that if you look at the efforts that our other partners in the donor community, aid programs from the European Union or from Spain or from Canada and from others, you find that there really is a significant amount of support. Looking at Central America, when we sort of sat down with our partners, we discovered, for example, that the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank provided perhaps maybe one-third of support in the Central American region, and not just for security issues but also for overall development assistance. The European Union and some of the European partners and Canada provide perhaps another third. The United States, in turn, provides about a third. And it winds up becoming a really significant amount of resources over, if you look at this – what was missing in what we were doing earlier was to better coordinate what we were doing.

And the whole purpose behind our recent initiative in Central America was to see, okay, how can donors countries work more effectively to partner to support strategies that are developed by the Central Americans themselves and through their Central American integration system, because a transnational threat requires transnational responses as well. Individual countries can’t handle these things alone. They really need to have a coordinated strategy. And so what we’re looking at is to see how we can more effectively combine the international support with the kinds of strategies that are being developed in Central America. Something similar is where we want this to move with regard to the Caribbean. There are fewer donors in the Caribbean but there are many that are really – have long-term commitments. So as we develop this cooperation between the United States, through CBSI and other initiatives, we also want to heighten our own dialogue with some of the other partners like the Canadians, for example. They really have a significant commitment to the Caribbean and have done for some time.

What are the next steps ahead? The Bahamas will host a second annual U.S.-Caribbean Security Cooperation Dialogue in Nassau in November 2011. At that dialogue, we’ll review the steps taken so far and see how we come up with this plan that I’ve been talking about to adjust our cooperation as we move forward. We also want to see how we can institutionalize better this process. The United States will work with CARICOM, the regional security system, and other political and security organizations in an effort to strengthen the region’s institutional capacity to effectively deal with the challenges and priorities.

And then finally, what I just got through describing to you: How can we improve better donor coordination? How can we better improve the work that we’re doing with other international partners to help support the countries of the Caribbean in addressing this enormously challenging and difficult situation that they face? If you add to that the low growth rates, the effect of the international crisis on the tourism industry and so on, we have a situation that requires a significant challenge.

And let me just end, then, by saying that I’m absolutely delighted to join you here today. One thing that has come up in all of our conversations is, again, the close, close-knit link between our societies and the diaspora groups in the United States and elsewhere in the world and how we all care so much about our countries or origin and how we want to try to make more of a concerted commitment to see how we can cooperate and work together. In that sense, this whole, like, idea of the idea, this international diaspora alliance, is such a good idea, I think. And we’ve seen it with regard to U.S. foreign policy initiatives going way, way, way, way back. I mean, we’re a country of immigrants. Immigrants care about their countries of origin. We can weigh in to see how we can better influence U.S. foreign policy with regard to places that we know and we care deeply about.

And at the same time, I think we all have a role to play in providing support, both for U.S. efforts indirectly, also for efforts to try to ensure that we arrive at the goal that we all seek. And the goal that we all seek, as I said earlier, is to make sure that these societies are successful societies, that we can dream together, and that we can provide the best kinds of opportunities for our children as time goes on. (Applause.)

MS. BENTON: Will you take questions?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Sure. I’d be happy to take a few questions.

MS. BENTON: Anyone who has a question, you want to go to the mike at the end of each aisle. Going once. Come on, just –

QUESTION: Well, I’m just curious. (Inaudible.)

MS. BENTON: Can everyone there hear you? Okay.

QUESTION: For some of us who are not familiar with what prompted this initiative (inaudible).

MS. BENTON: The Caribbean Basin Initiative.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: No, I think she’s referring to the diaspora initiatives, so if maybe you could speak –

MS. BENTON: The diaspora initiatives or the Caribbean Basin --

QUESTION: The disapora initiatives.

MS. BENTON: Oh. Actually, it’s been a long-term commitment to the Secretary and the President to build those better relationships with our diaspora communities. It’s one thing to go and talk to governments. It’s another thing to talk to civil society. So the members of civil society are often much closer to the ground and get information so much more fluidly and better, and they have those connections and contacts. It’s important to know what people feel and what people are thinking. And that, I think, is the impetus for the Secretary wanting to not just do the Caribbean diaspora. We did Sub-Saharan Africa a few months ago. We did the Western Hemisphere other than the Basin a few months ago. We’ll also probably round out this conference of – four conferences with doing a conference on women and girls and their importance across the entire globe because of the particular commitment the Secretary and the President have to acknowledging that when you have 50 percent of the world’s population of women and girls who are not at the table, you really are not going to have a prosperous global economy.

So that really is – the genesis is really from the Secretary and the President. So we’re trying to carry them out for that now. Good. Great question. Thank you.

Do you want to add that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: No. If I could just add to that, that’s spot on because I had the privilege of being in the Department in the early ’90s, and the work of the State Department then, much more so than today, was a work that dealt primarily with just government-to government kinds of relations, either through bilateral relationships or through multilateral fora.

It’s just amazing how, as our world has shrunk, and as our communications capabilities have increased and as we travel much more, we’ve realized that the role that civil society plays is absolutely critical. And the Secretary and the President, through their leadership, have emphasized enormously the importance of being able to be in touch with civil society organizations.

When I routinely travel throughout the region, I don’t just meet with government officials. In fact, I spend a lot of time meeting with people from civil society, either programs that the United States has funded through its AID projects or just simply with communicators, with people from marginalized communities, in areas of Central America or Colombia, for example, with Afro-descendents, and a whole host of – this is the commitment that this Secretary and this President has. We need to sort of build direct ties, listen to what the civil society organizations have to say and enlist their support. This is a different world. This is not a world where the solutions come just from governments. The solutions come from partnerships, and partnerships are broad partnerships. They include the private sector, but they also include elements of civil society.

And building this bridge, again, is this diaspora initiative, where we can try to see how we can engage much more those elements within civil society in the United States, particularly with diaspora communities that care deeply about their own countries of origin.

QUESTION: A question here, what was the outcome –

MS. BENTON: Hold on, one second. Since we are recording this, you should be able to press your mike there – the base. Yes, go on.

QUESTION: What was the outcome –

MS. BENTON: If you’re not at a desk, could you please use the microphone because we’re recording.

QUESTION: Thank you. What was the outcome of the Jamaica meeting and where can we read more about it?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: I think you can go onto the Department’s web page. You can find the Secretary’s speech that she gave to the foreign ministers there, and you can go into the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs where we have links to some of the activities and things that we do in the Caribbean. And we’d be happy to provide you if you leave us a card or something like that with other information that we may have about.

Concrete results of that meeting were some of the things that I discussed earlier – the Secretary’s commitment to try and increase and strengthen the, in particular, the Caribbean Security Initiative, but more broadly, also cooperation with the Caribbean foreign ministers. As I said in remarks, for example, the issue of climate change was a very big issue that was discussed there, and it has to do much more with some of the global negotiations than even the negotiations that are done on a bilateral or a sub-regional level.

MS. BENTON: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Yes. You did not mention in the threats to the Caribbean, the AIDS epidemic. You did mention the difficulty talking about human rights for people from the LGBT community. At the recent high-level meeting, the declaration included for the first time men who have sex with men, as well as sex workers and the need to provide human rights as appropriate prevention and services to these populations as well women and girls. Since men who have sex with men and women and girls represent the two groups in the Caribbean that have suffered the most from the HIV epidemic, I’m wondering if there’s been any change in the State Department’s strategies around these issues in response to the high-level meeting.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Well, thanks very much for your question. The Secretary and the President are deeply committed to continuing efforts to try to stem the AIDS epidemic. They’ve continued to support some of those programs. And more specifically, in terms of some of the policy issues, as I mentioned in my opening remarks, one of the efforts on the part of the Secretary in particular has been to make clear that efforts on the part of governments or of communities that discriminate against marginalized populations, including LGBT communities, is – can be – is very – not only is it deleterious to public health sorts of concerns, but it’s a fundamental right. LGBT rights are human rights, and human rights are LGBT rights.

And just this morning the Secretary spoke on this issue, this is Pride Month in the United States. This is a sensitive issue, I know in many countries of the Caribbean, but it’s an issue that we feel strongly about and we will speak about it. Thank you.

QUESTION: Hello. My name is Jennifer Nervi (ph). I’m working with the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.

MS. BENTON: We can’t hear you.

QUESTION: Oh, can you hear me? Yes? And I was just wondering what sort of results were seen after the original $20 million to combat crime in the Caribbean and how you feel the Organization of American States’ more recent initiatives will affect that.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: I think that this is still a work in progress. We’re cooperating with significant challenges. And by the way, one thing that’s really important is – I referred in my opening remarks to efforts that we’re doing in Central America with regard to the problems of insecurity. We cannot think of these phenomena – questions of citizen security, drug trafficking, transnational crime, and those sorts of things – without thinking about two different dimensions – one, that the answers to these problems have to be broadly integrated in terms of our approach. This is not just a police issue. This is also a public policy issue; it’s a public health issue. It has to be addressed, in other words, in a very comprehensive fashion. We have to look at some of the root causes within the societies themselves. Also they contribute to this phenomenon.

But secondly, and this is very – quite important, and that is that the responses have to be international. So if we are more successful in our work in Central America, with the Colombians, with the Mexicans, and with others, that will also have a significant effect on the Caribbean itself. So we cannot look at these things in compartmentalized ways is what I’m suggesting. So we will – we are redoubling our efforts. We are increasing our commitment to the Caribbean, but we’re also increasing our commitment to be much more effective in the whole area because if we do that, then I think we’ll be much more effective over the long haul. This is not something that’s solved from one month to another or one year to another. It’s a work in progress. Thanks.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: My name is Clayton Shillingford (ph). I just returned from Dominica – the island of Dominica yesterday. And what is happening there is a sudden emergence of the influence of the Chinese. And I wonder as you discuss collaboration of assistance to these territories – and I’m sure this problem I’m describing, if it is a problem, it is probably in the other islands as well. How is the United States in its foreign policy going to deal with the issue of the dominance of the Chinese in these islands?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Well, look. Let me just make this comment. I don’t – I would dispute the characterization of the Chinese being dominant in these islands. I think that – and the ties between most of the countries of the Caribbean and the United States are enormous, and they will never approximate the kind of ties that you see with China. And that’s just simply part of our common history. Number two, if in fact the Chinese have programs or if they want to buy goods that the countries in the Caribbean want to sell, that’s good. In general, we are encouraging of countries trying to seek ways in which they can strengthen their economic opportunities and that sort of thing, and this is done through broader trade and trading opportunities. So if the Chinese want to invest and they want to trade, we also welcome that.

Having said that, I also am aware of the fact, and we are aware of the fact that there is some concern in the countries of the Caribbean at the nature of the – of Chinese cooperation in the area – the fact that they often come and they offer an assistance package that also requires the assistance to be built by Chinese workers, for example, which doesn’t employ local labor. And sometimes it’s thousands of people who come in to build a stadium or something like that. And I know that this has led to some questioning on the part of various governments as to whether or not this is such a smart strategy after all. But in principle, as a matter of policy, if these are sovereign states, they should have the right to, of course, deal with other countries and make a decision for themselves as to how they want to proceed.

Thank you very much.

MS. BENTON: Thank you very much. Can you please join me in thanking Assistant Secretary Valenzuela? (Applause.)

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