CNN en Español | 4/17/2009 12:00:00 AM
"Times have changed for Latin America"
Before his first trip to Latin America, U.S president Barack Obama speaks on CNN en Español about the situation in Mexico, the regional Summit in Trinidad and Tobago, democracy in the region and Cuba. Interview by Juan Carlos López.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, the reason we’re going to Mexico is because it is our neighbor, it is one of our largest trading partners, and it’s a country that has enormous ties to the United States. And so it was very important for me to send a message that we are going to continue to partner with Mexico to accomplish common goals of lifting up people’s incomes and growing economic opportunity on both sides of the borders. And I think that President Calderón has done an outstanding and heroic job in dealing with what is a big problem right now along the borders with the drug cartels.
The Kingpin law allows us to go after the finances, the financial underpinnings of the cartels in a much more aggressive and much more effective way. And so that’s just part of a broader strategy in which the United States and Mexico will be partnering. We are putting more resources on the border. We are providing additional surveillance equipment. We are going to be dealing not only with drug interdiction coming north, but also working on helping to curb the flow of cash and guns going south.
And so there’s a true partnership that’s developing, and I want to make sure that the people of Mexico understand that we are going to do everything we can on our end to promote more security and more peace and more prosperity in the region.
Q One of the issues that is discussed in Mexico is that that government spends between $7 billion and $8 billion in their war on drugs, while the U.S. destined $1.4 billion for the Merida Initiative that includes Central America and is spread out through several years. It’s not seen as equitable.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all I think it’s important to recognize that my budget has actually sought to increase by about 50 percent the amount of money that we’re spending. We are already moving forward on, for example, Black Hawk helicopters to be sent to Mexico to help in the fight against the drug cartels.
So I want to put as much additional resources as we can into this effort. I think Mexico has been very serious about dealing with the problem. There are a number of Central American countries who are going to need our assistance, as well. And my commitment is to make sure that the United States, working in a multilateral fashion with all the countries in the region, are finally putting an end to the power and the strength of these drug cartels.
Q Will immigration reform be part of this whole process? And also you’ve named a border czar. Was this consulted with Mexico, and what is he going to do?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, the goal of the border czar is to help coordinate all the various agencies that fall under the Department of Homeland Security, and so that we are confident that the border patrols are working effectively with ICE, working effectively with our law enforcement agencies. So he’s really a coordinator that can be directly responsible to Secretary Napolitano and ultimately directly accountable to me.
There has been a lot of interaction between Mexican officials and officials on our side of the border. And, you know, Janet Napolitano has already been there. She and John Brennan, who is part of my national security team, are currently there. We’re going to continue to coordinate effectively.
Now, immigration reform has to be part of a broader strategy to deal with our border issues, and as I’ve said repeatedly, I am a strong proponent of comprehensive immigration reform. I’ve already met with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and committed to working with them to try to shape an agenda that can move through Congress. And this is something that I think is important not just because of the drug cartel issue; it’s important because of the human costs of a ongoing flow of illegal immigrants into this country. It’s something that we need to solve.
Q You’re going to Trinidad and Tobago. Most of these countries, it’s the first time you meet with the leaders. They’ve been -- they want to bring Cuba up as an issue. You’ve lifted restrictions on Cuban Americans. How is this issue going to play out?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know, I have no problem with them bringing up Cuba as an issue. I think I’ve been very clear about my position on Cuba. What I’ve said is, is that we should loosen up restrictions on travel and remittances. We have now acted on that. We also believe that Cuba can potentially be a critical part of regional growth in the region.
But Cuba has to take some steps, send some signals that when it comes to human rights, when it comes to political rights, when it comes to the ability of Cubans to travel, that there is some signs that we’re moving away from what has been a set of policies that have really hampered Cuba’s ability to grow.
I mean, I think -- think about the irony, the fact that, you know, on the one hand we’re loosening up travel restrictions, and yet there are a lot of Cubans who can’t leave Cuba. That, I think, is an example of the kinds of changes that we hope we can promote over time. And I think that our partners in Central and South America can be very important in helping to move away from the past and into the future.
Q There’s a movement in Latin America. Countries are resorting to democratic measures to change the constitution so that the current leaders can stay in office. It happened in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and it’s also happening in Colombia. It’s an internal matter, but how do you feel about those Presidents wanting to stay on, and will you bring it up at the summit?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know, I think it’s important for the United States not to tell other countries how to, you know, structure their democratic practices and what should be contained in their constitution.
All I can say is that one of the strengths of the United States government and our democracy, the reason it’s been stable, is I think people have a sense that through constitutional means they can replace people who are in power who may not be meeting the interests of their populations.
If I’m not doing a good job, ultimately in some way I’m accountable because of elections. But I’m also accountable in the sense that at most I’ve got eight years and there’s going to be some turnover.
So that’s been a strength of our system. And ultimately it’s up to the people of those countries to make a decision about how they want to structure their affairs.
Read the whole interview here.
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