A Conversation with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
Please join Secretary Rice for remarks on the administration's policy in the Americas, with an emphasis on trade. The Secretary’s remarks will be followed by a question-and-answer session.
**PLEASE NOTE SPECIAL TIME AND LOCATION.**
October 9, 2007
Organization of American States, Washington D.C.
CARLA HILLS: (Off mike) -- for national security affairs. This is not her first sojourn into government affairs. She served in the Bush Senior's administration as senior director of Soviet and Eastern European affairs at the National Security Council.
Before coming to government, she served as a professor of political science and provost of Stanford University, managing a budget of $1.5 billion and 1,400 faculty. She served on a number of international boards, and I had the pleasure of serving with her on one, and let me tell you, she's got a keen intellect. She got her bachelor's degree from the University of Denver, her master's degree from Notre Dame, and a doctorate in international studies from the University of Denver.
I want to warmly welcome the secretary and thank her for being with us. The floor is yours. (Applause.)
SECRETARY OF STATE CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Thank you very much.
Thank you, Carla -- Ambassador Hills, a long-time friend, that very kind introduction.
I would like to thank also Secretary General Insulza for welcoming us here to the Organization of American States. And you have given fantastic leadership to this organization, and indeed to the hemisphere. Thank you for that.
I would also like to thank the Council on Foreign Relations for hosting this event and for inviting me here to speak with you. I have to say I've never seen the council's Washington offices; this despite that fact that I been a member of the council for many, many years. But it is because the council takes the opportunity to go to wonderful places like this to engage, and it's a great thing that we're in this wonderful hall.
I'd like to thank the members of the diplomatic corps for being here and honored guests, ladies and gentlemen.
I'm here today to speak about the trade agreements that we have concluded with Peru, Colombia and Panama. These are agreements on which our Congress will soon vote. The agreements are important for our economy, but they are also important for the impact that they will have on our national interests, our national interests in this hemisphere, our ability to pursue them effectively, and our capacity to positively influence events in this region.
What is at stake is the success of what I will call today our Pan-American community -- the vision of a hemisphere of independent nations living in liberty and prosperity and peace, which U.S. leaders of both parties have nurtured since the founding of our republic. So to understand the true value of these trade agreements, we need to step back for a moment and look broadly at our hemisphere.
We in the United States have always thought of ourselves as one part of a larger Pan-American community. Here, in the seat of our hemispheric unity, the statue of our own George Washington stands proudly beside those of fellow liberators of the Americas -- Juarez, Marti, Bolivar and many others. The United States has always believed that our success is linked to the success of our neighbors, and at our best we have supported Latin American independence, the good neighbor policy, the Alliance for Progress, and we have worked to build a thriving Pan-American community.
In 2001, this hemisphere was close to completing an historic transition to free societies, free markets and democracy. One of President Bush's first actions was to support a regional effort to formalize this new consensus in the Inter-American Democratic Charter, signed by every nation in the region but one, and stating that -- and I quote -- "democracy is essential for the social, political and economic development of the people of the Americas."
Since then, this consensus has been reaffirmed again and again by citizens across the region, whose elected leaders are governing democratically, trading freely, opening markets, fighting poverty, and expanding opportunity for all their people. The exceptions to this rule may be noisy, but they are heading in the opposite direction of the hemisphere as a whole.
What is clear is that democracy is the most significant driver of change in our region today. Millions of people once on the margins of their societies -- the poor and the disadvantaged, indigenous peoples and Afro-Latinos -- have now become active citizens. And they have launched what President Bush has called a "revolution in expectations" for good jobs and opportunity, for personal security and social justice.
Because of democracy, our neighbors are rethinking their national priorities, redefining their national interests, and pursuing them pragmatically. Our hemisphere is growing more competitive in every way, and we should be mindful that our neighbors are not waiting around for us.
How will democracy deliver economic and social development to all, especially to the 209 million men, women and children among us who still live in poverty? That is the defining challenge for our region today: a debate not over ideology, but a debate over interests.
Democracies from left to right are now giving their free market reforms of the last decade a new focus on social justice, a focus that, frankly, that once lacked. They are broadening the so-called Washington consensus into a new and truly Pan-American consensus.
In a way, the situation in our region today recalls that of Western Europe in the last century, a time when old ideological conflicts had given way to growing agreement in support of political and economic liberty; a time when democracies were struggling to fight poverty and create lasting development; and most importantly, a time when we in the United States expanded our security, diplomatic and development assistance, opened our markets, and made a strategic, bipartisan and sustained commitment to the success of our allies.
Today we are making a similar strategic commitment in our hemisphere to the success of our Pan-American community. This commitment was begun in the last decade by leaders of both parties. Now it is being advanced further.
We are deepening our historic alliance of peoples in the hemisphere -- the ties between our civil society and our businesses, our universities and our faith-based groups. That was the goal of the recent White House Conference on the Americas.
At the same time, we remain deeply engaged diplomatically. President Bush has now made more trips in the hemisphere than any U.S. president ever -- most recently in March, when he said that helping democracies in Latin America to deliver social justice to their people is in the U.S. national interest. So we are working pragmatically and supporting the success of all responsible democratic governments, from the Left to the Right. The United States charges no ideological price for our partnership.
To strengthen our Pan-American community, we are transforming our relations with major regional powers: with Brazil and Mexico and Chile and Colombia. We are identifying common purposes that invest these democracies as leaders and stakeholders in our region and in the broader international system. At the same time, we are renewing our relations with our Caribbean friends, and working with the international community to restore stability and hope in Haiti.
To protect our Pan-American community, we are defining a new regional security agenda, one that is rooted in multilateral cooperation among the democracies, and focused on combating global and transnational threats to our hemisphere like criminal gangs and terrorism, natural disaster and disease.
To complete our Pan-American community, we are helping the Cuban people to prepare for a democratic transition. Here in this building is the table used by the representatives of the Pan-American Union when this building was dedicated in 1910. One of the original chairs at that table is marked "Cuba." But today, when the democracies of the OAS meet right downstairs, Cuba has no chair at the table. The proud people of Cuba deserve liberty and opportunity, and they deserve the right to reclaim their place among the free nations of our hemisphere.
Finally, to expand the promise of our Pan-American community to all, we are helping our fellow democracies to create opportunity and social justice for their people, for as President Kennedy once said, unless all the men and women of the Americas "share in increasing prosperity, then our alliance, our revolution, our dream, and our freedom will fail."
Debt relief is one way that we can help to expand opportunity. So we have led global efforts to forgive more than $17 billion of debt to our poorest neighbors in the region. Foreign assistance can also help. So with President Bush's leadership and with the bipartisan support of the Congress, the United States has doubled foreign assistance to our hemisphere. At the same time, through our Millennium Challenge Corporation, we are using our assistance as an incentive for governments to build democratic institutions that fight poverty and corruption, invest in their people and create sustainable development.
Ultimately, though, only one force is strong enough to lift people out of poverty, to reduce economic inequality, and to break down social exclusion in the Americas, and that is sustained economic growth, fueled by fair and free trade. Our neighbors realize that the paradigm of development has changed; that development in the region cannot come solely from within, that it must come from competing successfully in global markets, and using democratic institutions to expand opportunity to the poor and to the vulnerable.
Since taking office, President Bush has made the expansion of trade a top priority. Building on the foundation that Presidents Bush and Clinton laid with NAFTA, we have concluded trade agreements with 10 additional countries, most recently with Peru, Colombia and Panama. We now have the potential to create an unbroken chain -- chain of trading partners from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic Circle -- a community that now includes Costa Rica, whose people voted just two days ago to approve CAFTA. Our neighbors want to trade freely with us, and this should focus our Congress on its responsibility to fulfill our promises to Peru, to Colombia and to Panama.
These trade agreements will benefit U.S. workers and businesses, enabling them to compete on a level playing field in new markets, to create jobs and opportunity in our nation, and to address the wealth of all in our economy. As the president said recently, all three of these pacts "embody the values of open markets: transparent and fair regulation, respect for private property, and resolving disputes under international law."
These agreements also contain the strongest labor and environmental obligations of any agreement -- trade agreement -- anywhere in the world. And those obligations are subject to the same dispute settlement procedures, remedies and sanctions that apply to other agreement provisions.
Now, I know that for many U.S. workers competing in the global economy is bringing some dislocation and some insecurity -- a fear that the jobs and savings and health care that they have today may not be there for them tomorrow. I know that many feel that globalization may not be a rising tide that lifts all boats. The responsibility to strengthen our nation's workers extends to our nation's diplomacy, and I personally take that duty very seriously. So our diplomats are using every article of law and every tool of persuasion to protect and promote the interests of U.S. workers in the global economy.
We in the United States must also continue to invest in our people. Just last week I saw one of those long-term investments when I had the pleasure of joining Congressman Charlie Rangel to visit the Harriet Tubman School in New York City, in Harlem. This is a remarkable school where underprivileged children are discovering through education that their horizons are limitless, and it's the kind of investment that we as a nation need to make to prepare all of our citizens to succeed in the 21st century. And together with job retraining and education, our workers do need to have a fair shake because, after all, education is the single greatest force in the world for equality and social inclusion and personal transformation.
I know that Americans well-prepared will compete well. And therefore, I am confident that we can pass these trade agreements; that we can move forward in a globalized economy as a confident nation in our leadership and in our ability to compete.
But I would note to you that perhaps the greatest value of passing these trade agreements will be the positive impact that they will have on the prosperity and the stability of our Pan-American community, a community whose well-being is vital to U.S. interests.
Peru, Colombia and Panama now stand on the threshold of far-reaching national success. Trade agreements with the United States would help significantly to advance our partners' political, economic and social development: making their democratic institutions more transparent and accountable, more effective at fighting poverty and corruption, enforcing the law, and investing in education, health and opportunity for their people.
By enacting these trade agreements into law, our Congress would send a signal to every citizen of these countries, to people across the hemisphere, and to investors across the globe that Peru, Colombia and Panama are dedicated to democracy and economic growth; that they are institutionalizing their reforms; and that the United States is completely committed to their success.
Now, I know that some may ask about the wisdom and the timing of these agreements. Some may ask: How can we afford to pass them now? I would ask: How can we afford not to pass them now?
How can we afford not to honor our agreement with Panama? A country that only two decades ago was ruled by an international criminal and a drug runner; a country that has now embraced democracy and is expanding its economy at more than 8 percent a year; and a country that sits astride the strategic waterway -- the Panama Canal -- through which two-thirds of its annual shipments head to or from our nation's shore. A trade agreement with the United States could help Panama to transform itself once and for all into a pillar of democratic stability and prosperity.
How can we not afford to honor our agreement with Peru? A country that just a decade ago was torn apart by guerrilla violence and whose economy was in a tailspin; a country now committed to moving its citizens out of poverty and into the formal economy; and a country that, over two democratic administrations, despite criticism at home and in the region, has resolved to trade freely with the United States. Few things could help Peru fight poverty more effectively than securing its trade agreement with us.
And perhaps most of all, how can we afford not to honor our agreement with Colombia? A country that, not seven years ago -- just seven years ago was on the verge of becoming a failed state, whose territory was a safe haven for narcoterrorists and whose people were fleeing their homes by the thousands; a country to which we as a nation made a strategic commitment, sustained by presidents and Congresses of both parties, and funded now with billions of dollars in U.S. assistance; a country that in the past five years has reduced kidnappings by 76 percent, terrorist attacks by 61 percent and murders by 40 percent, and that has now expanded the sovereign writ of this democratic state and restored the hope of its people. We recognize that this progress stands in contrast to the dark deeds in Colombia's past, especially the murder of labor leaders and other innocent people. Crimes like these are of deep concern to us. And President Uribe has committed his government to bringing those responsible to justice, to protecting the lives and liberties of all its citizens, and to showing that there will be no impunity for any crime -- past, present or future.
Despite its ongoing struggles, Colombia is on a trajectory of positive change politically, economically and socially. Indeed, Colombia's transformation in less than a decade from failing state to thriving democracy is one of the greatest victories for the cause of human rights in our world today.
Passing these trade agreements is not a narrow partisan interest; it is of vital national interest. And members of both political parties understand this. They also understand that these agreements are an indivisible package. In the words of 43 prominent Democrats -- former ambassadors, Cabinet officials, policy experts and members of Congress -- they said, and I quote, "rejecting these agreements would set back regional U.S. interests for a generation." So we need to be absolutely clear about the consequences of failure.
What signal would failure send to our democratic partners in the Americas? We can answer that question in one word: retreat. It would be a retreat from our responsibility of leadership and a renunciation of our influence in the Americas. It would be a retreat from three democratic leaders who embody the aspirations of their citizens for social justice, economic growth and trade with the United States. And it would be a retreat from our historic, bipartisan effort to build a successful Pan-American community united in peace, prosperity, and freedom.
Peru, Colombia and Panama are among our best partners in the region. Their governments have put themselves on the line and made strategic commitments to us through these trade agreements. All three of their national legislatures have passed these agreements by wide margins, and they now expect the United States to hold up its end of the bargain.
Failing to conclude these agreements would be a great blow to these three countries from which one cannot assume that there would be easy recovery. It would send a signal loud and clear across the region that the United States can somehow not be trusted to keep its promises. After all, if we are unwilling to support the success of Colombia, a nation to which we have committed billions of dollars in assistance over many years, others would have the right to ask what chance is there that we would support them.
We must also ask ourselves, what signal would failure send to the enemies of democracy in our hemisphere? There are some in the region today who want to shove toward a future of authoritarian politics and state-run economies. In truth, this is a backward-looking agenda with a long history of deepening poverty and misery. The real revolution in America today -- in the Americas today is being led by responsible democratic leaders, like Bachelet and Lula, Vazquez and Uribe, Garcia and Torrijos, Calderon and Saca. Their democratic governments and many others, from Left to Right, are deepening the Pan-American consensus on creating opportunity for all through free markets, economic growth and democracy. This is the real story of recent years, not the so-called "left turn" that we hear so much about.
Authoritarianism may be a competing idea with free-market democracy, but it is not an alternative vision because one leads to success, the other leads to failure. Trying to alleviate poverty and inequality in the Americas through authoritarianism is like trying to defy the laws of gravity. The only question is how much harm this failed idea will do to our region. And in large part, the answer lies with us: in whether we support responsible democracies that want more engagement, more partnership and more trade with the United States, not less.
Finally, we must ask ourselves what signal failure would send to nations across the globe, to friend and foe, ally and enemy alike. In that regard, how would failure be interpreted by a long-standing ally like Korea, which has concluded its own free trade agreement with us? This agreement will strengthen the U.S. economy and help our democratic ally to enhance its security and prosperity in a rapidly changing Asia. We fully support our free trade agreement with Korea, and we look to Congress to approve it.
Ladies and gentlemen, at this time of unprecedented opportunity, we in the United States cannot afford to turn inward, to become fearful, to dwell on the actions of others, or to give in to doubt and despair. Instead, we must remain what Americans have always been: optimistic and, indeed, yes, idealistic. We must remain open to the world and actively engaged. We must prepare our people, especially our children, with the educations and the opportunities that nourish and nurture hope about the future. And most of all, we must be confident in our ability to compete and to prosper not just as one country, but as a part of one Pan-American community.
Nearly 100 years ago, at the dedication of this building, my predecessor, Elihu Root, the first secretary of State to travel to Latin America, described this building as "a true expression of Pan-Americanism, a declaration of allegiance to an ideal" and a reminder "of the perpetual assertion of unity, of common interest and purpose and hope among the republics."
So it was then, and so it remains today.
The founding ideal of our Pan-American community, borne across many centuries and carried by us still, is the hope that life in the hemisphere would signify a break with the Old World and a new beginning for all mankind: the promise of liberty and dignity, and government by law; the opportunity to reach one's full potential, regardless of class or culture, race or religion; and the creation of a new system of international politics based on mutual respect and cooperation among independent nations.
We and our neighbors in this hemisphere are now closer than ever to achieving that ideal. And now, as before, the United States has a special responsibility to lead the way. So let us honor our agreements with our partners -- Peru and Colombia and Panama -- and let us show the world that the Pan-American community is alive and well, and that it remains an abiding hope for all mankind.
Thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you. (Applause.)
HILLS: Let me open the conversation with the secretary and say you have eloquently described how trade generates growth, respect for property, transparency, rule of law, all elements of democracy. And yet support for trade in this country has plummeted.
Now, as our chief diplomat, what steps would you recommend that our government, and I would say people in this room, do to try to get support for this consensus that is so vital to our national interest?
RICE: Yes. Well, first of all -- it will take all of us, not just the government, but the assembled friends of the United States around the hemisphere and around the world, and also our business leaders and our university leaders, and indeed, those who are concerned about economic growth and development. We have to be one in promoting trade.
And I would make three points. The first is that we have to defend trade for what it is: an opportunity for growth and economic prosperity for our people and for the people with whom we trade. You know, you will know, Carla, that at the end of World War II, the United States was by far the dominant economic power in the world. Europe was still devastated after the war. But we chose not to protect; we chose an open trading system believing that if the pie got bigger, everybody could benefit. And so I think we have to defend that principle.
Secondly, we have to make the strategic argument for trade and democracy. Democracy is the government of choice by people around the world because -- I don't care whether you live in the back mountains of Afghanistan or in a village in Guatemala or in Eastern Europe; people, if they're asked, do you want to have a say in your future, do you want to elect those who are going to govern you, they will say yes. And we've seen that time and time again.
But then they expect from those governments a great deal. They expect that they're going to have jobs; they expect that their children are going to be educated; they expect that there is going to be a benefit. And when democracies don't deliver, they give ground for a kind of terrible populist authoritarianism that we see in some places. And so there's a strategic argument: if you want democracy you want economic development, and trade certainly helps with that.
Finally, I would say that we need to address, frankly and openly, the concerns that are there of particularly American workers, many of whom may have skills that are not up to par for today's economy, many of whom have children that perhaps they feel are not being educated to the skills of the future. I'm very concerned that the number of engineering students in the United States -- the number of engineering graduates has actually gone down slightly. I'm very concerned that our math/science skills are not what they should be. And I do not think that it is a fair answer to say that Americans -- well, you'll just have to see those jobs go elsewhere. We have to train our people for jobs.
So there is plenty of an economic pie to share with open and free trade. And I was in New York last week, and I said that I thought in many ways education might be one of our highest national security priorities because if our people believe that they are being educated and that they can compete, we will be open to trade. If we believe that we are not going to be educated and capable to compete, we will become fearful and closed. And I think we who believe in free trade and believe in its value and its benefit have to be ready and willing to address those fears and concerns that are there too.
HILLS: Thank you.
Let me open it to council members. Let me remind you that you wait for the mike and stand, state your name and your affiliation. And I think I have a hand right here in the second row.
QUESTIONER: Madame Secretary, my name is Clay Swisher. I'm the new term member at the council and I'm also with the Middle East Institute.
And my question for you would be, what message do you think America's foreign policy in the Middle East sends to aspiring democrats in Latin America? And I'm speaking specifically about the support the U.S. government has for Fouad Siniora, yet one year ago on your watch our closest ally, Israel, bombed the country to smithereens. Our support for Prime -- President Abbas in Palestine, yet he has nothing to show for it, and the Hamas movement that was democratically elected has been punished and the people of Gaza are reaching unprecedented levels of despair. And then in Latin America, the Guantanamo detention facility. What do all these things send to the aspiring democrats of Latin America?
RICE: Well, there's quite a mix there, so let me take them one as a time -- one at a time.
The United States under President Bush has stood up for democracy in the Middle East. And, frankly, after 60 years of not talking much about democracy in the Middle East -- we actually did talk about democracy in Latin America, we did talk about democracy in Africa, but we talked mostly about stability in the Middle East. And President Bush has been dedicated to forging a new consensus about what stability means in the Middle East, and it means that there will be the willingness to speak up for the right of people, whether they live in Baghdad or in Kabul or in Cairo or in Kuwait, to -- to want to be able to have a democratic way of life. And indeed, I think if you look honestly at the Middle East, you've seen some favorable trends toward democracy.
But this is the work of a generation; it is not going to be completed overnight. We could go country by country. I won't take the time to do that. But let me just say that the support, for instance, for a democratic Palestinian state rather than for a Palestinian state with a leadership that was known to be corrupt and known to have one foot in terror -- yes, Hamas was elected, and we, to this day, are ones who defend the right of the Palestinian people to have had that election.
The Hamas, however, did not use a responsible way of governing, and they have found themselves isolated from the international system. And now what you have is a democratic leader in Mahmoud Abbas who is dedicated both to the renunciation of violence and to democratic leadership of his people. And we're going to support him. And that's why, when I go off to the Middle East in a few days here, I'm going to work very, very hard with Israel and the Palestinians to try to bring about a better prospect for a Palestinian state.
And finally, in the war on terror, look, not every decision has been one that has been -- has been popular. I understand that. The president has said, and I fully agree, we would like nothing better than to close Guantanamo. The question is, what do you do with the hundreds of dangerous people, who, back on the battlefield, would kill again?
And so these are complicated decisions. You know, there aren't any easy answers to really hard decisions. And so I think that when you look at the record of the president in the support for democracy around the world, you will see someone who has spoken for it, who has acted on that basis, and who has had an agenda that has promoted that.
And if I could return for one moment to Latin America, perhaps the most important change or evolution of our policy in Latin America has been to place the emphasis on democracy, not ideological divisions. This isn't an issue of Left and Right. We have outstanding relationships with governments from the Left, like the government of Brazil, the government of Chile, the government of Uruguay. We have excellent relations with governments from the Right, like the government of El Salvador and the government of Colombia. It doesn't matter to this president and to the United States where you are. What matters is were you elected democratically, do you govern democratically, are you open to a good relationship with the United States? I think that may be the single most important evolutionary fact of America's policy in Latin America.
HILLS: Another question?
RICE: I see one right here I think. The gentleman on the aisle.
HILLS: Would you stand, please?
RICE: The gentleman on the aisle there.
HILLS: And be concise.
QUESTIONER: Yes. Secretary Rice, James Sosnicky with Small Enterprise Assistance Funds.
How much of a burden do you think America's history in Latin America in the first half is at -- for you to overcome? And how, through public diplomacy or other means, are you trying to make a break with some of the not-so-good neighborly policies of the past? Thank you.
RICE: I do think that the history is well-known, and yes, it's something of a burden because the big neighbor to the north has not always treated the states of Latin America with respect and with a sense of equality, and I think we all know that history.
I do know that we have been a country, the United States, that has tried to overcome our history time and time again. I'm, by the way, an example of that because, of course, in the first Constitution, my ancestors were three-fifths of a man, and it wasn't until I was 10 years old that blacks finally really were assured the right to vote in the South. So we are a country that overcomes history, and I see in our partners in Latin America a willingness to overcome our more difficult history too.
But I think we have some nearer-term things to overcome. One is the one that I just mentioned: the sense that somehow the United States only wants to work with governments of a particular political ideology or persuasion. We have got to say, time and time again, it does not matter whether you come from Left or Right; it matters that you were democratically elected and ready to govern democratically. And I think if you look at our record, you will see that that is true.
I think we have to overcome the fact that we have not spoken as directly and perhaps as candidly as we should have about the need for social justice and for people's rights to pursue jobs and prosperity, not just macroeconomic development. There was a tendency, particularly perhaps out of the Washington consensus, which I think is still very important, but to talk about macroeconomic policy, to talk about trade, and not to talk enough about how that gets translated to the citizen who just wants a better life.
When we were in Guatemala with the president, I saw a terrific example of how these two work together. It was a kind of farmers' cooperative where CAFTA was making it possible for these farmers to put their goods to market, where the farmers had been aided by a USAID project to turn what had been subsistence farming into vertically integrated farming so that they could now get this product to market. We need to talk more about that family that now is no longer a subsistence farmer, but actually has used the benefits of free trade and macroeconomic policy.
So the final point that I would make about things we need to overcome, I have a particular interest myself in the plight of both indigenous people and descendants of Africa in Latin America. I recently, when I was in Colombia, met with some representatives of the growing Afro-Colombian community. I've done that in Brazil and hope to one day to visit Bahia, because we also need to speak for marginalized people within their own countries. And I've found that the leaders of Latin America now are going through much of what we've gone through, pulling marginalized people into the political mainstream.
HILLS: I see a hand. Yeah. Young lady about four rows back. Yes, please.
QUESTIONER: I'm Julia Sweig. I run the Latin America program at the Council on Foreign Relations, and I want to congratulate you and the others at the State Department, including my friend, Tom Shannon, because I think the -- it's enormously refreshing what we've seen in the last two years, the talk about and acknowledgement of issues related to social justice, marginalization, the kinds of issues which the United States for a very long time had been almost allergic to addressing with Latin America and with respect to Latin America.
And I want to, in that constructive introduction, take you back to Colombia, where I think it is quite clear that we have a perception problem, but also a problem of facts on the ground. And I'm wondering whether, as the trade agreement may go forward in Congress, there's a possibility of looking at Plan Colombia, which you didn't mention so much, but which has had a very strategic value in Colombia, as a mechanism to bring issues of transparency and accountability with respect to the labor leaders. I understand there's been progress on that front, but obviously there's a need to see more progress. So is there a way that you can envision, for example, some of the resources in Plan Colombia being used to staff, for example -- fully staff an ILO office in Bogota? That's the kind of, I think, remedy that perhaps a bipartisan group could come around that would be substantive and tie the Plan Colombia piece to the trade piece of this relationship. So I'd like your comment on that, please.
RICE: Well, thank you very much.
And I think we can achieve what you are suggesting without necessarily thinking about precisely resources coming from Plan Colombia. I am very concerned that Plan Colombia continue to do what it was intended to do, which is to make sure that stability is returned to Colombia, that narcotrafficking is fought, that terrorism is fought, because we don't want to go back to a day when Colombia essentially with large portions of its land as safe havens for terrorism. And I think some of the -- some of the successes that we've had in Plan Colombia are -- they are fragile and we need to continue to pursue them.
Nonetheless, we have talked with the Colombian government, and we are working on ways that they can accelerate within their own system, within their on laws, the prosecutions of people who are -- who have committed crimes. We have talked more about the capacity of the attorney general's office, of labor to challenge decisions. These are things that can all be handled, I think, through technical assistance. We're looking to some additional resources that could be put to this.
I would note -- and I thank you for your comment because, of course, one of the reasons that much of this is coming out now is the transparency of the Uribe government in bringing to light through independent judiciary processes things that were hidden in the past. And so rather than, in a sense, punishing Colombia for having these things come to light, we can work as partners to make certain that Colombia has the capacity to keep bringing things forward in a transparent way, to prosecuting people who have committed crimes, because I know that President Uribe does not want impunity for anybody, no matter where they have been on the political spectrum.
So I take your point about enhancing the capacity of Colombia to deal with these issues. I think it's an excellent point. We might do it, I would suggest, from resources that do not take away from the essential Plan Colombia effort, which is so important to making sure that Colombia completes its transition to stability.
HILLS: The gentleman right straight ahead. Microphone, please.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Stephen Donahoo from Kissinger McLarty Associates, and thank you for coming to speak to us at the council.
Madame Secretary, President Uribe has taken some political risk in asking Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba and Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez to facilitate and mediate a humanitarian exchange of prisoners and hostages between the government of Colombia an the FARC. How would you characterize your support for the efforts of President Uribe, Senator Cordoba and President Chavez to get this exchange going, which includes three U.S. hostages that have been held by the FARC for four-and-a-half years?
RICE: Well, let me make one point first, which is obviously the release of hostages is something that we have worked for with the Uribe government and continue to seek. And it is certainly the case that we have been reassured and comforted by the Uribe's government continued emphasis on the fact that all hostages must be treated alike; in other words, that American hostages are not to be treated differently than other hostages. And so I think that that is a reassurance that we did not even have to seek; Colombia came to us in that regard.
We will work very closely with Colombia on this idea, on this initiative, to make certain that none of our and their red lines are crossed here. I think everybody wants to be able to get to a solution of the hostage crisis. But we have very close coordination and very close discussions with Colombia about this initiative as it goes forward.
HILLS: Yes, Adam is right here.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. My name is Adam Taylor. I work with Sojourners.
I really appreciated, Madame Secretary, your remarks about debt cancellation as being a critical vehicle for poverty alleviation. And as you know, there was a major step made in 2005 around debt cancellation for about 20 countries, but there are an additional 40 more that the U.N. has said desperately need debt cancellation as a way to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, including many countries in the Americas like Haiti. So my question is, what is the commitment of the administration to accelerate and expand debt cancellation for additional countries in desperate need?
RICE: Look, we're always prepared to look at debt relief as a part of a broader economic strategy for dealing with countries that are in extreme poverty, and we will examine all of those cases. Let me just say that President Bush has been an advocate of debt relief under appropriate circumstances going all the way back to before his election as president when he put this on the agenda during the debates, saying that he believed in debt relief for the poorest countries.
I think we do have to make sure that the conditions are right. We have to make certain that there are mechanisms and controls in place so that debt relief doesn't become then simply a matter of erasing this debt and starting another debt ledger, which has sometimes been the case and we've seen that experience. We also want to make sure, of course, that there are sound economic policies in any country that receives debt relief.
I'm glad you brought up Haiti. We're looking for as many ways to help Haiti as we possibly can. Haiti is in some ways a still-fragile, but a very good example of the cooperation in this hemisphere to take what seemed a hopeless case just a few years ago and give people a pathway to hope. And in this regard, the leadership of Brazil, of the peacekeeping forces there, the other countries that have been a part of those peacekeeping forces like Chile -- and I just want to say that at the time when all of this was trying to come together, the leadership of this organization, the Organization of American States, under Secretary General Insulza, played an absolutely critical role with the United Nations in putting Haiti on the right path.
We are continuing our help to Haiti. We have done very large economic assistance packages to Haiti. We have, of course, a trade preferences bill that we have supported for Haiti. So we have it very much in our sights.
And recently I was talking with President Preval. He has some ideas about how to educate the really appalling numbers of Haitian children who are not receiving even primary education, and we're looking at a way that we can help him with that. And so Haiti is a fragile but I think good success for this hemisphere, and we're looking at all ways that we can help.
HILLS: On the other side of the room. There's a hand here. Please.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. I'm Steven Colecchi with United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
And Madame Secretary, you spoke very eloquently about fear -- fair and free trade. And I wanted to ask a question around U.S. agricultural policy in particular. Right now the farm bill in the U.S. Congress, of course, is focusing attention there, and, in the view of many, the current U.S. agriculture system does not do well by small- and moderate-size farmers here in the United States, and can be devastating to farmers in other countries with whom we trade. How would you reflect on, you know, fair farm policy in terms of trade policy?
RICE: Well, the president, now I think almost two years ago, made very clear that the United States was prepared to deal with agricultural subsidies within the context of the WTO, and that Doha is the place to deal with this because he was very clear that the United States was willing to effectively get rid of them if, in fact, we could get a deal; that his view is that we can't unilaterally disarm, of course, but that we ought to have an -- a Doha deal that deals with the problem of agricultural subsidies. And the president has recently through his trade negotiator even signaled greater flexibility concerning agricultural subsidies.
But we need -- and frankly, here the large developing states have a role to play. We need market access so that American farmers and the -- American economic interests understand that there is going to be a benefit to us from Doha. The president has had extended meetings with a number of leaders. Particularly he and President Lula have had very extensive discussions about how to put together a deal that would allow agricultural subsidies to be dealt with, that would allow market access for countries like our own that would deal, for instance, with services and the like.
And so I think this is really going to be a very crucial time for Doha. And a question like agricultural subsidies reminds us that if the world trading system as represented by the Doha Round gets into trouble, there are any number of issues that we're not going to be able to deal with. And so the president has been very focused on Doha and we hope that we can still have a successful round.
HILLS: I saw a hand in the center. Right there. Yes, the young lady. This will have to be the last question and -- so we can permit the secretary to get on to her travels.
QUESTIONER: Thank you, Madame Secretary. My name is Abigail Golden-Vazquez. I'm with the Aspen Institute.
You spoke very eloquently about your concern for Americans that might lose jobs through these trade agreements. You also spoke about education, particularly in engineering and math, which of course we can all agree would be a very important step. But I'm wondering more specifically for Americans that may be losing jobs directly now today, Americans who have spent their whole lives in a certain career, what measures would you be putting in place or would this administration be putting in place to help them become retrained for their new jobs?
RICE: Well, let me speak at a couple of different levels.
First of all, we've worked very closely with the Congress on a bipartisan basis on issues like trade adjustment. We've also worked very closely with the Congress on issues like job training, retraining for workers, because it is something that I think we take very seriously.
At another level, the president has been a major advocate of lifelong training in education so that people are constantly updating their skills and moving to those places in the job market that are going to be the jobs of the future. So the emphasis, for instance, on community colleges, which are one of our greatest assets when it comes to training and retraining people who may come from nontraditional backgrounds for a college student -- I am myself an educator, and I've watched the tremendous impact of very good community colleges on being able to give people a second or even a third or sometimes a fourth start on a different kind of career.
So in terms of retraining, I think we have a number of assets and we want to -- we've worked very closely with the Congress on a bipartisan basis. We want to continue to do that.
As to the problem, though, in math, science and engineering, I think we have a longer-term problem. And there, when you have children who at third grade already can't read, by the time they're -- by the time they're third grade, they're not going to get there, and we know that. And that's why the president's efforts and those of my colleague Margaret Spellings and No Child Left Behind to make sure that we know which children cannot read, that we know what schools are not delivering, that we give both children and schools the access to the kind of help that they need, whether it is tutoring or after-hour classes or whatever it is, that's just an extremely important element of this. And as I said, I visited a wonderful school in Harlem where the emphasis is on excellence in education, where parents are involved. We have to do more of that.
But we also have to have a conversation with ourselves as a country. We can't go on in a situation in which we are not training people in math, science and engineering. I hear all the time employers say -- and I know it's true -- that they need to be able to bring in talent in these areas because the United States is not producing it. Nothing makes me sadder than to hear that because there is certainly not wrong with Americans. We have plenty of creativity, plenty of innovation, plenty of smarts. And so I think both at the level of basic education, at getting people, including women, into science and math education at an early age and sustaining them through it, we've just got to do that as a country or, as I said, if we don't, then we're going to remain fearful and closed. If we do, we're going to be, as we always have been, confident of our ability to compete.
HILLS: Well, show your appreciation to the secretary by staying in your seat for just a moment so she may exit first, and join me in saying thank you so much --
RICE: Thank you. (Applause.)
HILLS: -- for a wonderful -- (applause). Thank you very much. (Applause.)
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THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.
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