Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Obama Opening Statement and Press Conference at Summit

April 17, 2009

REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AT THE SUMMIT OF THE AMERICAS
OPENING CEREMONY

And we've heard all these arguments before, these debates that would have us make a false choice between rigid, state-run economies or unbridled and unregulated capitalism; between blame for right-wing paramilitaries or left-wing insurgents; between sticking to inflexible policies with regard to Cuba or denying the full human rights that are owed to the Cuban people….
…There's been several remarks directed at the issue of the relationship between the United States and Cuba, so let me address this. The United States seeks a new beginning with Cuba. I know that there is a longer -- (applause) -- I know there's a longer journey that must be traveled to overcome decades of mistrust, but there are critical steps we can take toward a new day. I've already changed a Cuba policy that I believe has failed to advance liberty or opportunity for the Cuban people. We will now allow Cuban Americans to visit the islands whenever they choose and provide resources to their families -- the same way that so many people in my country send money back to their families in your countries to pay for everyday needs.
Over the past two years, I've indicated, and I repeat today, that I'm prepared to have my administration engage with the Cuban government on a wide range of issues -- from drugs, migration, and economic issues, to human rights, free speech, and democratic reform. Now, let me be clear, I'm not interested in talking just for the sake of talking. But I do believe that we can move U.S.-Cuban relations in a new direction.
As has already been noted, and I think my presence here indicates, the United States has changed over time. (Applause.) It has not always been easy, but it has changed. And so I think it's important to remind my fellow leaders that it's not just the United States that has to change. All of us have responsibilities to look towards the future. (Applause.)
I think it's important to recognize, given historic suspicions, that the United States' policy should not be interference in other countries, but that also means that we can't blame the United States for every problem that arises in the hemisphere.

April 19, 2009

PRESS CONFERENCE
BY THE PRESIDENT

This summit has been held at a time of great challenge and great opportunity for the United States and the Americas. The consequences of a historic economic crisis are being felt across the hemisphere, putting new pressure on peoples and governments that are already strained. Migration to and from each of our nations has serious implications for all nations. The safety and security of our citizens is endangered by drug trafficking, lawlessness and a host of other threats. Our energy challenge offers us a chance to unleash our joint economic potential, enhance our security and protect our planet. And too many citizens are being denied dignity and opportunity and a chance to live out their dreams in Cuba and all across the hemisphere.
These are some of the issues I discussed here in Trinidad and Tobago with leaders like President Garcia of Peru, President Bachelet of Chile, President Uribe of Colombia, President Preval of Haiti, and Prime Minister Harper of Canada. The subject of many of these meetings and conversations has been launching a new era of partnership between our nations. Over the past few days, we've seen potential positive signs in the nature of the relationship between the United States, Cuba and Venezuela. But as I’ve said before, the test for all of us is not simply words, but also deeds. I do believe that the signals sent so far provide at least an opportunity for frank dialogue on a range of issues, including critical areas of democracy and human rights throughout the hemisphere.
I do not see eye to eye with every regional leader on every regional issue. And I do not agree with everything that was said at this summit by leaders from other nations. But what we showed here is that we can make progress when we're willing to break free from some of the stale debates and old ideologies that have dominated and distorted the debate in this hemisphere for far too long. We showed that while we have our differences, we can -- and must -- work together in areas where we have mutual interests, and where we disagree we can disagree respectfully. We showed that there are no senior or junior partners in the Americas; we're simply partners, committed to advancing a common agenda and overcoming common challenges….

But I firmly believe that if we're willing to break free from the arguments and ideologies of an earlier era and continue to act, as we have at this summit, with a sense of mutual responsibility and mutual respect and mutual interest, then each of our nations can come out of this challenging period stronger and more prosperous, and we can advance opportunity, equality, and security across the Americas….
Q Thank you, Mr. President. You said during the summit that you were here not to debate the past. You also said we must learn from our history. You just referred to this history. What have you learned over two days of listening to leaders here about how U.S. policy is perceived in the region? And can you name a specific policy that you will change as a result of what you've heard?
THE PRESIDENT:
…One thing that I thought was interesting -- and I knew this in a more abstract way but it was interesting in very specific terms -- hearing from these leaders who when they spoke about Cuba talked very specifically about the thousands of doctors from Cuba that are dispersed all throughout the region, and upon which many of these countries heavily depend. And it's a reminder for us in the United States that if our only interaction with many of these countries is drug interdiction, if our only interaction is military, then we may not be developing the connections that can, over time, increase our influence and have -- have a beneficial effect when we need to try to move policies that are of concern to us forward in the region.
And I think that's why it's so important that in our interactions not just here in the hemisphere but around the world, that we recognize that our military power is just one arm of our power, and that we have to use our diplomatic and development aid in more intelligent ways so that people can see very practical, concrete improvements in the lives of ordinary persons as a consequence of U.S. foreign policy….
Q Thank you, Mr. President. You've heard from a lot of Latin America leaders here who want the U.S. to lift the embargo against Cuba. You've said that you think it's an important leverage to not lift it. But in 2004, you did support lifting the embargo. You said, it's failed to provide the source of raising standards of living, it's squeezed the innocent, and it's time for us to acknowledge that this particular policy has failed. I'm wondering, what made you change your mind about the embargo?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, 2004, that seems just eons ago. What was I doing in 2004?
Q Running for Senate.
THE PRESIDENT: Is it while -- I was running for Senate. There you go. Look, what I said and what I think my entire administration has acknowledged is, is that the policy that we've had in place for 50 years hasn’t worked the way we want it to. The Cuban people are not free. And that's our lodestone, our North Star, when it come to our policy in Cuba.
It is my belief that we're not going to change that policy overnight, and the steps that we took I think were constructive in sending a signal that we'd like to see a transformation. But I am persuaded that it is important to send a signal that issues of political prisoners, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, democracy -- that those continue to be important, that they're not simply something to be brushed aside.
What was remarkable about the summit was that every leader who was participating was democratically elected. We might not be happy with the results of some elections; we might be happier with others; we might disagree with some of the leaders, but they all were conferred the legitimacy of a country speaking through democratic channels. And that is not yet there in Cuba.
Now, I think that as a starting point, it's important for us not to think that completely ignoring Cuba is somehow going to change policy, and the fact that you had Raul Castro say he's willing to have his government discuss with ours not just issues of lifting the embargo, but issues of human rights, political prisoners, that's a sign of progress.
And so we're going to explore and see if we can make some further steps. There are some things that the Cuban government could do. They could release political prisoners. They could reduce charges on remittances to match up with the policies that we have put in place to allow Cuban American families to send remittances. It turns out that Cuba charges an awful lot, they take a lot off the top. That would be an example of cooperation where both governments are working to help Cuban families and raise standards of living in Cuba.
So there are going to be some ways that the Cuban government I think can send some signals that they're serious about pursuing change. And I'm hopeful that over time the overwhelming trend in the hemisphere will occur in Cuba, as well. And I think that all of the governments here were encouraged by the fact that we had taken some first steps. Many of them want us to go further, but they at least see that we are not dug in into policies that were formulated before I was born….

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