The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

Press Briefing by Ben Rhodes and Dan Restrepo to Preview the President's Trip to the Summit of the Americas

Via Conference Call

3:07 P.M. EDT

        MR. VIETOR:  Hi, everyone.  Thanks for getting on.  We are doing a on-the-record call today to preview the President’s trip to the Summit of the Americas this weekend.  Our speakers are going to be Ben Rhodes and Dan Restrepo, who is our Senior Director for the Western Hemisphere.  

        And so I think Ben is going to kick it off and hand it over to Dan.  Then we’ll do some Q and A.  And if you have any questions, please feel free to email me during the call or after, and we’ll follow up.  So with that, I’ll hand it over to Ben.

        MR. RHODES:  Great.  Thanks, everybody, for getting on the call.  We’re here to talk through the President’s upcoming trip to the Summit of the Americas.  This is the President’s fourth trip to the Americas since taking office, and follows on the Summit of the Americas in 2009 in Trinidad and Tobago.  

        It’s an important trip because the Western Hemisphere is increasingly a prosperous and peaceful region.  And our engagement in the Americas supports both our economic growth here at home and the advance of security and democracy throughout the hemisphere, which is very much in our interest.

        Over the course of the last three years, President Obama has significantly bolstered the image of the United States in the region.  U.S. leadership in survey after survey is far more welcomed and respected throughout the Americas.  And we believe that has opened the door to greater economic and security cooperation with the countries of the region.

        In the first instance, the U.S. economy benefits substantially from our trade in the Americas, and over 40 percent of our exports currently go to the Americas.  And those exports are growing faster than our trade with the rest of the world.  So this is very much in line with the President’s initiative to double U.S. exports, which supports job creation back at home.  And at the summit, he’ll continue his efforts to advocate for U.S. businesses and increase trade and investment across the Americas.  And Dan can speak to that.

        We’re also working with countries across the region on a range of priorities from confronting violence and drug trafficking to supporting the continued democratic development in the region.  And those will be agenda items for the President, and Dan will also speak more about that.

        I’ll just walk you through the schedule for the next several days.  On the way to the summit, the President will do an event at the Port of Tampa, where he will speak about the importance of U.S. exports to the Americas and the need to deepen trade and investment.  In particular, the President will talk about his efforts to open those markets, to support increased trade, building on the FTAs that we’ve had with Colombia and Panama, and also to increase opportunities for small businesses across the Americas.

        So much of the job creation that comes from our exporting comes from small businesses.  And increasingly, we want to be opening the door for U.S. small businesses to increase their exports across the region.  So he’ll have an opportunity to speak to that at the Port of Tampa, which does a significant amount of trade into the Americas -- three of the top five export destinations from the port in Tampa are Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina, which are critical destinations for U.S. exports.  And therefore, it’s a very fitting venue for him to kick off his summit participation and deliver his message on the economic ties that we have with the region.  

        The President will get to Colombia on Friday night to Cartagena, and he’ll begin the summit with a dinner that the Colombians are hosting for summit leaders on Friday night.  And again, it’s fitting that Colombia, as the host of the summit, as a very close partner of the United States for many years -- a tremendous success story in the Americas in their security gains and economic growth over the course of the last several years.

        On Saturday, the President will begin his day with a CEO Summit of the Americas.  This will be an opportunity for the President to join President Santos of Colombia and President Rousseff of Brazil in a discussion about our efforts to increase economic integration and opportunity across the hemisphere -- we, of course, just recently hosted President Rousseff of Brazil -- and deepening our cooperation with Brazil on economic issues as well as a range of other issues.  So this will be a good opportunity for the three leaders to have a discussion about economic cooperation.   

        Then, the President will join the other leaders of the Americas for an arrival ceremony in the early afternoon to kick off the summit.  From that, they will go into the plenary session, which will run throughout the afternoon.  And, again, Dan can speak to the summit agenda in his opening remarks.  
        After that plenary session, the leaders will again have a dinner, this time a leaders’ dinner in which they will be able to continue their discussions.  And then we’ll spend Saturday night in Cartagena again.

        On Sunday morning, there will be a leaders’ retreat following the official photo of the summit.  And the leaders’ retreat will run throughout the morning and conclude the summit program.  The President will also have an opportunity to speak on the margins of both the summit and the retreat with other leaders of the Americas.  And we’ll keep you updated on those interactions.  

        Following that leaders’ retreat, he’ll have a multilateral meeting with Caribbean leaders.  The United States obviously has very close relationships across the Caribbean.  And we believe that this is an important opportunity for us to continue our dialogue with those leaders about our security cooperation, our close people-to-people ties, and our efforts to promote economic growth in the Caribbean region.

        Following that, in the afternoon, the President will have a bilateral program with President Santos of Colombia that will include a meeting among the Presidents and then a working lunch.  Again, we’ve made a lot of progress with Colombia.  It’s one of our really model partnerships, not just in the Americas but in the world.  We’ll be able to discuss our continued security cooperation, which has supported the Colombians as they’ve made historic gains in their efforts against the FARC.  We’ll also be able to discuss our continued economic cooperation, building on the successful completion of the negotiations for the free trade agreement.  

        So this is, in many respects, a bilateral meeting that will highlight a very successful relationship that is advancing our security and economic priorities in the region.  Colombia, also in that vein, sets a good example for the type of progress we can make with partners in combating violence and drug trafficking and consolidating economic growth.

        Following their meeting, the two leaders will have a joint press conference where they’ll be able to obviously make statements and take questions.  And then, after the press conference, they will do an event at San Pedro Claver Church, which Dan can speak to as well, where the two leaders will speak in particular to the Colombian people and the Afro-Colombian population about some of the efforts that have been taken with -- opportunity within Colombia, and again greater ties between the American and Colombian people.

        And following that event, in the late afternoon, the President will return to the United States, getting back to Washington late Sunday night.

        But with that, I’ll turn it over to Dan to speak about the summit agenda and our expectations for the summit.

        MR. RESTREPO:  Thanks, Ben, and thanks, everybody, for joining.

        The summit theme is, as chosen by the Colombians, is one that works quite well, frankly, with the President’s agenda in the Americas.  It’s -- the title is “Connecting the Americas:  Partners for Prosperity.”  It has kind of five subthemes.  One is about physical integration.  The other is about the use of information and communication technology for development purposes.  Another is on disaster response.  The fourth on citizen security efforts.  And then finally, in addressing poverty and inequality in the Americas.

        On all of these issues, as Ben was discussing, we’ve been engaged for the course -- over the course of the last three years, building off the President’s participation in the 2009 summit, working as equal partners to address these challenges and these opportunities in the Americas.
        It’s been part of, as Ben noted, a sustained engagement by the President.  This is his fourth trip to the region as President -- his fifth when he goes to the G20 in June in Mexico.  The Santos bilateral on Sunday will be the 30th bilateral meeting that the President has with leaders from the Western Hemisphere as President -- from a dozen countries.

        And again, the subthemes on citizen security, it’s an issue that we’ve been very engaged in from the beginning of the administration, recognizing the shared responsibility the United States has to confront transnational organized crime in the Americas, largely fueled by the drug trade.  It’s the reason why we’ve spent -- the President has sought and secured $30 billion worth of investment in drug prevention treatment in here, domestically in the United States, in his first three budgets; the request for another $10 billion in the upcoming -- in the current budget request.

        It’s why we’ve taken unprecedented steps to cut illicit flows southbound from the United States into the region.  It’s also why we’ve been very focused on building an unprecedented security partnership with Mexico, increasing funding -- annual funding for Central American security efforts from approximately $60 million per year when the President took office to more than $100 million per year right now.  And also through the Central American Citizen Security Partnership that the President launched last year when he went to El Salvador, bringing other donors and other capable partners both from the region, in the case of Colombia and Mexico and Canada and Chile, but also from the International Financial Institution, the Inter-American Development Bank, and from the European Union, additional donors and additional resources to address citizen security challenges in Central America.  

        At the 2009 Summit of the Americas, the President launched the Caribbean Basin and Security Initiative, again, a partnership to work with the countries of the Caribbean to address the unique challenges posed by transnational crime in the Caribbean.  That is now a partnership that the U.S. has invested more than $200 million in since its inception at the last summit.

        The efforts at this summit will also build off of the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas that the President also launched three years ago in Trinidad and Tobago -- more than 40 projects with countries from across the region dealing with how to enhance energy security, energy efficiency, clean energy technology usage across the region.  There’s a push in the region for greater integration of electricity interconnection, things that will make a real difference in people’s lives and has concrete benefits coming out of the summit.

        On economic development, three years ago when we went to the summit, the major issue that was on the minds of the gathered countries was the global economic crisis and how the region would weather it, and particularly whether the
        Inter-American Development Bank would have the sufficient resources to support countries as they address the challenges of the crisis.  

        Through our efforts, there was the Ninth General Capital Increase of the bank that doubled its lending capacity since the last time the President sat down with these same leaders.  And the bank, every day, is being more responsive; was one of the leading responders, if you will, economically and financially, as part of the U.S.-led effort to help Haiti post the 2010 -- January 2010 earthquake -- which, again, that leads into the national disaster response efforts in the hemisphere and one of the subthemes of the summit, the lessons from Haiti, and the efforts that have been going on through the defense ministers of the Americas to better coordinate military response -- military support to civilian response for disaster relief in the Americas is something that we’ve been very much working on and we’ll continue through this summit and into the next defense ministerial in the region later this year in Uruguay, continuing that work.

        And then, of course, there are issues on government transparency, accountability and democratic governance -- issues that are -- continue to be issues of concern for us, for the President.  The region in 2009 collectively responded to defend democracy in Honduras, invoking for the first time the Inter-American Democratic Charter in helping restore constitutional democratic order in that country.  And there are other challenges to democracy today in the region, to democratic governance that I think you’ll see the President talking about it and encouraging his fellow leaders to similarly respond to this shared commitment we have for democratic governance in the Americas.

        And with that I think we will open it up for questions.

        Q    Thank you very much for taking the time to do the call, and thank you for your service.  My question is about drug policy.  Although it’s not on the official agenda, several regional leaders, including the Colombian President himself, has said they intend to take the drug policy debate to the next level at this summit and of course it surrounds the call by many leaders to urge decriminalization of certain drugs and also to have a focus on U.S. consumption and reducing U.S. demand for drugs.  I’m wondering, what will be the U.S. position and how in-depth do you plan to talk about this at the summit?  Thank you.

        MR. RESTREPO:  Josh, as you know, this is not a new issue in the Americas, nor is this an issue where there is a consensus among the countries -- the rest of the countries of the Americas.  There are -- and as you’ve seen it in the course of the public debate over the last several weeks in the region -- real differences of opinion on the question of legalization and decriminalization.  

        U.S. policy on this is very clear.  The President doesn’t support decriminalization.  He does think this is a legitimate debate, and it’s a debate that we welcome having because it helps demystify this as an option.  I think that Cartagena provides a real opportunity to build on the conversation that Vice President Biden started in Honduras for the countries of Central America last month, where how is it that we can work collectively in the Americas more effectively to address the real challenges of crime and violence that societies -- that too many societies are facing right now.  There is no magic bullet in that debate as the challenge of -- as the consumption of drugs spreads through the Americas, the response and the responsibility to address this challenge also needs to spread.  And we need to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to build the kinds of rule of law institutions necessary to defeat these transnational criminal organizations.  

        I think very much -- you’re right that the conversation -- this will be part of the conversation in Cartagena.  And we welcome the opportunity to go more in depth as to how collectively the countries of the Americas can more effectively address this challenge.  And as to consumption in the United States, I think I touched on that in the introductory comments in terms of the investments and the national drug control policy changes that this President has made to address and to enhance treatment prevention and education as ways of driving down drug use and demand here in the United States.  

        Q    Hey, thanks, guys, for doing this.  I appreciate it.  I wondered if you could put U.S. relations with the Americas in a larger context.  The President has been forced to address issues in the Middle East over the past three years.  He went to the Pacific and talked to -- and listed the Asian countries as the new area of outreach for the U.S.  Where our relations with the Americas stand in that context?

        MR. RHODES:  Sure, I can take that.  It’s Ben.  It’s a good question.  I think that we really see the Americas as a success story, both in their own right and in terms of U.S. engagement.  What we’ve seen over the course of the last several years is significant strides made in terms of economic growth in the Americas.  The region was able to weather the global economic crisis much stronger than many other parts of the world, sustaining very healthy growth rates.

        We’ve also seen the successful consolidation of democracy in many parts of the Americas as well, so that you now have a hemisphere that very largely sets a positive, democratic example.  And you also see countries in the Americas playing an increasing role on the world stage, not just within the region, so that you have, through the G20, several countries of the Americas that have their voice at the table.  And you have countries like Brazil, for instance, that again increasingly have a role to play globally.  And we’ve encouraged that role, for instance, by launching an open government partnership with the Brazilians as the co-chair that brings in many other countries.  

        In terms of what it means for the United States, on the economic side we see the Americas as fundamental to our export-driven strategy for economic growth.  As I mentioned, the Western Hemisphere is the destination for over 40 percent of U.S. exports, which is more than any other region.  And U.S. exports to the Western Hemisphere grew by more than 17 percent last year, which is a higher growth rate than the increase of our exports to other parts of the world.

        So we see a deepening of the economic ties between the United States and the Americas.  And as countries in Latin America become more prosperous and more people move out of poverty, that creates opportunity for us as well as people of the Americas, because those are new markets for our goods.  So that allows us to export more to the region.  And similarly, we’ve encouraged initiatives on tourism that will make it easier for the people of the Americas to come here, which supports our economy as well.

        So the economic success of the Americas is very much in our interest.  And we want to make sure that the United States is both feeding that economic growth through our investment and trade, and making sure that the door is open for U.S. businesses and workers to benefit from that growth as well.

        I think in terms of dealing with the other issues that confront the Americas, what we’ve sought to do is foster an equal partnership between the United States and the countries of the Americas, so that we’re working cooperatively to deal with security challenges.  And as Dan mentioned, we’ve put a significant amount of resources into efforts to combat violent crime and drug trafficking.  But those efforts are also focused on strengthening best practices, so those countries that take concerted action like Mexico and those countries that have demonstrated a positive example like Colombia serve as, again, models for cooperative action going forward.  So we’re forging partnerships on a range of areas where we have a common interest with the countries in the Americas.

        The last thing I’d say is that obviously, even as the foreign policy -- the attention of the United States is often focused on trouble spots -- the ongoing war in Afghanistan, the situation in the Middle East -- there is a unique quality to the relationship that we have with the Americas, specifically the fact that we have so many of our citizens here in the United States who trace their heritage back to the Americas and the fact that we occupy the same neighborhood.

        So in some respects, the people-to-people ties between the United States and Latin America and Canada are much deeper than the ties that we have with other countries.  So we’re dealing with challenges and issues that blur across borders in many respects.  And that, I think, makes our engagement in this part of the world unique.  

        But the bottom line is the success of the Americas serves the interest of the United States.  And we want to get behind that success and we want to make sure that as the Americas are growing and prospering increasingly, that we are able to support that growth, open new markets for U.S. exports, and forge the type of cooperation we need to deal with the continuing challenges, particularly on the security side.  

        Q    Thank you.  I was wondering if the President is going to make any announcements from Colombia concerning his satisfaction with the April 2011 Labor Condition Accord.

        MR. RESTREPO:  This is Dan.  The labor action plan that was announced on April 7, 2011 when President Santos visited the President for the second of their bilateral meetings -- they had met previously on the margins of the U.N. General Assembly back in September of 2010, just after President Santos came to office.  The labor action plan is something that we have been, are, and will continue to be working on implementing with the Colombian government.  

        And the Colombian government has taken a number of very important steps to improve labor rights and labor protections in Colombia, passing a series of laws, issuing a series of executive decrees, imposing a million-dollar fine recently on a company in the palm sector that was violating the new rules on the use of cooperatives.

        So the Colombian government has been taking a number of steps.  We have been working through the Department of Labor and through the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office to support those efforts.  And our continued commitment to labor rights in Colombia will certainly be part of the President’s agenda with President Santos.  

        MR. RHODES:  Just to add to what Dan said, I’d just note that on the trip the President will be accompanied by both Ambassador Kirk and Secretary Solis, I think which speaks to the interest that we have in making sure that the implementation of the free trade agreement goes forward effectively.  And I think Secretary Solis’s participation demonstrates our continued focus on moving forward with the labor action plan and our commitment to stand up for workers’ rights as we move towards implementation of the trade agreement.  

        Q    Hi, yes, thanks.  Just to follow up on my colleague’s question just there -- I mean, the AFL-CIO has been actively warning its affiliates that the President is going to make this announcement during the summit or during the bilateral with Santos that Colombia has in fact fulfilled the key provisions of the action plan.  Can you say with any certainty whether he will make that announcement?  And also, Colombia also appears to be pushing for an announcement of specific dates on which the FTA, the free trade agreement, could go into effect.  Do you expect that to come out of this meeting given that Colombia recently passed, I think yesterday, some important legislation to implement its obligations under the FTA?

        MR. RESTREPO:  This is Dan again.  As you mentioned, the Colombians are hard at work on the implementation phase and coming into -- preparing themselves to conform with the agreements that they made under the FTA.  We’re very much focused at a technical level and have been supporting those processes, and folks again at USTR, DOL and elsewhere in government looking at the steps that the Colombians have taken.  That process continues.  

        The bringing the agreement into force is something that we certainly want to do as soon as possible, but again, consistent with the commitments the President made in sending the agreement to the Hill for ratification last October -- part of that being our focus on implementation of labor action plans.  So we’re very much focused on the effect of implementation, of the commitments both under the FTA and under the labor action plan.

        Q    Hi, Dan.  Can we ask you in Spanish, please?  

        MR. RESTREPO:  Yes.

        Q    (Question asked in Spanish.)

        MR. RESTREPO:  I’m going to repeat my answer, paraphrase my answer.  I was asked essentially what the most important issue that President Obama will have -- be able to raise with President Santos in the bilateral program, and noted that this --- their third meeting -- their third bilateral meeting gives President Obama an opportunity to describe kind of the full range of activities that we’re engaged in with Colombia, that every day this partnership is growing both stronger and more varied.  

        They’ll have an opportunity to focus on economic issues of interest, regional -- excuse me, security issues, both support for Colombia’s efforts in Colombia, but also in increasing participation and cooperation on regional security issues, and also on global issues.  Colombia finds itself as a member of the U.N. Security Council and is exercising important regional and global leadership.  So the Presidents will have an opportunity to talk about the full range of a relationship that each day is getting stronger.

        Q    Hi, thanks for doing this call.  My question is about Cuba.  Some of the countries would like to see Cuba participate in the Summit of the Americas.  Do you see that as being possible at any time in the near future?  And also, what’s your view of the economic reforms there and developments under Raul Castro?

        MR. RESTREPO: This is Dan.  We look forward to the day when a democratic Cuba rejoins the inter-American system.  Three years ago at the summit there was a lot of talk that that was going to be the last Summit of the Americas without Cuba present.  A decision was made to have the OAS General Assembly that same year that was held in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, deal with the question of how Cuba returns to the inter-American system.  

        And the countries of the Americas -- all the countries that will be present in Cartagena, including the United States -- came to the conclusion that the path for that return was Cuba complying with the same basic criteria, the same basic democratic commitments that the other countries of the Americas have made.

        Unfortunately, Cuban authorities haven’t decided to go down that path.  Instead, you see, even with Pope Benedict in Cuba a couple weeks ago, the Cubans insisting publicly that theirs will remain a one-party state, and cracking down on those who choose to courageously defend.  So the path is there for Cuba’s return to the inter-American system, and we very much hope that Cuba will travel down that path as soon as possible.  

        The President has advanced a set of policies to reach out to the Cuban people to support them in their desire to determine Cuba’s future, and also to make them less dependent on the Cuban state.  He has done that through lifting restrictions on family visits and remittances, on enhancing educational, cultural and religious travel, and also allowing greater support for religious institutions and activities through remittances from the United States to Cuba.  Those are policies that the President remains committed to.  

        The economic changes that you’ve seen in Cuba today -- a lot depends on the implementation of those.  They create the possibility of greater economic independence for the Cuban people from Cuban authorities.  If that comes to pass, that would be a good thing.  But fundamentally today, Cuban authorities continue to deny the Cuban people their universal rights.  And the President will continue to stand up for those rights and encourage others to do so as well.  

        Q    Yes.  Thank you and thanks for doing this.  Dan, you say that President Obama welcomed to have the debate on drugs, and even the Latin American President, President Santos, he seems to be open to the idea to decriminalize the consumption of drugs.  So the question is -- I mean, since you say that the U.S. position is very clear in this regard, what is the -- I mean, what is the purpose?  What is the penalty to have this dialogue, this debate in Cartagena when already one of the main players in this issue, the United States, doesn’t seem to be able to consider any future change in the government strategy?

        MR. RESTREPO:  I think that the important thing to bear in mind here is this is a shared responsibility, and it is one that you have an increasing number of capable partners in the Americas who can help confront this challenge.  And I think the President very much looks forward to a discussion in Cartagena about how we can do better as a group to address this challenge.  

        Here’s a -- for example, the United States, Brazil and Bolivia recently agreed to a trilateral agreement on how to address surplus coca cultivation in Bolivia.  That brings Brazil into this equation in a way that the Brazilians frankly have not been in the past.  Brazil has a very large -- they’re the second largest cocaine-consuming country in the world.  And so then as this challenge grows, as the implications of the challenge grow, I think you have a reordering of the debate in the Americas and it’s how can we together help build the kinds of institutions, the kinds of police forces, the kinds of courts, the kinds of prisons, and the kinds of public health systems necessary to manage this challenge, to address this challenge, and to decrease the levels of crime and violence -- substantially decrease the levels of crime and violence that you’re seeing in countries, particularly in the northern triangle of Central America, but in countries across the region.

        And this is not a debate where one country is standing in a very different place than all of the other countries.  There is a variety of views on the issue of decriminalization in the Americas.  The United States is among the countries who does not see this as the solution and does not see it as a viable option because of the problems that come with it, and because it won’t end transnational organized crime, but that we are -- that the leaders of the region will have an opportunity to further discuss this issue and see how we can enhance our cooperation is a positive thing that should help improve the lives of people across the region.

        Q    Hi.  Juan Carlos from CNN Español.  My question is, Colombians are highlighting the fact that President Obama is staying overnight in Cartagena and will be the first President to do so, and most others have just gone for hours.  How much of this trip and the summit is a message to the region?  And how much is it a message to Latino voters in the U.S.?  There are about a million Colombian Americans.  So is there also an angle where you’re trying to show Hispanics in the U.S. that the President cares about Latin America and that he’s focused on the region?

        MR. RHODES:  Sure, I’ll start on that.  I’d say a few points.  First of all, the President recognizes the deep interest that so many Americans have in our relationship with Latin America given their family ties in the region.  So therefore, he views these trips as an important opportunity to demonstrate the close connections within the Americas and the significance that the United States places on our relations within the hemisphere.

        And we’ve taken several steps, for instance, to make it easier for people within the United States to interact with their family throughout the Americas, whether that is allowing Cuban Americans to be able to travel to Cuba and to send remittances to Cuba; or whether it’s also the steps that we’ve taken to ensure that there is effective transparency and consumer protections for families that are pursuing remittances within the Americas.

        I think the fact that we are going to Florida is in part to demonstrate the deep connectivity between the United States and Latin America.  And Florida I think is both an economic and people-to-people hub in terms of connecting the United States and Latin America.  And so for instance, the port he’ll be speaking at in Tampa, over 40 percent of its exports are destined to the Americas, and that speaks to the daily commerce that also ties us together.

        In Colombia, we very much want to highlight the deep and successful partnership between our two countries.  And President Obama recognizes the significance of him going to spend two nights in Cartagena and the ties not just among the U.S. and Colombian governments, but also the significant Colombian American population that is representative of the ways in which the United States has been enriched by the Colombian people.

        And in addition to the bilateral meeting that he’ll be having with President Santos, we’re also very much looking forward to the event that the two leaders will have to go to what is a historic church within Cartagena and to engage directly with the Colombian people, and to mark not just the ties between our governments but the ties between our peoples.

        So it is very much a part of our agenda to signal the deep interconnections among the peoples of the Americas, the ways in which the United States is enriched by immigration from Latin America to the United States, and again, the ways in which we’re pursuing policies that seek to deepen the integration within the hemisphere, building upon those people-to-people ties.

        I don't know, Dan, if you have anything to add on the Colombia --

        MR. VIETOR:  Dan is signaling that he is good, so we’ll go to our last question.

        Q    Guys, thanks for doing this.  I wonder if you can talk a little bit about the areas in which democracy is challenged in the region, specifically challenged; and also comment on Hugo Chavez and whether do you expect any contacts between the President and him in Cartagena.

        MR. RHODES:  Sure, I’ll just say a couple words to begin.  I think what we’ve seen, frankly, over the course of the last few years is the United States reinforcing its role as both a partner in the region, with many different countries, and a leader in the region.

        As I mentioned, President Obama’s election and his leadership in office has led to a dramatic increase in the opinion of the United States across the hemisphere.  And frankly, one of the reasons why I think that we have been able to see that type of increase in the approval of the United States is that we have moved beyond some of the old divides that existed within the region.

        We’re not interested in debating the 20th century, we’re interested in working together in the 21st century.  And insofar as you have leaders in the Americas who seek to constantly reignite those debates, there’s not a lot of appetite for that among the peoples of the region.

        And so, whereas in previous years, particularly before President Obama took office, often, U.S. trips to the region were exploited by people like President Chavez to try to create a significant rift.  We believe that we’ve sent a signal that we’re not interested in revisiting the past.  We’re interested in leading for the future.  And we think that that's a message that has resonance in the region.

        We remain concerned, of course, about any undemocratic practices in the region, and we’ve spoken out about the need to protect the hard-won freedoms within the region.  Within Venezuela, of course, we very much support the freedom of the press, the freedom of an independent judiciary, and again, we’ll continue always to support the rights of each country in the Americas to determine their own future.

        When there was an undemocratic action within Honduras, the United States supported a restoration of democracy in that country in line with the Charter of the Americas, even as, again -- without respect to the political persuasion of the actors within Honduras.

        I think within Venezuela, we’ll of course support a free and fair election later this year and be speaking out for the rights of the people of Venezuela just as we’d speak out for the rights of people anywhere in the Americas.  So we believe that there’s a positive success story about democracy in the region.  You see that in the vibrancy of democracy from Brazil to Chile, to Mexico, to Central America and across the region.  

        And in fact, one of the signals of the success of democracy is the fact that we’re actually partnering with other countries in the region to promote democratic practices around the world.  So you have -- as I mentioned earlier, the United States and Brazil are co-chairing an open government forum that brings together dozens of countries to promote openness, transparency, anti-corruption measures and tools that strengthen citizens and advance the consolidation of democracy.  So the very fact that you have that type of partnership speaks to Latin America’s democratic progress and the fact that those countries like Brazil that have consolidated their own democratic gains are now positive models for the world as well.

        So we’ll continue to speak out for the rights of citizens across the Americas.  We’ll continue to hold up the positive model of democratic development in the Americas, and we’ll continue to look forward to the future we’re trying to forge, rather than revisiting the ideological battles of the past as some leaders seek to do.

        Dan, I don't know if you want to comment --

        MR. VIETOR:  Dan is saying your answer was great.  So with that, we’ll wrap the call.  Thanks, everybody, for getting on.  If you have any follow-ups, feel free to shoot me an email, and we look forward to seeing you in Colombia.  Thanks again.

END 3:50 P.M. EDT

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