President Obama: Chile is a model for the region and for the world
(Editor’s note: The following “hard hitting” interview with U.S. President Barack Obama appeared in the Santiago’s Sunday El Mercurio edition.) Obama arrives in Chile Monday, from Brazil, as part of his Latin American visit that also includes El Salvador.
Question: In the 1990s the US had a specific policy with regards to Latin America by means of the Summit of the Americas and the configuration of the Free Trade Area of the Americas. (FTAA) Since then there seems to have been a lack of general regional policy, and your country has focused more on bilateral agendas with specific Latin American countries. What kind of policy do you hope to develop with the region to avoid the emergence of new ideologies, and to strengthen the economy as much as democracy?
President Barack Obama: In order to make the Americas stronger and more resilient, we are trying to strengthen our already strong relationships and working as allies to improve public security, expand economic opportunities, assure a clean future with regards to energy, and hold up the democratic values that we share and stand for. Promoting a safe, stable and prosperous hemisphere, in which the US and our allies share responsibilities in key issues on a regional and global level is the most efficient way to defend the Americas’ democratic values. In order to implement this idea, we’re using all the political tools available to us, in our country and in the region, so that we can embrace rapidly changing issues.
Q: Why did you choose Chile as one of the countries to visit and as the place to give a speech to Latin America?
BO: Chile, more specifically its successful transition to democracy and its impressive economic growth, is a model for the region and for the world. Chile is getting more and more connected on a global level, making it an ally capable of confronting the challenges which affect the lives of people in Latin America and in the world. It is also a powerful example of how you can and should make the most of today’s opportunities.
Chile’s government, under the able leadership of President Piñera, is working on a series of important issues, such as improving responses to disasters on the continent, defending democracy and human rights, and trying to create a transparent government. It is also turning into a world leader in the development of clean technologies in the energy sector. And Chile is a close ally to the U.S. both in bilateral terms and in international forums such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).
These things make my trip to Chile and my speech about the America’s in Chile an obvious choice. In our attempt to forge alliances for the progress of the Americas, we are looking to find support in the solid bilateral alliances that we have, such as the relationship between the U.S. and Chile.
Q: Last year, Chile was in the news on a global scale due to the earthquake and the trapped miners. How do you think these things have changed the perception of our country?
BO: These events just reaffirmed what I respect and admire of Chileans, they inspired people all over the world. Since the terrible earthquake last year, the impressive reconstruction effort and the country’s economic growth has highlighted the resilient national spirit that has made Chile’s success possible, including the rescue of the miners. Between these successes there is also the fact that Chile has a vibrant democracy, an open economy and an active civil society. Seeing people rebuild their communities after the earthquake and watching those miners persevere in such unimaginable circumstances, we learnt something about Chilean spirit. But we also learnt something about humanity; we can all imagine our friends, family and loved ones overcoming such adversity.
These are promising times for the people of Chile, everyone around the world empathized with them. U.S. citizens were among the billion viewers who watched the 33 miners emerge healthy and safe. And the resilience that Chileans showed against the numerous challenges that they faced, didn’t just move me, but people from all over the world.
Q: How much interest and priority do you think your country will have on the objective, proposed by Chile, to scrap visa requirements to enter the US?
BO: Interaction between Chile and the US would be favored by both countries and would strengthen the ties that already unite us. However, the US visa extension program isn’t a political issue or a government procedure. The established parameters determine who is eligible for the program. Complying with the criteria can often be a long process, and currently Chile doesn’t comply with these criteria. My government will keep working with Chile’s government to satisfy some of the requirements to enter into the program.
Q: The divulging of Wikileaks has had an important effect on the countries of the region, including Chile. The public opinion tends to assimilate the personal judgments of North American government employees with the convictions of the State Department on the issues tackled, all of high political sensibility. Do you think it is possible that your speech in Santiago on Latin America could contribute to making this unpleasant confusion more clear?
BO: From the first days of my presidency, the U.S. has tried to treat American countries as allies. My speech in Santiago is another opportunity to emphasize that we have implemented this through concrete actions which point out the need to improve economic and social inclusion, neutralize threats to citizens, and advance in security with regards to energy, in order to confront climate change and defend the values that we share. Through our actions these policies benefit the people of both the U.S. and the Americas.
Q: Africa and the Middle East are experiencing changes in their autocratic regimes, some of which have been supported by the U.S. What will your country do to guarantee stability in that region and to promote their transitions to democracy? And what will you do if protests extend to countries such as Saudi Arabia, a country with a history of good relations with the US?
BO: Since the disturbances in the Middle East and North Africa, the U.S. has stood by a set of clear principles. We oppose violence, including the use of force to suppress peaceful demonstrations. We uphold these universal values, such as the right to protest peacefully, freedom of expression and the freedom to elect leaders. And we support any process of political and economical change which is in accordance with the aspirations of a nation’s people. These are the principles that we will defend on any front, whether it’s in Egypt or Iran; in Libya or in Tunisia. We see this moment of revolt in those regions as a promising sign, because when the people look to claim their universal rights, the U.S. sees that as a good thing. We also believe that the status quo is untenable, and that there can only be true stability in the region if there is economic and political reform. This is the message we have given to all our allies for a long time now, although we maintain our commitments with security in these regions. We have also highlighted that history is full of examples, such as Chile, who have had successful transitions from authoritative governments to genuine democracies and who have made important progress thanks to these transitions.
Translated by Phil Locker – Santiago Times