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Travel to Latin America: Trip Preview

Travel to Latin America: Trip Preview

Karen Hughes, Under Secretary for Public Affairs
Interview by Richard Araujo, Voice of America
Washington, DC
March 9, 2006

QUESTION: Under Secretary Hughes, you lived in Latin America. You're getting ready to go to visit five countries in Latin America, including one of the ones where you lived at in Panama. First, I want to ask if you could give us a short message in Spanish.

UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: And I'm excited about going. I think it'll feel like coming home. I remember traveling to El Salvador with the President and I stepped off the plane and I turned to Condoleezza Rice, who at the time was the National Security Advisor, and I said this feels like home, because I grew up in that tropical climate in Panama. I spent three years there as a little girl and then went back several times when my dad was there while I was in college and so I'm very excited about the trip. But I'm going because President Bush said Latin America should be one of my priorities. When I first took this job and became responsible for America's public diplomacy and our conversation with the world, I asked him what my priorities should be and he mentioned Latin America as one of my top priorities. And so I'm delighted to be visiting.

QUESTION: Well, I think that you're going to get the response from the people that they're going to be very happy to see you come to Latin America. I understand that you are the first Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy to travel to Latin America.

UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: And I'm surprised about that because it's such -- as I said, we're friends, we're neighbors, we have ties of business and family and democracy and we value so much. We have so many things in common. I'm actually the -- the reason for my trip being scheduled at this moment is for the inaugural of President Bachelet in Chile, which is a very historic time for not only that nation but for Latin America as a whole. And I was really inspired actually by her life story, particularly as you think about the war against terror; that here is a woman who had to deal with so much hate and so much violence in her own life. You know, her father was imprisoned and tortured and died in prison. She and her mother were also imprisoned and tortured and, yet I saw a quote in an article about her where she said, you know, after seeing so much violence, that she decided to dedicate her life to building understanding and tolerance and even love. And I think that's such a powerful message. And I always -- I frequently say that the way to overcome hate in the world is with hope, and that obviously is the president's message and so I'm very excited about attending that inaugural and then visiting all the other countries.

QUESTION: Well, it sounds like a new beginning in the area of public diplomacy.

UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Well, I hope so. I say public diplomacy is about America's conversation with the world, and that's listening as much as speaking. And sometimes I think we're viewed as speaking and not wanting to listen. And my job -- I talk about my job as being waging peace -- that working to foster those people-to-people exchanges.

I find people the world over want the same things. We want a better life for our children. We want education. We want to live in security and in peace with one another. We value -- we want opportunity. In so many of these countries that I'm visiting we're working in partnership to expand the circle of opportunity for all of our citizens. That's a challenge here in America, that's a challenge in Chile, it's a challenge in Brazil, it's a challenge in Panama and Colombia and El Salvador to deliver on our democracy and make sure that its benefits reach all the people and that we show all the people that we have a sense of social justice that the poor and the disadvantaged can be included in that growing circle of opportunity.

And so I'm fortunate to be able to visit programs where America's working in partnership with local organizations and governments to try to help extend the benefits of democracy to all of our citizens and that's a real privilege to do that.

QUESTION: Excellent. You're going to be traveling to the five countries in Latin America at a period where the public opinion -- some of the polls, some of the commentators and so forth have said that the opinion of the United States or the view from the United States towards Latin American countries is at an all-time low. What role can public diplomacy play to change that view?

UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Well, first of all, let me challenge it just a bit, because I've seen some surveys that -- and I think people both in America and in Latin America value our friendship and view it as very important and view it as a very important relationship. And as I said, I come from the state of Texas and we have friends and family and aunts and uncles and all kinds of ties on both sides of the border. And I think, by and large, people in all the countries I'm visiting, large majorities, value their relationship with America and Americans value our relationship with those countries.

After all, we have many, many citizens of those countries and immigrants from those countries in our own country, who now make up a part of the very rich fabric of America. But -- sure, there are always going to be some differences on matters of policy and that's what we have to discuss those in a respectful way, in a way that seeks to bridges of understanding. Because one of my favorite quotes from a fellow Texas, Bob Bullock, who's the former Lieutenant Governor there, he used to say "if the two of us agree 100 percent of the time, one of us is not necessary." And I love that because it's true. You can be very individual. You don't have to agree on everything and yet you still can be close friends and have excellent relationships, just as America does with the countries that I'm visiting.

QUESTION: Coming at the same thing, there's again sort of a policy, a perception that the United States is focused more on issues of security, of terrorism, of illegal drugs but is not as concerned with the economic challenge, with social justice, with the poor in Latin America. You were talking about some of the programs that the United States is sponsoring in Latin America, that it does focus on the poor and some of the other constraints beyond those issues.

UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Well, and that's very important to us. America is -- President Bush recently said in his State of the Union that for people everywhere, America is a partner for a better life. And that's what America does seek to do through our development programs is to work in partnership with local people, with local communities in ways that help, for example, train women so that they can have healthier babies and make sure that they are able to provide health care for their own children, to train women with skills for jobs, to teach English to those who want it, so the young people can have the expanded opportunities and the better job prospects that having two languages brings when you go out in today's workforce. All kinds of training programs: agricultural assistance programs to help farmers and agricultural workers get more from their land, increase their productivity and maximize their profits, greater income for their families.

So with our development we seek to help educate, to help train, to help empower, to help people participate more broadly in their societies, to help them control their own futures. And as I said, we do that in a spirit of partnership. That we want to be a partner to help come alongside people and help them build the better life that we all want for our own children and for our families and for each other.

QUESTION: What role do you think public diplomacy can play to counter Venezuelan President Chavez's efforts to promote anti-American sentiment, I guess, a free trade agreement with the United States by Latin American countries?

UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Well, I think one of the things we need to do is to work with leaders of countries throughout Latin America with whom we have very good relationships, to provide to the world a picture of the Americas that is one of hope and one of opportunity and one of democracy, one of support for trade and the jobs that it creates. And so I think what we want to project to the world is the majority view in this hemisphere, which is a view that we want freedom and free expression and freedom of organizations and people to associate and people to have an opportunity to participate and to live lives of dignity and opportunity. And so I think that's what's important is to look to the future, not to the past.

QUESTION: One of the countries you're going to be visiting is Colombia where it's one of the strongest allies with the United States and they just recently signed a free trade agreement, regardless of what Mr. Chavez's goals are. What are some of the activities you're going to have in the country?

UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Well, I'm going to meeting with the president in the Colombia. I'm going to be -- in all the countries I'm going to be reaching out and meeting with women, with meeting with young people. One of the things I try to do as Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy is meet with people that may not usually meet with Americans, experience cultural programs, meet with students, meet with exchange participants, meet with business leaders, meet with journalists. I'm going to be meeting with some brave journalists in Colombia. As you know, Colombia is a country that has been through so much and journalists have risked their lives and lost their lives in Colombia on behalf of the right to free speech.

You know, Colombia has been through an assault and yet has managed to keep its institutions and keep its democracy and keep its economy growing, and so it's a wonderful example for the region. And so I'm very much looking forward to -- I've never been to Colombia. My parents visited there, when I was little girl, in Panama, so I heard them talk about how beautiful it is, but I've never been there. And I'm very much looking forward to going there.

QUESTION: You talked about exchange programs that have been very successful in the past, with journalists, politicians, private sector, NGOs. Do you foresee those continuing or increasing?

UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Increasing. When I took this job, every person I met with, without exception, said that our exchange programs have been our single most important public diplomacy tool for the last 50 years. Because when you bring someone to a country or when an American goes to another country, you form those bonds. Your life is forever changed. You see a different picture of the world. And so one of my goals, as Under Secretary, is to increase exchanges and we want a significant increase in our budget for exchanges for the next budget year.

We're trying to focus our exchange programs on young people and those who influence them: people like teachers and women and sports leaders. In fact right now, we have a group of young people from Latin and Central America here in the United States participating in a baseball program in conjunction with the World Baseball Classic and they're attending spring training in Florida and then they're going to come to Washington and meet with some of our nation's leaders. And I think those are wonderful programs to expose and these young people tend to be from low income families and so they're not, you know, we're reaching out beyond the traditional audiences who might be able to come to America or come with their families to America to try to bring young people to our country. And we want our own Americans to travel to Latin America and to visit with people there and to learn Spanish.

I encourage strongly and -- unfortunately, you know, once your mother says that you should do it, children maybe don't do it as much -- but I do encourage all young people to learn another language and to learn the "la bonita lengua de espanol" which is so pretty. In fact, one of my goals in my life is I'm going to study and learn it better. I heard it a lot as a young person, but I never have formally really studied it and I need to do that.

QUESTION: As a Texan and as someone who lived in Latin America and has visited Latin America, this has got to be a very different feeling for you going to Latin America in your role.

UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: I feel like I'm going home. And as I said, it's mi casa , so I feel like I'm going among family and I've been really looking forward to this trip, because as I said, I lived there as a young girl. I've been back as an adult. I've been there during my college years. Some of the countries that I'm visiting I've never been to before -- three of them -- two of them I have. I lived in Panama and visited El Salvador before, but I've never been to Chile or Brazil or Colombia, and so I'm very much looking forward to the trip.

Released on March 10, 2006

ENDS


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