For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary March 11, 2007
President Bush and President Uribe of Colombia Participate in a Joint Press Availability Casa de Nariño, Bogotá, Columbia 3:34 P.M. (Local)
PRESIDENT URIBE: (As translated.) Mr. President of the United States of America, George W. Bush; distinguished members of the delegation; friends from the government; distinguished journalists who have come from other countries and from Colombia, I would like to welcome again in the warmest fashion possible. I would like to welcome his delegation, as well.
During the working lunch we have just had, at the end I was able to read some beautiful paragraphs from Bolivar, the Liberator: one in the Charter of Angostura, where he actually was talking about the creation of the American nation around -- or on the basis of freedom, tolerance, and of having a general law that would respond to common interest through individual wills. The Liberator also mentioned a very nice paragraph during the Constitution Assembly in Bolivia on the legacy of President George Washington.
I was saying that the relations between the Colombian people and the American people are sound. We have mutual understanding on democratic values since the birth of our two states. This visit is a reason for being proud. We will trust even more in our relations and the Colombian process, and we would like to thank you very warmly, President Bush.
You have come to Colombia at a time of unrest because of the peace process that is taking place. You have come at a time of revelations that really have motivated a public debate. But they are taking place because of one reason, and that reason is that our policy on democratic security has tried to defeat terrorism in the guerrillas, in the paramilitaries, because our democratic security policy wants to reestablish democratic institutions fully in Colombia. And these revelations are taking place because our law on justice and peace requires and demands truth -- truth, so that the country will know the dimension of the tragedy we have come to; truth to prepare us for a future free of the guerrillas, the paramilitaries and drug traffickers.
The law on justice and peace that is being enforced has been discussed in Congress throughout its approval process, and it has been discussed during its implementation, and has three elements that makes it different from former legislation in Colombia and in the world. Number one, justice. There will be no amnesty for crimes against humanity.
This law requires reparations to take place, and there is no other single country in the world other than Colombia that might say that in order to have shorter sentences within a law of peace the perpetrators are required to hand in their assets, so as to repair the victims. And that has never happened anywhere else in the world.
There are two countries in Latin America that tried to compensate for the problems of the victims under dictatorships, but with money coming from the budget. Here we will strive to give them all the assets that the perpetrators have. It is truth, justice, and reparations, and these are the three key elements of our legislation.
This country has an independent justice system, Mr. President, which makes our democracy different. The decision of my administration in this process of institutional recovery is total support for justice, so that Colombia may finally overcome the time of terrorism.
I would like to go back in history. For thirty years, the Marxist guerillas actually hit Colombia, and they proposed a social revolution, and they produced even more poverty. They proposed more democracy, and they were assassinating and murdering the mayors and the council members, and they were actually killing democracy.
These guerillas ended up being financed by drug traffickers. And there are many people in many regions of Colombia that were not protected by the state, and now they feel protected, thanks to our security policy. The growth of the guerillas and the lack of a state protection for citizens resulted in these guerillas producing the paramilitaries, and these paramilitaries phenomenon started committing the same crimes, atrocious crimes, as the guerillas. The Marxist guerillas brought to Colombia, the validity of combining all sorts of struggle. They infiltrated universities, the labor movement, and the peasant movement. They infiltrated very important sectors of intellectual movements and journalists. And they infiltrated politics.
The same guerillas planted a hatred among the classes. They wanted to eliminate the foundation of solidarity on which this nation was built. The guerillas taught the paramilitaries to combine all sorts of struggle. And what happened then? Some of these guerillas actually signed an amnesty, but they were not required to tell the truth, which is something we are requiring now. So they didn't say which were the sectors of the civil society that had been infiltrated. These guerillas were not demanded to give reparations to the victims, as we are asking for now. And these guerillas were able, in spite of having committed so many atrocious crimes, to get an amnesty for atrocious crimes, amnesty that is not given out today for these crimes against humanity.
The peace process that we are undertaking with the directives of truth, justice and reparations, actually set the limits for peace processes in the future. We have been very rigorous in this process. It has been a very serious process, and the world and Colombia will know that the processes in Colombia in the future, with the guerillas, such as the ELN and FARC, should require, as we are requiring today, truth, justice and reparations.
I would like you to know, Mr. President, that our commitment is the full defeat of terrorism, and the total recovery of justice and of democratic institutions. We are working with a model of state. We are not dismantling the state, as has been done in many Latin American countries throughout the '90s, nor are we proposing a state-dominated government. We do not accept dismantling of the state or state monopolies. What we are building is trust for private investment in Colombia, and at the same time, we are demanding social responsibilities. We see in trust a way of investing in our country. In investment we see a development tool, and in growth we see a possibility of overcoming poverty and building equity.
You have come to Colombia, Mr. President, with a thesis which is necessary for our continent, and that is a diversification of the energy basket. After Brazil, Colombia is the second country in the continent in the production of biofuels. We have created the tax incentives. We have approved regulations in agreement with the standards of the World Trade Organization. There are projects that are producing more than 1,000 liters of ethanol in Colombia, and there are many more that are being installed. We have 6 million hectares in the Orinoco department, and these are savannas, in general, that we can use for biofuel production without destroying a single tree in our jungle.
We have thanked the President of the United States of America and his delegation for the support given to Colombia through the Plan Colombia. The fight against drug trafficking has received support, practical support, and your support -- the support of President Clinton, the support of your Congress, your enthusiastic support, Mr. President, has been very practical and has helped the struggle of the Colombian people against drug trafficking.
We have the opportunity of discussing very important issues, as well, such as the agenda against poverty, our social goals, our program of forest rangers families, which is unique in the world, that is paying 50,000 peasant families so that they can protect the jungle free of drugs, and so that they can recover the jungle where it has been destroyed.
We have discussed our trade agreement again, and political possibility of integration, and far away from ideological sectorisms that is trying to look for opportunities of investment and employment with dignity and social security programs.
Thank you very much, Mr. President, for coming to Colombia. I am very proud of my fellow countrymen -- when you could come here after landing at the airport, going through this beautiful landscape, and was able to go to Plaza de Bolivar, and to this palace. I am very proud, Mr. President, that the world may see how the Colombian people are overcoming nowadays the great difficulties that we have suffered in the last years.
And again, thank you so much for your visit, sir.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Thank you very much for your kind words, and for your invitation. Laura and I are thrilled to be back in your country again. I've been really looking forward to coming to this beautiful capital city, and I thank the people of Colombia for such a generous welcome.
We did have an extensive conversation. But that's what you'd expect when friends sit down at a table together. I bring the greetings of the United States. The people of my country care deeply about the human condition. We believe strongly in human rights and human values, just like you believe in them. We're two strong democracies and we've got a lot in common and a lot of values that we share. So this visit advances those values.
I listened very carefully when he was -- expressed concern about the immigration laws of the United States. He was most eloquent in his concern about Colombians who live in the United States, and I assured him that a top priority of my administration is the passage of comprehensive immigration reform. I will work with both Republicans and Democrats to get a comprehensive bill to my desk as quickly as possible, Mr. President.
We talked about the benefits of expanding trade so that people in both our countries can benefit. The United States is Colombia's largest trading partner. Colombia is the second-largest market in Latin America for U.S. farmers. Trade is beneficial to both countries. And it can grow even more with the free trade agreement that we signed in November.
I told the President that I will work hard for the passage of that important piece of legislation. I believe that a trade package with Colombia is in the interests of both our nations, Mr. President.
I'm looking forward to visiting with some Afro-Colombians today to talk about social justice programs. The reason I do is because it's very important for the people of South America and Central America to know that the United States cares deeply about the human condition, and that much of our aid is aimed at helping people realize their God-given potential. And so we'll talk about programs all aimed at giving people a chance to realize their dreams, Mr. President.
You described many of those programs at lunch -- or your cabinet described many of those programs at lunch, and I was most impressed by the strategy of your administration and the vigor and the energy of your Cabinet.
I'm looking forward very much to talking and continuing to work with you to defeat the drug lords and narco-traffickers -- narco-terrorists. You recognize, like I recognize, that the most important function of state is to provide security for its people. You cannot tolerate in a society the ability of people to take innocent life to achieve political objectives. And so I appreciate your steadfast strength, and so do the people of this country.
I am looking forward to working with you on the second phase -- or the next phase of Plan Colombia. We're going to work with your government to continue to fight drug trafficking. The United States has an obligation to work to reduce the demand for drugs, and at the same time, work to interdict the supply of drugs. There's a lot we can do. But part of it is to help you exercise control over all your territory; is to strengthen the rule of law, and to expand economic opportunity for the citizens. And we want to help.
The Plan Colombia recognizes the importance of protecting human rights. I appreciate the President's determination to bring human rights violators to justice. He is strong in that determination. It's going to be very important for members of my United States -- our United States Congress to see that determination. And I believe, if given a fair chance, President Uribe can make the case.
This Colombia government continues to make progress that is going to earn greater confidence from all its citizens and greater respect in the international community. You've set high expectations for your nation. I appreciate your determination, and I'm proud to call you a personal friend, and to call your country a strategic partner of the United States. Thank you for having me.
Q Good afternoon. President Bush, what is your opinion about the way in which the government has handled the scandal of the politicians involved in drug trafficking, and the paramilitaries? Because we know that there are many more members involved with the paramilitaries. Up to what extent do you support President Uribe given the fact that most of these paramilitary heads are drug traffickers? And finally, the U.S. will insist on extraditing these people?
PRESIDENT BUSH: I support a plan that says that there be an independent judiciary analyzing every charge brought forth, and when someone is found guilty, there's punishment. That's the kind of plan I support. It happens to be the kind of plan the President supports. In other words, there's no political favorites when it comes to justice, that if someone is guilty, they will pay a penalty. And the best way to assure that that penalty is fair and the justice is fair is for there to be a court independent from politics.
And so, when I asked this very same question to the President about the news I've been reading in Washington, D.C., the same questions he's going to be asked when he and his government come to talk to our Congress, he answered just like I described. He said, we have an independent court, we've got a firm law; people will be held to account, whether or not they're -- no matter what political party they may or may not be associated with. That's what the people of Colombia expect; that's the kind of justice they're going to receive.
Listen, this country has come through some very difficult times. And the best way to heal wounds is for people to see fair, independent justice being delivered, and I believe that's the kind of justice this government will do.
Q -- Capitol Hill are finding it disconcerting that the number of U.S. troops deployed keeps climbing. Even the budget revisions that you announced a couple of days ago ordered up more. I'm wondering, do you think that the American citizens should now look at the troop buildup that you announced in January, the 21,500, as merely a starting point? And --
PRESIDENT BUSH: Go ahead.
Q And President Uribe, with all the talk about Chavez, could you tell us your opinion on whether you think his influence in the region is overstated?
PRESIDENT URIBE: What is your question --
Q With all the talk about Chavez, could you tell us how much you -- if you think that his influence in the region is overestimated, or exaggerated?
PRESIDENT BUSH: The troop announcement I made was over 20,000 combat troops. Secretary Gates and General Pace went up to Congress and testified to the effect that those combat troops are going to need some support. And that's what the American people are seeing in terms of Iraq, the support troops necessary to help the reinforcements do their job. My hope, of course, is that Congress provides the funding necessary for the combat troops to be able to do their job, without any strings attached.
Secondly, in terms of Afghanistan, I did announce, as a result of a review of our policy, an additional 3,200 troops. But in addition to that, the troops that you're referring to are going to be part of a training and embedding mission that I did also discuss during that strategy, although I didn't have any details of the troops.
PRESIDENT URIBE: Colombia is a loyal ally to the States, and it shows solidarity towards Latin America, as well. We have promoted more integration with the USA through Plan Colombia and the free trade agreement, and more integration with Latin America, as well. The Andean community, it has been led by Colombia and has an agreement signed with Mercosur. We have contributed to the creation of the South America Union. Colombia has been recently accepted as the main member of a Plan Panama Puebla.
So we are looking also for a trade agreement with Canada. We are about to close negotiations with three Central American countries. And as you can see, this is our democratic and loyal international policy. With our sister countries we have very good relations. We respect, and we ask everyone to respect, the guiding principles of international public law, as well as the respect for the autonomy in each country and the principle of non-intervention. We have to help one another in promoting freedom and in overcoming poverty, and in conquering health.
I have to mention something about the question that was asked to President Bush. Number one, the whole world must know that this country was affected for 30 years by the Marxist guerillas; that these guerillas infiltrated politics and journalism; that they infiltrated the labor movement and labor unions, universities. And the truth was never demanded, which is something we have to demand in the future.
Number two, the world must know that many -- during these years, some regions in Colombia were not protected. Number three, the world must know that the guerillas and the lack of protection was what generated the paramilitarism. Number four, the world must know that this administration is the first one that has started fighting directly against the paramilitarism. There is a political discussion going on, but the paramilitary aggression has gone down radically.
Why? Because the law on justice and peace has resulted in most of the paramilitary leaders being in jail, because our security policy has actually eliminated more than 1,700 of these paramilitary groups' members. And I'd like to have so many people from other countries in Colombia present here to be able to say that most of the crimes that are being tried and prosecuted happened before my administration; to say that democratic security has been recovering the transparency in electoral processes in Colombia. Last year's elections, the opposition to my administration has not even one complaint about lack of guarantees. They were able to visit all the places with which in the past were not possible to visit, because on the one hand, there was control by the guerrillas, and there was also paramilitary control in other regions, and they couldn't visit these places.
The candidates running for the presidency in 2006 received effective guarantees. They were able to visit the whole country, and the effect of the democratic security policy was quite evident, because there were no pressures against them by the terrorists. The only pressure in the year 2006 were against the people who supported my campaign in departments, in the southern part of the country, where FARC, together with the drug traffickers, introduced a strike, and they threatened those who were going to vote for me. And this is something that the world should be aware of. And there were candidates to congress and the President from all ideological movements.
The world must also know that it is a government that has asked for the truth; that the government is promoting the law on justice and peace; that it is this administration that has made the decision of dismantling the criminal machinery of the paramilitaries; that it was the government who made the decision to put them in jail; that it is this government that has made the decision that they have to give out their own assets for the reparations of the victims; and that it is the government that has made the decision of supporting justice fully.
For the first time, the supreme court of justice in Colombia, which is an independent branch, has its own investigators. Thanks to the will of this administration of funding this group, we are dismantling what was built for many years, for more than three decades. Terrorism advanced in taking parts of Colombia, and terrorism made progress in suppressing freedoms, in threatening journalists, in assassinating labor union leaders. And of all this, we are actually making progress.
So I think I have to tell an anecdote, as well. Not long ago, I was asked if the government supported direct transmissions on TV of the hearings where the paramilitaries are being tried before the prosecutors. And I said that the government supported this transmission live and direct, because that is the way to get the truth. So instead of being afraid for telling the truth, we have been supporting truth. Instead of looking for ways out of justice, we are trying to support justice as much as possible.
Let's talk about the director of the security agency, the ZEAS. When he left this agency, there were no complaints of links with paramilitaries against him. And he was then accused of facts that were known months after he left this agency, the security agency. And I have to discuss these subjects, because these are subjects that are becoming increasingly important in international debates. The Minister of Defense has said that if there were any militaries related to terrorist organizations, they will be withdrawn from their positions.
But we cannot fall into the trap of the guerrillas, that we should weaken the armed forces. We are not going to make them weak, because this is the only way we have to have a country without any guerrillas and without any paramilitaries. If there are members of this government that have any links to these organizations, they will be immediately removed from their offices.
And so I am concerned for the question asked by the journalist. And he said -- and this is not correct -- that there are many members of the government related or with links with paramilitary groups. And this is a contradiction, because this is the first government ever that has prosecuted the paramilitaries, that has actually killed some of the paramilitaries and sent others to jail. We are going to eliminate paramilitarism, and we are going to eliminate the guerrillas, because we can't fall in the trap that poses a paramilitary scandal that will actually do away with all the results in democratic security.
The Minister of Defense, at lunch, was saying that we are going to levee a tax on the wealthiest contributors in Colombia so that they can contribute to the consolidation of the democratic security program. And we will demand the truth without any fears. And this is what makes a difference.
When I was running for the presidency, I was not well-interpreted. I was saying that Colombia had to eliminate the guerrillas, but perhaps I was misunderstood because I also said that the only way was to recover the institutions, and hence, that we had to eliminate the paramilitaries, as well.
On August the 7th, I will have been five years in power, and throughout all the time -- and I say this before a great ally, the President of the United States, and before the world, thanks to the journalists present here, to all these governments -- we have constantly fought the guerrillas, the paramilitaries, and the drug traffickers continuously. Our sole purpose is Colombia free of this place; our sole purpose is a Colombia that will have strong institutions again. There is nothing to hide here. We are fighting against narco-terrorism. And let that be clear to you all.
Q Good afternoon. This is a question for President Bush. The FARC had many people kidnapped for political purposes, and for very many years. And the humanitarian agreement has been discussed, amongst others, the free citizens of your countries. Mr. Shannon said this week that the U.S. would be extremely happy if we could get a solution through a humanitarian agreement. So my question is, are you going with your administration to propose an option of a humanitarian agreement, so that these kidnappees are finally released, vis-a-vis a military action?
And number two, Mr. President, is it true that you two discussed the military actions that had to be reinforced to release the hostages? And you have not answered if you are going to insist on extraditing the paramilitary heads from Colombia.
PRESIDENT BUSH: -- President Uribe. We've had good relations, we're friends, we've worked very closely on the extraditions. And so it will be a government-to-government decision.
In terms of the hostages, I am concerned about their safety. I'm worried about their families. These are three innocent folks who have been held hostage for two long, and their families are concerned about them. We hear from their families. Their kidnappers ought to show some heart, is what they ought to show. And I've obviously discussed this with the President, and he's developing strategies that will hopefully bring them out safely. That's all I ask.
It's amazing, isn't it, that we live in a society where you've got part of your country where people just kidnap somebody who is hear trying to help, without any regard to whether or not -- how their family feels.
So that's what I think about, sir. That's what's on my mind about those hostages. Obviously, I'd like to see them come out safely.
Q President Bush, in your assessment, what, if anything, was accomplished at the Baghdad regional conference? And what are your expectations for future rounds? Also, do you take -- do you believe that Iran and Syria were serious in their post-conference statements that they want to help stabilize Iraq? And if that is true, do you see a possibility of opening the way towards more formal direct contacts with those two countries?
PRESIDENT BUSH: I'm the kind of person that likes people to say something and then do it; then we'll react. Words are easy to say in politics in the international diplomacy. If they really want to help stabilize Iraq, there are things for them to do, such as cutting off weapon flows and or the flow of suicide bombers into Iraq. There's all kind of ways to measure whether they're serious about the words they utter. We, of course, welcome those words. Those are nice statements. And now they can act on them.
I thought the conference -- well, first of all, I thought the conference got people in the neighborhood to say positive things about the young democracy. In other words, people are now committed publicly to helping Iraq, which was, I thought, very positive. I think the other benefit from the conference is, is that the government gained some confidence. In other words, this young democracy had nations from around the neighborhood and around the world come and talk to them in a way that was constructive and positive.
Part of the success in Iraq is going to be whether or not this government has got the confidence necessary to make hard decisions. They're learning what democracy is all about. They've come from a tyranny to democracy in a pretty quick period of time. And I believe the conference will give the different factions inside Iraq the confidence necessary to do the hard things to reconcile, and the government the confidence necessary to make the decision so that reconciliation can happen.
So it was a positive outcome. And in terms of the expectations of the next meetings, we'll see. But the point is, is that the momentum made in the first one can be carried over to the second one. Secretary Rice will be going to that meeting. In other words, it's a step up in -- I'm not dissing anybody, but it's a step up in the pay grade, let's put it that way. (Laughter.) And I think -- and I think Condi is going to -- will take an agenda that will help advance this young democracy, and she's going to work with the other nations to do so.
Gracias, Se or President.
PRESIDENT URIBE: Gracias, President.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Thank you very much. Thank you all. END 4:14 P.M. (Local)
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary March 11, 2007
President Bush and President Uribe of Columbia Exchange Toasts Casa de Nariño, Bogotá, Colombia 3:00 P.M. (Local)
PRESIDENT URIBE: -- (as translated) -- our independence and freedom; who can resist the love inspired by a government that not only takes care of personal needs, but of those of all society; who out of the common will establishes the supreme law of individual will. Who can resist a government that does well, one which with a skillful hand directs its society towards its perfection; a government that establishes social perfection as the only destiny of humanity. That is what the liberator said during his speech in angostura, when he referred to the United States.
And when the liberator presided over a constitutional conference, he referred to George Washington in the following way -- in Bolivia. When the constitution of Bolivia was enacted for first time, our liberator wants this constitution, and at the moment of peace assembly, our liberator said, referring to President George Washington, "The beautiful lesson that the citizen hero has left us, the Father of the great American Republic, should not be one that we failed to see." Today, the American Republic is an example of glory, of freedom and of the joy of virtue.
In the year 1828 he referred in a letter to the convention Oca a, and it is very vibrant when we refer to it, thinking of the struggle we have today in Colombia. In one of the paragraphs of that letter the liberator said, "Legislators consider that the energy of public strength is the only thing that can protect the weak. It is the hope of all society, and it is what terrifies the criminal." And at the end of that letter he said, "We need the energy of public force in order to guarantee the virtue of the republic. Without that energy, there will be no virtue. And without virtue, the republic will perish."
Those words, those paragraphs of the liberator, Mr. President Bush, are the ones that illuminate us today in order to strengthen our democratic institutions and do away completely with terrorism. Those paragraphs of the liberator, Mr. President, that are reflected both in the letter of angostura, as well as in the constituent assembly of Bolivia regarding George Washington illuminate the thought of our country with regard to the fraternal relations that we establish with regard to the democratic principles espoused by your country.
It is with great feeling that we welcome you to our country. And through you, to the people of the United States we wish to extend our fraternal greeting, to express our thanks to the people of the United States, to the U.S. Congress, to your government and to you, personally, Mr. Bush, for all the support that our struggle for democratic security has received from you.
I want to invite you to make a toast to the welfare of the United States of America, to the welfare of Colombia, to the unity of our continent and the respect for freedom and diversity. To all the members of your administration, your families, and everyone in your nation.
(A toast was offered.)
PRESIDENT BUSH: Mr. President, thank you very much. I appreciate your hospitality. I am amazed by the beauty of your country. I've never been here to the beautiful capital city of your country, but Laura and I were struck by two things: the beauty of the landscape and the warmness of the people.
We bring greetings from the United States to the people of your country. We have been friends and we shall remain friends. We value your democracy. I appreciate your strong leadership. We come during a period where your country has come through very difficult times, and now there's a brighter day ahead. And my message to the people of your country is we want to help every individual realize their God-given potential.
I'd like to propose a toast to the people of this country, to the leadership of this country. May God bless you.
(A toast was offered.) END 3:11 P.M. (Local)
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary March 10, 2007
President Bush and President Vázquez of Uruguay Participate in Joint Press Availability Visitors Center, Anchorena Park, Uruguay 11:53 A.M. (Local)
PRESIDENT VÁZQUEZ: (As translated.) Mr. President of the United States of America, Madam Secretary of State, members of the delegation visiting us, the Minister of State, the Ambassador of the United States of America in Uruguay, the Ambassador of Uruguay in the United States of America, ladies and gentlemen journalists.
Mr. President, I would like to welcome you together with the very prestigious delegation that is with you. Mr. President, you represent a people that is a friend of the Uruguayan people. We have historical and friendly relations uniting these two countries, these two peoples. These are firm, respectful relations with solidarity.
In this sense, I would like to give an example with two elements which I think are of significance. First of all, Mr. President, thousands of Uruguayan citizens live in the United States of America and have found in that country a standard of living that they did not have in our country and that forced them to migrate. They bettered themselves there, they have their own families, their work, they have studied, they have health and education for their children. Therefore, this is a very clear element of what the United States people have given to the Uruguayan people.
Undoubtedly, there are many Uruguayans who are waiting, pending legalization of the situation in this country, but I believe your solidarity will help our citizens to be able to live legally in your country.
And the second example I would like to mention is something that we Uruguayans recall very well. When we underwent the most severe economic crisis of our history, where Uruguay was living a very moving and very serious condition, your country, and you, in particular, Mr. President, gave us a hand to help Uruguay to leave that situation in which it was and fought for a way to recovery that we are now trying to consolidate.
Sixteen years ago another President of the United States visited our country -- it was 5 December 1990, and this President was your father. At that time I was the mayor of the city of Montevideo, and I handed him the keys of the city of Montevideo. We had a brief exchange with President Bush, your father, and I recall a statement: "Let us," he said, "leave aside our differences, as we do have certain differences, and let us follow the path of agreement and coincidences that we also have." The defense of democracy as an organization and as a functioning of our societies, but rather as a style of life; the defense of freedoms and the determined struggle to improve the standards of living of our people, giving them work, education and health, are common elements that permit us to think that we may continue working beyond our differences, Mr. President.
With these words I would like to say that the path we have followed and the dialogue we had today with the President of the United States is precisely this one: to try and increase our trade exchanges, the possibility of placing the fruits of our worker in the markets of the United States of America; try and increase the scientific, technological, cultural exchange with our brother country, and see how together we may have a better standard of living for our people.
Mr. President, members of the U.S. delegation, I hope you may feel at home here. Most welcome.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Thank you, Mr. President. I feel very much at home. You know, it's -- in my state of Texas, when you invite somebody to your estancia, it's a sign of respect. And I thank you very much for this warm gesture of hospitality, but after all, you are Tejano. (Laughter.)
We've had -- this is our second meaningful dialogue. I remember so well your visit to the Oval Office. You were very articulate about your desire to improve the lives of all people in your country. I was impressed then by your compassion and your care.
I was expecting to see a beautiful country when I came here, and that is precisely what I have seen. Your capital city is magnificent. The architecture is really beautiful. And then, of course, we come up to this beautiful place that is so peaceful, and reminds me of the great natural resources that your country has.
We discussed a lot of subjects. First of all, Mr. President, I completely agree with the spirit of our conversations, that we will find common ground and we will advance that common ground for the benefit of our respective peoples.
One place we have common ground is the respect for human rights and human dignity, respect for rule of law; we welcome a free press -- most of the time. (Laughter.) No, all the time. We honor elections. And Uruguay is a strong example of the stability that can come with democracy. But you also recognize that which I recognize, that you can't take democracy for granted, that the people have to see tangible benefits.
And so on my trip to South America and Central America, I want to remind people that the United States and its compassionate people care deeply about issues such as education and health, issues that you're concerned about. We spent a lot of time talking about education, and I suspect most Americans don't know that we're actively involved in helping the President institute a program for youngsters to become more literate, particularly in English. We want to continue helping.
We spent time talking about how we can exchange students in a more -- in a better way. We talked about exchanging ideas, that our experts sit down at the same table to discuss issues such as alternative fuels. In my trip to Brazil yesterday we spent time talking about alternative fuels and the need for the United States and Brazil to work together -- it's the same conversation we had in Uruguay.
We talked about the fact that -- or at least I talked about the fact -- the President is a modest man, but I talked about the fact that the Uruguayan economy is growing at -- estimated at 7 percent. And I congratulate you, sir, on creating the conditions so that people feel comfortable making investments that cause economies to grow, and that we want to work together to continue to advance the progress we have made on trade and investment at a pace that both our peoples will be comfortable with.
I want to thank you very much for your commitment to democracy and peace in our neighborhood. I congratulate you and the people of Uruguay for providing peacekeepers to Haiti and to the Congo. It is a gesture of a strong nation to reach out to help others realize the benefits of a free society. And you've sent a strong and powerful message.
Finally, I do want to say something about immigration in the United States. The President has spoken eloquently to me about the need for there to be a immigration policy that upholds the values of America. I explained to him that it is my interest to get a comprehensive immigration bill out of the United States Congress as soon as possible. I look forward to working with both Republicans and Democrats, Mr. President, to do what is right to uphold the laws of the United States, but at the same time, recognize that, on the one hand, we can't grant automatic citizenship, nor on the other hand, can we kick people out. And so, therefore, there's got to be a rational way forward.
And I pledge to you, as a man who is concerned about people from your country that may be living in the United States, that I will work as hard as I can to have a compassionate and rational immigration law that respects the rule of law, but also respects the great traditions of the United States, a tradition which is a welcoming society; a tradition that says that we welcome our diversity because we believe in our diversity we can find the strength of our nation.
And so I've been -- I'm really looking forward to this trip. I'm especially looking forward to the asado. I appreciate the -- I appreciate your willingness to cook some Uruguayan beef. You've told me all along how good it is, and after we answer a few questions, we're about to find out.
So, Mr. President, thank you for your hospitality.
Q My question is addressed to President George Bush. Bearing in mind the regional context governed by Presidents such as Vázquez or Chavez, especially, what similarities and what differences do you find amongst them? And what is your opinion about President Vázquez and Uruguay?
PRESIDENT BUSH: The temptation is to try to get people to talk about their differences. I want to talk about our commonalities. We share respect for each other. We respect our countries, we respect our history and traditions, and we share a great respect for a government that -- where the people decide who's in charge.
Interestingly enough, we both have gotten rid of colonial powers in our past, and it is -- I think it is that heritage that makes Uruguay and the United States such natural partners. We talk about the need to invest and to grow economies through investment. That's a common ground that leads to a positive relationship.
We both recognize that education is vital for the success of our respective countries. When we find illiteracy in the United States, that's where we find poverty, oftentimes. And, therefore, education policy is focused on improving the lives of all by giving people the skills necessary to compete in the 21st century.
I think many people in my country don't know that Uruguay is the leading exporter of software in South America. It means that one of the great assets of this country is the brain power of the country. Oftentimes when you think of a country like Uruguay, you think of natural resources -- fantastic farms, a lot of cows, and lambs, and blueberries -- which, by the way, came up today in our conversation. But I think it is hopeful for both our countries to know that a friend is a leading exporter of something that requires the ingenuity and brainpower of its citizens. And so we find common ground there as to how to work together.
This is a -- I would call this meeting very constructive and very hopeful and very positive. And the reason why is because we've got so much in common. There's a lot more that unites us than divides us, Mr. President, and I appreciate the chance to visit with you.
Q President Bush --
PRESIDENT BUSH: Bret Baier. So the guy -- I'm 60 years old and he thinks I can't hear. (Laughter.)
Q Sorry about that. Mr. President, the FBI acknowledged that some agents used post-9/11 powers to demand personal information on Americans. What do you say to people who are concerned about the use of these national security letters? And in the wake of how these letters were used, do you still have confidence in Attorney General Gonzales and FBI Director Mueller?
PRESIDENT BUSH: I was briefed by the Attorney General and the Director of the FBI on this subject last week. We spent a lot of time talking about the IG report. First of all, I want to compliment the IG for good and necessary work. They brought the findings of this good work to my attention. My question is, what are you going to do to solve the problem and how fast can you get it solved?
And I was pleased by Director Mueller's answer, that he had already begun to address some of the problems, but there's more work to be done. I thought his testimonies the other day were very good; he took responsibility, as he should have. And I have confidence in Director Mueller, as I do in the Attorney General.
I want to remind you, Bret, and others that the IG report, which justly made issue of FBI shortfallings, also made it clear that these letters were important to the security of the United States. And so we'll address the problems in the report, and those problems will be addressed as quickly as possible.
Q Good afternoon. The first question is addressed to President Bush. You recognize the protectionist obstacles in your government. How flexible may your administration be on making progress in a trade agreement with Uruguay, and what agreement has been reached today?
And the second question for both Presidents. President Vázquez, did you ask President Bush to intercede in the differences that Uruguay and Argentina have --
PRESIDENT BUSH: We spent a lot of time talking about how to address Uruguayan concerns about market access for certain products. The President talked about a variety of issues when it comes to trade. He felt like the quotas on certain items, such as cows and sheep, was not fair, and I told him I would absolutely consider requests he made.
You thought I was teasing about blueberries, but I wasn't. It turns out Uruguay produces a fantastic blueberry. And the fundamental question is, will that blueberry -- will the blueberry grower be able to sell product into the United States?
So we talked about a variety of produce. And I told the President, I said, you can't solve problems unless you put the problems on the table, and that where we could help, we would, and where we couldn't, I would give an explanation as to why not.
Now, you brought up protectionist tendencies, and I'm concerned about protectionist tendencies, not only with our own country, but around the world. I happen to believe a world that trades freely and fairly is a world that is more likely to be able to address poverty. And therefore, I'm a strong supporter of completing the Doha Round of the WTO.
I shared with the President about our strategies as to advance the Doha Round. I spent a lot of time with President Lula -- he was most interested in our conversations, and I shared our conversations. I didn't betray any confidences, of course, but I talked to him about how we need to advance the Doha Round. The United States is fully prepared to reduce agricultural subsidies, as I explained to the President. We just want to make sure there is market access for our products. And that's what I told President Lula, that's what I've told the Europeans, and that's what I shared with the President.
I'm optimistic we can get a deal done. As a matter of fact, our Trade Minister is -- Susan Schwab has remained in São Paulo to talk to her Brazilian counterpart, all aiming at continuing to make progress toward what is a complicated, but necessary deal.
PRESIDENT VÁZQUEZ: As an answer to your first question, I fully agree with what has just been expressed by the President of the United States. We have created a plan starting with this meeting, where our experts, our ministers are going to discuss and make progress on issues of bilateral relationships.
Now, concerning the general multilateral situation, Uruguay has made clear its position in the defense of free trade and tried to have a drop of tariffs and subsidies, which hinder the sale of our great cultural products, particularly. But we have also analyzed the possibility of making progress with the GSP, particularly on certain issues that are going to be considered in the coming weeks.
As to the second part of your question, I have not talked about the problems we have with the republic of Argentina with the President of the United States, amongst other things, because in a few days from now -- in a few weeks, and thanks to the conciliation of His Majesty, the King of Spain, we are going to get closer. We're not going to negotiate. We're going to have a dialogue between the two governments in order to find a friendly way out. We're going to try to come to an understanding and to be able to solve the very sad differences that we have with our brethren of Argentina.
Q Thank you, Mr. President and Mr. President. For President Bush, Hugo Chavez suggested that you are afraid to mention his name. So, are you? And how much of a threat is he to the United States' interests in the hemisphere?
And, President Vázquez, can you discuss at all your position between trying to broaden ties to the United States in terms of trade, but also indicate to your own neighbors that you are -- want to remain integrated in South American trade?
PRESIDENT BUSH: I've come to South America and Central America to advance a positive, constructive diplomacy that is being conducted by my government on behalf of the American people.
My message to the people in our neighborhood is that we care about the human condition and that we believe the human condition can be improved in a variety of ways -- one, investment. And so the question is, how can we have constructive dialogue with our neighbors as to how to spread the benefits of investment?
I also am reminding people that the United States taxpayer is most generous when it comes to bilateral aid. Since I've been the President, we've doubled the amount of annual bilateral aid to Latin America from $800 million a year to $1.6 billion a year. And most of the money is aimed at social justice programs, programs like education and health care.
I also know full well that -- and I saw this firsthand yesterday in S o Paulo -- that many American NGOs and faith-based groups and individuals express their concern about the plight of the poor through programs and activities all aimed at giving people a chance. Yesterday in São Paulo we went to a pretty wealthy neighborhood, but it was surrounded by a favela. And there we found in the midst of hopelessness there was a little center of love. And some of the program money had been raised as a result of concerts in the United States, where citizens, average citizens contribute to make sure this program remain viable.
And so the trip is a statement of desire to work together with people in our neighborhood. I've been to Central and South America a lot since I've been the President, because I fully understand a prosperous and peaceful neighborhood is in the interest of the United States of America.
I would call our diplomacy quiet and effective diplomacy -- diplomacy all aimed at helping people, aimed at elevating the human condition, aimed at expressing the great compassion of the American people.
And, Mr. President, I appreciate you giving me a chance to come and visit with you, have a dialogue about how we can advance our interests and the interests of our neighborhood.
PRESIDENT VÁZQUEZ: Concerning your question, the strategy for international insertion of Uruguay is quite well defined and quite clear. We are in favor of an open integration process. We are strongly in favor of the regional process. We are where we are and we don't want to leave this place. And the trade we have and the cultural, historical relationships that we have with our brethren countries in the region are very solid, very strong. But we don't want a close integration process, but an open integration process.
This Mercosur should be able to integrate to other blocks or other countries of the world and also each of the members of this process -- for example, Uruguay -- might be able to exercise its sovereign right of developing bilateral relations with other integration processes or other countries. It is in this sense that we are working, and it is in this sense that we are holding with the President of the United States.
Thank you, Mr. President. END 12:18 P.M. (Local)
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary March 10, 2007
President's Radio Address
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Today, Laura and I are in Latin America, where we are visiting five countries: Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico. These countries are part of a region that has made great strides toward freedom and prosperity in the past three decades. They have raised up new democracies. And they have undertaken fiscal policies that have brought stability to their economies.
Yet despite the progress we have seen, many citizens in our hemisphere remain trapped in poverty and shut off from the promise of this new century. Nearly one out of every four people in Latin America lives on less than $2 a day. Many children never finish grade school. Many mothers never see a doctor. The fact is that tens of millions of our brothers and sisters to the South have yet to see improvements in their daily lives. And this has led some to question the value of democracy.
Our Nation has a vital interest in helping the young democracies in our neighborhood succeed. When our neighbors prosper, they create more vibrant markets for our goods and services. When our neighbors have a hopeful future in their own countries, they can find work at home and are less likely to migrate to our country illegally. And when our neighbors feel the blessings of liberty in their daily lives, the appeal of radicalism declines, and our hemisphere becomes more secure.
The United States is doing its part to help our neighbors in Latin America build a better life for themselves and their families. We are helping these young democracies make their governments more fair, effective, and transparent. We are supporting their efforts to meet the basic needs of their citizens -- like education, health care, and housing. And we are increasing opportunity for all by relieving debt, opening up trade, and encouraging reforms that will build market economies, where people can start from nothing and rise as far as their talents and hard work can take them.
On Monday, I will meet a Guatemalan citizen who has experienced the power of open trade and free economies. His name is Mariano Can . Twenty years ago, he was an indigenous farmer whose land provided barely enough corn and beans to feed his family. No one in his family had ever been to college, and most of the people in his village never got past the sixth grade. And his own children's prospects for prosperity looked just as bleak.
Mariano was determined to do better for his family. So he organized an association of small farmers called Labradores Mayas. He persuaded his fellow farmers to switch their crops to vegetables they could sell overseas -- high-value crops like lettuce, carrots, and celery. Soon they were selling to big companies like Wal-Mart Central America. Today, the business he helped establish is thriving, and it supports more than a thousand jobs. It also has supported something else: a college education for Mariano's son.
Mariano is showing what the people of Latin America can accomplish when they are given a chance. We must help others like him gain the opportunity to build a better life for their families. The generosity of the American people is helping our neighbors in Latin America build free and vibrant economies. By doing so, we will increase living standards for all our citizens, strengthen democracy in our hemisphere, and advance the cause of peace. Thank you for listening.
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary March 9, 2007
President Bush and President Lula of Brazil Discuss Biofuel Technology Petrobras Transporte S.A. Facility São Paulo, Brazil 11:22 A.M. (Local)
PRESIDENT LULA: (As translated.) Mr. President George Bush, President of the United States of America; ladies and gentlemen, part of the Brazilian-American committees; ladies and gentlemen, part of the press; my friends, all present: It's a pleasure to receive President George Bush in São Paulo, our largest city in Brazil, a city which symbolizes the richness of our economy and entrepreneurship of our people.
We've come to Transpetro Terminal here in Guaruhos, to celebrate an important partnership which is really important between the United States and Brazil. The memorandum of understanding about cooperation in the biofuel area that was signed today is an answer to the great, energetic challenges of the 21st century.
The world is concerned with today's event and observing it carefully. We're launching a partnership to the future, a great plan which will renovate and transcend the bilateral plan and create opportunities on a world's scale. The partnership we will now launch is ambitious and aimed at all aspects related to the final incorporation of the energy plan of our two countries. I was very pleased to know about President Bush's decision to give greater value to biofuel within the energy plan of the United States.
This agreement brings into reality an idea which was born on the occasion of our meeting in Brasilia in 2005, when President Bush first became aware of Brazil's success story with biofuel. It's important to remember that when President Bush went to Brasilia I was truly obsesses with biofuel, and he almost couldn't have lunch because I wouldn't stop talking about biofuel. But I think that was important, because the world is not always ready and prepared for major changes unless we have untiring debates and people are convinced that Planet Earth needs to be de-polluted. And it's in our hands, we who have polluted it, to de-pollute it.
In the field of ethanol we have an extremely successful program that's come out of over 30 years of very much work and technological innovation. We are doing the same thing in our betting on biodiesel. By 2010, Brazilian diesel, 5 percent of it will come from native abundant plants in our country, such as African palm, cottonseed, sunflower, castor beans, and many other seeds.
Also, our biodiesel program has a major social impact. It is aimed at small farmers to family farmers. It will help create jobs and income in the poorest regions of our country, especially in the northeastern semi-arid region, where many of these crops are actually native.
Today the entire society is reaping the fruit of these efforts, and other countries want to share Brazil's experience. The memorandum is an important step in that direction. But it's not just an economic partnership between Brazil and the U.S. A close relationship and cooperation between the two leaders in ethanol production will make it possible to democratize access to energy. The growing use of biofuel will be an inestimable contribution to the generation of income, social inclusion and reduction of poverty in many poor countries of the world.
We want to see biomass generating sustainable development, above all in South America, Central America, in the Caribbean and in Africa. Brazil and the United States should create alliances with other countries to achieve global diversification of the production of biofuels. To that end, we must lay the basis for a global market of biofuels.
We share a responsibility and special challenges. But our strategic partnership is also strengthened with the creation of the International Biofuel Forum with the participation of India, China, South Africa and the European Union, in addition to Brazil and the U.S. This is how we will achieve the scale of production we need to potentialize the benefits of ethanol and biodiesel.
Brazil has been a tireless defender of renewable energy resources and renewable fuels. Therefore, we are very pleased with the growing awareness of the international community that we need to overcome dependency on fossil fuels at a time when we are called upon to act urgently to confront global warming. Anything we can do to reduce emissions of polluting gases will be a gain.
Biofuels provide a cleaner and economically viable alternative. Technology is our major ally in this undertaking. The gains with the use of biofuel in Brazil are already clear in the development of new technologies in the creation of a cleaner energy blend.
President Bush, we have more than tripled the yields of sugarcane plantations, which are the main source of ethanol. And we have demonstrated that it is possible to increase the production of biofuels without harming the production of food, and also reducing deforestation of the Amazon region.
Most of the automobiles sent today in Brazil are flex-fuel. This is a technology we developed here, and which has made ethanol a safe and reliable fuel. I am calling on Brazilian industry to do the same with biodiesel. Our car and truck builders should get ready because we need to move on biodiesel.
I am convinced, President Bush, that the United States, with its great technological and entrepreneurial capacities, will be an extraordinary partner in this undertaking. Your visit to Brazil today, and our tour around Petrobras, and the conversations we will still be having over lunch may well mean a strategic alliance that will allow us to convince the world that everyone can change the energy blend. After all, we, as I just said, who have polluted the world so much in the 20th century, need to make our contribution to de-polluting it in the 21st century. We, after all, are responsible, and we want our children and our grandchildren to be able to live in a world that is less polluted than the one we live in today.
In addition to doing the good for humanity with biofuels, we will also be, for the first time, using biofuels as a way to distribute income and create jobs in an unprecedented scale in the history of humanity. Above all, if we analyze what can be done for countries in Africa, if we analyze what to do in poorer countries of South America, and when we look at what we can do in Central America and the Caribbean, where the United States has a partnership with all those countries, and I believe that that partnership between the U.S. and Brazil can, beginning today, really be a new moment for the global car industry, a new moment for fuel, in general, in the world, and possibly a new moment for humanity.
Therefore, thank you very much for your visit. (Applause.)
PRESIDENT BUSH: Bom dia. Thank you for your hospitality, Mr. President. It's good to be back in your beautiful country. Laura and I really have been looking forward to the trip to São Paulo. It's one of those great cities. And I have been looking forward to our conversations. You know, Brazil and the United States are the two largest democracies in our hemisphere, and we've got a lot in common, and we've got a lot to do together to improve the lives of millions in our respective countries, and hopefully in neighboring countries, as well.
I find it really interesting that much of our talks on this visit are going to be centered on energy. It's a new kind of energy. I don't think 20 years ago, an American President, or a Brazilian President, would have thought, let's see, see if we can find common ground on energy production. And yet, as the President noted, that we had a long discussion in Brasilia about alternative fuels. And now we're at a plant that's actually manufacturing alternative fuels on an economic basis that has got the capacity to change our respective countries in the world. And I, like the President, am very upbeat about the potential of ethanol and biodiesel. And that's why we're here.
I do want to thank Sergio Gabrieli, who is the President of Petrobr s, for his hospitality. I appreciate very much your briefing. And I want to thank all the workers here for greeting us. I want to thank the folks from Ford and General Motors who are here. It's nice of them to show up to see the American President. I appreciate your willingness to be innovative and to meet market demands with products that actually matter, and in this case, flex-fuel vehicles.
People have wondered why the President of the United States would be so interested in diversification of our energy supply, and here are the reasons. One, if you're dependent upon oil from overseas you have a national security issue. In other words, dependency upon energy from somewhere else means that you're dependent upon the decisions from somewhere else. And so as we diversify away from the use of gasoline by using ethanol we're really diversifying away from oil.
Secondly, dependency upon oil creates an economic problem for not only the United States, but anybody else who imports oil. In a globalized world, if the demand for oil goes up in China or India, it runs up the price of gasoline in our respective countries. And therefore, diversification away from oil product is in the economic interests of our respective countries.
And finally, as the President noted, it is -- we all feel incumbent to be good stewards of the environment. It just so happens that ethanol and biodiesel will help improve the quality of the environment in our respective countries.
And so I'm very much in favor of promoting the technologies that will enable ethanol and biodiesel to remain competitive, and therefore, affordable to the people in our respective countries and around our neighborhoods.
One of the things I like, as the President noted, is that a good ethanol policy and good alternative fuel policy actually leads to more jobs, not less. In other words, at this plant there are jobs. But as the President noted, when you're growing your way out of dependence on oil, you're dependent upon people who work the land, and the distribution of wealth, the distribution of opportunity to farmers, particularly the smaller farmers in our respective countries, will enable the economy to be more on firm foundation.
And so, Mr. President, your vision is absolutely correct. I appreciate so very much the fact that much of your energy is driven by sugarcane. It, frankly, gives Brazil a tremendous advantage in the world markets. Sugarcane is by far the most efficient raw material for the production of ethanol. The President has wisely invested in technologies that will increase your yields per acre, and that makes a lot of sense. In America, we've got a little different issue -- we don't have a lot of sugarcane. And so our stock material, our base material for ethanol thus far has been corn.
I appreciate very much the innovation that's taking place here in Brazil. I mean, if you're the leader in ethanol I believe you'll continue to come up with technologies that should be available for others. Your H-bio process for refining biodiesel from soy and other agricultural products is such an example. In other words, you'll be able to use regular refinery as a result of the technological developments that you've got here. And that makes a lot of sense, and I congratulate you, Mr. President, and Petrobras for staying on the leading edge of technological change.
A lot of people wonder whether or not it makes sense to develop an alternative-fuel infrastructure if the automobile doesn't stay up with it. Well, most people in America don't know that there are millions of flex-fuel vehicles on our street today. Just people don't know it. In other words, we have now got the capacity to manufacture automobiles in a way that meets the demands for ethanol. Flex-fuel means you can either use gasoline or alternative fuels, your choice. And in America, we are -- that technology is available. So my fellow citizens shouldn't fear the development of an alternative source of energy industry because the consumer has got the capacity to buy an automobile that will meet those new productions.
I'm very optimistic that America can benefit from alternative energy sources, so optimistic that I laid out an ambitious goal for our country, and that is to reduce gasoline consumption by 20 percent over 10 years. In other words, we have a mandated fuel standard of 35 billion gallons of alternative fuels to be used by 2017. That is now seven times more the amount of alternative fuels we're using. Right now, we're using about 5 billion gallons of ethanol. I believe that the technologies will be such that America will be consuming 35 billion gallons of alternative fuels.
And that's important for our country. It is a commitment to becoming less dependent on oil, and it's a commitment to be better stewards of the environment.
In my budget, Mr. President, I proposed to Congress that we invest $1.6 billion over 10 years on additional research to make sure that we can have alternative fuel stocks to make ethanol. Just so you know, in the last years -- so long as I've been the President, we spent about $12 billion on new technologies that will enable us to achieve economic independent, as well as be better stewards of the environment.
There's a lot we can do together. I appreciate so very much the idea of Brazil and America sharing research and development opportunities. You've got great scientists, we've got great scientists; it makes sense for us to collaborate for the good of mankind. And part of our initiative is that we are going to work together efficiently and to cooperate on research and development.
I also think the President's idea of helping others realize the benefits of alternative fuels makes a lot of sense. And so we applaud the Inter-America Development Bank, it's efforts to try to get loans and capital into countries that could benefit from alterative sources of energy. I'm particularly anxious to work with the President on helping Central America become less dependent on oil, become energy self-sufficient. It's in -- it's in the interest of the United States that there be a prosperous neighborhood. And one way to help spread prosperity in Central America is for them to become energy producers, not become -- not remain dependent on others for their energy sources.
And finally, the President mentioned the fact that at the United Nations, there was a International Biofuels Forum. What he didn't tell you, it was his idea. And I applaud the fact, Mr. President, that you put that idea out. It makes a lot of sense for countries like China and India to understand the potentials of alterative sources of energy. And I believe that Brazil and the United States has got the capacity to help lead the way toward that better day.
So, Mr. President, it has been a great first meeting here. I appreciate the fact that you're about to buy me lunch. I'm kind of hungry. (Laughter.) Looking forward to eating some of that good Brazilian food.
But in the meantime, I hope the citizens of Brazil, like the citizens of the United States, are as optimistic about the future as these two Presidents are. And one reason we're optimistic is because we see the bright and real potential for our citizens being able to use alternative sources of energy that will promote the common good.
So, Mr. President, thank you for having me. (Applause.) END 11:43 A.M. (Local)
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary March 7, 2007
President Bush Meets with Co-Chairs of the President's Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors Oval Office 10:12 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: I am concerned that our soldiers and their families are not getting the treatment that they deserve, having volunteered to defend our country. Any report of medical neglect will be taken seriously by this administration, I'm confident by the Congress, and we will address problems quickly.
I've asked two of America's fine public servants, Senator Dole and Secretary Shalala, to chair a commission that will analyze our health care both at the Defense Department and at the Veterans Department, to ensure that not only our soldiers but their families have got complete confidence in the government's upholding its responsibility to treat those who have been wounded.
I am concerned that there may be flaws in the system between when a soldier is on the battlefield, through the Defense Department, through the Veterans Administration, finally to the community. I can't think of two better people to analyze the situation and to make recommendations, two people to lead a commission of an incredible nine people, and that would be Senator Dole, who is himself a veteran, and a wounded veteran at that, a former distinguished Senator, a man who knows Washington well, but more importantly, knows the kind of questions that he needs to ask; and Secretary Shalala, who is an expert on health. She lived after eight years in President Clinton's administration, she knows what to look for, she knows the questions to ask.
And I'm confident that this commission will bring forth the truth. And as I assured the chairmen, I am confident that there will be a quick response to any problems that you may find. So I can't thank you enough for taking time, and to serve your nation once again. God bless. Thank you. END 10:14 A.M. EST
March 7, 2007 Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House.
Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs
Tom Shannon Thank you for joining me today. As you may know, President Bush, Secretary Rice, and I depart tomorrow to Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico. This will be the President's 8th trip to Latin America – more than any other President in the history of the United States. We look forward to meeting with our counterparts and discussing how we can work together to strengthen democracy and address important social issues such as poverty, inequality, and social exclusion. I look forward to taking your questions.
Travis, from Philadelphia, PA writes: Mr. Shannon, What details can you give on the emerging ethanol partnership with Brazil, and how does that figure into President Bush's greater diplomatic strategy for Latin America and the Caribbean?
Tom Shannon Although we have not yet concluded a formal agreement, the U.S. and Brazil, the world’s two largest producers of biofuels, are discussing how we might deepen our bilateral cooperation to encourage local biofuels production and consumption in some of the most vulnerable economies of the Caribbean and Central America, countries which typically depend entirely on imported energy. We are also looking at ways to encourage the development of common international standards and codes for biofuels and considering ways to promote information sharing. Through our cooperation we hope to spur greater economic and social development in the region, encourage new investment and boost job growth. This cooperation will contribute to hemispheric energy security. This in turn will support our national effort to promote a more democratic and prosperous Western Hemisphere.
cantiflas, from guatamala, mexico writes: we are all very excited that the president will be visiting our country. but what exactly will his commitment to the latin american regions be?
Tom Shannon As the President outlined in his speech earlier this week, this trip will renew his connection with a region that has made great strides toward freedom and prosperity by raising up new democracies and enhancing and undertaking fiscal policies that bring stability. Despite the advances, however, tens of millions in our hemisphere remain stuck in poverty, and shut off from the promises of the new century. The working poor of Latin America need change, and the United States of America is committed to helping to increase opportunity for all of the citizens in the hemisphere by relieving debt and opening up trade, encouraging reform, and delivering aid that empowers the poor and the marginalized.
Joshua, from Chicago, Illinois writes: I am supporter of our President, and I wanted to congratulate this administration for seeing the need to visit Latin America, in particular Guatemala, as the region needs the support, investment, and cooperation from the United States. It is very pleasing that our government is creating more dialogue with the region in order to better the region's stability, economic prosperity and the bilateral relations among both countries. Immigration (deportations, TPS, comprehensive reform), increased economic relations (investment, development, adjustment assitance from TLC, etc), are the main issues I would like to see this government address and carry out. I feel that this will help gain more support from the country's opposition and further improve bilateral relations. My question is what real or concrete measures will the President and his administration carry out on these issues, in order to gain even more support in the region? I want to end on this, Guatemalans are pro-democracy, pro-America, pro-prosperity. Will the U.S. work more diligently with our counterparts to achieve these goals?
Tom Shannon The President has visited Latin America many times, but this will be his first visit to Guatemala. With CAFTA underway, we are already seeing the positive impact in Guatemala through increased foreign investment and job creation. President Bush will visit Chimaltenango to see for himself the positive impact it is having. President Berger’s government is also hard at work on its efforts to meet the requirements for a Millennium Challenge program as its neighbors in Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador have already done. President Bush remains committed to comprehensive immigration reform that includes a temporary worker program that would allow Guatemalans and others to work legally here in the United States. Finally, I think that there is broad recognition that security issues throughout Central America must be confronted, but have to be addressed comprehensively. CAFTA and other development-focused initiatives can help address some of the underlying causes of crime and insecurity, but they have to be accompanied by concrete, practical improvements in the areas of law enforcement and judicial reforms. In Guatemala and throughout Central America, we work closely with governments to support these efforts through the International Law Enforcement Academy (recently established in El Salvador), Law Enforcement Development programs that improve technical skills for police forces, and prevention programs designed to keep vulnerable youth out of gangs.
Erik, from Oregon writes: How will the President handle the thorny issue of Venezuela during the trip, especially as Hugo Chavez tries to thwart the visit with his own travel in the region and with his bombastic rhetoric?
Tom Shannon This trip is about deepening U.S. relations with those countries that want to work with us. The President will be meeting with presidents whose governments span the political spectrum. From our point of view, we will work with any government – be it left or right – that shares our commitment to democracy and open economies. With these countries, we share a common desire to work together to create jobs, reduce poverty and social exclusion and ensure that all citizens enjoy the benefits of good government.
Ana, from So Paulo,Brazil writes: Hello, First, I'd like to know If president Bush is going to visit the social project "Meninos do Morumbi"(Boys of Morumbi) here in So Paulo?The USA and Brazil produce more than 70 of the world's ethanol,so is the main goal of Bush's trip to Brazil to form a global ethanol market? As well as the ethanol issue,there is Chvez who has dismissed Bush's upcoming trip as "destined for the depths of defeat." Does the American government believe he's said such things because the deal would reduce other countries,including America,dependence on foreign oil?Also, reduced demand for oil might reduce the clout of Venezuelan president,who has tried to use his nation's oil reserves to undercut U.S. policies in Latin America Finally I'd like to say that I'm big fan of the first lady Thanks and hope the president enjoys his trip down here:)
Tom Shannon The president is going to Latin America to underscore the commitment of the United States to the hemisphere and to highlight our common agenda to advance freedom, prosperity and social justice. On this trip the president will emphasize the importance of delivering the benefits of democracy to all of the citizens of the hemisphere, particularly in areas of health, education and economic opportunity.
Both the United States and Brazil recognize that the world needs to reduce its dependency on fossil fuels. At present we are discussing ways in which we might cooperate to encourage local biofuels production for local consumption in some our hemisphere’s most vulnerable economies. Diminishing dependence on imported oil by substituting biofuels for hydrocarbon imports has the potential to relieve financial pressure on fragile developing countries, increase investment and boost jobs. In short, it will contribute to hemispheric energy security. President Bush has established ambitious goals for biofuels production in the United States but our discussions with Brazil have focused on international cooperation and information exchange. We are not discussing trade or tariff issues with respect to the U.S. market.
Meninos de Morumbi is a great group. I have visited the Meninos twice, once with Secretary Powell and again with Under Secretary Karen Hughes. I hope the President has an opportunity to visit Meninos.
Martin, from Ohio writes: Many people feel that the U.S.A. has neglected Latin America during this administration due to many reasons, including 911, the war etc. These people also feel that this will come back to haunt the U.S.A. through various manifestations because during this time Latin America has transformed a lot (i.e. general political shift to the left for many countries etc.). Also, Mexico, who once had a major influence in the region, has lost most of its influence because of its close relationship with Washington; therefore, not even Mexico can assist the U.S. improve its image with other L.A. countries. Basically, what I am getting at is that by going to far away lands to fight two wars, the back door to the U.S.A. have been left opened. What are your thoughts about these concerns many people worry about?
Oh, what about the NAFTA SPP, is NAFTA moving towards increased integration? I am all for it, I believe this increased integration will only make the U.S.A. stronger and be a counterbalance to the EU and China.
Tom Shannon Those of us who work full-time on Latin America and the Caribbean do not believe that we have ignored it. The President has made eight trips to Latin America and almost doubled U.S. foreign assistance to the region.
As important as we view our relations with South and Central America, we are also working to deepen our cooperation in North America with Mexico and Canada. The establishment of the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) is evidence of our commitment. The SPP is aimed at making North American economies more competitive in world markets, and to protect our prosperity and democratic institutions from terrorist attacks. Together, the three countries of North America are building resilient societies that protect and promote our democratic values.
Besian, from Chicago writes: Is Mr. Bush visting Latin America to discuss the Free Trade Agreement of Americas?
Tom Shannon The purpose of the visit is talk with our friends about bringing the benefits of democracy to all of our citizens. The emphasis will be on creating jobs, improving education, and improving health care for the 200 million Latin Americans who live in poverty. Trade is an important engine of economic growth, but we recognize that our conversation has to be broader than trade if we are going to help our friends meet their social and economic development challenges.
Federico, from Montevideo, Uruguay writes: Why doesn't the US play a major role in Latinamerica? Specially when it had a closer relationship with former governments in the area. Unfortunatelly, nowadays this continent is suffering the epidemic of populist rulers, but not long ago we had liberals ruling our countries. Don't you think you didn't pay attention to this part of the world and now is late?
Tom Shannon The United States continues to be deeply engaged in Latin America. Since President Bush took office traditional U.S. assistance to the region has nearly doubled. In addition the United States has introduced new programs like the Millennium Challenge program which has so far awarded an additional 866 million dollars to Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador as well as smaller preparatory programs in several other countries. The U.S. has also concluded a number of new free trade agreements with countries of the hemisphere and these are already showing very encouraging results. Interestingly, last year virtually every country of the Americas experienced economic growth. The challenge now is to assure that the benefits of democracy and growth at the macroeconomic level reach all of our hemisphere’s citizens.
Cliff, from Brimfield, Ohio writes: Secretary Shannon: When it comes to the United States interest in Latin America. Are other countries starting to show some interest in the same area. China for instance? Thank You
Tom Shannon Absolutely. And at the same time, we are seeing several countries in Latin America more interested in developing ties – economic, social and political – with countries in Asia and Europe. I have traveled to Europe and Asia to encourage interest and investment in Latin America. The Asia Pacific Economic Forum, which links Mexico, Peru, the U.S., and Canada to some of Asia’s most dynamic economies, holds a lot of promise to deepen ties between Asia and Latin America.
Tom Shannon This has been a great session. I enjoyed the opportunity to talk with you about our partnerships in Latin America. Together, we can create a hemisphere that is more balanced in opportunity and more secure, for everyone. Thank you.
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary March 6, 2007
Fact Sheet: Taking Care of America's Returning Wounded Warriors President Bush Names Bob Dole And Donna Shalala To Serve On The President's Commission On Care For America's Returning Wounded Warriors
The President's Commission On Care For America's Returning Wounded Warriors
Today, President Bush Signed An Executive Order Creating A Bipartisan Presidential Commission To Conduct A Comprehensive Review Of The Services America Is Providing Our Returning Wounded Warriors. The President's Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors will recommend ways to:
Improve The Transition From Deployment To Other Military Service Or Civilian Life. The Commission will examine returning wounded service members' transition from deployment in support of the Global War on Terror to productive military service or civilian society, and recommend needed improvements.
Ensure High-Quality Services For Returning Wounded Service Members. The Commission will evaluate the delivery of health care, disability, traumatic injury, education, employment, and other benefits and services to returning wounded service members by Federal agencies and the private sector. It will recommend ways to ensure programs provide high-quality services.
Increase Access To Benefits And Services. The Commission will analyze the effectiveness of existing outreach programs for service members and identify ways to increase awareness of and access to benefits and services and reduce any barriers or gaps in these benefits and services.
Commission Members Will Consult With Foundations, Veterans Service Organizations, Non-Profit Groups, Faith-Based Organizations, And Others, As Appropriate.
The President Also Announced Former Senator Bob Dole And Former U.S. Department Of Health And Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala Will Serve As The Commission's Co-Chairs. In total, the President will announce nine members to serve on the Commission – including the two co-chairs.
Bob Dole: Senator Bob Dole was elected to Congress from his home state of Kansas in 1960 and to the U.S. Senate in 1968. He resigned from the Senate in 1996. His personal history of service includes active duty in World War II, during which he was gravely wounded and received for heroic achievement two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster.
Donna Shalala: In 1993, President Clinton appointed Donna Shalala Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), where she served for eight years, becoming the longest serving HHS Secretary in U.S. history. She has served as President of the University of Miami since June 1, 2001.
Interagency Task Force On Returning Global War On Terror Heroes
The President Also Directed U.S. Department Of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Jim Nicholson To Establish An Interagency Task Force On Returning Global War On Terror Heroes. The Task Force will bring together top-level officials from the U.S. Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Education, as well as the Office of Management and Budget and the Small Business Administration. It will identify and examine existing Federal services provided to returning Global War on Terror service members, identify gaps in these services, and seek recommendations from appropriate Federal agencies on ways to fill those gaps quickly and effectively.
In Addition, Defense Secretary Robert Gates Has Formed An Independent Review Group To Conduct An Assessment Of Outpatient Treatment At Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) And The National Naval Medical Center (NNMC). The group held its first meeting on March 1, 2007. It will identify any critical shortcomings and opportunities to improve care and quality of life for injured and sick members of the armed forces at WRAMC, NNMC, and other facilities if necessary, and make recommendations for corrective actions.
A Record Of Commitment To Improving Service For The Men And Women Of Our Military
The President's 2008 Budget Proposal Contains $38.7 Billion For Military Health Care Costs - Doubling Funding Since The President Took Office. All military members and families and retirees and families receive health care benefits from the Department of Defense (DoD). Military members on active duty are treated in DoD hospitals and clinics worldwide. A member severely harmed in combat is retained on active duty and treated in DoD facilities until he or she is granted lifetime DoD disability retirement and health benefits. The member may also transition to the VA health system for care.
In 2005, DoD Launched Its Global Electronic Health Record System, Which Will Ultimately Serve More Than 9 Million Service Members, Retirees, And Their Families Worldwide. In2008, the system will be active in 60 percent of military hospitals – a major step towards achieving the President's goal of making electronic health records and information about health care costs available to a majority of Americans.
In December 2006, The Defense Department Established A Task Force On The Future Of Military Health Care. The 14-member task force will evaluate and recommend alternatives to ensure the availability and affordability of military medicine over the long term.
With The President's 2008 Budget Proposal, We Will Have Increased The VA's Health Care Budget By 83 Percent Since 2001 – An Average Of 9.1 Percent A Year. Overall, the President is asking Congress for more than $86 billion for veterans' services in 2008. If Congress approves his request, this would amount to a 77 percent increase since the President took office – the highest level of support for veterans in American history.
VA Has Placed Staff At Key Military Hospitals To Assist Returning Service Members. These include benefit counselors who help service members obtain VA services and social workers who facilitate health care coordination and discharge planning as service members transition from Defense Department to VA health care.
VA Has Refocused Resources On Returning Combat Veterans And Has Implemented A Priority Scheduling System To Ensure These Men And Women Receive The Care They Need Without Unnecessary Delay. In addition, each VA medical center has a designated point of contact to ensure the health care needs of returning service members and veterans are fully met.
VA Has Expanded Resources For Patients With Multiple Complex Injuries. To further meet the need for specialized medical care for returning combat veterans, VA has expanded its four polytrauma centers in Minneapolis, Palo Alto, Richmond, and Tampa to encompass additional specialties to treat patients for multiple complex injuries. This effort is being expanded to 21 polytrauma network sites and clinic support teams around the country that can provide state-of-the-art treatment closer to injured veterans' homes.
The President's 2008 VA Budget Includes A Total Investment Of Nearly $3 Billion To Provide A Full Continuum Of Care For Veterans With Mental Health Issues. VA and DoD are working together to identify departing service members who may be at risk for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and have implemented an aggressive plan to determine the appropriate care best suited to each veteran.
VA Has Significantly Expanded Its Counseling And Other Medical Care Services For Recently Discharged Veterans Suffering From Mental Health Disorders, Including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. VA has created dozens of new mental health teams based in VA medical facilities that focus on early identification and management of stress-related disorders. It has also recruited about 100 combat veterans as counselors to provide briefings to transitioning service members regarding military-related readjustment needs.
VA Is Leading The Way In The Use Of Electronic Health Records To Enhance Patient Safety And Prevent Errors Associated With Prescription Drugs. All VA medical records are stored and tracked electronically, rather than on paper. This system allows physicians to review a patient's medical history, diagnoses, medications, charts, and X-rays at any of VA's 1,400 sites. It also substantially cuts down on errors in drug prescription, curbs repetitive and unnecessary tests, and helps identify patients who need vaccinations and other services.
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For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary March 5, 2007
President Bush Discusses Western Hemisphere Policy Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center Washington, D.C. 1:13 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. (Applause.) Please be seated -- si ntese. Buenas tardes. Gracias por la bienevenida. For those of you not from Texas, that means, good afternoon. (Laughter.) And thank you for the welcome. I'm honored to be back again with the men and women of the Hispanic Chamber. I appreciate your hospitality.
I'm pleased to report the economy of the United States is strong, and one of the reasons why is because the entrepreneurial spirit of America is strong. And the entrepreneurial spirit of America is represented in this room. (Applause.)
I thank you for the role of the Chamber. I appreciate so very much the work you do with our banks to help move capital. I appreciate so very much the fact that you recognize outstanding Latina business women through your Anna Maria Arias Fund. I appreciate the fact that you say loud and clear, el sue o Americano es para todos.
I strongly believe that the role of government is to make it clear that America is the land of opportunity. I think the best way to do that is to encourage business formation, encourage ownership; is to say, if you work hard and dream big, you can realize your dreams here in America. I also believe it's essential to make sure that when people take risk, that they're able to keep more of their own taxes. Congress needs to make the tax cuts we passed a permanent part of the tax code. (Applause.)
I know that in order for us to make sure el sue o Americano es para todos that we have an education system that sets high standards for all children, demands accountability in our schools so that we can say with certainty, children from all backgrounds are able to read and write and add and subtract. That is why I believe it is essential that Congress reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act.
I think it's very important for us to continue to expand federal contracting opportunities for small businesses, and to make sure that America is a place of promise and hope. It is important and essential that Congress pass comprehensive immigration reform that I can sign into law. (Applause.)
I want to talk about another important priority for our country, and that is helping our neighbors to the south of us build a better and productive life. Thursday, Laura and I are going to leave on a trip that will take us to Brazil and Uruguay and Colombia, y Guatemala, y por fin, Mexico. These are countries that are part of a region that has made great strides toward freedom and prosperity. They've raised up new democracies. They've enhanced and undertaken fiscal policies that bring stability.
Yet, despite the advances, tens of millions in our hemisphere remain stuck in poverty, and shut off from the promises of the new century. My message to those trabajadores y campesinos is, you have a friend in the United States of America. We care about your plight. (Applause.)
David, thank you very much for being the Chairman of this important organization and for the invitation. I want to thank Michael Barrera, who is the President and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber. I thank my friend y Tejano, Massey Villarreal, who is with us today. Massey, it's good to see you again. You've got a barba crecida. (Laughter.) Looking good, though, man.
I thank Frank Lopez, who is the President and CEO of Chamber Foundation. I want to thank members of my Cabinet who have come. I think it's a good sign that -- this administration recognizes the importance of having a neighborhood that is peaceful and flourishing -- that we have so many members of the Cabinet who have joined us today. I want to thank Carlos Guitierrez. (Applause.) Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao -- Madam Secretary. (Applause.) Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt. (Applause.) Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings -- Madam Secretary. (Applause.) Thank you all for coming.
Tom Shannon, representing the State Department. Ambassador Randy Tobias, who runs USAID, who, by the way, prior to this assignment, led one of the most important initiatives in my administration that has helped to fight the pandemic of HIV/AIDS. I appreciate your service there, and I now appreciate your service at USAID, Randy.
I want to thank John Veroneau, who is with us today, who is the Deputy U.S. Trade Representative. We've got members of the United States Congress with us today, powerful members of the Senate and the House. I am so grateful they are here, starting with Senator Dick Lugar of the great state of Indiana. Appreciate you coming. (Applause.) Norm Coleman from Minnesota. Senator, thank you for being here. (Applause.) A buddy of mine, Jerry Weller, Congressman Weller from Illinois. Proud you're here. Thanks for coming. (Applause.)
Los embajadores que estan aqui -- the ambassadors. Thank you all for being here. I see some of the ambassadors for the countries to which I'll be going. I'm sure all of them are here, and I appreciate you coming. Thanks for your time.
This is an important speech for me today. It's a speech that sets out a direction for this country in regards to our neighborhood. A former President gave such a speech 46 years ago this month. President John Kennedy spoke to ambassadors from across the Americas, this time in the East Room of the White House. He began by citing the early movements of independence in the Latin American republics. He invoked the dream of a hemisphere growing in liberty and prosperity. That's what he talked about 46 years ago. He proposed a bold new Alliance for Progress, to help the countries of this hemisphere meet the basic needs of their people -- safe homes and decent jobs and good schools, access to health care.
In the years since President Kennedy spoke, we have witnessed great achievements for freedom in this neighborhood. As recently as a generation ago, this region was plagued by military dictatorship and consumed by civil strife. Today 34 members of the OAS have democratic constitutions. And only one member country lives under a leader not of its people's choosing.
From New York to Rio de Janeiro to Buenos Aires and Montreal, we speak different languages, but our democracies all derive their legitimacy from the same source -- the consent of the governed. The expansion of freedom has brought our societies much closer. Today the most important ties between North and South America are not government to government, they are people to people. And those ties are growing. These ties are growing because of our churches and faith-based institutions, which understand that the call to love our neighbors as ourselves does not stop at our borders.
These ties are growing because of our businesses, which trade and invest billions in each other's countries. These ties are growing because of the outreach of our universities, which brings thousands of exchange students and teachers to their campuses. These ties are growing because of the estimated $45 billion that workers in the United States send back to their families in Latin America and the Carribean each year, one of the largest private economic initiatives in the world.
In all these ways, our two continents are becoming more than neighbors united by the accident of geography. We're becoming a community linked by common values and shared interests in the close bonds of family and friendship. These growing ties have helped advance peace and prosperity on both continents. Yet amid the progress we also see terrible want. Nearly one out of four people in Latin America lives on less than $2 a day. Many children never finish grade school; many mothers never see a doctor. In an age of growing prosperity and abundance, this is a scandal -- and it's a challenge. The fact is that tens of millions of our brothers and sisters to the south have seen little improvement in their daily lives. And this has led some to question the value of democracy.
The working poor of Latin America need change, and the United States of America is committed to that change. It is in our national interests, it is in the interest of the United States of America to help the people in democracies in our neighborhood succeed. When our neighbors are prosperous and peaceful, it means better opportunities and more security for our own people. When there are jobs in our neighborhood, people are able to find work at home and not have to migrate to our country. When millions are free from poverty, societies are stronger and more hopeful.
So we're helping to increase opportunity by relieving debt and opening up trade, encouraging reform, and delivering aid that empowers the poor and the marginalized. And the record of this administration in promoting social justice is a strong record and an important record. Social justice begins with building government institutions that are fair and effective and free of corruption.
In too many places in the Americas, a government official is seen as someone who serves himself at the expense of the public good, or serves only the rich and the well-connected. No free society can function this way. Social justice begins with social trust. So we're working with our partners to change old patterns and ensure that government serves all its citizens.
One of the most important changes we're making is the way we deliver aid. We launched a new program called the Millennium Challenge Account, which provides increased aid to nations that govern justly, invest in the education and health of their people, and promote economic freedom. So far, we've signed Millennium Challenge compacts with three Latin American nations. We've also signed an agreement with a fourth country that is working to meet the standards to qualify for a compact on its own. In the coming years, these agreements will provide a total of $885 million in new aid, so long as these countries continue to meet the standards of the Millennium Challenge program. We'll send more as we reach more agreements with other nations.
By the way, this aid comes on top of the standard bilateral assistance that we provide. When I came into office, the United States was sending about $860 million a year in foreign aid to Latin America and the Caribbean. Last year, we nearly doubled that amount, to a total of $1.6 billion. Altogether, thanks to the good work of members of the United States Congress, we have sent a total of $8.5 billion to the region with a special focus on helping the poor.
Let me share with you one example of how our aid is working for people in the region. It's a small example, but it had profound impact. A few years ago, we funded a project to help a town in Paraguay. We set up a website that makes all local government transactions public, from budget spending to employee salaries. The purpose was to help the people of Villarrica improve their local governance through greater transparency. It was a small gesture at first. But when they brought transparency into their government, they discovered that some government employees had used fake receipts to embezzle thousands of dollars from the city government. The mayor informed the public, and the employees who had stolen the money were tried and convicted, and they paid it back. For the people of Paraguay, this was an historic achievement. The local government had called its own officials to account at a public and transparent trial.
The United States can help bring trust to their governments by instilling transparency in our neighborhood. It didn't take much of a gesture, but it had a profound impact.
We're working for similar results in other nations. In El Salvador, we opened one of our international law enforcement academies. The new academy is helping governments in the region build effective criminal justice systems, by training law enforcement officers to combat the drug lords and the terrorists and the criminal gangs and the human traffickers. Our efforts to strengthen these civic institutions are also supported by more than government, but by private programs run by U.S. law schools and professional associations and in volunteer organizations.
In the coming months, this administration will convene a White House conference on the Western Hemisphere that will bring together representatives from the private sector, and non-governmental organizations, and faith-based groups and volunteer associations. The purpose is to share experiences, and discuss effective ways to deliver aid and build the institutions necessary for strong civil society. Is it in our interest we do so? Absolutely, it's in our interests. A transparent neighborhood will yield to a peaceful neighborhood, and that's in the interests of all citizens of our country.
Social justice means meeting basic needs. The most precious resource of any country is its people, and in the Americas, we are blessed with an abundance of talented and hardworking citizens -- decent, honorable people who work hard to make a living for their families. Without basic necessities like education and health care and housing, it is impossible for people to realize their full potential, their God-given potential.
Helping people reach their potential begins with good education. That's why the Secretary of Education is here. Many people across the Americas either have no access to education for their children or they cannot afford it. If children don't learn how to read, write, and add and subtract, they're going to be shut off for the jobs of the 21st century. They'll be condemned to a life on the margins, and that's not acceptable.
The United States is working for an Americas where every child has access to a decent school. It is a big goal, but it is a necessary goal, as far as we're concerned. When people in our neighborhood reach their full potential, it benefits the people of the United States.
Over the past three years, we've provided more than $150 million -- three years time -- spent $150 million for education programs throughout the region, with a special focus on rural and indigenous areas. Today I announce a new partnership for Latin American youth that's going to build on these efforts. This partnership will devote an additional $75 million over the next years -- three years to help thousands more young people improve their English and have the opportunity to study here in the United States. I think it's good policy when people from our neighborhood come to our country to study. (Applause.)
I hope this warms the heart of our fellow citizens when I share this story. In the mountains of Guatemala, we established a project that helped raise the number of children who complete first grade from 51 percent to 71 percent. In Peru, we helped create the Opening Doors Program to help girls get through grade school. That program is succeeding, and it is self-sustaining. Across Latin America and the Carribean our centers of excellence for teacher training -- we set up these centers, and we've trained 15,000 teachers; nearly 15,000 people have benefitted. Does that matter? Of course, it matters. When you train a teacher, you're really helping provide literacy for a child.
These teachers have helped improve the literacy skills for nearly 425,000 poor and disadvantaged students. It's important for our fellow citizens and the citizens in our neighborhood to understand that the United States of America is committed to helping people rise out of poverty, to be able to realize their full potential, and that starts with good education. By 2009, we expect to have trained a total of 20,000 teachers through these centers, and reach 650,000 students.
One person who has benefitted is a young girl in the Dominican Republic named Lorenny. By the time she was 10, she had been in first grade three times, and she had never passed. When her mother enrolled her in school again, Lorenny said, "Teacher, teach me to read, because I have learning problems." With patience and hard work, this good woman taught Lorenny to read and write. The teacher says that she had watched Lorenny blossom, and that she never would have been able to reach this girl without the know-how acquired through our teacher training program.
Societies can change one heart at a time. Here is an example of the good work of the American people taking place in our neighborhood. Another person who felt the impact of U.S. education assistance is a 25-year-old Mexican named Victor Lopez Ruiz. Victor's family lives in Chiapas, where opportunity is in short supply and the people tend to speak only the languages of the local communities. Victor's family sold their only real asset -- their cattle -- to pay for him to learn Spanish and finish high school.
In 2004, Victor won a USAID scholarship, which he used to learn English and study business in international trade at Scott Community College in Bettendorf, Iowa. It must have been quite an experience for a man from Chiapas to head into the heartland. But he did so with help from the taxpayers of the United States -- for this reason: He goes back to Chiapas. He's working for his bachelor's degree in accounting, and then he's going to start a bakery that will support his family. Where the path for this man once looked grim, education has opened a new door. And as Victor said, "It changed my life."
There are countless people like Victor and Lorenny across our hemisphere, young people filled with talent and ambition only needing the chance of an education to unlock their full potential. Helping people reach their potential includes providing access to decent health care.
In many of the same areas where families have no schools, they have no access to medical care. Since I took office, we spent nearly $1 billion on health care programs in the region, all aimed at sending a message to the people of Latin America: We care for you. Los corazones de las personas aqui in America son grandes. It's in our interests that we get good health care to citizens in our neighborhood.
Today, I'm going to announce a new initiative called the Health Care Professional Training Center in Panama that will serve all of Central America. I remember when Secretary Leavitt briefed me on this vital program. The center is going to teach students how to be good nurses and technicians and health care workers. We'll also train people so they can go back to their home countries and teach others the same skill sets.
In all these efforts, it's important for you to understand the role our United States military plays. In June, I'm going to send one of our Navy's medical ships, the Comfort, to the region. The Comfort will make port calls in Belize and Guatemala, and Panama, Nicaragua, and El Salvador, and Peru, and Ecuador, Colombia, Haiti, and Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, and Suriname. It's going to be busy. Altogether, the Comfort's doctors and nurses and health care professionals expect to treat 85,000 patients and conduct up to 15,000 surgeries. These are people who need help. These are people who might not otherwise get the basic health care they need to realize a better tomorrow.
The Comfort was also going to partner with the Department of Health and Human Services on a new initiative to provide oral care to the region's poor. Dentists and hygienists will fill cavities and treat infections and provide treatment for the young children.
At the same time, military medical teams will be operating inland to help bring treatment and care to other communities. These teams do everything from vaccinating people against disease to building new medical clinics. The United States military is a symbol of strength for this nation. There's also a symbol of the great compassion of the American people and our desire to help those in our neighborhood who need help.
With the deployment of the Comfort and the work of the military teams we're making it absolutely clear to people that we care. One good example is an area of Nicaragua. Santa Teresa is a rural area where 250 U.S. airmen, soldiers and Marines are now working with 30 members of the Nicaraguan army to build a medical clinic. Any families in the area live at homes built of scrap wood with dirt floors and doorless entryways. For most of them, a doctor is too far away, or too expensive. One man in Santa Teresa says, "The impact of this clinic is going to be tremendous."
I want you to hear the words of a fellow from Nicaragua. He said, "We're so glad you're here. People around here are noticing that the United States is doing something for them." And my message to the man is, we're proud to do so, and we do so because we believe in peace and the dignity of every human being on the face of the Earth. (Applause.)
Helping people reach their potential requires a commitment to improving housing. A strong housing industry can be an engine of economic growth and social stability and poverty reduction. Most Latin American capitals' high prices and high interest rates make good housing hard to afford. So the United States is launching a new effort to help build a market for affordable housing. Through the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, we've provided more than $100 million that is being used to help underwrite mortgages to working families in Mexico and Brazil and Chile and the countries of Central America. Now we're going to provide another $385 million to expand these programs and help put the dream of home ownership within the reach of thousands of more people in our neighborhood.
On these three vital social issues -- education and health care and housing -- we're making a difference across the Americas. You see, by investing in programs and empower people, we will help the working families of our hemisphere build a more hopeful future for themselves.
Finally, social justice requires economies that make it possible for workers to provide for their families and to rise in society. For too long and in too many places, opportunity in Latin America has been determined by the accident of birth rather than by the application of talents and initiative. In his many writings, Pope John Paul II spoke eloquently about creating systems that respect the dignity of work and the right to private initiative. Latin America needs capitalism for the campesino, a true capitalism that allows people who start from nothing to rise as far as their skills and their hard work can take them. So the United States is helping these nations build growing economies that are open to the world, economies that will provide opportunity to their people.
One of the most important ways is by helping to relieve the burden of debt. In the past, many nations in this region piled up debt that they simply cannot repay. Every year their governments have to spend huge amounts of money just to make interest payments on the debt. So under my administration, we worked with the Group of 8 industrialized nations to reduce the debt of Latin America and Caribbean nations by $4.8 billion. Members of the Inter-American Development Bank are close to an agreement on another debt relief initiative, and we look forward to helping them complete it. This agreement will cancel $3.4 billion owed by some of the poorest countries in our hemisphere -- Bolivia and Guyana and Haiti and Honduras and Nicaragua. That works out to about $110 for every man, woman and child in these countries, monies that their government should use to invest in the education and health of their citizens.
People in this region have the talent and drive they need to succeed. These are hardworking folks. I used to remind people in Texas, family values didn't stop at the Rio Grande River. There's a lot of mothers and dads in our neighborhood who care deeply about whether or not their children can grow up in a hopeful society. What they need is, in order to be able to realize that hope, is better access to capital. The entrepreneurial spirit is strong, strong in this room and it's strong throughout the region. But what we need is capital.
So over the past five years, the United States has devoted more than $250 million to help the entrepreneurial spirit flourish in our region. This money includes micro credit loans for people starting small businesses. And these loans have been very successful, and I appreciate the Congress for appropriating money for these micro loans.
I'm also directing Secretary Rice and Secretary Paulson to develop a new initiative that will help U.S. and local banks improve their ability to extend good loans to small businesses. It's in our interest that businesses flourish in our own neighborhood. Flourishing business will provide jobs for people at home. They provide customers for U.S. products.
As we help local entrepreneurs get the capital they need we're also going to open up new opportunities through trade and investment. If you're a rural farmer scratching out a subsistence living, would you want to be able to sell your goods to new markets overseas? I think so. You're trying to make a living and the market is closed, it seems to make sense that you should want to be able to sell into a larger universe.
If you're a worker looking for a job, wouldn't you want more employers competing for your labor? The more employers there are in your neighborhood, the more likely it is you're going to find a better job. That's not really sophisticated math or economics, it just happens to be the truth -- la verdad.
When I took office, the United States had trade agreements with only two nations in our hemisphere. We've now negotiated agreements with 10 more. We're working for a strong agreement at the Doha Round of global trade talks that will level the playing field for farmers and workers and small businesses in our country and throughout the hemisphere.
Entrepreneurs are taking advantage of the markets we've helped open. Here's an interesting story for you. Mariano Can , he was an indigenous farmer in Guatemala whose land provided barely enough corn and beans to feed his family. He was scratching to get ahead. No one in his family had ever been to college. Most of the people in his village never got past the sixth grade. Mariano began tilling the fields at age seven. He had spent his life in grinding poverty, and it looked as though his children would suffer the same fate.
Trade helped him a lot, and here's how. To take advantage of new opportunities, he organized an association of small farmers called Labradores Mayas. These farmers began growing vegetables that they can sell overseas, high-valued crops like lettuce and carrots and celery. They took out a loan. Capital matters. It's important to have capital available if we want our neighbors to be able to realize a better tomorrow. And they built an irrigation system with that loan. And soon they were selling their crops to large companies like Wal-Mart Central America. With the money Mariano has earned, he was able to send his son to college. Today Labradores is a thriving business that supports more than a thousand jobs in production and transportation and the marketing of internationally sold vegetables.
One of the stops on my trip is going to be to see Mariano. I can't wait to congratulate him on not losing hope and faith. I also look forward to seeing a thriving enterprise that began with one dream. And it's in the interests of the United States to promote those dreams. People like Mariano are showing what the people of this region can accomplish when given a chance. By helping our neighbors build strong and vibrant economies, we increase the standard of living for all of us.
You know, not far from the White House is a statue of the great liberator, Simon Bolivar. He's often compared to George Washington -- Jorge W. (Laughter.) Like Washington, he was a general who fought for the right of his people to govern themselves. Like Washington, he succeeded in defeating a much stronger colonial power, and like Washington, he belongs to all of us who love liberty. One Latin American diplomat put it this way: "Neither Washington, nor Bolivar was destined to have children of their own, so that we Americans might call ourselves their children."
We are the sons and daughters of this struggle, and it is our mission to complete the revolution they began on our two continents. The millions across our hemisphere who every day suffer the degradations of poverty and hunger have a right to be impatient. And I'm going to make them this pledge: The goal of this great country, the goal of a country full of generous people, is an Americas where the dignity of every person is respected, where all find room at the table, and where opportunity reaches into every village and every home. By extending the blessings of liberty to the least among us, we will fulfill the destiny of this new world and set a shining example for others.
Que Dios les bendiga. END 1:50 P.M. EST
President and Mrs. Bush to Travel to Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico
President and Mrs. Bush will travel to Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico from March 8-14, 2007. This trip will underscore the commitment of the United States to the Western Hemisphere and will highlight our common agenda to advance freedom, prosperity, and social justice and deliver the benefits of democracy in the areas of health, education, and economic opportunity.
In São Paulo, Brazil, President Bush will meet with President Luíz Inacio “Lula” da Silva to discuss a range of issues, including alternative energy, as well as meet with other leaders of Brazilian society. The President will then travel to Montevideo, Uruguay, to conduct bilateral meetings with President Tabaré Vázquez, reciprocating his visit to Washington in May 2006. President Bush will next travel to Bogotá, Colombia, to meet with President Álvaro Uribe and underscore the United States’ commitment to supporting that nation’s successful battle against narcoterrorism and efforts to improve the lives of the Colombian people. The President will also visit Guatemala to experience the rich cultural diversity of this Central American nation, meet with President Oscar Berger, and emphasize the close relationship between our two countries. The President will conclude his trip with a visit to Mexico to emphasize our strong partnership with Mexico and to demonstrate support for President Felipe Calderón’s efforts to address poverty and income inequality, restore law and order, fight the common threat of drug trafficking, and strengthen our economic relationship.
Advancing the Cause of Social Justice in the Western Hemisphere
On March 5, 2007, President Bush Discussed The Administration's Efforts To Advance The Cause Of Social Justice In The Western Hemisphere. From March 8-14, President and Mrs. Bush will travel to Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico. These countries are part of a region that has taken great strides toward freedom and prosperity raising up new democracies and bringing stability to their fiscal policies. Yet despite these advances, tens of millions in the Western Hemisphere remain stuck in poverty. The working poor of Latin America need change, and the United States is committed to helping their governments provide it.
The President Is Committed To Helping Democracies In The Western Hemisphere:
Build government institutions that are fair, effective, and free of corruption;
Meet basic needs like education, healthcare, and housing; and
Maintain economies that make it possible for workers to provide for their families and rise in society.
New Initiatives For The Western Hemisphere
The President Announced He Will Send The USNS Comfort A Navy Medical Ship To Latin America And The Caribbean. The Comfort will make port calls in Belize, Guatemala, Panama, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, and Suriname. Its doctors, nurses, and healthcare professionals expect to treat 85,000 patients and conduct up to 1,500 surgeries. The Comfort will also partner with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on a new initiative to provide oral care to the region's poor.
At The Same Time, Military Medical Teams Will Operate To Help Bring Treatment And Care To Other Communities. This year, the Department of Defense and the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps will partner to provide medical care through 62 Medical Readiness Training Exercises in 14 countries in the Western Hemisphere.
The President Also Announced A Healthcare Professional Training Center In Panama That Will Serve All Of Central America. This Center will teach students how to be good nurses, technicians, and health care workers.
The President Announced A New Partnership For Latin American Youth To Help Thousands More Young People Improve Their English And Have The Opportunity To Study In The United States. This three-year, $75 million initiative includes English language training; home-country and U.S.-based study; helping students apply for and win scholarships; and skills development to improve students' ability to gain employment.
The President Directed Secretary Of State Condoleezza Rice And Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson To Develop A New Initiative That Will Help U.S. And Local Banks Improve Their Ability To Extend Good Loans To Small Businesses. Increasing access to capital throughout Latin America and the Caribbean will help its entrepreneurs create new jobs and opportunity for their fellow citizens.
The United States Is Launching A New Effort To Help Build A Market For Affordable Housing. Through the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the U.S. has provided more than $100 million to help underwrite mortgages to working families in Mexico, Brazil, Chile, and the countries of Central America. The U.S. will now provide an additional $385 million to expand these programs and help put the dream of home ownership within reach of thousands more people.
The Administration Will Convene A White House Conference On The Western Hemisphere. This conference will bring together representatives from the private sector, non-governmental organizations, faith-based groups, and volunteer associations to discuss more effective ways to deliver aid and build the institutions of civic society.
Building Government Institutions That Are Fair, Effective, And Free Of Corruption
Millennium Challenge Accounts Are Providing Financial Assistance To Developing Nations That Govern Justly, Invest In Their People, And Encourage Economic Freedom.
President Bush worked with Congress to create the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) in February 2004.
Compact agreements between the MCC and El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua plus a threshold agreement in Paraguay amount to almost $900 million in aid for these countries.
Bolivia is eligible for compact assistance, and Peru and Guyana have been invited to participate in the MCC threshold program.
The President's FY08 budget requests $3 billion for the Millennium Challenge Corporation to continue reducing poverty around the world.
We Are Working With Our Partners In Latin America And The Caribbean To Ensure Governments Serve All Citizens Impartially.
In Colombia, American foreign aid is helping train judges, prosecutors, and public defenders.
In Villarrica, Paraguay, we funded a project setting up a website to make local government transactions public.
In El Salvador, the United States opened an international law enforcement academy to help train law enforcement agents to combat drug lords, terrorists, criminal gangs, and human traffickers. These efforts are supported by private programs run by U.S. law schools, professional associations, and volunteer organizations.
Providing Funding For Education And Health Care In Latin America And The Caribbean
Since 2004, The U.S. Has Provided More Than $150 Million For Education Programs In Latin America And The Caribbean. U.S.-funded education programs include:
Centers Of Excellence For Teacher Training (CETT) Initiative: In 2001, President Bush announced the CETT initiative to strengthen literacy instruction across the region. Since 2002, CETT has trained nearly 15,000 teachers, and it plans to train 3,330 more in 2007. By 2009, CETT will have trained 20,000 teachers in the region, and will have improved the literacy skills of 650,000 poor and disadvantaged students.
The U.S. Department Of State Hemisphere-Wide English Teaching Initiative: Launched in 2006, the initiative provides $500,000 to fund micro-scholarships and English teaching programs, supporting English studies for nearly 12,000 students.
Since 2001, The U.S. Has Invested Almost $1 Billion To Improve Health Through USAID Programs In Latin America And The Caribbean.
U.S. Funding For HIV/AIDS Programs In Latin America And The Caribbean Has Grown From $22 Million In 2001 To A Planned Level Of Over $143 Million In 2007. Haiti and Guyana are focus countries in the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). We are also supporting programs in Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, and a regional program in the Caribbean.
Helping Build Economies That Allow Workers To Provide For Their Families And Rise In Society
The United States Government Led The G-8 Debt Reduction Initiative To Provide $4.8 Billion In Multilateral Debt Relief To Some Of The Poorest Countries In The Americas.
The Administration Is Implementing An Agenda To Promote Job Creation And Equal Opportunity For All Residents Of The Western Hemisphere.
The Administration has negotiated trade agreements with 10 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, with three Peru, Colombia, and Panama pending Congressional approval.
In 2006, CAFTA-DR entered into force for Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. And on March 1, 2007, CAFTA-DR entered into force for the Dominican Republic.
Countries with U.S. trade agreements in the Western Hemisphere comprise two-thirds of the region's overall GDP.
The Administration is now working for a strong agreement in the Doha round of global trade talks that will help level the playing field for farmers, workers, and small businesses throughout the Western hemisphere.
U.S. Assistance To Latin America And The Caribbean Extends Far Beyond Government Initiatives.
USAID has registered more than 300 U.S.-based non-governmental organizations working in Latin America.
In 2005, U.S. companies invested $353 billion in Latin America and the Caribbean. Foreign affiliates of U.S. companies have employed 1.6 million people in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.
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For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary March 3, 2007
President Bush Tours Storm Devastation at Enterprise High School in Alabama Enterprise High School Enterprise, Alabama 9:24 A.M. CST
THE PRESIDENT: The heart of a community like Enterprise, Alabama, is the school. And today I have walked through devastation that's hard to describe. Our thoughts, of course, go out to the students who perished. We thank God for the hundreds who lived. I want the folks of Enterprise to know that to the extent the government can, our federal government can, in working with the state, we'll help rebuild the school system, this high school. We can never replace lives, and we can't heal hearts, except through prayer. And I know -- I want the students to know, and the families to know that there's a lot of people praying for them.
I met with the president of the Student Body, who recognizes that the end of her senior year is going to be difficult. But as a student leader, she will have the opportunity to help people rebuild, and that she will learn that out of the devastation -- and the classmates will learn, that out of the devastation can come hope and a better tomorrow.
And so we ask for the blessings on the students and their families. We ask for the blessings on the principal and the administrator. We thank this good community for rallying strongly by the side of those who have been affected. And I thank the people of Enterprise for the warm welcome I have received here.
The people of America have got to know that the citizens here, even though affected by devastation, have shown great courage and compassion for their citizens in need. And it's really part of the strength of the United States to know that they're such decent folks.
God bless everybody. Thank you all.
Q How did it look from the air, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: It looks as bad from the air as it looks from the ground. And you can see right here the effects of the storm. But the biggest effect of the storm is the shattered lives. We can rebuild buildings, and the fundamental question is, will the spirit stay strong in Enterprise, Alabama. I predict that it not only will stay strong, it will be strengthened. That's my prediction. And it's easy to tell when you talk to the people, whether it's young or old, this town refuses to be devastated. This town is a town full of people that will not -- will not succumb to the effects of the storm. The Mayor is strong; the Principal of the school is strong; the Lieutenant; and the children, the high school seniors.
And so it's a -- these are very tough times for the people here. And there are going to be tough times for the people in Georgia that were affected. And I just hope they know that a lot of people are praying for them, that a lot of strangers that they'll never have met care for them, and that out of this rubble will emerge a better tomorrow, because that's the commitment that I hear here in Enterprise. And the role of the government is going to help, to the extent that we can.
Thank you all. END 9:27 A.M. CST
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary March 3, 2007
President Bush Views Tornado Damage in Alabama Enterprise Municipal Airport Enterprise, Alabama 8:40 A.M. CST
THE PRESIDENT: You know, Mayor, I told the people yesterday that I come down with a heavy heart, and I will try, to the best of my ability, to comfort those who lost life and property. I know you and the Council and the citizens here have done that, as well.
I hope it helps for the citizens here to hear that we declared your county a major disaster area, which will provide some relief. You can never heal a heart, but you can provide comfort, knowing that the federal government will provide help for those whose houses were destroyed, or automobiles were destroyed. And I would strongly urge the citizens here to -- if you've got a question, to call 1-800-621-FEMA, and there will be somebody answering your call and will give you a chance to find out whether or not you will qualify for the relief under the major disaster declaration.
Secondly, I was talking to the Governor, and he has said that there have been some funds set up to help the people who suffered. And my call to people here in Alabama and around the United States is, if you feel the generosity in your heart to help people affected by this terrible tornado, I would ask you to contribute. One such fund is the Red Cross. There will be others. We will make sure that USA Freedom Corps will have posted on it a place where people can contribute money. Some people are going to need your help. There have been some poor citizens who may -- or may not qualify for federal help, but are going to need the help of our fellow citizens. And I would ask you to, out of the generosity of your heart, to help the folks down here.
This storm was a tough storm. It went eight miles and affected a lot of lives. And this country is a prayerful country, there are a lot of people praying for you. END 8:41 A.M. CST
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary March 2, 2007
President Bush Discusses No Child Left Behind Reauthorization Silver Street Elementary School New Albany, Indiana 2:38 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. Please be seated. (Applause.) A little bossy today, aren't I? (Laughter.) Thrilled to be here in New Albany. Thanks for coming out to say hello. I want to talk about schools and the federal role in schools relative to local governments -- is what we're here to talk about.
I'm glad to be here in the home of the Stars, the Silver Street Stars. (Applause.) I brought a lot of cameras and limousines. (Laughter.) Kind of fits in with the theme, doesn't it -- Silver Street Stars. I understand the school is 90 years old. You've seen a lot of decent people come here to teach, I'll bet you -- a lot of people who said, I want to put my community first, and became teachers and principals and caring citizens of the state. And so I'm real proud to be with you.
I'm here because I think it's important for a President to herald success and to talk about what's possible, particularly when it comes to schools. My only regret is that my wife hasn't joined me today. She's, by far, the best deal in our family. (Applause.) Just like in Mitch's family I want you to know. I know the Danielses well and I can certify that the person from New Albany is, by far, the best part of his family, too. (Laughter.)
I'm real proud of Mitch. I know him -- he worked in my administration. I called him out of the private sector when I first got sworn in. I said, would you come and work for the country? And he did. He was the watchdog for the people's money -- it's what's called the OMB. And he did a fine job there, really, and I miss him a lot. I love his sense of humor. I knew he'd make a fine governor. He asked me about governor; I said, listen, it's the greatest job in America -- next to President. But it's a great -- (laughter.) And he's an innovative, smart, capable, honest guy, and I'm proud to be with him.
I know he cares a lot about schools, too. And so when I talk about education, I can talk confidently about the schools here in Indiana, because you've got a Governor who will prioritize education. I used to say to people, public education is to a state what national defense is to the federal government. It ought to be the number one priority. And I know Mitch is making it so. (Applause.)
I want to thank Tony Duffy. Duffy has done a find job of dealing with a impossibly large entourage. (Laughter.) I really appreciate your spirit. It turns out that if you were to correlate education in a school with educational entrepreneurship at the principal level, the two go hand-in-hand. In other words, you have to have a good principal in order to be able to challenge failure when you find it, mediocrity when you see it, and praise excellence when it's evident. And you've got a good principal here. I can't thank you enough, Tony.
I want to thank all the teachers, as well, who teach here. Teaching is a hard job, it's a really hard job, and it's never really appreciated enough in some circles. And I just want the teachers to understand full well that I know the community here thanks you from the bottom of their heart, and the parents thank you. And for the parents who are here, I appreciate you paying attention to your school. It turns out parental involvement is an essential part of having excellence in the school system. So when parents pay attention, it not only gives confidence to the teachers, it also enables the school to listen to the needs of those who matter most, and those are the parents and the children.
I appreciate very much Congressman Baron Hill joining us today. The Congressman flew down on the airplane. As you know, we're not from the same political party, but we both care about education. And it's nice of you to come. You'll meet a friend of mine who is with us, Mike and Keta -- appreciate you all coming.
Now is not the time to be involved with politics when we're talking about the education of our children. This is an issue that needs to rise above politics and needs to focus on what's right, because getting the schools right in America will make sure that this country remains competitive and hopeful and optimistic. So I'm proud you traveled with me, and it's good to see you both again. Thanks for coming.
Mayor Jim Garner and Debbie are with us. Mr. Mayor, thank you for being here, sir. Proud to be in your city. I appreciate the reception that we received from the citizens. People respect the presidency, and sometimes they like the President. (Laughter.) I appreciate the fact that people came out to wave.
I want to thank Dr. Reed, who is the Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction. Thank you for coming, Dr. Reed. There you are. I appreciate Mr. Don Sakel, who is the President of the School Board. Don, where are you? There you are, yes. I saw him coming in. I said, you've probably got the toughest job in America, being on the school board. For those of you who know school politics, you know what I'm talking about. But I appreciate the school board and the board of trustees, people who serve the local community by serving on the school board, making sure that local control of schools remains an essential part of the school system in this state and around the country. Dr. Dennis Brooks, who is the superintendent of the New Albany and Floyd County school system is with us; and community leaders, thanks.
So there is a bill coming up for reauthorization called the No Child Left Behind Act. I happen to think it's if not the, one of the most substantial pieces of legislation I will have had the honor to sign -- I've signed a lot. I want to describe to you the philosophy behind the act and why I strongly believe it needs to be reauthorized by the United States Congress.
I first became directly involved with public schools from a public policy perspective as the governor of Texas, and I was deeply concerned about systems that quit early on a child and just moved them through. In other words, I was concerned about a system where people would walk in the classroom and say, these children are hard to educate, therefore, let's just move them through the system. It may not have happened in Indiana, but it happened in Texas. And it was unacceptable, because guess who generally got shuffled through the system. The poor, the newly arrived, the minority student. And I knew that unless we confronted a system which gave up on children early, that my state would not be a hopeful place.
And so I decided to do something about it. And I took that spirit to Washington, D.C. Now, look, I fully understand some are nervous when they hear a President talking about federal education -- you start thinking to yourself the government is going to tell you what to do here at the local level. Quite the contrary, in this piece of legislation. I strongly believe in local control of schools. I believe it's essential to align authority and responsibility. And by insisting upon local control of schools, you put the power where it should be -- closest to the people.
On the other hand, I know full well that to make sure a system doesn't lapse into kind of the safety of mediocrity that you've got to measure. See, in my state we said we want to know whether or not a child can read or write early, before that child gets moved through the system. And so I insisted upon accountability.
And the spirit of the No Child Left Behind Act is the same. It says if you spend money, you should insist upon results. Now, I recognize the federal government only spends about 7 percent of the total education budgets around the country, and, frankly, that's the way I think it should be. In other words, if local people are responsible or the state is responsible, that's where the primary funding ought to come. But I also strongly subscribe to the idea of the federal government providing extra money for what's called Title I students, for example, students who go to this school -- money that I think bolsters education for students in the community.
But I also believe that in return for you spending that money -- it's your money, after all -- it makes sense for government to say, is it working? Are we meeting objectives? Are we achieving the results necessary for all of us to say that the school systems are working nationwide? And so step one of the No Child Left Behind Act was to say you've got to measure.
We didn't design a federal test because I believe a federal test undermines local control of schools. As a matter of fact, Mitch and Baron and I were talking in the car about how Indiana has had a longstanding accountability system, and that's good. It ought to be your accountability system; after all, it's your schools. But I do believe you need to measure, and I know you need to set high standards and keep raising those standards.
In life, if you lower the bar you get lousy results. If you keep raising that bar, it's amazing what can happen. I call it challenging the soft bigotry of low expectations. And that's an important part of the No Child Left Behind Act. We expect people to set high standards and measure to determine whether or not those standards are being met.
Now, one of the interesting debates in the school system is curriculum. I imagine you've had a few of those tussles here; we had a lot of them in the state of Texas. Reading curriculum, for example, there was a longstanding debate over which type of system works better. And it can get pretty heated. One way to cut through all the noise, however, is to measure. If the children are learning to read given a basic curriculum, then you know you picked the right way to teach, the right set of instructions. If your children aren't meeting standards, then an accountability system gives you the opportunity to change. And school systems, in my judgment, need to be flexible. That's why local control of schools makes sense. When something isn't working, you need to correct. But what the accountability systems enable you to do is determine if it's working at all.
I think it's very important for there to be transparency. In other words, when you have scores -- I don't know if you do this, Mitch, or not, but I would strongly suggest that you post them for everybody to see across the state of Indiana. It's kind of hard to tell how you're doing relative to your neighbor unless there's full accountability -- in other words, unless everybody can see the results. A lot of times people think their school is doing just great -- the principal, in all due respect, says, we're doing just fine, don't worry about it -- to the community. But you may not be. And it's important for people to fully understand how your school is doing relative to other schools, so that if you need to correct, you're able to do so. See, if you have high standards, then you want to aim to those standards and make sure that you're doing well relative to other schools that are setting high standards.
Finally, what we need is to make sure that we individualize, as best as possible, the school system. That's what happens here at Silver Street. In other words, when you use your accountability system properly, you can tailor it to each individual student. That's why the act is called the No Child Left Behind Act. It doesn't say "all children shouldn't be left behind," it says, "no child." In other words, you can individualize curriculum based upon accountability. And this school does that.
Testing data has helped teachers tailor instruction. Here's what your principal said. He said, "We drill down in the data." In other words, they take the data and drill down -- I presume you meant analyze a lot. Yes, excuse me. I'm from Crawford, Texas, too, so I know. (Laughter.) They analyze, they drill down in the data and figure out what the best practices are that we need to be using in the classroom. In other words, they use the data not as a way to punish, but as a way to improve.
The spirit of the No Child Left Behind Act says we will spend money, we will use accountability to drill down, to make sure no child gets left behind. You know, one way you can really use this, particularly in your early grades, is for literacy. Science doesn't matter if the child can't read. It's really hard to be good in math if you don't have the capacity to read the problems in the first place. And so I know this school is focused on literacy, as it should be, as a step toward educational excellence in all subjects.
I appreciate very much the fact that this school uses the accountability to focus on teaching techniques. Sometimes, probably not in this school, but sometimes teachers have got the right heart, but they don't have the techniques necessary to deliver the results that are expected. And so you can use your accountability system, if you're wise, to make sure that the techniques are analyzed and the compassion in the classroom is backed with the skills necessary to be able to achieve objectives.
Here's what the principal also says -- and this is an important part of excellence -- "We never give up. There are no excuses." Sometimes if you don't measure, you can find all kinds of excuses. And it's just not in schools, it's life. The easy position sometimes is the default -- saying, well, I just didn't have what was necessary to get the job done, or something like that. This is a no excuses school. That means high standards. Low standards are a place where people find excuses; high standards, there is no excuse, and there's a focus on what's right for each child.
And that's why I'm here at Silver Street. I appreciate so very much that this school has met state standards for progress under No Child Left Behind every year since 2002. Isn't that interesting? (Applause.) Isn't it interesting to be able to say that? You can't say something that draws applause unless you measure. Without a measurement system the President would be saying, well, we anticipate that we are doing well. We certainly hope that we're meeting state standards. Under this system you can say, we know we're meeting state standards. And that should give the parents who pay attention to this school a great comfort, and give the teachers who teach here great pride.
The No Child Left Behind Act is working across the country. So when members of Congress think about reauthorization -- by the way, I'm here to -- I'm not only speaking to you, I'm lobbying. I'm lobbying Congress. I'm setting the stage for Congress to join me in the reauthorization of this important piece of legislation.
The test scores across the country are heartening. There's still a lot of work to be done, don't get me wrong. But there's improvement. One of my issues is that there's an achievement gap in America; certain students are doing better than other students. White students are doing better than African American students, or Latino students. And that's not -- that's simply not acceptable. It's not acceptable to the country. It's not -- it forebodes not a positive future, so long as that achievement gap exists. The gap is closing. It's heartening news.
Fourth graders are reading better. They've made more progress in five years than the previous 28 years combined. In other words, we're able to measure whether or not all children -- and by the way, we disaggregate results -- that is a fancy, sophisticated word meaning that we're able to focus on demographic groups. And the progress has been substantial. You just heard that it's easy to quantify how well we're doing because there's measurement.
In math, 9-year-olds and 13-year-olds earned the highest scores in the history of the test. I hear some people say, oh, we don't like tests. I didn't like them either. But it's really important to make sure that we're achieving standards. And so reauthorizing this good piece of legislation is one of my top priorities. And my claim is, it's working. We can change parts of it for the better, but don't change the core of a piece of good legislation that's making a significant difference in the lives of a lot of children. (Applause.)
We're living in a competitive world. Whether people like it or not, the reality is we live in a world where our students are going to have to compete for jobs with students in China or India or elsewhere. And if this country wants to remain the economic leader in the world, we've got to make sure we have a workforce capable of filling the jobs of the 21st century. And it's a real challenge for us. It's a challenge we're going to meet, by the way. There's no doubt in my mind we can meet it.
But it really starts with elementary school. It really starts here, in schools like this. It's important to get it right early, to make sure that children have got that foundation necessary to become the scientists and the engineers and the leaders for tomorrow. No Child Left Behind Act is a central part of the competitiveness initiative, to make sure that America remains on the leading edge of change and is the economic leader of the world.
We can do some other things around. One thing we need to do is to make sure that we align our high school graduation requirements with college readiness standards, which is precisely what the state of Indiana has done. We want to make sure that a high school diploma means something. I happen to believe that we ought to take the same accountability that we've got in elementary and junior highs, and get it to high school, just to make sure; to be able to say with certainty the high school diploma that somebody gets really means something, that it's working.
I fully believe that we need to advance -- that we need to spread advanced placement courses around the country. Advanced placement is a fabulous program. (Applause.) It's a way to set high standards, isn't it? We need to train teachers in AP, and help students afford the AP exam. (Applause.) AP is a good way to -- we've got an AP teacher back there.
Math and science are really important subjects. I can remember -- math and science probably doesn't have cachet, it's not cool, but it's important to emphasize math and science. And one way to do that is to take math and science professionals and encourage them to go into classrooms. I went to a school with Margaret Spellings, who happens to be the Secretary of Education, a dear friend of mine and doing a fine job -- and we went to a school in Maryland, and there was a scientist from NASA explaining the beauties of science.
Parents sometimes have trouble explaining the beauties of science. I certainly did when I was trying to work on those science projects. (Laughter.) But when you get a professional, somebody who knows what they're talking about, they can really enlighten the child to the benefits of math or science focus. And so we've got a program to work with Congress to get more of those professionals in classrooms. We call them adjunct professors. I hope the Congress funds that program. So there's one way, for example, to build on the No Child Left Behind Act, focus on high schools and math and science.
Secondly, one of the things that we've got is -- in our budget is to understand that when a school struggles, that there ought to be extra federal money to help the struggling school. I look forward to working with Congress to fully fund that. We've got incentive -- a teacher incentive fund, grant programs to encourage teachers to go to schools that need extra help with the teachers. I think it makes sense to give school districts grant money, or states to give grant money, to say, here's a district that needs focus, test scores probably aren't as good as they should be; if there needs to be additional qualified teachers there, we'll provide incentives for the teachers to go.
Thirdly, I strongly believe that there needs to be consequences when there's failure. And, oh, by the way, Baron and I talked about this, and Mitch and I talked about the accountability systems. They ought to be flexible, we understand that. Flexibility does not mean watering down standards. In other words, when we talk about accommodating special needs students in terms of the accountability system, which I understand is an issue, and so does Margaret Spellings, who is working with Congress on this issue, we cannot use that flexibility to water down accountability.
And so we -- Margaret briefed the governors and told Mitch and all the other governors we'll work with them, just so long as we maintain those high standards. And I believe we can make sure that we accommodate school needs without watering down this important piece of legislation. Watering down No Child Left Behind Act would be doing thousands of children a disservice, and we can't let it happen. (Applause.)
We've got a -- one of the problems we have -- one of the good things in the bill was that when a child is in a school and has fallen behind -- a Title I child -- there's going to be extra money for tutoring. I think it's a great idea. In other words, you find a young child early in his or her career, school career, and they can't read, there's extra money. One of the problems we've had is for -- is to make sure we get the test scores out in a timely basis to school districts who, therefore, can then get the information on a timely basis to their parents, to make sure that the extra tutorial money is available for their child.
Sometimes the best intentions get stuck in getting the information to students. And so Margaret is going to work hard with Congress to make sure that parents whose child is not meeting standards and who is eligible for this extra money gets notified early enough to be able to take that money wherever the parent may want their child to receive tutorial help. See, I'm a person who believes that parents know best when it comes to the interests of their child. And, therefore, when we find a school that is persistently in failure, parents must be given different options. There has to be a consequence; something has to happen if schools refuse to change and a child stays trapped in mediocrity. And one such consequence is to give parents the ability to send their child to a different school -- public or private, as far as I'm concerned.
Another option, and something I strongly support, is for there to be competitive grant programs for opportunity scholarships. You know, in Washington, D.C. we've got a terrible problem there in the public school system because it's not meeting standards. They're just simply not getting the job done in too many instances. And so I work with the Mayor, a Democrat Mayor -- a Democratic Mayor -- who, by the way, believes what I believe, that when you find failure you can't accept it. And so you know what we did? We put forth what's called opportunity scholarships for families of the poor students, so their family, if the school isn't meeting needs, can afford to go to a different kind of school. What matters is the child getting the education. That's what matters most. And my attitude is if there's persistent failure, it makes sense to liberate the parents so their child can have a better chance.
So here's some reforms I look forward to working with Congress on. This is a piece of legislation that is vital for the country, in my judgment. It is working and I think we ought to make sure it stays in law. And I'm looking forward to working with both Republicans and Democrats to get it done. I've reached out to the bill sponsors in 2001, Senator Kennedy of Massachusetts, Congressman Miller of California, Congressman Boehner of Ohio, and Senator Gregg of New Hampshire. These four gentlemen worked with the White House the last time to get the bill done; we're in consultations now to get it reauthorized.
I'm pleased to report we're all headed in the same direction. In Washington when you get everybody like that headed in the same direction, sometimes you can get some things done. Believe it or not, it is possible to put aside the sharp elbows of partisan politics and focus on what's right for the country. And in my strong opinion, the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind is right for the country. And that's what I've come to New Albany to tell you. God bless. (Applause.)
END 3:06 P.M. EST
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary March 2, 2007
President's Radio Address
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. One of my most solemn experiences as President is visiting men and women recovering from wounds they suffered in defense of our country. Spending time with these wounded warriors is also inspiring, because so many of them bring the same courage they showed on the battlefield to their battle for recovery.
These servicemen and women deserve the thanks of our country, and they deserve the best care our Nation can provide. That is why I was deeply troubled by recent reports of substandard conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Most of the people working at Walter Reed are dedicated professionals. These fine doctors, nurses, and therapists care deeply about our wounded troops, and they work day and night to help them. Yet some of our troops at Walter Reed have experienced bureaucratic delays and living conditions that are less than they deserve. This is unacceptable to me, it is unacceptable to our country, and it's not going to continue.
On hearing the reports about Walter Reed, I asked Secretary of Defense Bob Gates to assess the situation firsthand and report back to me. He confirmed that there are real problems at Walter Reed, and he's taken action to hold people accountable, including relieving the general in charge of the facility. Secretary Gates has also formed an independent review group that will investigate how this situation was allowed to happen, how it can be fixed, and how we can prevent it from happening again. Walter Reed has a long tradition of outstanding medical service, and my Administration will ensure that the soldiers recovering there are treated with the dignity and respect they have earned.
As we work to improve conditions at Walter Reed, we're also taking steps to find out whether similar problems have occurred at other military and veterans hospitals. So I'm announcing that my Administration is creating a bipartisan Presidential Commission to conduct a comprehensive review of the care America is providing our wounded servicemen and women. This review will examine their treatment from the time they leave the battlefield through their return to civilian life as veterans, so we can ensure that we are meeting their physical and mental health needs. In the coming days, I will announce the members of this commission, and set a firm deadline for them to report back to me with their recommendations.
We will use the commission's recommendations as part of our ongoing effort to improve our service to our Nation's veterans. Since 2001, we've helped over one million more veterans take advantage of the VA health care system, and with my 2008 budget proposal, we will have increased the VA's health care budget by 83 percent over the past six years, from about $20 billion to more than $36 billion. Overall, I'm asking Congress for more than $86 billion for veterans' services this year. If Congress approves my request, this would amount to a 77 percent increase since I took office, and the highest level of support for veterans in American history.
The men and women recovering at Walter Reed and our other military hospitals are remarkable individuals. Many have suffered wounds that even time will never fully heal. Yet they're facing the future with optimism, and a determination to move forward with their lives.
One of these brave warriors is Army Specialist Eduardo Leal-Cardenas. He was injured when an improvised explosive device blew up his vehicle in Iraq. The blast shattered bones in both legs, broke his ribs, and broke his back and neck. Some questioned whether he would ever regain the ability to walk. There was no doubt in Eduardo's mind, and he began his rehab while still bedridden. Today, he's left Walter Reed, he's walking again, and he has something else he is proud of -- during his recovery, Eduardo became a U.S. citizen. I was proud to be with him at Walter Reed when he took his citizenship oath. If you ask Eduardo what American citizenship means to him, he answers with just one word: "Freedom."
Our Nation is blessed to have so many fine Americans who are willing to serve. We're blessed to have so many compassionate volunteers who give their time to care for our injured soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines. We're blessed to have so many fine medical professionals who dedicate their lives to healing our troops. This country has a moral obligation to provide our servicemen and women with the best possible care and treatment. They deserve it, and they will get it.
Thank you for listening. END
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary March 1, 2007
President Bush Visits Samuel J. Green Charter School New Orleans, Louisiana 3:44 P.M. CST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. (Applause.) Thank you all. Please be seated. Dr. Tony, thank you very much for your kind introduction. God, I love the smile on his face. (Laughter.)
Think about this: You can play recess outside in a garden. Those are the two things I was good at at school -- (laughter)
-- eating and playing. (Laughter.)
But I really appreciate you inviting me over. Somebody said, well, why did you come to Samuel J. Green Charter School in New Orleans, Louisiana, when there are other places to go? Well, the answer is, there's nothing better than being in the middle of a bright spot, a place that just shines with optimism, in a part of the world that has gone through some really difficult times. And so I'm here to herald success -- success for today, and equally important, success for the future of this important city.
And I thank you all for giving me a chance to come. There's nothing more illustrative of the issues that this community faces than to think that that blue line represented water and destruction. And yet, we're now dry, we're on dry land, recovering. And so I've come back to New Orleans, Louisiana, to remind people that the federal government still knows you exist, still knows you have issues, and wants to work with your leadership to address those issues. (Applause.)
I know the Picard family is here. Thank you for coming. Gaylen was the wife of Cecil, who helped guide Louisiana's schools through the worst of the storms. He has passed away. I'm honored to be in your presence. I know that you miss your good man, as does the people of New Orleans. He was a person that served your community with a lot of class. And I know he would be proud of places like Green, that are setting high standards, strong centers of excellence, making sure every single child gets an education. Thanks for being here today. It means a lot. (Applause.)
Sorry Laura is not here. She and I, by the way, spent some of our youth here in New Orleans. I really don't want to go into all the details of -- (laughter) -- but we know something about the town. And it's a great place. And she loves New Orleans, as do I, and we've got a lot of friends here.
I want to thank Robin Jarvis, the superintendent of the Recovery School District, for joining us. I appreciate very much -- (applause.) I want to thank some of the elected officials who have joined us here at the school with whom I had lunch earlier, starting with your Mayor. It's good to see you, Mr. Mayor. Appreciate your time. A pleasure to be here. (Applause.)
The Mayor and I have gotten to know each other -- (laughter) -- in a positive way. (Laughter.) In a positive way. It's interesting, you know, having two strong-willed people who got thrown into a deal we didn't ask for. I'll tell you an interesting story about the Mayor. The first time I ever met him, we came in Air Force One right after the storm hit -- a couple of days after, I think it was. The Mayor was a little irritable. (Laughter.) He hadn't had a shower. (Laughter.) So I came off the plane. I knew I was dealing with a good man when I looked in his eyes and he was able to maintain a certain sense of humor in the midst of all the trauma. And so I sent him up the stairs for him to take a shower on Air Force One. (Laughter.)
Everybody -- yes, I was about to say -- (laughter) -- the President of the New Orleans City Council, Oliver Thomas, thanked me then and he thanks me now. Good to see you, Big O. (Applause.) I have spent enough time down here where I call him, "Big O." (Laughter.) He calls me, "Little G." (Laughter.)
I'm proud to be with your Lieutenant Governor. Mitch, thanks for coming, appreciate you being here. (Applause.) I flew down today from Washington -- am I flying back with you all, too? Yes. Flew down today with the Senator, David Vitter, and Congressman Bill Jefferson. Andrea, good to see you. Thanks for coming. (Applause.) I think they want a ride back.
We had lunch today with a lot of the parish presidents -- and Ray and Oliver and Mitch and David and Jeff -- talking about the issues. Oh, by the way, my friend, Don Powell -- he's from Texas, I'm from Texas, and -- (applause.) He made the mistake of answering the phone call when I called him. I said, I need somebody to come down here to help the good folks break through the logjams to make sure that that which we intend to do gets done. And the Czar -- we call him "Czar," Don Powell -- and I can't thank my buddy enough for taking on a tough job. If you were to sit at the table with us, you'd see how tough it is -- "So-and-so has the responsibility here," "No, you've got the responsibility" -- it's a lot of this. And our job is to make it this, straightforward. That's what we're here to do.
You know, I came down here and spoke and I said the federal government will be involved. And I said we're going to put money on the table to help follow that through. And I believe we have, with $110 billion. That's not to say there may be more money needed for the Gulf Coast, but $110 billion is a lot. And now the question is, are we going to be able to spend it wisely? Can we get it done? Can we get it to the people that need help?
Just so you know, of the $110 billion, $86 billion of that has been obligated -- in other words, it's out the door. But only $53 billion has been spent. And so part of the day today we talked about if the money is out the door in Washington, where is it and how come it hasn't been out farther? And that's one of the things that we're going to continue to work on, to make sure that obligated money ends up in somebody's pocket, so it helps.
I know housing is a big issue here. The Mayor talks about it, Oliver talks about it a lot, the Lieutenant Governor is concerned about it. You know, I made a conscious decision when we began the rebuilding effort to say I want the local folks running the programs. I felt you would get a better response and a response more tailored to the needs of the local citizens if the local folks were in charge. That was the case in Mississippi and in Louisiana. And I felt like the housing program that was devised by the folks in both Mississippi and Louisiana was a really interesting solution, a creative way of saying to people, we're going to help you rebuild your homes so that people will actually come back to New Orleans, and those who are here will have money to rebuild their homes and those who are outside the state will receive incentives to come back.
And one of the issues we have to work on is to make sure that the money that has been sent from Washington to fund the Road to Recovery program, the home program, actually gets spent. I don't know if you know this or not, but there is $6.2 billion that has been sent down; $50 million has been spent. And so we have an obligation, all of us involved with this process, to work to make sure that people begin getting that money so they can get back to living their lives. (Applause.)
One of the issues that we talked -- spent a lot of time about is infrastructure. And Louisiana has had -- now had $4.6 billion sent from the federal government. And actually, it's your money, so we're sending your money back to you -- about $4.6 billion and about $2.5 billion has not yet been spent. I guess what I'm telling you is, is that, first of all, there is money in the pipeline that I hope will help improve lives. And if it is stuck because of unnecessary bureaucracies, our responsibility at the federal, state and local level is to unstick it, is to make sure that it keeps moving. (Applause.)
The reason I herald this, and the reason I want to come to a school like this, it's important for the taxpayers from around the country who paid the bill to understand where we are in the process and to realize there's some really positive things taking place with the money that I believe the country has been generous about. In other words, when you go to Congress and say, we need $110 billion to help the people in the Gulf Coast, somebody has got to pay. That's the taxpayer. And the taxpayers come from more places than just Louisiana and Mississippi. It is the collective effort of the country as a whole. And I'm proud of the generosity of our citizens, and I want them to know that while it is still difficult work here, progress has been made. And there's more to be done.
The economic recovery here -- I was talking to the Mayor about Mardi Gras, a subject I know a little bit about -- I remember most of them. (Laughter.) He said it was up to about 80-something percent capacity. In other words, it's not 100 percent, it's not as good as people would like it, but things are beginning to happen.
One of the things that you've got to continue to work on, and we want to help you at the local level, is in the criminal justice matters. It's important for the society to say loud and clear, there are consequences for crime. And there's got to be a -- (applause) -- there can't be any doubt in somebody's mind that this is a consequential society if you want to be able to walk your streets safely.
And so I know the Attorney General was down here the other day. He briefed me personally on working with the local folks on -- for the federal government helping, what really is a local responsibility. And yet, we want to help. We want to make sure your criminal justice system does it's job so that citizens feel safe and tourists feel safe to come. It's a big responsibility we have. To the extent that we can help, we will.
One of the things that the Mayor and I have talked about is extending tax relief to businesses doing jobs here in the New Orleans area. Why? Because we want the entrepreneurial spirit to remain strong in this part of the world. And one way to encourage strong entrepreneurship is to say, there's a tax benefit for investing in this part of the country. There's certain things you can look at to determine how well an economy is doing.
Take a look at your port. It's coming back. It's strong. Commerce is beginning. And this is -- it doesn't seem like much to you all since you're so close to it, but for a fellow who was here and remembers the port being completely shut down, it's pretty good progress.
Now, there's more to be done, I fully understand that. The Senator spent a little time up there on Air Force One, right up there in the presidential cabin, talking about levees, making sure that the case is continually made about strengthening these levees. I hear him. I hear him. We have said, we're going to bring the levees up to -- stronger than ever. We're making progress there. I told the Senator I understand there's still more work to be done. And I want to work with Congress to the best we can to get money to continue meeting the obligations we set.
I'm real proud of another thing that's happened as a result of Democrats and Republicans working together -- it actually happens sometime in Washington, D.C. -- and that is that bill I signed that will enable more federal revenues to come down here to restore the wetlands. (Applause.) I'm a strong proponent of the restoration of the wetlands, for a lot of reasons. There's a practical reason, though, when it comes to hurricanes: The stronger the wetlands, the more likely the damage of the hurricane [sic].
And so we've been working together on behalf of the city. I do want to spend a little time on education. I like a system that is willing to challenge the status quo when the status quo is failing. And one of the reasons I've come to this school is that it represents a group of citizens, including your principal and your parents and the teachers and the citizens, who said, we're tired of mediocrity in the school system. It is not acceptable to have children trapped in schools that will not teach and will not change. It is not acceptable to the great city of New Orleans, Louisiana, to have a failing school system.
And so the storm came and it did terrible devastation, but it gave a great chance for renewal. And one of the areas where renewal is most evident is in the school system of New Orleans, Louisiana, in the charter system like right here at Green, where people said -- (applause.)
There are now 31 charter schools in this city, as I understand it. That's up from eight. Charter schools, to me, say innovation, individuality. You know, the No Child Left Behind Act -- and I am a very strong supporter of it; I look forward to the Congress reauthorizing the bill -- believes in setting high standards, local control of schools, and accountability. And the reason accountability is important is, in order to solve problems you have to measure the problem, you have to know what the problem is. You can't guess, particularly when it comes to the life of a child. You can't guess as to whether or not a child can read or write and add and subtract. You must measure to know.
And so we said, in return for federal money, we expect local districts and states to measure, to have tests. The principal, the good Doc asked me to go into the 4th grade class and say to the kids, "Good luck on the test tomorrow." That was music to my ears, because you don't know whether or not a child is reading unless you test.
And the interesting thing about No Child Left Behind which is vital is that when we find a child falling behind, there is extra federal money for that child to get up to speed early, before it's too late. It's a good piece of legislation, and it fits in with the philosophy of this charter school.
If you're interested in changing a school system that hasn't worked, please insist upon a couple of things: high standards, for starters. If you demand low standards, you're going to get bad results -- I call it the soft bigotry of low expectations. If you want to have a school system that works, insist upon measuring so that a parent will know whether or not the curriculum is meeting their child's needs. These parents, by the way, are satisfied parents. I don't expect the principal to have brought unsatisfied parents, but nevertheless -- (applause.)
If you're interested in a school system that works, when you find excellence, herald it. That's what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to lend my voice to herald this school. By the way, a good school is one that generally has an educational entrepreneur as its head; somebody who is flexible -- rigid enough on the standards, but flexible enough to meet the standards; somebody willing to say, well, we tried this curriculum and it hasn't worked, let's make sure that we focus on the children, not on the process and get a curriculum that does work.
One of the things -- and by the way, New Orleans is blessed not only with a strong public school system now that you've got charters in it, but you've got some great parochial schools, too. And these schools, like this school, were quick to start up after the storm. They knew their mission and they knew their charge.
I am very conscious that this community is going to require more schools. And the government has a role to play. We're spending quite a bit of money, federal money to help you rebuild the schools. And Margaret Spellings -- is the Secretary of Education -- I know has been down here, and I know she understands the responsibility we share. As a matter of fact, there's been about $450 million allocated for the New Orleans school system. I would strongly -- and by the way, some of that money is flexible in use. And what I would strongly urge you to do is to use some of the unspent money to recruit and attract teachers, because in order to make sure that the school system is full -- you've got 40 teachers -- you need more? Yes. He needs more.
The housing issue, obviously, is important. But it's also important to be able to use some of this money available to find educational pioneers that want to come down and lend their expertise to help rebuild a school system. There's no doubt in my mind that the school system that you're going to rebuild is going to be a great school system, because you've given it such a great start. Charter schools work. It makes a lot of sense.
And so I've come to Green to say, thanks to -- thanks to the citizens of New Orleans who pay attention to the quality of education; thanks to the parents of this school who set an example by being involved; and thanks to the leadership. Doc, you're running a good show here. I'm proud of your job. (Applause.)
Thanks for letting me come by. I'm honored to be back down here. I'm reminded of the New Orleans Saints football team, that -- (applause) -- here's a team that a lot of people didn't give much hope for, did they, when the season started. And it -- it rose. It became a national story. It was a factor in the championship. The same thing is going to happen to the city. You got work to do. You got work to do. I'm going to keep coming down so long as I'm the President. And after I'm the President, I'm going to slide in incognito. (Laughter.)
God bless you all. Thanks for coming. (Applause.) END 4:05 P.M. CST
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