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 You are in: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice > Former Secretaries of State > Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell > Speeches and Remarks > 2003 > November

Press Briefing en Route to College Station, Texas

Secretary Colin L. Powell
En Route to College Station, Texas
November 4, 2003

(5:30 p.m. EST)

SECRETARY POWELL: Did you get enough footage? I just want to make sure you're happy. (Laughter.)

I always find it fascinating: the contrast of Central America -- where it is now and compared to where I first came into the game back in the mid-'80s when I was Deputy National Security Advisor and National Security Advisor -- and what I experienced for a period of roughly three to four years, whether it involved working hard to support the Contras while I was National Security Advisor and getting funding to keep the Contras alive; or invading Panama, as we talked about the other day; or going to El Salvador and talking to generals, suggesting it's time for them to leave office because democracy has now taken root and there's a civilian leadership, and you have fought the insurgents well, but it was now time for you to step down; and they did.

Or it was -- or whether it was coming to Honduras and visiting Soto Cono many years ago and seeing the kind of support we were providing to this part of our hemisphere, and the dictator Noriega is gone; the dictatorial Sandinista regime at least isn't in power -- is in opposition but not in power. And we hope to keep to keep them out of power and to help the Nicaraguan people have power. And El Salvador has its democracy and Honduras is moving forward.

And so there's been so much progress on the road to democracy and economic reform, but the problems are still very basic and severe: poverty, economic development, social development, political development, education of young people, healthcare -- all the standard issues that all developing countries have to deal with.

And each one is a little different from the other. Nicaragua is interesting in that, unlike the others, they had 11 straight years of the worst kind of leadership under the Sandinistas, with a totally communist-oriented, state-controlled environment where the leaders thought all they had to keep doing was keep printing money. And they created a society of dependency in the government, and the government funded it by debt and money.

They joke that theirs was the only country that counterfeited its own money, which is a rare thing. And the president last night was showing me $10 million bills that were printed toward the end of it all. And the $10 million bill was enough to buy a Coca-Cola.

So Nicaragua has, perhaps, the greatest structural deficiency that will have to be made up. And that's why it's so important that the programs the President is pushing -- why they are so important -- whether it's what we're doing with CAFTA, or what we're doing with Millennium Challenge Account, or the health programs that the President is concentrating on. Even though HIV/AIDS isn't a significant problem in Central America yet, it is in the Caribbean and other parts of the Americas, so it's important that we invest in that as well.

My message to all of them was to keep pressing ahead with reforms and that ultimately, what they have to do is create conditions that will draw investment and trade so that we can go beyond aid and get the investment that's necessary to create jobs, industries, new sectors of their economy.

CAFTA will require structural change. There are always some losers, as well as many winners in those kinds of agreements, and our experience with NAFTA and other bilateral trade agreements is that the benefits will outweigh the structural and usually temporary disadvantages that come in when you're going through the process of entering into a free trade agreement. I made a -- placed a great deal of emphasis on the rule of law. Nobody will invest in a country where the capital is not protected by the law, so you need judicial reform.

The President of Honduras and I had lunch today. He spoke a great deal about judicial reform, where they're moving from a Napoleonic to a legal system that is more like ours where now, all the officials in Honduras have to be -- no longer have indemnity, and they're accountable for their actions; or, as we discussed yesterday in Nicaragua, all the officials now have to declare what they hold, and the budget and all other aspects of governing and where the aid money goes are now on websites in Nicaragua.

And so it's a region that's going through revolutionary change. The political revolution, they're moving forward, and they are democratic, and they have elections, and the elections are increasingly fair. But they are still developing institutions that can be challenged by their minorities. They still have difficulty reaching consensus within their legislatures in moving forward, but that's part of the democratic evolution.

But a lot more has to be done with economic development and social development and making the rule of law the rule of the land, and making sure that we stamp out corruption. They all are committed to our war on terrorism. And as you saw, a number of them contributed to our efforts in Iraq, which was heartening for me, anyway. And so, that's pretty much a wrap up of what I saw and what I was trying to emphasize during my conversations over the last two days.

All of them are people that I have worked with extensively over the last couple of years. I see them more often than not in Washington, or at the UN, or at OAS meetings. This was the first chance I had to actually visit them in these three countries, anyway. I've been to San Salvador earlier with the President some -- I guess a year or so ago.

And let me just stop there and see what questions might be lingering in your minds.

QUESTION: Two questions: It seems to me there are few countries which need more work done on the rule of law than Guatemala. It is one of the most lawless countries around, yet they are poised to become a member of the CAFTA. And are you confident that they can do all of the reforms that are needed to become honorable members of CAFTA?

Number two, Venezuela. There were reports of terrorists from the Middle East setting up shop in Venezuela. There were reports of Middle East radicals being given Venezuelan identity documents, which enable them to travel to places, which they ordinarily would not be allowed to travel to.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Middle East, yes. Middle East radicals. Anything you could tell us about that would be appreciated.

SECRETARY POWELL: No, I just haven't seen those reports. I just haven't seen them. They haven't come across my desk. You know, "Middle East Radical" stamped on your forehead and you go to get a Venezuelan visa -- I just haven't seen that particular report.

On Guatemala, they have the same set of problems and perhaps even have them more severely than the countries we visited. And they will have to meet the standards of CAFTA. Just because CAFTA is passed and let's say, ratified by -- approved by all the legislatures -- there will be a phase-in period for a number of countries. There will be some differentiation among the countries because of their different needs. And just because there is CAFTA doesn't mean somebody is going to run down and invest simply because CAFTA exists. And any country that is not doing the kinds of things I described, even with CAFTA, you're not going to benefit from it.

Business is not going to a country, whether there is a free trade agreement or not, where the principal is not protected, the rule of law does not protect them so that they can get their investment out. Why should they, when they can go next door, or to another continent?

I was impressed yesterday in Nicaragua meeting with the business roundtable, where there was a Dell guy, Dell Computer Corporation, and they set up a call center to serve all of Central America and other parts of the Americas. And they were able to find qualified people that they could train, who were bilingual, and they're doing a terrific job. They're very happy with it.

But I can assure you that Dell really looked into that, and I pressed him on this. Why did you come here? Why here? And they said, "Because we studied it, and we were quite sure we could have a successful operation, we'd be allowed to operate, we would not be hindered by regulations or any corruption that would affect our operation."

Not that's the kind of attitude all of these countries have got to convey to anybody who comes down looking to do business. And the guy who is head of the Nicaraguan-American Business Council, he made the point that they're already training 4,000 more people in the English language, so they will be bilingual, as Dell and similar operations expand.

And if you don't do it well for Dell -- that's not a bad slogan -- I might call Michael tonight. If you don't do it well for Dell, Dell will go somewhere else. What free trade does --

QUESTION: Wasn't it Panama?

SECRETARY POWELL: Excuse me. Forgive me. Forgive me. Panama was a call center. Correction for the record, I extend and revise my remarks. But that was that was yesterday. And were we in Panama yesterday? Yes, that was Panama, before we went to Nicaragua.

QUESTION: The slogan's still good.

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes. The slogan is still good. And it was Panama. I'm sorry. It was Panama, of course, it was Panama, where the circumstances were more favorable. But the more free trade agreements you have, the easier it is to move. And you've got to serve the investor or the investor will go somewhere else. And it's a rather simple proposition, and I think more and more of these leaders are understanding it.

The big thing that we talked about today in Honduras was the education of the population: Agrarian-based population, subsistence farming, education level low. As you have CAFTA take effect, you've got to be prepared to retrain these folks. And then you've got to have something for them to do. And that is a daunting challenge when there is high literacy and there is not a tradition of non-Agrarian work. And what you don't want to do is then have them all come into the cities. So you have to find the sorts of industries, businesses that are not necessarily urban-based that you can retrain people to participate in.


QUESTION: The leaders that you spoke to from these pretty poor countries, did any of them mention to you, "Wow, there has been a lot of money raised for Iraq in the last few weeks. How about some more for us, or can you ease up on our debts?"

SECRETARY POWELL: Interestingly, that wasn't raised by anybody because we're working through other channels on their debt issues, particularly getting, you know, working in HBIC and the IMF. And Nicaragua is on -- Nicaragua's on the verge of eliminating 80 percent of its debt if it comes to an agreement with the IMF. And Honduras will get rid of a pretty sizeable piece of its debt if it finishes its work with the IMF, and if its legislature passes the necessary laws later this year.

They also know that we have the Millennium Challenge Account. That is a very significant piece of change that some of them will be able to compete for. And so it did not come up. They understand what we're doing in Iraq and why. But they also know we're doing a lot for each of them and they're grateful.

QUESTION: You've been talking about the rule of law and investment and so forth. I have to ask how concerned you are about what's going on in Russia -- the Yukos case. It seems to be a huge step backward in the evolution the Russians have been going through the last ten years. What message have you been sending to Moscow?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think the rule of law is universal. The case is playing out. I am not an expert on it. One individual has stepped down. Another individual has taken his place, and we'll be watching the case carefully.

As I think Richard pointed out last week, we do have a concern over the way in which it was done and what's happening. And I think it's best for us just to let the case play out and see how the Russians handle it to its conclusion.

But the rule of law is as applicable to Russia as to any of the countries I visited today. And not just -- we talked today at lunch about it -- not just the rule of criminal law but civil law and commercial law, especially. In fact, for companies investing, they're as interested in commercial law and bureaucratic law as they are in criminal law.

QUESTION: You talked a little bit already about Central America and the role that you played in it. It's something you've written about in your book: with regime change, with Noriega, working for the Contras and so on. You get off the plane in Managua; they played the Star Spangled Banner. You must have had some thoughts about your own role and how things got this way. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that.

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes, I wasn't aware they were going to do that until we were getting off the plane. But to stand there at attention, standing next to President Bolanos and hearing the Star Spangled Banner, to get a flashback to 1987, first when I was Deputy National Security Advisor, going up to Capitol Hill every three months -- you may remember those days -- and fighting all night long with opponents of Contra aid, to keep these guys alive and going with food and ammunition until conditions could be created that would lead to a settlement.

And there was enormous opposition. How dare us do something like this! Why are we doing it? And all of you remember the -- what happened before I became Deputy National Security Advisor and why I became Deputy National Security Advisor -- the whole Iran-Contra scandal. And so it was enormously controversial and President Reagan was criticized severely. We all were. And it was a difficult period. But we got through it. We found a way forward.

And here we are some 14, 15 years later. The Sandinistas are still a significant part of the assembly, but they are an opposition, and the Star Spangled Banner is being played for an American who did everything he could to support the Contras, and now is coming back as Secretary of State for his first trip ever to Managua. And people were extremely friendly, that I met in the palace, the people I spoke to, and certainly the members of government that I spoke to.
Similarly in Panama -- I think this is my third trip back. In fact, on my last trip, I met with the president, President Endara, who's now running for president again. But the reception in Panama was very, very warm. And they're very supportive of the United States and as a personal matter, people were very friendly, and several thanked me for what we did in 1989, and what President Bush and those great troops did back then.

And that was -- I'm not sure whether you'd call it preemption or what. All I know is that they killed our guy on a Saturday night and we went in Wednesday. And -- coup de main is the military term -- and we took out a regime, and in that case, we had an elected president standing by. And he was one surprised gentleman when we called him up and said, "Get ready. You're about to become the president for real." And we did it a couple days later.

It was also an operation that we were criticized for by the OAS, by the United Nations, by Margaret Thatcher, by a number of other individuals, and people lost their lives. We burned out a neighborhood, as you recall, down the hill from the Comandancia. And we regretted that, but the fire got started, but we couldn't do anything about it. And we lost 24 young Americans, and then some more died in the course of the next several months up to about 30.

But I think it was the right thing to do and we can look back 14 years later, after the event, and see that there is a country that is very friendly to us and is moving in the right direction -- doing what we have asked them to do and suggested they do to embed themselves in the Community of Democracies.

And the pro-American attitudes are very high. I mean, I'd love to have these numbers in other places in the world for, you know, pro-American point of view.

QUESTION: The Central American countries contributed about 170 troops to Iraq, something like that -- I think these are the numbers. What does that really mean in the war effort or to the home effort? Is it as much symbolic as it is tactical?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think they're making a real contribution. It's more than symbolic when you send over sappers or de-miners. And they're out there every day looking for mines and get rid of mines to make that small piece of Iraq safer for the Iraqi population. That isn't symbology, that's real. The fact that they can't send thousands but were willing to send 100, 136, 170 -- I think that's a real contribution. And the symbology is also significant, as President Maduro said today. It shows that we are not just, you know, fair-weather friends. We are prepared to play our role, even though it might seem to be a small role, in these kinds of international efforts. And if we are expecting to be accepted by the international community and to work with the United States especially, then we have to be prepared to make these kinds of contributions when they're called for.

So I would never say that any young man or woman who is sent so far away from home to put their lives at risk are doing it simply as a symbolic matter. They're doing real work in a modest, small way.

QUESTION: I was just struck by what you said about going to Panama and Nicaragua, and then some vindication of the policies of the '80s. Do you find it at all unusual the only country you were allied with then -- Honduras -- was the only place where you -- where there was any kind of protest that you heard?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't know what they were protesting. Democracy is a wonderful thing. No, it doesn't -- it doesn't surprise me or put me off. The president has said to me that there's a protest every day about something, that he didn't know what it would be about today, and Iím still not sure I got it clear whether -- what they were protesting about. But you kept running to the back, Matt, to see if there was a great story. What were they protesting?




QUESTION: Globalization and CAFTA. It had nothing to do with Iraq though, which was kind of --



MR. BOUCHER: This is the last one over here.


QUESTION: I'd like to ask you a little bit about Cuba. While the Administration's policy seems to be -- to get tougher and find more ways to deal with the situation there, Congress seems to be finding -- a number of Republicans and others seem to be looking for ways to deal with the embargo in a different way: the travel ban. There's a number of businessmen last week who were just down there looking for ways to sell goods. Is the Bush Administration out of touch with the American people on this?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't think so. I think there is strong support for the policies the President has taken, even though there are those who want to liberalize travel. And there are businessmen who, consistent with existing law, are doing some business in Cuba. But the President is absolutely firm on our policy and is convinced that we have to keep the pressure up on Cuba until the day comes when Cuba becomes the 35th member of the Community of Democracies in this hemisphere. So he will not be backing off. He will not be blinking. And it remains to be seen whether this legislation goes into law.


QUESTION: Thank you.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thanks for being with us.

# # #

Released on November 5, 2003

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