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 You are in: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice > What the Secretary Has Been Saying > 2006 Secretary Rice's Remarks > May 2006: Secretary Rice's Remarks

Remarks at Espacio USA Conference

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Inter-American Development Bank
Washington, DC
May 5, 2006

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Secretary Rice addresses the Espacio USA Conference at the Inter-American Development Banks Enrique V. Iglesias Conference Center. State Department photo by Michael Gross.SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. Feliz Cinco de Mayo. (Applause.) That I must say with a Russian accent. I'm sorry about that. (Laughter.)

I want to thank you, Hector, for you very kind introduction and also for your work. Over the years I've know all that you do. I want to thank three people who have been essential to making this year's forum possible, of course, Luis Alberto Moreno. Thank you, Luis Alberto. We've been good friends for a long time. Thank you. To Emilio Azcarraga, thank you. (Applause.) And to Gaston Melo, thank you very much. (Applause.)

Now, I just heard a fantastic presentation by Leticia and by Jesus. And it was fantastic because it was passionate and it was sound and it was well thought out and I know that they mean it when they say we must do it. And I want to spend a few moments talking about what it is we must do and then I want to answer your questions.

I am, by profession, a university professor, and so even though I spend my time usually speaking to business groups and to government officials, it's really when I have a chance to be with young people like you, the future leaders of the Americas, that I really enjoy the experience. And I just want to tell you that I'm so proud of you for what you have done in working for the last couple of days to bring about this declaration. I've been told how hard you've been working, how much discussion and debate and argumentation it has taken. What better way than to produce this wonderful document.

And I would just leave you with the following thoughts. What is it that we're trying to build here in the Americas? What is that we're trying to build here in what was once referred to as the New World? Well, obviously, first of all, we want to build societies that are democratic. Why do we want to build societies that are democratic? Because as difficult as it is to build democracy, it's worth it. Only in democracy, where you are able to say what you think, to worship as you please, to educate your children, both boys and girls, most importantly to choose those who are going to govern you, only in democracy, that kind of system, can human beings reach their full potential.

I've studied all kinds of systems around the world, and I can tell you that if it's not a democracy, it's not going to be a place where everyone can reach his or her potential. So we want a democratic hemisphere, but we don't just want a democratic hemisphere on paper. We want a true democratic hemisphere in which people have the means and the ability to express themselves and to freely associate and to get together in nongovernmental institutions and to press their cause and to hold their governments accountable. So we want real democracy in this hemisphere, where democracy is really working.

And of course, if democracy is really working, people are going to have high expectations of their governments to deliver; to deliver an opportunity for development, an opportunity for jobs, an opportunity for health and education. In democracies people hold their governments accountable for a better way of life. And indeed, if we have one problem these days in the hemisphere, in the Americas, it is that democratic governments borne of the difficult time of the 1980s -- before, of course, all of you were born, but let me tell you, the 1980s, a time of juntas and a time of civil wars, a time of authoritarian governments -- this hemisphere has given way to democratic governments.

But those democratic governments have had a hard time delivering for their people. And people are getting impatient and they're saying, "What is democracy doing for my children and what is it doing for my family and what is it doing for my aspirations?" And we have to have an answer for that and I look forward to working with President Moreno on exactly those kinds of issues because I know that he cares that the Inter-American Development Bank will be able to contribute to making governments capable of helping their people.

The United States wants to be a partner in the creation of better opportunities in Latin America through strong democratic governments that can deliver. I want you to know something, that the United States, under President Bush, has doubled official development assistance to Latin America. Doubled it. I want you to know that through the Millennium Challenge Account, which now has compacts with Honduras, soon we hope with El Salvador and with other countries of the region, that we are making available large resources for the creation of infrastructure that, for instance, will allow rural farmers to have roads to bring their product to market.

I want you to know that we believe in free trade in the hemisphere and that we have signed free trade agreements with a number of countries -- Peru and Colombia and with Central America -- so that free trade can help to create jobs.

And I want you to know that we have done with this Chile. I want you to know that we've done this and it hasn't mattered whether a government comes from the left or from the right. The United States doesn't have an ideological price for partnership. What we care is that from whatever side of the political spectrum a government comes, that it is governing democratically and that is it delivering for its people. Because once you're elected democratically, you have an obligation to govern democratically.

We want, too, also to recognize that there are still too many marginalized people in this hemisphere -- people who are indigenous peoples, people who have come from parts of the communities and have not had full access. And we have to deal with this in our hemisphere. There have been times in the United States of America when populations were marginalized. I come myself from a community and a population that was long marginalized. And so I know that no democracy is truly a democracy unless people from all walks of life and from all ethnic groups and from all religious backgrounds really believe that they have access to be whatever they can be.

Now, a government can't deliver for populations. It can create conditions. But people have to want to achieve. And what I see in you and what I see in the many immigrants who come to the United States of America is people who want to achieve. You are going to be the future of a hemisphere that can achieve greatness. We, those of us now in positions of responsibility, need to lay a foundation so that you have something to work with when I'm sure you come to power in some way or another.

I want you to know that the United States of America believes in this partnership that we are forging as peoples of the hemisphere. But it won't happen without the dedicated devotion of people like you who continue to work to better this hemisphere.

I said that the Americas is not just an alliance of governments; it's an alliance of peoples. It's also an alliance of young people. And that's why I'm really glad that you are here and thank you for the work you've been doing. (Applause.)

Now let me take a few questions. Can folks get to a microphone so I can take a few questions? Come on, don't be shy. I'll start calling on people. (Laughter.) No, there we go. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I really appreciate the opportunity. My name is Luis Martin del Campo. I'm a Mexican student at the University of Pittsburgh. I'll try to be very brief in my question. It's very clear to me that foreign policy in the United States has traditionally focused on areas of conflict. So my question, very straightforward to you is should Latin America go back to being a source of conflict, real or potential, in order for the American foreign policy to give as much attention as it gives to other areas of the world?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, that's a very good point. You know, it is true that when you sit in my chair, your days are filled with this crisis, followed by the next crisis, followed by the next crisis. And if you're not careful, that's what you spend your attention on, particularly because the United States of America is often counted on to deal with areas of crisis. But I happen to think that we have tried to recognize that it is not the role of the United States just to focus on areas of crisis and conflict, but also on areas of opportunity. Areas in which if you devote the resources and you devote the time and you have the right policies and you have the right partners, that we can, indeed, make places that are just places of potential really places of promise and eventually places that deliver. And that's how I see our hemisphere.

President Bush said when I first met him, all the way back in 1998, he said, "A good foreign policy begins in your neighborhood." Now as the border governor from the State of Texas, he was very familiar with the neighborhood. He had met Mexican governors. He was still meeting people who he met when they were governors and now they're presidents or foreign ministers. So he has had a focus on this hemisphere and we've tried to do work through free trade, work through foreign assistance, work through efforts at integration. We have excellent relations with a number of countries in the hemisphere. I myself have been recently to Chile, to be there for the inauguration of President Bachelet, a great moment, a great transfer of power and a peaceful transfer of power in a country that just 30 years ago was in the depth of crisis.

I have recently been in the Caribbean to talk to the members of CARICOM. I was earlier in Brazil. I want to be in the hemisphere more because this is our neighborhood. This is a place with which we share borders and we obviously share ties with kinship as well. And so you can be sure that even if it's not an area of crisis -- and we shouldn't let it become an area of conflict, the United States of America wants to recognize the great opportunity that is here.

Yes.

QUESTION: Hello. (Inaudible) I am from Honduras. Very happy to be a new immigrant and I'm not going to ask about foreign policy, although I have many questions about it. But for us, as policymakers of Latin America and Caribbean, what is your advice and where are the challenges that we must embrace in these new phase that we're getting through for countries in order to abate poverty and abate all the inequalities in America? Thank you.

SECRETARY RICE: Yes. Thank you. I think the most important value that we can emphasize is that people have to feel that they are in control of their lives of their fate and of their destiny. They have to have hope that if they work hard and they're willing to sacrifice that there's going to be benefit and sometimes not just for them, but maybe even more so for their children.

Now I believe that the most important way that you give people hope and a sense of control over their lives is to give them the tools so that they don't feel that everything is happening to them, but that they are actually having an effect on where they're going. And I think the single most important way you do that is education. It's the single most important way. I'm so glad that you're all in great universities and able to experience higher education. But you wouldn't be in higher education if you had not learned to read in elementary school or if you had not learned to do mathematics when you were in high school. And in too many parts of our hemisphere and, by the way, too many parts of the United States still people can't read at grade level. People can't do mathematics in order to get into college.

And President Bush, another of our very early conversations was about education. He really has a passion for education as does the First Lady because education is more than just being equipped to get a job. It is being equipped to believe that you have control of your own future, that you have limitless horizons.

When I teach at Stanford, I can sit -- Stanford is a great university. But I sit and I look at the student body. And right next to a student who is a fourth generation Stanford legatee, meaning that their parents and grandparents and great grandparents all went to Stanford, there will be sitting a child -- a student who's parents are migrant farm workers or whose parents are -- never went to college themselves. And that's when education is working at its best because when those two students, the child of the migrant farm worker and the fourth generation Stanford legatee, when they leave all that's going to matter is that they're educated. And then whatever background they came from will matter far less.

And so I've been very impressed with some of the efforts in Latin America. I know that President Lula of Brazil has had a major emphasis on education. We have Teacher Training Institute in Latin America. We have grants to better train teachers and to prepare -- so that they're prepared to prepare their students.

But the one thing that I would say to you as future leaders is unless this is a hemisphere in which people have hope and optimism, then nothing else matters. And hope and optimism comes from believing that you can control your future and controlling your future believes that -- means -- comes from having the tools. Focus on education. (Applause.)

QUESTION: Hello, Dr. Rice. I'm Edward Linas. I'm from Nicaragua, University of South Florida in Tampa, regarding hope. I was thinking United States is the most open country in the world to immigrants, that's a reality that we must take into consideration. But there are some other developed countries in Europe that they have been trying to do this. An example of this is Norway, for example. They does integration and migrant policies with people from the Muslim world. Of course, they had this problem with integration because the cultures work really different. But in case of Latin America and United State, Latin people are very similar to the American culture. So we have such an integration policy, which is we take a group of the immigrants and we give them education. We teach them the language. We integrate them into the jobs and tell them, these are your opportunities and so on. So we are assuring their integration as a whole.

Have Bush Administration thought about this possible and necessary changes in immigration changes? Thank you.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, this is a country of immigrants, the United States of America. My ancestors, by the way, were not. My ancestors were forcibly brought to the United States. But our country was built on immigration. And it was built on the belief that it really didn't matter if you were German American or Korean American or Mexican American, you could be American. That was the basis.

Now, I think it is important, particularly where it concerns Latin America and Mexico and Central America that we recognize that we need a comprehensive immigration policy that allows us to make sure that our laws are respected and to make sure that our borders are secure, but that also recognizes that the people who have come have an economic role to play in our society, social role to play in our society and a cultural role to play in our society.

The President has talked about policies that are temporary worker plans. He doesn't believe in amnesty, because that rewards people who came illegally at the expense of those who came legally. But we have to recognize that we have a lot of people in this country who are contributing to the economy and they shouldn't have to live in the shadows.

And so the hope is that we can get a comprehensive immigration reform. But you make a very important point. It's not enough to just have immigration reform. When you're in America, you also have to be able to have the ability to access what is great about America. And what is great about America is that if you work hard and you have the tools, you can go as far as you want to go and that means you have to be educated, that means you have to speak the language. That means you have to be able -- by the way, I wish more Americans could speak Spanish, too, including myself -- but if -- you have to be able to take that education and put it to work. And so a part of integrating people is giving them those tools.

Now you said something very important. You said Latin American people or Latin people are culturally similar to Americans. I would put it a little differently. Latin culture is one of the most important and founding cultures of the United States. Because when you think about it, there is no such thing -- (Applause) -- there is no such thing as an American culture divorced from our diversity. American culture is the culture that slaves brought from Africa and that they grew up here with jazz and that's American culture. And American culture is Latin culture. And the wonderful song and dance that we'll hear on Cinco de Mayo, but also that you will hear in any music by an American composer, an American culture is what Europeans brought to this country and increasingly what Asians brought to this country. That's what American culture is.

And I think that's why we are a country that can more easily bring immigrants into our midst because it's not as if they're coming into a foreign culture, as is often the case in Europe where you have very old cultures that are trying to bring in people from new cultures. This is a culture of all cultures together. And it's what really makes it wonderful when you go out and you travel around the world and people say, oh, I studied in the United States, and you say, that's wonderful. They say, oh, well, yes, I have an aunt who lives in New Jersey and maybe you're in Turkey, because people have come here from all over and we have ties with kinship and ties with culture. But that's what I would say to you. That's why I think people integrate in the United States is because we are one big culture of all cultures. And we are faces of the world and we speak the languages of the world and it's terrific. It's really what our great strength is.

I can take one more. Can I take one more? Yes. And then I have to --

QUESTION: Hello, Dr. Rice. My name is Eric Grages (ph) from Texas A&M, Kingsville. Speaking about diversity. How far do you see the possibility of a Latino or Latina person or an African American person or a person from any other minority in the United States to become the President of the United States of America?

SECRETARY RICE: Yes. (Laughter.) (Applause.) I think it will happen and I think it will happen in my lifetime -- (Laughter) -- but it won't be me. (Laughter.) (Applause.) I think Americans will elect -- you know, I used to teach a course called The Politics of Elites. Now what does this mean? This meant not elite people. It meant that before you become President of the United States, most people have been something else -- governor or senator. So watch what is happening with the Congress and with the Senate and with our governors and how people and how the diversification of American politics at lower levels is becoming greater and greater because those people then become the pool from which we will one day select a President of the United States.

Now the interesting thing is that if I serve the entire time that I am supposed to as Secretary of State, it will have been 12 years since there was a white male Secretary of State of the United States. Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell and me. I think nobody would have predicted that 20 years ago or even maybe 15 years ago. It shows how fast things are changing in America. And if you keep doing the work that you're doing -- and I mean now individually, I mean going and getting educated and asserting yourself and learning how to lead -- it won't be every long at all because it's going to come, I do believe, sooner than we think. But it's going to come from increasing the wide range of people who are involved in American politics. That's how it will come. I hope, too, by the way, that it won't just be in the United States.

I think it's a good thing that indigenous and marginalized people in Latin America, more broadly are coming -- when I was in Brazil recently we had a very interesting discussion about Afro Brazilians because, of course, my ancestors might have just as easily ended up in Brazil as in Alabama. It was all a part of the transatlantic slave trade. And in looking at how these different populations are starting to effect their domestic environments, I think you see what is best about democracy, but most importantly, best about multi-ethnic democracy.

And I just want to say one final thing. One reason that the United States of America has to celebrate diversity, has to continue to promote diversity and has to be sure that we look diverse in the world, not just talk about it is because in many parts of the world difference is still too much of a license to kill. And the idea that difference is instead a source of strength, and of unity is a message that is much needed in most of the world. Thank you very much. It was great to be with you. (Applause.)

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