THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
(Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago)
April 19, 2009
PRESS CONFERENCE BY THE PRESIDENT
Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
12:17 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Hey, guys. You guys have a seat -- thanks.
This is nice. This is a nice view, huh? Oh, it's beautiful.
Did you guys go out last night, by the way? (Laughter.)
Chuck Todd, did I see you on the cruise ship? (Laughter.)
MR. TODD: That wasn't me.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we just concluded a very productive
summit. And I want to thank the people of Trinidad and Tobago
for their wonderful hospitality and their gracious welcome.
I want to thank Prime Minister Manning and First Lady Manning,
his government, for the hospitality they've shown me and
our entire delegation.
This summit has been held at a time of great challenge
and great opportunity for the United States and the Americas.
The consequences of a historic economic crisis are being
felt across the hemisphere, putting new pressure on peoples
and governments that are already strained. Migration to
and from each of our nations has serious implications for
all nations. The safety and security of our citizens is
endangered by drug trafficking, lawlessness and a host of
other threats. Our energy challenge offers us a chance to
unleash our joint economic potential, enhance our security
and protect our planet. And too many citizens are being
denied dignity and opportunity and a chance to live out
their dreams in Cuba and all across the hemisphere.
These are some of the issues I discussed here in Trinidad
and Tobago with leaders like President Garcia of Peru, President
Bachelet of Chile, President Uribe of Colombia, President
Preval of Haiti, and Prime Minister Harper of Canada. The
subject of many of these meetings and conversations has
been launching a new era of partnership between our nations.
Over the past few days, we've seen potential positive signs
in the nature of the relationship between the United States,
Cuba and Venezuela. But as I’ve said before, the test
for all of us is not simply words, but also deeds. I do
believe that the signals sent so far provide at least an
opportunity for frank dialogue on a range of issues, including
critical areas of democracy and human rights throughout
I do not see eye to eye with every regional leader on every
regional issue. And I do not agree with everything that
was said at this summit by leaders from other nations. But
what we showed here is that we can make progress when we're
willing to break free from some of the stale debates and
old ideologies that have dominated and distorted the debate
in this hemisphere for far too long. We showed that while
we have our differences, we can -- and must -- work together
in areas where we have mutual interests, and where we disagree
we can disagree respectfully. We showed that there are no
senior or junior partners in the Americas; we're simply
partners, committed to advancing a common agenda and overcoming
And that spirit of shared responsibility was reflected
in the achievement of the summit and in the work that the
United States has done in concert with nations across Americas.
First, we're building on our unprecedented efforts in the
United States -- and on the work that we did at the G20
summit in London -- to jumpstart job creation, reform a
broken financial regulatory system, and put our economies
on the path of sustainable growth and shared prosperity.
We're tripling the International Monetary Fund’s lending
capacity. We're urging the Inter-American Development Bank
to increase its current lending level. And the United States
is launching a new Microfinance Growth Fund for the hemisphere
that will make meaningful differences for businesses and
entrepreneurs across America [sic].
Over the past few days, we also discussed what we can do
to ensure that the policies we pursue in our own countries
advance and do not undercut our broader regional recovery.
Together, these efforts will help drive economic expansion
in the United States and across the hemisphere and ensure
that we do not see an erosion of the progress that we've
made to lift people out of poverty and into the middle class.
Second, we're acting boldly, we are acting swiftly, and
we are acting in concert to combat threats that are endangering
the safety and security of citizens across the Americas.
This week, I traveled to Mexico, where I met with President
Calderón to advance our shared commitment to combating
the drug cartels, stemming the southbound flow of guns and
money, and protecting citizens on both sides of our common
We're also taking a number of other key steps in concert
with our regional partners. So when I met with the Central
American nations and the Caribbean nations, they had similar
concerns and we pledged to work together to defend our nations
and keep our people safe. The United States is investing
$30 million in enhanced security partnerships with Caribbean
nations to ensure that they have the resources they need
to combat drug traffickers seeking to enter their borders
from Mexico and Central America. And I'm also making it
a priority to ratify the Illicit Trafficking in Firearms
Convention and to enhance cooperation with nations across
the region to reduce the threat of existing weapons stockpiles.
Third, we're taking a critical step to drive our economic
expansion, enhance our security, and protect the bounty
and beauty of the hemisphere with a new Energy-Climate Partnership
of the Americas that I proposed. Through this partnership,
we will harness the progress being made by nations across
the hemisphere -- from Brazil’s work on biofuels,
to Chile’s investments in solar power, to Mexico’s
efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions, to El Salvador's
work on geothermal energy.
This is a voluntary and flexible partnership that nations
across this region are invited to join; a partnership that
will enhance energy efficiency, improve our infrastructure,
and support investments that can make energy more affordable.
In doing so, we can create the jobs of the future, promote
renewable sources of energy, and make the Americas a model
Now, meeting these challenges and seizing these opportunities
will not be easy. It will not happen overnight. Our efforts
to work together may be strained at times by disagreements,
and one of the things that I think is going to be critical
to do is to make sure that we are working with our respective
teams to encourage implementation at a more granular level.
Sometimes at these summits we have very lofty statements;
there's got to be follow-through across the way.
But I firmly believe that if we're willing to break free
from the arguments and ideologies of an earlier era and
continue to act, as we have at this summit, with a sense
of mutual responsibility and mutual respect and mutual interest,
then each of our nations can come out of this challenging
period stronger and more prosperous, and we can advance
opportunity, equality, and security across the Americas.
So, with that, let me take some questions. I'm going to
start with Edna Schmidt at Univision.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. The spotlight on your
visit here was on the handshake and smiles with Hugo Chavez,
but we didn't see much interaction with some of the other
leaders of the region like Daniel Ortega, Rafael Correa,
or Evo Morales, who yesterday accused the United States
of still interfering in its affairs and, even though it's
too soon, he says, of not seeing much of change. Did you
have any private meetings with any of these leaders, and
if so, can you tell us what was discussed?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I had meetings with all the leaders
involved, including Daniel Ortega, who was the chairperson
of the Central American meeting. I had very cordial conversations
with President Morales and President Correa. And I think
it's just that President Chavez is better at positioning
And in all these conversations, here's what I emphasized:
that we're not going to agree on every issue, but that as
long as we are respectful of democratic processes, as long
as we're respectful of principles of sovereignty for all
nations, that we can find areas where we can work in common.
And my sense is, if you talk to any of those leaders, that
they would say that they feel encouraged about the possibility
of a more constructive relationship.
Now, specifically on the Bolivia issue, I just want to
make absolutely clear that I am absolutely opposed and condemn
any efforts at violent overthrows of democratically elected
governments, wherever it happens in the hemisphere. That
is not the policy of our government. That is not how the
American people expect their government to conduct themselves.
And so I want to be as clear as possible on that.
But one of the things that I mentioned in both public remarks
as well as private remarks is that the United States obviously
has a history in this region that's not always appreciated
from the perspective of some, but that what we need to do
is try to move forward, and that I am responsible for how
this administration acts and we will be respectful to those
democratically elected governments, even when we disagree
Scott Wilson, Washington Post.
Q: Thank you, Mr. President. You said during the summit
that you were here not to debate the past. You also said
we must learn from our history. You just referred to this
history. What have you learned over two days of listening
to leaders here about how U.S. policy is perceived in the
region? And can you name a specific policy that you will
change as a result of what you've heard?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think that what was reemphasized
in all the discussions that I had was a sense, on the one
hand, that the United States is critical to the economic
growth and opportunities in the region. Even the most vociferous
critics of the United States also want to make sure that
the United States' economy is working and growing again,
because there is extraordinary dependence on the United
States for exports, for remittances.
And so in that sense people are rooting for America's success.
I do think that there is a strain of thought in the region
that, in the past, many of the problems surrounding economic
growth and opportunity or the lack thereof resulted because
of a too rigid application of a free market doctrine imposed
by the IMF -- what is termed the "Washington consensus."
I think in some cases, those issues have been addressed.
At the G20 summit, for example, we talked about the need
to create a reformed international financial -- set of international
financial institutions that provide additional flexibility,
provide more voice and vote to developing countries. In
some cases, it may be just a carryover of knee-jerk anti-American
sentiment, or simply differing -- differences in terms of
economic theories and how the economies should grow.
One thing that I thought was interesting -- and I knew
this in a more abstract way but it was interesting in very
specific terms -- hearing from these leaders who when they
spoke about Cuba talked very specifically about the thousands
of doctors from Cuba that are dispersed all throughout the
region, and upon which many of these countries heavily depend.
And it's a reminder for us in the United States that if
our only interaction with many of these countries is drug
interdiction, if our only interaction is military, then
we may not be developing the connections that can, over
time, increase our influence and have -- have a beneficial
effect when we need to try to move policies that are of
concern to us forward in the region.
And I think that's why it's so important that in our interactions
not just here in the hemisphere but around the world, that
we recognize that our military power is just one arm of
our power, and that we have to use our diplomatic and development
aid in more intelligent ways so that people can see very
practical, concrete improvements in the lives of ordinary
persons as a consequence of U.S. foreign policy.
Q: Thank you, Mr. President. Building a little bit, actually,
on the answer that you had there, you've been to three continents
now in the last three weeks, 40-odd world leaders that you've
been in the same room with --
THE PRESIDENT: Time to get home. (Laughter.)
Q: Yes, exactly.
THE PRESIDENT: I'm going to Iowa next week. (Laughter.)
Q: Yes, talk about déjà vu.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q: What should -- a lot of people are going to start trying
to write about the "Obama doctrine." What should
be the -- what are the pillars of that that you think people
should be taking away -- after observing you on the world
stage the last three weeks, what are the pillars of the
THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know, I will leave it up to you,
Chuck, to write the definitive statement on Obamaism. But
there are a couple of principles that I've tried to apply
across the board: Number one, that the United States remains
the most powerful, wealthiest nation on Earth, but we're
only one nation, and that the problems that we confront,
whether it's drug cartels, climate change, terrorism, you
name it, can't be solved just by one country. And I think
if you start with that approach, then you are inclined to
listen and not just talk.
And so in all these meetings what I've said is, we have
some very clear ideas in terms of where the international
community should be moving; we have some very specific national
interests, starting with safety and security that we have
to attend to; but we recognize that other countries have
good ideas, too, and we want to hear them. And the fact
that a good idea comes from a small country like a Costa
Rica should not somehow diminish the fact that it's a good
idea. I think people appreciate that. So that's number one.
Number two, I think that -- I feel very strongly that when
we are at our best, the United States represents a set of
universal values and ideals -- the idea of democratic practices,
the idea of freedom of speech and religion, the idea of
a civil society where people are free to pursue their dreams
and not be imposed upon constantly by their government.
So we've got a set of ideas that I think have broad applicability.
But what I also believe is that other countries have different
cultures, different perspectives, and are coming out of
different histories, and that we do our best to promote
our ideals and our values by our example.
And so if we are practicing what we preach and if we occasionally
confess to having strayed from our values and our ideals,
that strengthens our hand; that allows us to speak with
greater moral force and clarity around these issues.
And again, I think people around the world appreciate that
we're not suggesting we are holding ourselves to one set
of standards and we're going to hold you to another set
of standards; that we're not simply going to lecture you,
but we're rather going to show through how we operate the
benefits of these values and ideals.
And the -- as a consequence of listening, believing that
there aren't junior partners and senior partners in the
international stage, I don't think that we suddenly transform
every foreign policy item that's on the agenda. I know that
in each of these meetings the question has been, well, did
you get something specific? What happened here? What happened
Countries are going to have interests, and changes in foreign
policy approaches by my administration aren't suddenly going
to make all those interests that may diverge from ours disappear.
What it does mean, though, is, at the margins, they are
more likely to want to cooperate than not cooperate. It
means that where there is resistance to a particular set
of policies that we're pursuing, that resistance may turn
out just to be based on old preconceptions or ideological
dogmas that, when they're cleared away, it turns out that
we can actually solve a problem.
And so we're still going to have very tough negotiations
on a whole host of issues. In Europe, people believe in
our plan for Afghanistan, but their politics are still such
that it's hard for leaders to want to send more troops into
Afghanistan. That's not going to change because I'm popular
in Europe or leaders think that I've been respectful towards
them. On the other hand, by having established those better
relations, it means that among the population there's more
confidence that working with the United States is beneficial,
and they are going to try to do more than they might otherwise
And here in this hemisphere, I think as a consequence of
a summit like this, it becomes much easier for our friends
-- countries like Mexico or Colombia, that are stalwart
partners with us on issues like drug trafficking -- it becomes
much easier for them to work with us because their neighbors
and their populations see us as a force for good or at least
not a force for ill.
Q: Thank you, Mr. President. You've heard from a lot of
Latin America leaders here who want the U.S. to lift the
embargo against Cuba. You've said that you think it's an
important leverage to not lift it. But in 2004, you did
support lifting the embargo. You said, it's failed to provide
the source of raising standards of living, it's squeezed
the innocent, and it's time for us to acknowledge that this
particular policy has failed. I'm wondering, what made you
change your mind about the embargo?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, 2004, that seems just eons ago. What
was I doing in 2004?
Q: Running for Senate.
THE PRESIDENT: Is it while -- I was running for Senate.
There you go. Look, what I said and what I think my entire
administration has acknowledged is, is that the policy that
we've had in place for 50 years hasn’t worked the
way we want it to. The Cuban people are not free. And that's
our lodestone, our North Star, when it come to our policy
It is my belief that we're not going to change that policy
overnight, and the steps that we took I think were constructive
in sending a signal that we'd like to see a transformation.
But I am persuaded that it is important to send a signal
that issues of political prisoners, freedom of speech, freedom
of religion, democracy -- that those continue to be important,
that they're not simply something to be brushed aside.
What was remarkable about the summit was that every leader
who was participating was democratically elected. We might
not be happy with the results of some elections; we might
be happier with others; we might disagree with some of the
leaders, but they all were conferred the legitimacy of a
country speaking through democratic channels. And that is
not yet there in Cuba.
Now, I think that as a starting point, it's important for
us not to think that completely ignoring Cuba is somehow
going to change policy, and the fact that you had Raul Castro
say he's willing to have his government discuss with ours
not just issues of lifting the embargo, but issues of human
rights, political prisoners, that's a sign of progress.
And so we're going to explore and see if we can make some
further steps. There are some things that the Cuban government
could do. They could release political prisoners. They could
reduce charges on remittances to match up with the policies
that we have put in place to allow Cuban American families
to send remittances. It turns out that Cuba charges an awful
lot, they take a lot off the top. That would be an example
of cooperation where both governments are working to help
Cuban families and raise standards of living in Cuba.
So there are going to be some ways that the Cuban government
I think can send some signals that they're serious about
pursuing change. And I'm hopeful that over time the overwhelming
trend in the hemisphere will occur in Cuba, as well. And
I think that all of the governments here were encouraged
by the fact that we had taken some first steps. Many of
them want us to go further, but they at least see that we
are not dug in into policies that were formulated before
I was born.
Bill Plante. No? Bill is not here? That's shocking. (Laughter.)
Dan from CNN.
Q: During the campaign you were criticized by some within
your own party for perhaps not being able to be tough on
foreign policy matters. Now you've had this friendly interaction
with Mr. Chavez. Are you concerned at all about how this
might be perceived back in the U.S. as perhaps being soft?
Already one senator is calling this friendly interaction
irresponsible. And as a quick follow-up, if I may, when
you got the book from Mr. Chavez, what did you really think?
THE PRESIDENT: I think it was a nice gesture to give me
a book; I'm a reader. And you're right, we had this debate
throughout the campaign, and the whole notion was, is that
somehow if we showed courtesy or opened up dialogue with
governments that had previously been hostile to us, that
that somehow would be a sign of weakness. The American people
didn't buy it. And there's a good reason the American people
didn't buy it -- because it doesn't make sense.
You take a country like Venezuela -- I have great differences
with Hugo Chavez on matters of economic policy and matters
of foreign policy. His rhetoric directed at the United States
has been inflammatory. There have been instances in which
we've seen Venezuela interfere with some of the -- some
of the countries that surround Venezuela in ways that I
think are a source of concern.
On the other hand, Venezuela is a country whose defense
budget is probably 1/600th of the United States'. They own
Citgo. It's unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking
hands or having a polite conversation with Mr. Chavez that
we are endangering the strategic interests of the United
States. I don't think anybody can find any evidence that
that would do so. Even within this imaginative crowd, I
think you would be hard-pressed to paint a scenario in which
U.S. interests would be damaged as a consequence of us having
a more constructive relationship with Venezuela.
So if the question, Dan, is, how does this play politically,
I don't know. One of the benefits of my campaign and how
I've been trying to operate as President is I don't worry
about the politics -- I try to figure out what's right in
terms of American interests, and on this one I think I'm
Julia -- who, by the way, I saw getting jostled a lot during
the photo sprays. Cameramen, I just want you to know. (Laughter.)
Q: Thank you, Mr. President. I'd like to ask a question
about an issue back home about the economy and the stress
tests and whether or not you expect that along with the
stress tests, with the results next month, that one or more
executives will be asked to step down as -- as it was with
the auto restructuring plan.
THE PRESIDENT: Okay, well, I don't want to speculate ahead
of the release of the stress test numbers. I think what
you'll see is that, not surprisingly, different banks are
in different situations. They're going to need different
levels of assistance from taxpayers and, as I've said before,
if taxpayer money is involved then I've got a responsibility
to ensure some transparency and accountability in the operations
of those businesses. We try to use as light a touch as we
can, but I'm not going to simply put taxpayer money into
a black hole where you're not going to see results or some
exit strategy, so that taxpayers ultimately are relieved
of these burdens.
We've seen I think some progress in certain parts of the
banking sector. As I mentioned before, I'm encouraged by
the number of refinancings and mortgages that's already
taking place, but I have also said we're not out of the
woods. This is still a difficult time for the economy. Credit
is still contracted. Banks still are not lending at previous
levels. The non-bank sector that accounted for 40 percent
of credit prior to this crisis still hasn't recovered the
way it should. And we're still having to take a series of
So we'll have more information as these stress test numbers
are provided. I haven't seen all of them yet. They're being
completed I think while we were on this trip. But I'm sure
that we'll have more to say about this over the next --
next several days.
Okay? April. Oh, you look surprised. (Laughter.) Come on,
April -- I hope you've got a good question.
Q: Okay. I have two, actually.
THE PRESIDENT: All right, well, you only get one, though.
Q: I'll take that one. Mr. President, as you're concluding
your summit here and the meeting in Mexico, there is a U.S.
-- a U.N. conference, the world conference on racism in
Geneva tomorrow. The U.S. is boycotting. And what say you
about that? And is Zionism a main issue in the reason why
the U.S. is boycotting the racism conference?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me, first of all, say that I believe
in the United Nations. I believe in the possibility of the
United Nations serving as an effective forum to deal with
a whole host of transnational conflicts.
And so I want to be as encouraging as I can, and I've said
that to the General Secretary.
For that reason, we're actually -- have pursued a seat
on the Human Rights Commission, the U.N. Human Rights Commission,
because even though up until this point we haven't been
very pleased with how it's operated, we think that it's
worthwhile for us to go in there and try to make it into
a constructive organization because of the extraordinary
range of human rights violations that exist around the world.
And I think America should be a leader; we can't opt out
of those discussions.
Now, in that same spirit, I would love to be involved in
a useful conference that addressed continuing issues of
racism and discrimination around the globe -- which, by
the way, are not a particular province of any one country.
Obviously we've had our own experiences with racial discrimination,
but if you come down to Central and South America and the
Caribbean, they have all kinds of stories to tell about
Somebody mentioned earlier President Morales. Whatever
I think about his politics, the fact that he is the first
indigenous -- person of indigenous background to be elected
in a country that has a enormous indigenous population indicates
how much work remains to be done around the world.
So we would love to engage constructively in a discussion
like that. Here's the problem: You had a previous conference
-- I believe it was in 2001, maybe it was 2002 -- I think
it was 2001 -- in which it became a session through which
folks expressed antagonism towards Israel in ways that were
oftentimes completely hypocritical and counterproductive.
And we expressed in the run-up to this conference our concerns
that if you incorporated -- if you adopted all the language
from 2001, that's just not something we could sign up for.
So if we have a clean start, a fresh start, we're happy
to go. If you're incorporating a previous conference that
we weren't involved with that raised a whole set of objectionable
provisions, then we couldn't participate or it wouldn't
be worth it for us to participate because we couldn't get
past that particular issue.
And unfortunately, even though I think other countries
made great efforts to accommodate some of our concerns and
assured us that this conference would be more constructive,
our participation would have involved putting our imprimatur
on something that we just don't believe.
So what we've said -- and I said this to Secretary General
Moon who was here addressing the summit -- we're happy to
work with them to see if we can move forward on some of
these issues. Hopefully some concrete steps come out of
the conference that we can partner with other countries
on to actually reduce discrimination around the globe. But
this wasn't an opportunity to do it.
So -- okay? I think the -- it's warm and I've got to get
home. But I appreciate you guys. Thank you.
By the way, whose wallet is this? Is this one of my staff's
here? Did you guys put this on -- is that yours, Marvin?
That was to prop up my remarks? Okay, I don't want you to
forget it. Thank you, guys.
Q: Mr. President, you haven't addressed the Iranian journalist.
I think people would like to hear about that.
THE PRESIDENT: I will. Obviously I am gravely concerned
with her safety and well-being. We are working to make sure
that she is properly treated and to get more information
about the disposition of her case.
She is an American citizen, and I have complete confidence
that she was not engaging in any sort of espionage. She
is an Iranian American who was interested in the country
which her family came from. And it is appropriate for her
to be treated as such and to be released.
We are going to be in contact with -- through our Swiss
intermediaries -- with the Iranian government and want to
ensure that we end up seeing a proper disposition of this
Okay? Thanks. Thank you, guys.
END 12:53 P.M. EDT