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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

President's Trip to Latin America
En Español

Tom Shannon
Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs

March 7, 2007

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.

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