The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
May 8, 2006

Interview of the First Lady by Hazel Feigenblatt, La Nación
Marriott Costa Rica
San Josié, Costa Rica

8:30 A.M. (Local)

Q I wanted to start by asking you if your visit to Costa Rica --

MRS. BUSH: Well, I'm really happy to have the opportunity to lead the U.S. delegation, but I think also President Bush's choice of having me come is to show how close the ties are between the United States and Costa Rica. So I'm really happy to get to be the one who offers the congratulations and the best wishes of the President and the United States people to President Arias.

Q What expectations do the United States have for President Arias?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I know -- we know him, of course, very well. He was President when President Bush my father-in-law was President, and he also sent his best wishes to President Arias. We were just with him this weekend in a family wedding.

But I also know that President Arias is a leader in human rights; he's a leader in speaking out for democratic reform, and I appreciate that very much, the United States does, as well. We share a lot of the same values the people of Costa Rica have. We share an interest in education, and that's important.

This fall I'm going to host a conference on global literacy in New York during the United Nations General Assembly. And I hope that people from -- delegates from Costa Rica will be there in -- it will be the White House, the State Department, the United States Department of Education and UNESCO -- the U.N. entity that pays the most attention to education -- to talk about literacy, world-wide literacy, literacy for all, this fall. So it's an interest of mine my whole life. You know I'm a teacher and librarian.

Q Before I get to interview, I have a question that I wanted to ask you. Over the years, I know that President Bush's popularity is at a low point right now, but yours is very, very high. I wanted to ask you, why do you think that is? And also, I understand you've been very active and you will be for the congressional campaign. So I wonder if you can tell me a little about your role and why you will do this?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I will campaign for Republican congressmen and other races. Whoever asks me to campaign for them, I'll be very, very happy to campaign for them, because of course they share our values and share a lot of the same agenda President Bush has. And I think it's very important for that agenda to continue in the -- for the last two years of his term. So I'm very happy to have the chance to campaign for Republican candidates around the country.

Q Will Republicans keep both houses, will President Bush regain popularity in the next two years?

MRS. BUSH: I think so. I'm an optimist, I think so. I feel good about that. I think it will happen.

Q Before going to the -- I wanted to ask you, a lot of people have changed their mind about the war in Iraq and the invasion after you have been -- the situation with the prisoners -- has your vision changed at all during all these years that you've been fighting the terrorism?

MRS. BUSH: Well, you know what happened to us, to the United States. The United States doesn't want war. We want peace, like every other country in the world. But war was brought to us on September 11th, and it required the response of the United States government. And Afghanistan has been liberated, Afghanistan is working to build a democracy. And is it hard? Sure. Are there still people who don't want it, who attack our soldiers and Afghan citizens? Absolutely. And that's too bad, because they're working very hard to build their country.

And the same with Iraq. The Iraqis have shown that for three elections. They've written a constitution, they've ratified a constitution, they've elected their government. Millions of people showed up for all three of those elections even though there were threats of violence and intimidation. So I know they also want to build their country. And if they can, if they can build a stable democracy in the heart of the Middle East, it will be very important for that part of the world that's so desperate for democracy.

So, yes, we are standing with the people of Iraq as they try to build their democracy. And I wish and hope that the people of the world will stand with the people of Iraq, as well.

Q Have people been unfairly criticizing so much? Is that part of the implications they have?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I don't know if I would say that. I mean, no one wants war, I understand that. And I understand that it looks very difficult as you look at it from the outside, and hear what people hear mainly. There are a lot of good stories that aren't always out, about the rebuilding of schools and hospitals and other infrastructure in Iraq.

Q I was curious about you being interested in taking literacy, because it's surprising to see a country like the United States struggle with basic literacy. So I wonder if you can explain to me a little what is the situation, what is the problem, and what have you been doing about it?

MRS. BUSH: You mean the --

Q The literacy.

MRS. BUSH: The Middle East?

Q No, with literacy in the United States.

MRS. BUSH: Literacy, I'm sorry. The U.S. -- every country has to always focus on education. Education isn't something that you just fix, and don't have to continue to work on. We've had literacy problems, as well, in the United States. We've worked very hard. The Congress passed in 2001 the No Child Left Behind Act -- or 2002, actually, signed it in 2002, to make sure we try to reduce the achievement gap. There's a gap between minority students, for instance, and majority students. And also, of course, we know there's an economic difference, as well, that partly results from that achievement gap in education.

One of the things that are part of the No Child Left Behind Act is teacher training. There's a lot of new research about how children actually learn, and how teachers can be trained to teach reading and to teach math. So we've made a focused effort across the United States to train teachers and to let teachers be aware and become knowledgeable with all the new research.

Another very important part of that No Child Left Behind Act is accountability, where schools devise their own test -- they write their curriculum, states write the curriculum they want their students to learn, and then they devise their own test over that curriculum. And then those tests become public -- not the individual scores, not the child's score, but the way -- how well the school does. And so it gives teachers an idea of how effective they really are.

And if they are not being effective, if their children are not learning what they want them to learn, then it gives them the chance to reassess their methods and work on ways to become more effective.

Q How would the proposal you have, new initiative, what is it about?

MRS. BUSH: Well, a few years ago UNESCO started a decade of literacy. And it's literacy for all, is UNESCO's goal. And they asked me to be the honorary ambassador for the decade of literacy. So this morning, when I visit the little school that I'm going to visit, a UNESCO representative here, in Central America, will be the moderator of the roundtable that we're going to have at this school.

Because so many world leaders will be in New York during the U.N.G.A., we thought it was a good time to host this conference on literacy, so that we can discuss with each other, worldwide, what our methods are, and we can let governments know what is effective -- all the governments can let other governments know what's effective in their countries, and we can spread this goal of making sure all children have access to primary education, girls and boys, because as you know, in many countries girls are the ones who are left out.

Q And talking about women's issues, I wanted to ask you, I have heard some reports about the situation of women in Afghanistan, and I understand this isn't nearly as bad as before, with the Taliban regime. What can the United States or international communities do to help that country improve?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I would say it's not nearly as bad, by any means, because women now can walk outside without a male relative, and women can go to school, and many, many girls, millions of girls in Afghanistan are going to school. In fact, the schools are so filled, they have three schedules, where little children go in the morning, older children go in the afternoon, and their parents, mainly their mothers, go to school at night, because there are so many people that want to be educated.

All of us, once again, just like I said in Iraq, I think it's very important for all governments and all people to stand up with the people of Afghanistan, and especially for women around the world to stand with women of Afghanistan. In Costa Rica there is not gender inequality in education; boys and girls are educated, and the same thing in the United States. And that makes us even more aware of how important it is -- for half of the society to be educated, that girls -- if you leave out half, if you leave girls out of education, then half of the people -- you can't use the talents and the creativity of half of the people in the country, or their contributions to the economy.

Q I wanted to ask you, in your own party, would you like to see a woman president in the United States?

MRS. BUSH: Sure.

Q What do you think the role of the First Lady can do to improve the situation --

MRS. BUSH: Well, I think women -- and certainly many women in the United States run for political office and are elected at every level, from city council to Senate. And I think that's really important. I know that women are very involved -- of course all of my friends are, whether they run for office or not, they're interested in, involved in politics, working for their favorite candidate or going door-to-door for a congressional candidate, for instance. I think that's really important. I think it's important to let women know in every country that they have the opportunity to serve their country politically.

Q So you would like to see a woman president?

MRS. BUSH: Sure.

Q We have in Costa Rica not nearly as many as in Mexico, or other Central American countries, but we have an increasing number of people going to the United States illegally. What message do you have for the people here on immigration reform?

MRS. BUSH: Immigration reform has been in the forefront, as you know, and President Bush has been working very hard with the Congress to have a just and rational immigration policy, so that people aren't sneaking across the border and mistreated or not treated in a humane way because they're illegal when their in the United States.

And what he wants is a guest worker program where workers have the opportunity to work, but they are legally in the United States as workers, so they can go back home for vacations if they want to, or to see their family, and then come back across the border in a legal way. And he's working with the Congress now to try to pass some sort of good --

Q You're in favor --

MRS. BUSH: I am. I think it's really time for immigration reform. On the other hand, let me say that it's every country's obligation and right to protect their borders. And people all need to understand that -- you know, the people who want to immigrate should try first to get a visa or to have a legal way to be in the United States.

Q Thank you so much for your time.

MRS. BUSH: Thanks a lot.

END 8:42 A.M. (Local)

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