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 Mishelle Mitchell, Channel 7
Villa Escondida
San José, Costa Rica

8:16 A.M. (Local)

Q Good morning, Mrs. Bush, and welcome to Costa Rica.

MRS. BUSH: Thank you so much.

Q Mrs. Bush, I imagine that your team has briefed you on Costa Rica. What have you learned about our country during your few hours here?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I actually know a lot about your country, because as you know, your country is very popular with Americans to travel to, and eco-tourism and fishing and bird watching, and all of those things. And my daughter, during her college career, came to Costa Rica with a group of her college friends. And besides, of course, many other friends of ours who have traveled here. So I know a lot about it.

And, obviously, I'm so honored and thrilled to get to be the person who leads the U.S. delegation to President Arias' inauguration. I bring the best wishes of President Bush and President Bush his father, as well, who happened to be with us this weekend for a family wedding in Washington. So he sends his best because he was President, of course, when President Arias was President before.

Q Mrs. Bush, is there any specific topic that you, as head of the delegation of the U.S., will address to Mrs. Arias, Mr. Arias?

MRS. BUSH: Well, of course, our interview, when we have one, will be very brief, because I'll be one of many delegations that will bring the best wishes of their peoples, my people to the President. So I'll just tell him that the relationship between the United States and Costa Rica is very important; it's very important to the United States. We have a long history of friendship between our two countries. We respect the country of Costa Rica for its long democracy, its emphasis on education and other values that are important to us, as well, in the United States. I'll tell him those things.

Q Costa Rica and the United States have been very close, but trade has brought us even closer. Is there any specific topic regarding CAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement, that you're going to address in this very brief meeting?

MRS. BUSH: Well, probably I won't feel like that's my role, but I do hope that Costa Rica will ratify CAFTA. Costa Rica is the one of the seven countries -- CAFTA countries -- who has not ratified the agreement yet. I think it's a good agreement for all of us. President Bush had to work very hard to have the Congress ratify the CAFTA in the United States. I think it's an agreement that will bring us closer together, that will give all of us, each of the countries, a chance to strengthen our economies to alleviate poverty.

So of course we hope Costa Rica will join it, but that is a Costa Rican decision, and so we'll see.

Q Mrs. Bush, you have at the top of your agenda education, as well does Mr. Arias. What do you believe should be included in education, so our children can be not only successful, but be better people, better persons?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I certainly think reading is the most important building block of education. We know that if people can read, they can read every subject -- they can do well in history or science or social science or math, because they can read all of the texts that go with that.

This fall I'm going to convene a White House conference on global literacy, with the United States State Department and the United States Department of Education and UNESCO, the U.N. entity that pays the most attention to education, in New York during the U.N. General Assembly in the fall. So I hope that Costa Rica will be represented there, I hope people will come to talk about UNESCO's goal of literacy for all.

And that's what I'll do today, when I visit a school. I'm really looking forward to that, talking about reading. I was a school teacher, librarian, so that's been my interest my whole life.

Q Here in Costa Rica we proudly say that 95 percent of our population is alphabetized, is literate. Do you believe that reading is enough to try to eliminate this hideous difference between the rich and the poor? I mean, here in Costa Rica we still have that, even though our population reads and writes.

MRS. BUSH: Well, I think that education requires the focus of everyone, of teachers and of parents, but of governments, obviously, and then also of businesses and communities. We're never finished with education. It's not like something you can say, oh, okay, we got that right, now we can go on to something else, because there's always a new little class of children starting their first year, and there's a class of graduates graduating.

And so it requires very concentrated focus, always. We can't let our schools run down. We have to be always training teachers and making sure new teachers are coming in, because as older teachers retire, we need more teachers. And so it really requires a serious focus all of the time, and I'm glad that President Arias is interested in education, and he wants to have that focus, because I think it's very important for countries.

Q Did you know that here in Costa Rica we have a university for peace?

MRS. BUSH: Oh, you do, that's great.

Q We do.

MRS. BUSH: That's wonderful. Costa Rica has, as you know, a wonderful reputation as a country of human rights, and a leader, certainly in Central America, on human rights.

Q In that sense, do you believe that education for peace should be an item, a topic that should be included in the curricula of children all around the world?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I think, certainly, we all need to be educated about each other. We need to know about each other. We need to -- I think once we know the traditions of another country, and know other languages, for instance, we have more of an empathy and a sympathy for each other. And I think that's important.

Q Your country has engaged in a war against terrorism. What role does education play in this war against terrorism?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I think it plays a very, very important role. For instance, if you look at Afghanistan, there half the population was denied an education. It was absolutely forbidden for girls to be educated, for women to work outside the home. And we saw what the results of that are, when women are denied an education, when they can't step out, then you've lost the talents and the creativity of half of the population.

Next week I'm going to be giving a commencement address at a university in the United States that right after September 11, 2001, the university president's wife thought, what can I do for Afghan women? And since her husband was the president of a university, she wrote and offered women scholarships at her husband's college, as well as other -- asked other universities to educate Afghan women. So this next week will be the graduation of the first class of these women who were educated in the United States with the idea and full intention of going home to Afghanistan to build their country and build their economy.

So I think education plays a very important role.

Q Mrs. Bush, the war in Iraq has touched hundreds of families around the world. Even here in Costa Rica we had the case of families that lost their sons or daughters due to this war. Do you believe that there is other means of achieving peace, of achieving well being for a population other than war?

MRS. BUSH: Sure, absolutely, there definitely are. There are diplomatic ways, which we tried, as you know. The United States passed its 17th or 18th resolution for Saddam Hussein to account for his weapons of mass destruction, and he once again defied the United Nations. It makes the United Nations not relevant if the United Nations doesn't follow up on resolutions that are passed by the Security Council. And I think there -- what happened was the time for diplomacy went by, and passed, and that was his choice. He had the option to comply with the world, but he didn't. Is it difficult? Absolutely. Does the United States want war? No, no country wants war. We want peace as much as any other country in the world wants peace. But war was brought to us on September 11th.

Q Have you suggested to your husband to retire U.S. forces from Iraq?

MRS. BUSH: No, of course not. It would be -- why would we do that now? Then the losses would be lost in vain. The Iraqi people have had three major elections. They've ratified -- written a constitution, ratified a constitution, elected a government. Millions of people at all three elections showed up, even though there were threats of violence. I truly believe that they want to build a country. Is it hard? Sure. Are there are a lot of sacrifices? Of course. But if they can build a stable democracy in the middle of the Middle East, there will be a beacon for that whole area of the world that's so desperate for democracy.

Q And finally, Mrs. Bush, last week, Latin American countries and countries around the world, they had immigrants that went to the U.S. saw these rallies as being -- the immigration reform. What is your position in this regard?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I don't think the rallies were against immigration reform. I think all people know that we need a humane and rational immigration policy. And when people die in the desert when they cross the Rio Grande, Rio Bravo into the United States, no one wants that. And so we need a way to have a humane and just immigration policy that lets people come across the border in a legal way, with a legal guest worker program, for instance, which is what President Bush is for, so they can go back home and come back across the border legally. I think that's what people in the United States want, and I suspect that's also what the protesters who were there wanted, as well.

Q Again, how to project an embracing image of a country that welcomes foreigners, but without depriving the locals of a certain -- such as education system?

MRS. BUSH: The United States is a welcoming country. We're a country of immigrants. We know that -- we know that's one reason we're so diverse and so rich in culture, because so many cultures have contributed to what the United States is.

On the other hand, it is the right and obligation of every country to protect their borders, to have border security. And certainly the United States wants a secure and safe border. And I think that's really important.

So we need to figure out a way that makes it legal for immigrants to come into the United States, so they don't have to try to sneak across the border, and then to be able to return to their own homes legally, and come back. I think that's what the President is working with the United States Congress now to pass -- a good, rational and humane immigration policy.

Q Mrs. Bush, thank you for your time.

MRS. BUSH: Thanks so much, Mishelle.

END 8:29 A.M. (Local)

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