The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 7, 2007

Interview of the President by Juan Carlos Lopez, CNN En Español
The Map Room

      President's Visit to Latin America

12:06 P.M. EST

Q Thank you for speaking with us. And my first question is about your trip. You're going to Latin America, the longest trip an American President has taken to the region. Why now? Why at this moment when Democrats control the Congress and there are issues that might be in their hands?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you for asking that question. This is not my first trip since I've been the President. I have been in -- traveling the neighborhood I think maybe three other times. But this is a long trip, and the reason why is I want to remind people throughout our neighborhood that America cares about them. And I bring a message of hope, a message that says we care about the human condition, and a message of accomplishment.

I don't know if you know this or not, but since I've been the President, our bilateral aid to Latin America has increased from $800 million to $1.6 billion. And the reason I say that is the American taxpayer has been very generous about providing aid in our neighborhood, and most of that aid is social justice money -- in other words, it's money for education and health.

And yet, we don't get much credit for it. And I want the taxpayers, I want the American people to get credit for their generosity in Central and South America.

Q Your daughter, Jenna, is writing a book about her experiences in Central America. She will be focusing on a single mother with HIV. Has she been part of your eyes and ears in the region now that she's been there for quite a while?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, she is -- first of all, I'm very proud of her. She is an accomplished woman. She came back -- I haven't seen a lot of her because she's been spending a lot of time in Central America as a UNICEF volunteer -- but she came back and talked to me about this young girl that she has befriended. And she's deeply concerned about alienationists in our world, and is going to try to raise some money to help the education programs there.

To me, her book and her example is what America is all about. We've got compassionate people, and when we find suffering and see income disparity, or see poverty, we'd like to help people lift themselves up.

Q You've talked about the importance of free trade. Opponents of free trade in Latin America say it's one sided and favors the U.S. Opponents of free trade in the U.S. say it's one sided and favors those countries. So who's right and what are you trying to do with this right now?

THE PRESIDENT: They're both wrong. The opponents of free trade are wrong, in my judgment, because free trade -- a good free trade agreement -- and those agreements are signed by administrations and ratified by their elected assemblies -- fair trade agreements are beneficial to both, and that's what we want.

All you've got to do is look at the trade between the United States and Mexico after the free trade agreement we signed between Mexico, the United States, and Canada. And the amount of trade has gone up appreciably, significantly.

And I truly believe that one of the most effective ways to eliminate poverty is through free and fair trade. But there's no question there's protectionist sentiments in the neighborhood and in our own Congress. And I -- we got the CAFTA vote by one vote in the House of Representatives, and I'm going to have to work hard to get more free trade agreements through. But the fact that it's hard won't deter me from doing what I think is right.

Q They say you're exporting American jobs.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, that's what Americans say. I look at it differently. I think what we're doing is we are creating opportunities for business people, small business people, to be able to sell products in other markets, whether it be U.S. products into Central America, or South America, and vice versa.

I also know that trade enhances the wealth of all people. I mean, it is in our interests that Mexico generate wealth so that people can make a living. If you're a person deeply concerned about immigration -- and as you know, this is a hot issue here in the United States -- doesn't it make sense to encourage trade so that people can find a job at home rather than feel compelled to try to find work elsewhere?

And trade is -- you can track the success of a trade agreement, and I repeat again, the success of the trade agreement with Mexico.

Q Brazil, you're going. Ethanol seems to be at the top of the agenda. How important is this ethanol? Some analysts say that you will bring Brazil closer to the U.S., you will develop ethanol plants in Central America, and have ethanol for U.S. consumption.

THE PRESIDENT: First of all, the alternative fuel issue is a huge issue for the United States. We're too dependent on oil. It's in our national security interests, and our economic security interests, and for environmental concerns to develop alternatives to gasoline. Ethanol is the -- is what we're investing a lot in here in the United States to do that. Brazil has been very successful, so it gives us common ground to talk.

I like the idea of helping Central America, by the way, develop an ethanol industry. I think it would be good for their national security and economic security interests. But my discussion with Brazil is more than just ethanol. Brazil is a very important country in South America. We will be talking about the Doha round of global trade. I'll be talking with my friend, President Lula, about international matters. Brazil is an international player, and the United States looks forward to working with Brazil to promote peace.

Q Are you -- is free trade -- is this trip a way to show what the U.S. is doing and counter what other leaders might be doing? For example, Hugo Chavez, who called you the devil, and says many things said he will be in Argentina on Friday.

THE PRESIDENT: The trip really is to remind people that we care. I do worry about the fact that some say, well, the United States hasn't paid enough attention to us, or the United States really isn't anything more than worried about terrorism. And when, in fact, the record has been a strong record.

And I will be going to promote -- to look at programs that are -- have benefited from the generosity of the American people. And so it's -- I say, our country is a compassionate country. And there's significant connections between people inside America and people outside America. And it's in our interest that we promote those ties, and we promote -- and I remind people about the generosity of our country.

It's not a given, by the way, that people will continue to spend -- that the Congress will spend money. And, therefore, it's important for me to show that we're not only spending money, but the effects of spending money, the positive things that are happening as we help elevate people's lives.

Q Mr. President, I want to ask you about he conviction of Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Your critics are saying that his conviction makes the promise that you made to bring honor and dignity back to the White House, that this promise will go unmet.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, first of all, this was a lengthy trial on a serious matter, and a jury of his peers convicted him. And we've got to respect that conviction.

Secondly, this is an ongoing legal matter. In other words, there's more legal procedures to take place, and at this time, it's inappropriate for me, or the administration, to be issuing comments about this serious matter.

On a personal note, I was sad. I was sad for a man who had worked in my administration, and particularly sad for his family.

Q As Commander-in-Chief, what do you say to the veterans who have gone through a very hard time at Walter Reed and other hospitals? There are commissions, there are solutions that are being proposed. What do you, as Commander-in-Chief, say to those veterans --

THE PRESIDENT: I say, anything other than excellent care is unacceptable. And I've been to Walter Reed a lot. There are some fantastic doctors and nurses and healers. And yet, we found that there were was some substandard care in part of that organization, and we're going to correct it.

And I put the commission together -- a series of commissions, to make sure that there -- that we fully understand the truth, fully elevate the problems, so we can solve them.

I had Bob Dole and Donna Shalala in today. They're chairmen of this very important commission I put together that will analyze the care our soldiers get from the battlefield into the Defense Department, then into the Veterans, and then into community. And I want to make sure there is -- that is a seamless transition of excellent care.

Q Muchas gracias, Señor Presidente.


END 12:16 P.M. EST


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