Governor Bill Richardson at Forward Together/Avanzando Juntos/Avançando Juntos – A Conference Looking at the Changing Politics of the Americas

Publish Date: 
Friday, April 29, 2011

Forward Together/Avanzando Juntos/Avançando Juntos – A Conference Looking at the Changing Politics of the Americas
April 11, 2011
Governor Bill Richardson

[Unofficial Transcript]

Thank you. Thank you, Nelson. Now I have to give a decent speech after that introduction, and I thank you Nelson. I want to thank NDN and Simon. I want to just say that every time there is a critical juncture in U.S. policy towards Latin America or Latino politics, this organization puts together either a conference or a white paper, and it’s always very, very well done.  I have to give you a little bit of an apology. I have a speech here, I’m a former Governor, I had about 8,000 people working for me, as of the end of December I now have one and she’s falling asleep in the back, so don’t expect a major address.

I haven’t been here, but I’ve seen the range of speakers that you’ve had, and since you’re all Latin Americanists, and you all know the issues, I’m going to try put together where I think we need to go and just some new ideas that I came up with in the last few days, unfortunately not totally vetted, but at the same time coming from somebody that over the years has felt that our region, Latin America, is special and it doesn’t get the attention that it deserves. We all know that.  We all talk about this.  I think the President’s trip to Latin America was good. I think he obviously connected. He is somebody that, anywhere I go around the world, the guy could run for President in almost any country, except maybe North Korea, and win.  He might even win there too.  But what I sense after the visit is usually what the Latin’s say, alright great President, said some great things, now what happens next?  There is a little skepticism, there is a little suspicion because Latin’s have, over the years, been accustomed to us sometimes over promising and then in the end because of political realities here at home, the Congress, we don’t quite deliver. 

I think the President’s visit was very important. Not just because of the countries he visited, but because of what he said. And I also want you to think about where our region is. Our region is powered by democracies.  It is not powered by dictatorships like in other parts of the world that are showing enormous turmoil.  It is powered by growing economies that is lifting millions of citizens from extreme poverty into the middle class.  Not as much as it should, but if you look at the region’s economy it’s growing by 5% per year, and buys three times more U.S. goods than China does.  And I think the fact that the President acknowledged the leadership of countries like Brazil and Chile, and how they are playing on the world’s stage, and bringing those two countries into the super powers of not just international politics, but international economics, is something that was very well noted.

The President also talked about it’s a partnership of equality and shared responsibility, but again as I said, wait and see. This is what the Latin American community and the Hispanic community here at home, which by the way if you look at our community in the United States, it’s not just Mexican American, I mean maybe it’s 65% Mexican American, but if you look at the highest proportion of growth of Hispanics in America, it’s South Americans, it’s Central Americans, it’s Puerto Ricans, it’s those that are not necessarily of Mexican decent. If you go to Joe Garcia’s Florida, a majority of Hispanics in Florida are now non-Cuban American by a slight proportion.  This is a growth that is happening all over this country. [aside] But I’ve been traveling throughout the hemisphere, and while things are good, America’s image, because of the President, is strong.  We took a real beating with the passage of Arizona’s law, SB 1070, which not just encouraged racial profiling, but sent a very terrible message to Latin America and to Hispanics, basically saying, you’re not welcome here. As you know, this law provoked dozens of boycotts by cities and states around the world, and around our country, and did lasting damage to our image abroad. Now that law is kinda stalled, but it’s still out there, the image that it sent forth. In fact, I do want to note some of the work that NDN has done, and that is the Arizona business community has stopped any further laws in this direction in Arizona in their last session, knowing the damage that this law did to the Arizonian economy.  If you look at some of the NDN statistics when we talk about immigration, lets face the fact that the illegal flow is down, that crime is down on the border, that there is progress in law enforcement, there is progress by the border patrol, that the detection equipment is working, and that all this talk by the alarmists of a huge border penetration is just not happening.  But it’s out there, and we have to contend with it. 
So in any discussion about our Latin American policy, and you make a list of what are the things we need to do, we have to start out with comprehensive immigration reform.  I know it’s tough. I know the votes in the Senate are probably going to be really tough, but this is something that is desperately needed. Now that the budget issue, has been temporarily, for about 30 days, maybe we should do immigration in those 30 days, I’m kidding. But my point is that immigration reform, is probably today, one of the most pressing issues that this country has, along with energy and job creation.  We need obviously to continue strengthening the border.  We need also to find ways to deal with the 12 million already here.  We need a tough, fair path to legalization. Now I was a border governor for eight years, and there were eight Mexican border governors, and every year we talked about immigration reform.  We talked about a number of issues that maybe you haven’t talked about but are important and are out there.  Decreasing or eliminating unlawful detentions, providing for protection for vulnerable populations, reforming apprehension procedures for families and family detention, reforming welfare requirements for kids separated from detained or removed parents, protecting unaccompanied alien children, protecting female detainees, and then finally a Dream Act, which has moved in state legislatures, but in the Congress didn’t make it through.  I was very proud in New Mexico that we had a Dream Act seven years ago. So when people say to me, well what do you think of the Dream Act, I say it’s worked and we did it in my state.  So immigration reform is not just a U.S.-Mexico issue, it’s an issue that affects Central America, it affects the Caribbean, if affects South America, and it deserves a comprehensive response.  And because of this Arizona action we have a lot of work to do to get back the good name and civil rights that our country has had in the hemisphere.  

The second issue that we need to push is something that has been discussed before, we’ve had people from our trade representative’s office, and Nelson Cunningham and many others over the years that worked over the years on NAFTA, and Larry and many others that I see here, Jim Kolbe, [aside].  But the trade agreements, Colombia and Panama, you know these are good agreements.  These are free and fair.  You should see the language on organizing labor unions and environmental standards in both of them, particularly the Colombian one.  And I saw the President, I saw a TV clip of the President of Colombia, who by the way Santos, this guy is good. He’s got all the right stuff, I think he’s going to go down in history as a great Latin American president. Somebody that gets it. Somebody that is politically attuned to the reality of the United States. But here is somebody that has come forth with an agreement that is good for U.S. workers and his own workers. This breakthrough that the Administration made with labor standards including the rights for unions to organize, along with the Panama agreement, is now ready for action.  Now here’s an idea that I have, that I’ve always felt we should pursue.  Now that we have this strong agreement with Colombia, and we have a strong agreement with Panamá on labor and environmental standards, I think the Administration should pursue a Summit of the Americas-type agreements with every Latin American country on labor and environmental standards.  I think that is doable.  Not free trade.  Obviously we have several free trade agreements, but one that just focuses on labor and environmental agreements. Nelson said he wanted to hear some new ideas, I think this one would be a little controversial, but it’s something maybe in a second term or late in the first term, but I think it makes enormous sense.

Issue number three: Cuba.  God I’ve been to so many Cuba conferences, I’m not gonna go.  You say the same thing, and things happen so slowly, but they’re starting to happen.  I believe here the President deserves credit. He’s moving things in the right way, wisely ended the previous Administration’s policy restricting family visits. Now Americans can send financial help to their relatives in Cuba.  There is nobody that knows more about this issue than Joe Garcia here, he was a candidate for Congress who should have won. He represents an emerging Cuban American electorate, and Cuban American citizens that are basically saying, well our relationship with Cuba and the embargo hasn’t worked, so let’s try something else.  Doesn’t mean you all of a sudden go into a mode of appeasement, but this is something that I believe this country needs to pursue.  In my view, we should be prepared to reassess a trade embargo in exchange for releasing political prisoners, making moves towards democratic freedoms.  Not necessarily always reciprocity.  I think the relationship has evolved to a point where both sides are now taking steps that are not necessarily, ok you do this, we do that, and that I think is very, very healthy. 
What other steps the U.S. might take? Look at the tourism ban, make it more substantial, continue to communicate our support for the independence of the Cuban people through meaningful action.  But here are two things that both sides can do.  One is, there’s an American contractor named Alan Gross.  You know, this guy, he’s not harming the national security of Cuba.  They should let him go.  Poor guy. You know, he’s been there a year, his family is not well off, he’s physically not well.  I think this would be a big, big humanitarian advance Cuba would make by letting this guy get out.  And then we would – not necessarily reciprocate – but Cuba’s on the terrorism list, this really…this is a case where North Korea is not on the terrorism list but Cuba is.  It makes no sense.  Little steps like this can keep us moving in the right direction.

Now, here’s something else that I think would be healthy.  I remember, and many of you here remember at the Summit of America (aside) but in Miami and in several other places, Clinton and other Presidents would have these Summit of the Americas.  They were good because they brought Latinos together.  [Aside]  You know, I just think this is something we should do annually…a Summit of the Americas…it’s so useful when presidents get together.  And most importantly, not just the issues they deal with but getting to know each other personally is so important among world leaders.  President George Bush – the first – was very good at that.  Clinton was the best.  I’ll never forget…I’d get a Latin American president or a Mexican president who’d say “You know Bill, estaba yo con Clinton y me veo en los hojos,” “Clinton would look me in the eye and he was so interested in what I was saying.”  And I’d say, “Yeah, well, this is a very good technique he has.” [Laughter] But you know, it connected people – the meetings, bringing people together.  You know Latinos love…they want to get a personal sense of each other and this is why I think a summit…it makes a lot of sense… I think they should have a special envoy…and this is in the law.  I don’t know why they haven’t done it.  And I have a candidate here…Nelson Cunningham for Special Envoy. [Aside]

That would be something that makes a lot of sense…having someone in our own bureaucracy that pushes for Latino issues or Western hemispheric issues.  I hope that’s done some time soon. 

This is an area that is very difficult.  I’m not an expert but obviously the wave of crime and the wave of drugs and illegal purchase and transport of weapons that go through the border…these are huge problems.  It’s not just a U.S./Mexico problem…it’s a hemispheric problem and we need to find some kind of stance against transnational criminal organizations.  I don’t know if it’s an agency that you put together.  I don’t know if it’s a crime agreement. Intelligence sharing?  But it’s something that is not, I repeat, just a Mexico problem, and it makes a lot of sense that we need to explore. 

Now, here’s another issue that I believe we need to look at but I haven’t thought of a way to do it.  I’ve always thought that the best initiative America had towards Latin America was the Alliance for Progress.  That was President Kennedy…40 years ago….I guess is the anniversary this year.  And the problem there is that we need some new thinking in this arena. Perhaps the InterAmerican Development Bank can lead the charge because there’s still problems of poverty, malnutrition, inadequate education in the hemisphere, indigenous people in the hemisphere, not just in the United States but there are indigenous people in Bolivia, in Peru…all across the hemisphere…Colombia that have no voice that need to get some kind of international recognition and assistance.  I think what President Kennedy said still applies “Transform the American continent into a vast crucible of revolutionary ideas and efforts.  A tribute to the power of the creative energies of free men and women.  An example to all the world that liberty and progress walk hand and hand.” 

In other words, incorporate a human needs initiative with debt relief.  This has been very important.  The Millenium development goals have given direction.  But what has happened is…there’s a lot of countries in Latin America that are middle income, that are not seeing this kind of…I’m not talking about hand-out, I’m talking about partnership…with not just America but the international economic community.  Human needs is really important.  We, in my state, made sure that every child had a healthy breakfast, that every child had healthcare. This is an initiative that I believe…it’s not just focused on hunger but it should be a goal of our country that no child anywhere should go hungry period.  It’s also important that we find ways we imitate and look at some of the jobs programs that are having success in Latin America.  In Mexico, a public investment program – project that provide transportation and infrastructure that brings investment.  A stimulus of their own that is wide and comprehensive.  Brazil – it’s energy independent – 40% ethanol.  So this new alliance for progress…

Now, here’s another idea that I think makes sense: climate change.  We should set up a Latin America carbon trading system…a hemispheric agreement that has real carbon trading that puts in place financial rewards for countries that make the wise investment of protecting their forest and helping reduce carbon pollution.  It also enables us to interchange energy technology.  Here, I believe again, the InterAmerican Development Bank…we should find a way to have a capitalization of the IDB to promote renewable energy: solar, wind, biomass.  Capitalize it – not just with U.S. dollars, but with private dollars, with Latin American countries contributing also, with perhaps America and Brazil taking the lead.  I have really been impressed by Luis Alberto. [Aside] This guy – great ideas.  He’s a little guy but he’s got great ideas.  Terrific.  Terrific.  He’s got an idea a minute.  And I think that’s what we need because right now ideas is something we haven’t thought of in a long time in our hemisphere.

Here’s another idea: a teacher corps.  I know that’s not very glamorous to all of you – you’re all finance, policy, politician types, national security – but a teacher corps…a teacher corps similar to the peace corps that send teachers from developed countries like the U.S., Chile, Mexico, Brazil, Costa Rica and Colombia to teach in school programs in neighboring developing countries.  These teachers would bring math, science and other subjects to the poorest performing schools for two years.  After these two years of service these teachers would return for a third year to complete a Masters program.  In exchange for their service, teacher corps would cover participants’ tuitions, books, room and board.  These are highly certified teachers becoming ideal candidates both in Latin America and in the United States.  And, I was recently with President Jose Figuerres, the former President – Costa Rica.  By the way, you know (aside) he was about 30 years old when he was elected president in Costa Rica.  And I remember saying to him – he was 34.  I said “What are you going to do with the rest of your life?”  Well, he’s had a very good life.  He’s in investments now.  He lives in Geneva.  And he has an idea for a midcareer student exchange program – not to affect the braindrain. But, get Latin American and American students in midcareer – fifty thousand on both sides – finance by the government, financed by the private sector, by university.  But this is something that our educational programs in Latin America – I have seen if you look at all the educational institutions in America – have the strongest performance than any other region in the world.

So what have I thrown out here?  Just a lot of different stuff.  I think that you all have discussed a lot today.  The new ideas that I’ve thrown out: a labor and environmental agreement for all hemispheric countries, all 35, 36, obviously there’ll be a couple that won’t participate but this is something that I believe maybe in the second term.  An annual Summit of the Americas that I believe would make enormous sense just for dialogue.  A new alliance for progress…somebody come up with a way that we can address the human needs of the hemisphere as a partnership, not as an aid program.  A renewable energy strategy for the whole hemisphere where we interchange water and solar, wind and biomass – make it hemispheric wide.  Have the IDB handle it.  Or perhaps somebody who said to me…the OAS.  I know the OAS does political things but they also have an educational arm.  They also do a lot of good work in many other areas.  But this is something that the world needs to do.  After what happened in Fukoshima, after what happened with our oil spill, the problems with fossil fuels, after what happened with coal explosions in West Virginia.  In other words, our fossil fuels strategy… we have to continue it.  But if there’s ever a message about energy policy around the world…especially in Japan and the Far East…it’s more renewables and more natural gas.  So we should take advantage and have some leadership in this area.  The teachers corp as I mentioned and the midcareer initiative.

And here’s the last issue, that I don’t know how you deal with.  But if you noticed the differences that we’ve had with Latin America, in the last year, it seems that some of them have been very personal.  Like, we withdraw ambassadors, and we did it in Mexico… both countries.  It happened in Colombia… a dispute over ambassadors.  It happened in Ecuador…Just little things like this…that why does it happen in our hemisphere?  Why doesn’t it happen somewhere else?  I don’t know what the answer is but it just seems that maybe both sides need to, you know, get our diplomatic corps to work a little closer together. I just was observing that – today as I was reading about a situation in Ecuador that we expelled ambassadors.  That’s not good.  These are representatives from our country. I’m talking about both sides, not just one side.  And I think the situation in Mexico was unfortunate.  And I think the situation was…I guess we don’t have ambassadors in Venezuela, but either way, this doesn’t help. 

So…not bad…20 minutes.  [Laughter)].