Office of the Press Secretary

Office of the Press Secretary
(Guatemala City, Guatemala)

For Immediate Release March 10, 1999


National Palace of Culture
Guatemala City, Guatemala

4:45 P.M. (L)

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Mr. President, first, let mesayhow much I appreciate this opportunity that has been provided for me tomeetwith citizens of your country to hear about the progress of the peaceprocessand the challenges ahead. Because of the involvement of the United States, Ithink it is imperative as we begin for me just to say a few words about thereport of the Historical Clarification Commission.

The commission's work and the support it has received from thegovernment shows how far Guatemala has traveled in overcoming that painfulperiod. I have profound respect for the victims and the families who hadthecourage to testify, and for the courage of a nation for coming to termswith itspast and moving forward.

For the United States, it is important that I state clearly thatsupportfor military forces or intelligence units which engaged in violent andwidespread repression of the kind described in the report was wrong, andtheUnited States must not repeat that mistake. We must, and we will, instead,continue to support the peace and reconciliation process in Guatemala.

As many of you know, we provided $1.5 million in support for thecommission. We declassified over 4,000 documents at the commission'srequest.Now we will encourage the translation of the report into indigenouslanguagesand its wide dissemination. Consistent with the commission'srecommendations,we also will continue our support of development programs in thosecommunitieswhich suffered most from violence and repression. This year, we plan toprovidean additional $25 million to support the peace accords through aid to thejustice sector, to education, to literary training, to the generation ofincomeand to citizen participation in government.

You have come a long way, as President Arzu just said, in forging aconsensus in support of democracy and human rights and in finding a way todiscuss your differences openly and peaceably. I applaud the difficult butessential effort you have undertaken.

Beyond the commission issues, I would also hope to discuss othermatterscritical to peace and to development and reconciliation, including economicliberalization, market opening measures, increased trade and investment,all ofwhich are crucial to the overall well-being of the people of Guatemala.Nowthat you have chosen democracy and peace, it is imperative that the UnitedStates be a good partner in making sure that it works for all your people.

And again, Mr. President, I'd like to thank you and the governmentandthe people of Guatemala for the road you have taken and for making me feelwelcome today. Thank you, sir.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all I would like to say how veryimpressed I was by the presentations. And I would like to say a few things atthe end, but for now, I was asked a couple of questions, so I would like torespond.

First, I was asked about possible opportunities, greateropportunitiesfor women and young girls, and children generally. I think that the modelwhichhas worked best throughout the world for economic empowerment for women has beenthe whole -- particularly rural women and indigenous populations -- hasbeen thewhole concept of microcredit, as I'm sure my wife talked about quiteextensivelywhen she was here.

But I think even more important is getting schooling going andproviding-- you know, I'm involved in this effort to try to end child labor that'sabusive, worldwide. But it's not as -- it's also important to get thechildreninto schools, all kinds of children, including the children of indigenouspeople, and girls as well as boys, for a longer period of time.

This is a big problem not just in Latin America, it's a hugeproblem inAsia, it's a huge problem in Africa. But I think the United States shouldbeheavily involved, particularly in light of our past. We have a heavyresponsibility to Guatemala and, indeed, to all of Central America to domore inthis area.

I have asked the Congress of the United States to pass an aidpackagetied to what happened in the hurricane, of something over $950 million. Alotof it is designed just tosupport the rebuilding that has to be done, and that is important. Butthere isquite a lot of money for education andeconomic development and, to go to another point you made, for the effortstoinstitutionalize the rule of law, both for commercial and economic reasonsandfor human rights reasons.

This is an area in which I think those who have and those who havenot,in Guatemala and throughout Central America, have a common interest,because therule of law is essential to get more investment and more economicopportunityand to protect the investments that exist. It is also essential toestablish inan orderly way human rights and the institutions of justice.

So, Mr. Atwood, our AID Director, is here and he can talk moreaboutthat with you. But we have worked quite hard to put together a packagethat Ihope will be helpful. And I will be prepared, over the next couple ofyears, totry to do more.

On the question of trade, I sent last Friday to the Congressanotherbill to try to provide more parity between our trading relationships withMexicoand Canada, and our trading relationships with Central America and theCaribbean. And I believe we have a reasonable chance to pass that billthisyear. And if we do, it obviously will lead to more opportunities for thesale ofGuatemalan products in the United States, and more jobs, therefore, for thepeople here. I will work very hard to pass it.

I was asked about the immigration issue, and I would like to speakbriefly about that. I gave a more extended statement today, to theNationalAssembly of El Salvador, but I will briefly say what I said there.

I think it's important for every country to enforce its immigration lawsand try to protect its borders. We have very generous legal immigrationlaws,and we have many, many immigrants from Central America making a majorcontribution, positive contribution to the United States.

On the other hand, most of the illegal immigrants from Guatemalaandother Central American countries are not law-breakers by nature; they'repeoplewho are seeking a better life. It's hard to leave your family and yourhome,and take the risks inherent in coming to a strange land without theapproval ofthe law. And people do it because they want a better opportunity forthemselvesand their families.

I think there are two things that should be noted as we do try toenforce our immigration laws. The first is that we have to be sensitiveand actwith justice and understand the impact of recent events. The second isthat thepresent American law is completely unfair in that it treats different --peoplefrom different countries in Central America differently. And it is avestige ofour, sort of, kind of our Cold War mentality, and how we were involvedhere.

I can do two things about that. The first is to try to change thelaw.And we will aggressively work to try to change the law to get parity, equaltreatment for all people from Central America without regard to thepoliticalpast, and whether the difficulties of the past were seen as coming from theright or the left. I think that's irrelevant. We should treat allcountriesthe same.

The second is to use, to the maximum extent possible, whateverflexibility I have under present law to achieve the same goal. I will dothat.But in the end, the problem cannot be fixed -- the immigration problemcannot becompletely fixed until there is a change in the law so that all countrieswouldbe treated the same under the law. And I will actively seek that thisyear.

Anyway, I think that responds to the questions that were asked ofme.If I were to ask a question -- if I could ask one question, I would like to saythat -- one of you said that we needed a dignification program, withprioritygiven to the widows and orphans. And I would like to know whether you havespecific suggestions over and above the programs I have already mentionedforwhat the United States could do to be helpful to deal with the large number oforphan children and widows you have -- what else could we do, what specificsuggestions do you have for me over and above what has been mentioned?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think it is in the nature of such meetingsthatyou only scratch the surface of what needs to be done and what thepossibilitiesare. I will say again, I intend to go back home and do my best to pass the aidpackage, to pass the trade parity bill, and to get improvements in theimmigration difficulties. Within the aid package, we will be able tosupporteducation initiatives, and economic power initiatives like the Women'sCreditProgram, that President Arzu mentioned.

I think it is important that, after I leave Central America, theUnitedStates develop with every country the most specific possible plan for whatit isyou want to achieve that we can help you achieve -- whether it is indealingwith the specific problems of the widows and orphans; the need for theeducationof the children; the need for the economic empowerment of women; the needforgreater efforts with indigenous groups; the need to go further in thesearch forhuman rights, the rule of law; how to come to terms with the issues related inthe commission report.

And I guess what I would like to leave you with is my commitmentthat Iam willing to continue to push, Mr. President, to have these sorts ofspecificcommitments on the part of the United States so we know we have a good road mapfor where we're going into the future, and you know what you can expect ofourpartnership. And, of course, tomorrow, we'll have a greater chance to talkabout what we can do regionally when you get all the Presidents together.

I would like to just leave you with this one thought. For all ofyourterrible suffering and the continuing difficulties you face, please do notunderestimate how far you have come and what you have done. It is myresponsibility as President of the United States to travel the world todealwith all of these problems that I see cropping up in other places.You know this, but I would like to just say, the last few years havebrought afloodtide of changes in the way people work and live, and in the politicalandsocial and economic relationships of people -- the end of the Cold War, thegrowth of the global markets, the explosion in information technology -- it haschanged everything. And all over the world, people are searching for a newbalance.

Most of these changes are good, but there are -- not all of themaregood. And they all present people everywhere with dilemmas. There is thequestion of integration versus disintegration. And I'll give you -- youhave itin Guatemala. You want -- how do you balance the need for the nation to besovereign with the legitimate rights of individuals and groups? How do youbalance the need for the nation to be sovereign with the need to havegreatercooperation with other countries? How do you balance the need to developyoureconomy with the imperative of preserving your natural resources? How doyoubalance the need for security and order with the imperative of individualrightsto privacy and liberty, and the rule of law, for both commercial and humanreasons?

All of these challenges you face are being faced by other peopleelsewhere. In South Africa, for example, to go back to what many of youtalkedabout, they had this Truth andReconciliation Commission, which perhaps went a little further than yourreport.And I thought that they -- we think they're making real progress there.

But in the last week four different political leaders have beenkilled.In Central Africa, where there was tribal slaughter in Rwanda and Burundi,I metwith indigenous peoples. I met a woman whose husband and six children were allkilled, and she woke up and for some miracle reason she didn't die from thewounds she sustained. And she, like the woman here, is devoting her lifetothis reconciliation. And I thought we were making progress. And just last weekthe majority tribe killed a bunch of Americans and other people.

So I say, as awful as this is for you, and as frustrating as it is, itis astonishing how much has been done in Guatemala and in the othercountries ofCentral America, and the direction you have taken. For all the economicfrustrations you face, you're doing better than many much larger countriesinAsia and in Latin America, because you've shown greater discipline andinnovation.

So I urge you to not get discouraged and I urge you to -- I havetriedvery hard to change the historic relationship between the United States andCentral America, to be a genuine partner and to think about the future indifferent terms.

And we won't solve all the problems today or tomorrow, but I thinkwehave to say we are on a different track, we have turned a real corner. And Icame here as much as anything else just to express my respect for you andto askyou not to get too discouraged. You think about Europe as being a veryrichcontinent, but look at these problems we're having in Kosovo and Bosniawherethey haven't been able to, in Kosovo, do what you have decided to do. Theystill think they can shoot their way out of their difficulties. And we'rehoping and praying they will take a different decision in the next fewdays.

So I thank you for talking to me, and, before me, to my wife whenshecame here, and for all the work you are doing. But I just want you to know thatI am committed to changing our relationship over the long run in all theseareaswe have mentioned. And I will do my best to make sure that we have thekind ofpartnership that will make both our countries stronger and address thespecificconcerns you have outlined today.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)


Office of the Press Secretary

Office of the Press Secretary

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