Photo Op with Columbian President Andres Pastrana
The Oval Office
The White House
April 18, 2002
9:50 A.M. EDT
PRESIDENT BUSH: Before the President and I will answer a couple of questions
from both the U.S. side and the Colombian side, I do want to welcome my friend,
Andres Pastrana, back to the White House.
President Pastrana is a -- has taken on a huge task in his country. One is to
defend democracy and the institutions of democracy, and he's done a great job
at that. Secondly, is to fight -- is to fight narco trafficking. He has led
a valiant effort at eradicating coca fields, standing strong against the narco
traffickers. And, as well, he fights terrorism in his country. He fights well-organized,
well-funded groups that are out to destroy democracy in Colombia. And he has
been strong in his support for democracy not only in his own country, but in
We had a good discussion about a variety of issues about how to change the focus
of our strategy from counter-narcotics to include counter-terrorism. I explained
to him that a supplemental I sent up to the United States Congress would do
just that. As well, we talked about the need to get the Andean trade preference
act passed out of United States Senate, to reconcile if there's any differences
with the House of Representatives and to my desk as quickly as possible.
I am a strong supporter of trade with the Andean -- with our Andean friends.
The President knows firsthand how important that trade is, not only for commercial
reasons, but also as a way to help fight against narco trafficking, provide
opportunities for people in his country.
This is a good friend and it's my honor to welcome him back to the White House.
PRESIDENT PASTRANA: Thank you very much, President Bush. Once again, thank you
for having us here in the Oval Office. I think you've said everything.
The only thing that I wanted to say, first of all, thank you for your help,
for your leadership in helping Colombia and helping the world. At the end, we
are fighting a common enemy that is narco trafficking and narco terrorism. We
have full support of President Bush and the government, first in trying to,
as you said, Mr. President, in change of authorities the use of the military
equipment sent by the United States to Colombia to be used against also narco
terrorism, not only against narco trafficking.
Secondly, as you said, you have been a big supporter of ATPA, the Andean preference
act is fundamental for us. It's commerce. As we said, we don't want aid, we
want commerce. And that's what we need in Colombia also as one of the big components
of the social side of Plan Colombia, that is social investment and social investment
is jobs, better jobs and well-paid jobs.
So I think that with the help of the government, but the most important, with
the help of the U.S. Congress we will have ATPA before the end of May, and that's
going to be fundamental to continue our fight on drugs.
So thank you very much, Mr. President, for all your help.
PRESIDENT BUSH: De la AP, Senor Fournier.
QUESTION: I think that's you, Ron. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Mr. President, if I could ask you about another Latin American issue. Your
administration was slow to condemn the Venezuelan coup. How does that square
with your war on terrorism rhetoric, that America will always stand up for democratic
PRESIDENT BUSH: My administration was very clear when there were troubles on
the streets in Venezuela, that we support democracy and did not support any
extraconstitutional action. My administration spoke with a very clear voice
about our strong support of democracy.
It is very important for President Chavez to do what he said he was going to
do, to address the reasons why there was so much turmoil on the streets. And
it's very important for him to embrace those institutions which are fundamental
to democracy, including freedom of press, and freedom for the ability for the
opposition to speak out.
And if there are lessons to be learned, it's important that he learn them.
Mr. President, do you have a comment on that?
PRESIDENT PASTRANA: Yes. First of all, I think there's no doubt in Latin America
of the support and promotion of President Bush on democracy in the region. I
think that's something that nobody could put in doubt of your support in promotion
of democracy in the whole region.
As you said, what we're expecting is that President Chavez said in his speech
that he's going to be a -- try to look for a reconciliation inside Venezuela,
that he is going to correct many mistakes. And we hope that what he's going
to correct is toward strengthening democracy; respect, as you said Mr. President,
civil laws; give guarantees to the opposition; the freedom of the press; respect
of human rights. And that's what all Latin America are supporting and what we
want in the case of President Chavez.
In our case, for example, I think one of the mistakes was regarding the presence
of the guerilla groups in Venezuela. Yesterday, unfortunately, Mr. President,
the media, national and international, we had information that Mexico closed
the office of the narco terrorist group in Mexico. And the first information
is that they could be in Venezuela.
So that's why today, Mr. President, I'm sending a letter through my Minister
of Foreign Affairs to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Venezuela, asking if
there is the FARC, these members of the FARC are present in Venezuela or not;
that we need that information. We approved a very clear resolution in the Group
Rio meeting in Costa Rica last week, supporting what you promote in the Security
Council, ban any presence of terrorists in any countries. And that's what we
want to do in Latin America.
QUESTION: Mr. President, how do you respond to the reaction of Canada and Mexico to
participate with troops in the Northern Command that was announced yesterday
by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld? Do you think Mexico and Canada will in the
future participate with troops in the Northern Command?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, I think that the restructuring of our command structure
really represents that we're in a new world and that we face new threats. Our
relationship with Canada and Mexico will not change as a result of restructuring.
It's a better way for us to organize against an enemy that is wiling to strike
at America and our neighborhood. And that's what this reflects. It reflects
the ability to coordinate a possible response against an enemy that's fearless.
And these are killers. They're cold-blooded killers. And they've hit us before,
and they want to hit us again. And so the unified command structure now is going
to reflect the true threats that we face.
We used to not face these threats in the past. We thought two oceans would keep
us safe. We thought, there's no way that an enemy could possibly strike America
again after Pearl Harbor. And were we wrong. We were really wrong.
And so that --
QUESTION: Mr. President --
PRESIDENT BUSH: Excuse me for a second, please. And so therefore, it is very
important for us to make sure that we prepare our military, as well as our respective
homeland securities, against attack. So not only are we looking at how -- for
a new command structure for military, we're also working very closely with Canada,
e tambien Mexico -- on making sure that our border is more secure, on making
sure that we've got better intelligence sharing, on making sure that cooperation
at all levels is as good as it can possibly be.
And it is as good as it can possibly be. I'm real pleased with the efforts we're
making with our neighbors.
QUESTION: Mr. President, do you believe, as President Pastrana said, that Colombian
guerrillas are operating from Venezuelan territory? Is there anything that the
United States can do to help him fight that?
And you mentioned freedom of the press when you were talking about things President
Chavez should do. What other specific things do you think he should do following
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, first, the reason I mentioned freedom of the press is
because when things got hot in Venezuela, he shut the press down. I want you
all -- I've never thought about doing that, no matter how, what kind of questions
these guys ask here. (Laughter.)
Mr. President, I've always believed in a free press. I don't care how tough
the questions are -- or, as significantly, how they editorialize in their news
stories. But nevertheless -- because I respect the press, and so should President
Chavez. It's essential he do that.
And so there's a good example of what I'm talking about. When the pressure gets
on, leaders should not compromise those institutions that are so important for
democracy. The right for opponents to speak out is essential. There is -- one
of the things that is essential is that people be given the liberty of expressing
their opinion without fear of reprisal.
The first part of your question was whether or not FARC is utilizing Venezuela
to strike our friend. I'll let our friend speak to that. He's a man who has
to live with this problem. We discussed this very issue. I am -- and by the
way, it's not just FARC basing in Venezuela to strike Colombia, it's as well
FARC striking Venezuelan ranchers that aren't protected by the Venezuelan government.
But why don't you speak to that, Mr. President?
PRESIDENT PASTRANA: Thank you, Mr. President. I think that, as you remember
some weeks ago, there was -- announced that FARC was using the Venezuelan territory
to attack the Colombian militaries. And these were, as you remember, two or
three days before all the crises in Venezuela. The chief commander of the army,
General Vasquez, personally said to President Chavez that FARC was using Venezuelan
territory to attack Colombia.
So that's why we had a meeting last week, the 10th of April, between the Foreign
Minister of Colombia and the Foreign Minister of Venezuela, because we are asking
questions and we want answers of what was happening. And we proposed the creation
of a bi-national commission between Colombia and Venezuela to study all these
reports that were putting on the press and on the media by journalists of Colombia
and Venezuela, of the presence of the FARC on Venezuelan territory.
That's why we sent the letter yesterday asking the Venezuelan government if
it's true that members of the FARC that were turned away from Mexico -- the
office of the FARC was closed in Mexico -- we were asking, and we want answers,
if these guys are or not in Venezuela. That's what we're expecting of the answer
of the Foreign Minister of Venezuela.
QUESTION: Mr. President, what will be your message, then, for countries -- in this case,
Venezuela, or other countries -- that might open their doors to so-called terrorists?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, we've spent a lot of time talking about -- these aren't
"so-called" terrorists, these are terrorists, in Colombia. And the
reason they're terrorists is because they're using murder to try to achieve
political ends. They tried to blow up the recent -- recently tried to blow up
the man running for President. They've captured people. They're after Andres.
And so my message is that we will work with you to rout out terror. We've put
FARC, AUC, on our terrorist list. We've called them for what they are. These
are killers, who use killing and intimidation to foster political means. And
we want to join, with Plan Colombia's billions of dollars, to not only fight
the -- and by fighting narco trafficking, by the way, we're fighting the funding
source for these political terrorists. And sometimes they're interchangeable.
And we've got to be strong in the fight against terror. And the United States
-- listen, my biggest job now is to defend our security, and to help our friends
defend their security, against terror. That's what I spend a lot of my time
doing. And each area of the world requires a different response -- that in some
parts of the world, we'll do it militarily; in some parts of the world, we'll
help our friends to deal militarily; in some parts of the world, perhaps, we
can rout out terror through just simply cutting off money; in other parts of
the world, diplomacy seems to have an effect. We're working with our friends
in Europe to use their law enforcement officials to arrest known al Qaeda killers
hiding in their country, or plotters.
We've been at this now for seven months. Colombia has been at this for a lot
longer period of time. And we're beginning to make a lot of progress. They key
to success is not to grow tired in the fight against terror. And I can assure
you I won't. I know this good President is dedicated to fighting terror.
And it's essential for Colombia to succeed in this war against terror in order
for her people to realize the vast potential of a great, democratic country.
Colombia is an essential part of a peaceful South America. Colombia has got
a fantastic tradition, a noble tradition of democracy. It's led the way. And
I'm confident that with the right leadership and the right help from America,
the kind of leadership Andres is providing now, that Colombia can succeed. And
it's in everybody's interests that she does succeed.