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Press Conference with Secretary Rumsfeld and Honorable Oscar Berger Perdomo, President of Guatemala

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld; Honorable Oscar Berger Perdomo, President of Guatemala
March 25, 2005
BERGER:  -- a very pleasant and open meeting where we have addressed the topics that were, most of you were already familiar with.  Our concern over the effort undertaken to modernize and downsize our army and the need to make it professional, the need to implement the necessary equipment in order to have a modern, streamlined army.  Also mentioned was the participation of our army in protecting our citizens to come to humanitarian, provide humanitarian help in the case of [inaudible] activity and of course cooperate in security issues of [inaudible] very important.  To fight our drug trafficking, terrorism and organized crime. 

 

            We addressed the very specific topics of a common meeting, a summit meeting among the presidents of Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala is coming in the month of April with a very important personality from the United States to address the issue of gangs. We'd like to see an additional effort on the part of the U.S. government [inaudible] the deportation of young people who have committed crimes in the U.S. have come to add a huge burden to our prison population and that there are also many who are in need of rehabilitation in prison, particularly because many times they are left to go free in Guatemala, and have further complicated our problems of security.  We have talked about the drug trafficking a few days ago.  We have seized a significant amount of cocaine.  There are [inaudible] gang leaders have been used by as leaders by drug traffickers, including violent factions that are very dangerous where they are fighting over their territory, over their various networks, or over the collection money [inaudible] to drugs. 

 

            Secretary Rumsfeld visit is very important because Secretary Rumsfeld comes to countries where he has seen changes taking place and topics such as the modernization of an army, which is the case in Guatemala, and we interpret Secretary Rumsfeld’s visit as a recognition on the part of the United States for our [inaudible], evidently. With Secretary Rumsfeld, we have shared our weaknesses, our need and our interest that we share which is control of terrorism, control of drug trafficking and of organized crime.

 

            Secretary Rumsfeld has with satisfaction seen the efforts done in Central America -- the bi-national forces between Guatemala and El Salvador are an important step forward.  We have stated how only by working together will we be able to move forward and achieve some success.

 

            So, I wish to publicly thank Secretary Rumsfeld for his visit, for his kindness, and for his support here that will be helpful in our achieving our goals.

 

            So welcome, Secretary Rumsfeld.  I hope that you will enjoy our Guatemala.  I invite you to know us better and I hope that you will be able to enjoy our Mayan archeology and on your next visit I will be very happy if you could visit our highlands and you can see our multi-lingual and diverse and colorful culture.  And I hope that you can spend some very happy days in Guatemala and get a respite from the huge province very courageously [inaudible] throughout the world.  Welcome to Guatemala, Secretary Rumsfeld.

 

            RUMSFELD:  Thank you so much, Mr. President and Ministers.  It's certainly a pleasure to be here with you and to enjoy your hospitality.  I thank you and I thank the people of Guatemala.  I have been here previously as a tourist.  This is my first visit as Secretary of Defense. 

 

            I certainly agree with your characterization of our meetings.  We had good discussions and I complimented the President and commended him on his vision for Guatemala and his commitment to ensuring that all Guatemalans enjoy the benefits of democracy, of economic opportunity, and of the underpinning of security, which makes democracy and economic opportunity possible.

 

            I've been impressed by the reforms that have been undertaken here in the armed forces.  I know it's a difficult thing to do but it's been done with professionalism, and with transparency.  Transforming armed forces is a daunting task, and you have handled it well and I congratulate you for that.

 

            I believe it was Abraham Lincoln who once said that trying to transform the Army of the United States was like trying to empty the Potomac River with a teaspoon.  [Laughter].  It isn't easy.

 

            I should add that I'm very pleased that the United States has been able to release the $3.2 million of military assistance funds.  Certainly the reforms underway along with closer integration of the countries of Central America will help to strengthen Guatemala's place and Central America's place in the international community.  The participation of some forces from Guatemala in Haiti is deeply appreciated by the United States and by the people of the United States and certainly by the people of the hemisphere.  It's important that we have a stable hemisphere and we congratulate you on that role.  Certainly the people of Guatemala can be proud of that contribution.

 

            It's hard to suggest that you can anticipate what history will look back and say about a certain moment, but my impression is that this is a magic moment for Central America.  That the countries of this region are all working together in a constructive way and leaning forward in support of democracy, in support of economic opportunity and recognize that cooperation with respect to security is central to their success in that regard.

 

            So I wish you well, Mr. President in that effort.  I know that you and your colleagues here and in Central America are all taking the kinds of steps that can prove to -- five, ten years from now when we look back -- to say this in fact was a magic moment and the leadership here took advantage of it.

 

            The growing cooperation unquestionably will contribute to an increase in regional security.  This morning we talked a bit about, as the President said, the problems of gangs and drug trafficking, of hostage taking, of terrorism and the interaction among those that has been cited at various ministerial meetings in this hemisphere and elsewhere around the world.  The criminals recognize no borders.  Indeed they take advantage of borders as they seek to destabilize civil society.  And they can only be effectively combatted by cooperation among nations.  Very close cooperation.  And it's critically important for free people that we be successful in that effort to combat them, and I believe we will.

 

            Mr. President, I thank you so much for your hospitality and for your leadership.  Thank you, sir.

 

            BERGER:  Thank you.

 

            QUESTION:  Mr. President, Charlie Aldinger, Reuters,

 

            You mentioned many things -- improving the military.  You mentioned humanitarian aid.  You mentioned drug trafficking and gangs.  But neither you nor the Secretary used the words human rights.

 

            Now that the $3.2 million in aid, the ban has been lifted, did you assure the Secretary today that this government is moving to end decades of human rights abuses in Guatemala in which thousands of people have died?  And Mr. Secretary, will you monitor that closely to make sure it's done?

 

            BERGER:  Yes, we have had a lengthy conversation about the respect for human rights in Guatemala at this time and the shadow that has plagued our army.  We have a transparent army. Do you speak Spanish?

 

All right, because it's very important that you understand what I'm saying.  [Inaudible] a downsized army, an army that doesn’t want any bullets or any weapons, but an army that wants equipment in order to move about. An army that wishes to be more professional, that participates in peacekeeping activities in Haiti and in the Congo.  This is a 360-degree change from what was our army was formerly.  But they are [inaudible] topic of the 780 million that today our army spends, compared with the more than two billion that it used to spend without any controls. Today, they are closely monitored with wisdom and control and transparency is one of the major virtues of this modern army that we now have in Guatemala.

 

            RUMSFELD:  The Secretary of State monitors those things, as you know.  In our discussions this morning it was pointed out that the decision with respect to the funds was a result of a good deal of discussion not just in the executive branch, but in the Congress, among both parties.  And when I talk of democracy and people's opportunity to freely express themselves and to freely participate in guiding and directing their country, it is rooted in the natural rights of man.  And so you say human rights weren’t mentioned; it certainly was encompassed in what we both said.

 

            Are you sure your Spanish was good enough to understand the President?  (Laughter)  You looked a little confused.

 

            QUESTION:  [inaudible]. Are you going to monitor the situation?

 

            RUMSFELD:  As I said, The Department of State has the responsibility to monitor it as I understand it, but certainly, technically, but the United States will obviously comply with our laws and certainly support the goals that the President has so eloquently set forth.

 

            QUESTION:  Martin Rodriguez, La Prensa Libre, a newspaper in Guatemala.

 

            For Secretary Rumsfeld, sir, in looking at the security problems in Guatemala, the problems of combating drug trafficking have you thought about increasing U.S. military presence in our country be it through troops or our bases, [inaudible]?  Or how will you increase your presence, if you will?

 

            RUMSFELD:  No. We have no intentions or plans to put military activities in this part of the region.

 

            BERGER:  [Inaudible]…a broad plan, which was approved in January operation where there is a joint effort, but at this time we have not requested that the American personnel be increased.  We will not have military bases as the paper that you represent has indicated.  You know we will not have military bases in the Pacific or the Atlantic [inaudible] when we deem it advisable.  We have legal foundations to act and a developed strategy to fight organized crime.  It may be the case that the number of military personnel might be increased, but not to form a military base here.

 

            QUESTION:  Laura Bonilla from AFP.

 

            [Inaudible] but I want to take other concrete steps to fight against gangs especially --

 

            RUMSFELD:  Against what?

 

            QUESTION:  Against gangs in the region, and then especially to prevent potential terrorists from benefiting from the network of these gangs to traffic illegal immigrants to the U.S..

 

            BERGER: Do you understand Spanish?  Okay. 

 

RUMSFELD:  Better than Charlie.  [Laughter].

 

            BERGER:  We found dismantled security forces with no morale, without equipment, infiltrated by organized crime, with corruption levels that were unprecedented [inaudible] with our security forces and we are developing the strategy for huge effort that we will undertake to [inaudible] the groups that belong to drug trafficking and organized crime. When we find the strategy, it will be important that we have the support of DEA and a larger number of personnel to make it up, in order to be successful in our attacking [inaudible].  In addition to the cooperation of all Central American countries making sure that arrest warrants will be enforced in any one of the countries of the Central American region.  Migration controls, [inaudible] have been seen to gather the necessary information and intelligence to be able to know who belongs to what gangs and how to control them.

 

            So there is a very clear effort that has been proven through the bi-national force between El Salvador and Guatemala. Security forces in Guatemala can go and make arrests in El Salvador and the same is true of El Salvador – the Salvadoran security forces can come through Guatemala to make arrests.  Here, this is an historical event and this is a message that is being sent to criminal organizations which is very clear, that we are making a huge effort to combat them and to eradicate them from our region.

 

            QUESTION:  [inaudible]. 

 

            Good morning, Secretary Rumsfeld.  Have you identified whether Guatemala [inaudible]?  [Inaudible] whether you are going to use a report for Congress and/or are you going to recommend that the prohibitions against our country be lifted?

 

            RUMSFELD:  I will leave it to the President to comment on the circumstances that exist in Guatemala.  But there is no question but that in parts of the world including in parts of this hemisphere that we have found links between people who are engaged in drug trafficking, people who are engaged in weapon trafficking, people who are engaged in terrorism, people who are engaged in hostage taking.  And this array of anti-social behavior, a portion of which is lucrative, it ought not to be surprising that those linkages do exist.  But with respect to Guatemala, the President's the expert, not I.

 

            QUESTION:  My other question is whether the United States is going to recommend formulation of military aid to Guatemala. There is in Congress a prohibition by the United States.  Are you going to submit a report and a recommendation to Congress to lift that prohibition?

 

            BERGER:  [inaudible] the undertaking [inaudible].  Secretary Rumsfeld has said that [inaudible].  [Inaudible] the Guatemala army is giving the support [inaudible].  [Inaudible] very hopeful message that this will be okay [inaudible] soon.  The U.S. Congress will [inaudible] to the Guatemalan [inaudible]. 

 

            BERGER:  I [inaudible] on that.  [Laughter].

 

            RUMSFELD:  Actually, the reason I was hesitant, besides the fact that it's my nature to be hesitant, was because the matter you're discussing is for the most part handled by the United States Department of State with the Congress as opposed to the Department of Defense.  And since we have our distinguished Ambassador here, I immediately looked down to see if he was nodding up and down or this way.  [Laughter].  He was nodding this way.  So…[Laughter].

 

            QUESTION:  John Hendren, Los Angeles Times.

 

            Mr. Secretary, news reports indicate that a popular uprising in Kyrgyzstan has caused the President to flee the country.  There are U.S. forces there, as you know.  How does that affect the status of U.S. forces in that region which is close to Afghanistan and the war there?

 

            RUMSFELD:  I have been following the reports both in the press and in the intelligence reports and the intelligence reports do not verify what you cited from press reports.

 

            I am confident there will be no issue with respect to U.S. forces.

 

            QUESTION:  [inaudible] from AP.

 

            For Secretary Rumsfeld, Mr. Secretary, I would like to ask you please if your visit to Latin America is somehow related to recent approach by China in looking for diplomatic support in trade.  Do you see that as something that ought to respond to?  And my other question is whether when you resume military aid to Guatemala [inaudible]will you also resume the important investigations regarding corruption in the army. More than 100 million dollars disappeared from the military are when transferred during previous administrations and those investigations have produced no results to this date.

 

            RUMSFELD:  You say my trip to South America and to this hemisphere, is it related to China? I have been coming here as a tourist, a businessman and now as a government official for forty years.  Even before Richard Nixon made his famous visit to China and opened up China to the world.  So no.  I'm here because we all are part of this hemisphere and it's important.  China is active in this hemisphere, as it is in other parts of the world and is increasingly engaged in trade and various other economic activities.  We trade with the People's Republic of China.  Our country, of course, is concerned about weapons trades to the Peoples Republic of China and has been, the President and Secretary of State have both been working with the European Union to encourage them to not lift the arms embargo on the Peoples Republic of China that was imposed some years back immediately after Tiananmen Square.  But I think that peaceful commerce in the world is a good thing.

 

            With respect to corruption, it seems to me that the President and I have talked about the problem of corruption in the world.  It is something that can strike at the very heart of democratic systems.  And it is something that everyone in any country has to be attentive to and vigilant with respect to it.

 

            BERGER:  I agree with you.  That’s right. Thank you very much.  That’s the end of the press conference.

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