Fernando Cepeda, Columbia’s Ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS)
Paulo Sotero, Washington Correspondent, O Estado de Sao Paulo
Carlos Portales, Chile’s Ambassador to the OAS
This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.
MARY GRAY DAVIDSON: This is Common Ground, a program on world affairs and the
people who shape events. 1997 marked the first time during his presidency that Bill Clinton
visited Latin America. What do our neighbors to the South think of U.S. relations with the
rest of the Hemisphere.
PAULO SOTERO: I think that there is always an expectation in the United States that
whatever good was achieved in Latin America was, to a certain extent, the United States has
to take credit of it. The United States doesn’t need to take credit of it.
DAVIDSON: Common Ground is produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Mary Gray Davidson.
President Clinton did a sort of diplomatic catch-up this past Fall when he traveled to Latin
America for the first time. At a Stanley Foundation Conference about hemispheric relations
shortly after the President’s trip, I asked several South Americans their reaction to the
President’s visit and whether South America had been feeling neglected by the United States.
Carlos Portales is Chile’s Ambassador to the Organization of American States.
CARLOS PORTALES: Well, I think we have to look at the situation in positive terms.
President Clinton is going to South America now and will be going in April to Santiago to the
summit. This visit to Venezuela, Brazil, and Argentina leads to the meeting in Santiago. I
want also to highlight the important that President Clinton and President Cartofo?? gave
education. I think that’s a very important issue in the development of the Americas and
development of Latin America. It’s a very important issue in my country in Chile. We think
that improving education, improving the quality of education, is very important for democracy,
for empowering citizenship. It’s very important for competition in the global world. And
it’s very important, perhaps the most important way, to have social improvement in our
citizenship. Therefore I think the issues that President Clinton has touched in the visit
and the fact that he was in Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina is a very positive one.
DAVIDSON: My other two guests today, who I asked for reaction, are Fernando Cepeda,
Columbia’s Ambassador to the OAS, and Paulo Sotero, Washington correspondent for one of
Brazil’s leading newspapers, O Estado de Sao Paulo. Major changes have been sweeping
through South America in recent years and I asked Paulo Sotero to comment on those changes
from a journalist’s perspective.
PAULO SOTERO: There is much to celebrate, although there is a problem of perception, I
think. A lot of things that we in Brazil celebrate in democracy, were things that we did.
That we democratized the country, are very proud of what we did in Brazil. And I think that
there is always an expectation in the United States that whatever good was achieved in Latin
America was, to a certain extent, the United States has to take credit of it. The United
States doesn’t need to take credit of it. What has happened is positive in Latin America, is
happening, is the affirmation of the values of democracy, the values of human rights. They
are the values that make the United States the nation that it is. So it’s positive in that
sense. I covered the visit for my paper. I was in the White House press plane all the way
around. President Clinton was warmly received by all the governments. He arrived in Brazil
into a very negative atmosphere that was artificially created in part, but also helped by
some bad steps by government. People on both sides. And he turned that around. I think he
had a very meaningful discussion with President Cardozo as he, after he came back we heard
that he told his staff that he would like to have had more time for private discussion,
informal discussions with the President. In the press conference that President Cardozo and
President Clinton gave at Palacio d’ Overado??, the President’s residence in Brasilia, it was
clear that they clicked on some very important issues that affect the future of the continent.
And I think the President was also very well received in a poor neighborhood in Rio, Mangeda??,
that is very important symbolically for Brazil, culturally for Brazil. So, you know, this
trip opened the possibility of a new type of dialogue. There is obviously the summit in
April that hopefully will keep President Clinton focused on Latin America. And I think the
room, there is room here for positive developments. Let’s see what happens.
DAVIDSON: Ambassador’s Portales and Cepeda, do you share the view that this was a
successful visit by the President?
FERNANDO CEPEDA: Yes I think so. I think it was successful. I think he was well
received in the three countries he visited. I think that there is morally the conviction
that there were frank and open conversations. That the different authorities in different
countries had the opportunity to convey to him concerns that are shared by most of the Latin
American countries. So I think we believe it was a successful visit, yes.
DAVIDSON: And Ambassador Portales?
PORTALES: Well I think it’s very important to stress that there was a conversation
among democratic presidents; the visit of President Clinton to Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina,
all countries with democratically elected presidents. That’s very important. The speak for
their ?? with whole legitimacy. And that’s a new aspect in the region. That reflects the
shared values among the countries of the Americas. I think there were also discussions on
trade. I think that’s very important that the President has reaffirmed the necessity to
launch the Association in the Santiago summit. And I think that’s a challenge for U.S.
Congress in terms of giving the President the authority to start those negotiations with full
capacity. I think that’s a very important element because the prospect of a Free Trade of the
Americas seems very positive in the region and we need to move ahead soon.
DAVIDSON: Paulo Sotero, part of President Clinton’s mission to South America was to
promote the Free Trade of the Americas plan. How is that proposal going over in Brazil?
SOTERO: Not very well I would say, to be quite frank. Brazil has a position that is
sort of driven by skepticism towards this whole idea. Brazil will probably resist any attempt
to have sorts of interim agreements, etc., that would predetermine the shape of this
arrangement. I think Brazil would prefer to have, to follow the route of the multilateral
negotiations at the World Trade Organization. Some of them will produce, or should produce
results before the FTAA. The reasons of skepticism of Brazil are in part based on some
weaknesses that we have. For instance we, for political reason, because we are a democracy,
we have, we had problems concluding or making more progress on the reform front. We still
have some fundamental reforms to make.
DAVIDSON: Economic reforms?
SOTERO: Economic reforms. Basic to get rid of the fiscal budget for good. That would
give us, that would assure us of our new-gained economic stability. That will probably, would
certainly make us more self-confident. There is no doubt about, self-confident in opening
more. The government in Brazil, President Cardozo, knows very well that we need to open more.
We need to keep opening the economy to get, to become more competitive. The doubt is if FTAA
is the model. If this pressure to open that creates, created by FTAA, may be
counterproductive. One of the effects the FTAA process has in Brazil was to give the
protectionists in the country a sort of political banner to rally around and to start making
moves to liberalization even more difficult to President Cardozo.
DAVIDSON: I know one of the concerns of many workers in the United States, and this
has been a concern since the North America Free Trade Agreement was negotiated with Mexico
and Canada, is that they will lose jobs. Do workers in Brazil and in other parts of South
America share that concern?
SOTERO: I believe they do. I think that if you ask workers in Brazil about labor
standards they would give you one answer. If you ask the government they would give you
another answer. The official answer is that those things have to be dealt at the International
Labor Organization in Geneva. If you talk to the labor movement I think you would feel
people sympathetic to some of the ideas conveyed by the labor unions here. Yes, there is
though, the fear that if you open there, and if you open too fast, given our relatively lower
competitiveness capacity, that many jobs would be lost in Brazil. There is this fear.
DAVIDSON: Ambassador Cepeda, what does Columbia have to gain from this Free Trade of
the Americas plan?
CEPEDA: Well, I think that trade is the substantial issue in our days. Because trade
has to do with quality of life. Trade has to do with creation of jobs. Trade has to do with
quality of education. So, for us the more we do in order to improve the capacity of our
countries to do trade, to sell goods and to buy goods—`cause you see it has to be a two-way
business—I think the more we improve the welfare of common people. I think it’s going to be
very important to change the way we approach statistics in the continent. And perhaps in the
world. At some moment we have to know how many jobs we are creating here in the U.S. And
how many jobs the U.S. is creating in Latin America. Each time we buy U.S. products we are
creating jobs in the U.S. Each time you drink coffee you are creating jobs in Columbia, for
example. But, the problem is, how many jobs? What kind of remuneration people who do those
jobs are receiving? How is the balance between the different jobs that are being created, in
terms of remuneration, quality of life, and all that? I think that in the near future this is
the kind of discussion that we will have to make.
DAVIDSON: We’ll pause here for a short break. You’re listening to Common Ground,
a service of the Stanley Foundation. My three guests today were participants at a recent
Stanley Foundation conference about multi-lateral cooperation in the Americas. They are Paulo
Sotero, Washington Correspondent for the Brazilian newspaper, O Estado de Sao Paulo;
Fernando Cepeda, Columbia’s Ambassador to the Organization of American States; and Carlos
Portales, Chile’s Ambassador to the OAS. the Stanley Foundation is a non-profit, non-partisan
organization that conducts a wide range of programs meant to provoke thought and encourage
dialogue on world affairs. Printed transcripts and audio cassettes are available of this
Common Ground program. There is also a report available from that conference on
hemispheric relations. At the end of the broadcast, I’ll give you details on how you can
DAVIDSON: As a result of widespread democratization and economic stability in Latin
America, President Clinton has been able to focus on other issues, such as education and the
environment, in advance of the April Summit of the Americas in Chile. But the U.S. has also
fanned some regional tensions with announcements like the one to make Argentina, which is now
a democracy, but only very recently a fearsome military dictatorship, a non-NATO military ally.
I asked Carlos Portales from neighboring Chile, for the current thinking in his country about
PORTALES: Well, after the explanation given by the U.S. government of the nature of
this title we feel very comfortable that the situation will not change in the sense of
creating a security environment?? in the region. We understand that Argentina has played a
very important role in U.N. peacekeeping missions and that is the reason by the title given
by the United States. And what we think is very important, is to recognize the dramatic
change in strategic relations in South America. The Miraco Sule?? was not only, or not
DAVIDSON: …That’s the trade….
PORTALES: …or not mainly a trade issue at the beginning, but a fundamental change
in the perception of both countries. And Chile joined that perception in time of joining the
Plata Loca?? Treaty, which was the, is the treaty of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons in
Latin America. And have worked close with Argentina and with Brazil You have to understand
that Chile and Argentina were very opposite in strategic terms in the 1980s and now we are
very close. We have regular meetings of our Ministers of Defense, of our armed forces. We
have developed confidence-building measures, so the process of confidence, the process of
sharing common strategic values in South America is the most important process. That category
of major non-NATO ally is not at the heart of the new security situation in South America.
DAVIDSON: Paulo Sotero?
SOTERO: This is a perfect example of lack of, the timing was very bad for some of the
things that Ambassador Portales has just said. And in Brazil, for instance, the official
reaction was silence. Brazil was informed what this was about. Thought that, okay, if the
Argentineans think that they need this and the Argentineans had asked for this, in order for
President Menen to be able to tell to the Argentineans’ military that they didn’t need to
worry with the fact that the United States had reversed that prohibition on advanced weapons
sales, thinking about procurement that Chile had started. The opposition in Brazil took this,
you know, as, this announcement, as one more indication that the United States was trying
somehow to breed division between Latin American countries, especially between Brazil and
Argentina, that have, in the last ten years, overcome decades of suspicion. And have, I would
say, we have a model relationship in terms of, especially in terms of security. We are, we
have renounced the use, for instance, of nuclear weapons. It’s an exemplary agreement, the
agreement on nuclear weapons, that Brazil and the United States—and Argentina—have. And
you know it, I believe this is, I don’t know if it was necessary. I think it was unfortunate.
Now the United States has explained what it means by saying it doesn’t mean much. And then
it was offered to Brazil and Brazil said, “Thanks for nothing. And we don’t, we are not
interested in that. And the reason we are not interested in that”—and this has been stated
by the government—”is that we don’t need any special recognition from the United States to
believe that we are your friends. We have been your friends forever.”
DAVIDSON: Ambassador Cepeda, two big concerns of the United States within this
hemisphere are illegal immigration and drug trafficking. In your opinion what is the best
way to address these issues? Is it bilaterally, multilaterally?
CEPEDA: Well, we are obsessively convinced that only the multilateral approach can be
helpful in solving these difficulties and these problems. I think we have sufficient evidence
that the bilateral approach has not been enough. And the evidence is that the war against
drugs has not been successful. In spite of the many efforts. In spite of the many heroes,
so many people have died fighting. You want to say, in a solitary way, this kind of war,
without the due concentration, the due harmonization of efforts. So think it’s high time to
do the real thing. And the real thing is multilateral cooperation, harmonization of efforts.
More understanding of the difficulties in each country. More trust in the sincerity, in the
fight against drugs, in some places in Latin America. And of the immense, enormous cost that
for many countries this war has had.
DAVIDSON: Ambassador Portales, what is your view on these two issues of concern within
the United States? Immigration and the drug issue?
PORTALES: Well, I think the multilateral approach is useful and it has been shown by
multilateral institutions like the Inter-American Commission on the Abuse of Drugs, IACAD,
which has been very useful in setting, laying out the models for legislation against money
laundering. So all that kind of effective cooperation, effective technical cooperation that
lead to solving the problem. I think the problem is to politicize these kind of issues that
are difficult to tackle, difficult to solve, it will take time. And of course the issue and
the problems are in all the region, North and South, because, if, see, if consumers here,
consumers are in the United States, or in Europe. Well, this should be part of the solution.
And it’s not only a problem of producing, or even of transportation. So I think the
multilateral approach is very, very important in terms of definitely going to solve the
problem of drugs.
DAVIDSON: Paulo Sotero, I saw you nodding agreement through part of Ambassador
SOTERO: Sure. You know, this is a very, the way this has been dealt by the United
States is really tragic because there is a very simple way to stop drug trafficking: stop
using the thing. And the largest, the biggest user of this thing, of the cocaine and heroin
and all this, is here. This is the market. There is a good development in this area, which
is the, I think there was a debate in the Administration and General Barry McCaffrey, the
Drug Czar, I think came out a winner. And he is trying to restart this dialogue in a much
more realistic way. People in the United States forget, and what Ambassador Cepeda just
said, there are hundreds of Colombians that died in this thing. There were judges, there are
journalists, there are policeman, there are military people. They are heroes of this battle.
And they are not recognized as such. They were. And actually I think that what Columbia got,
the treatment that Columbia got, and gets, still gets, from the United States on this issue,
is you know, from the point of view of a Latin American, is absolutely unacceptable.
Especially because the problem of drug trafficking is a problem, as General McCaffrey reminds
people all the time, it’s a problem, it’s a U.S. creation to a large extent.
DAVIDSON: Yes, the demand is definitely there. Just to finish up here, Ambassador
Portales, Chile is hosting the next Summit of the Americas in April. And what has this
series of conferences achieved or been trying to achieve?
PORTALES: Well, since Miami there have been a lot of things done in terms of the
Inter-American agenda. We have been working in protection and promotion of democracy. We
have been working in terms of the drug issue, collectively in the IACAD. We have been
working on the struggle against corruption, the Inter-American Convention on Corruption. The
different countries of the Americas have been preparing the negotiations for the Free Trade
of the Americas, and there has been a very strong work done, which is the basis for the
period of negotiation. There have been a lot of programs launched by the Inter-American
Development Bank in terms of eradication of poverty. And, well, there is many issues that
are moving and the heads of state in Santiago should look at that and should launch new
efforts. And I think education will be one of the main concerns of the summit. And
education is very important in preparation for the next opening of the region in terms of
free trade. It’s very important in terms of stabilization of democracies, giving each
citizen the ability to participate, to fully participate, in the political process. And it’s
very important in terms of eradicating poverty. The only way to have successful policies is
to have educated people and to educate people for the challenges of the 21st century.
DAVIDSON: Paulo Sotero?
SOTERO: Yeah. On the summit process, obviously it’s going to be, a lot of what happens
there and the perception of what happens there, depends obviously on the launching of the
commercial, the trade negotiations. But I believe that even without that, the summit can be
a very positive event in the sense that it can, you know, get a gathering of democratic
nations, reaffirming those values, and having initiatives such as education; that is the most
direct way of income distribution in Latin America. My country needs it desperately. We are
the world champions of soccer and bad income distribution. This is something that this is
an opportunity. I believe that, you know, true democrats can do a lot together if they are
serious about the challenges that we face. We know what the challenges are, and I think the
summit and the fact that it happens in Chile is very positive. Chile is an example of
democracy in this continent, and it has proved it after attitudes?? of some years, but it has
proved it is a great democracy.
DAVIDSON: Ambassador Cepeda, any final thoughts?
CEPEDA: Maybe the importance of the summit is really to build a democratic alliance in
the continent. To fight against poverty, to fight against drugs, to fight in favor of
transparency. In favor of fair practices of trade. And all that. I think if we manage to
create the dynamics for this new alliance, democratic alliance, I think we are in a very good
DAVIDSON: My guests today on Common Ground have been Fernando Cepeda,
Columbia’s Ambassador to the Organization of American States. Also, Carlos Portales, Chile’s
Ambassador to the OAS. And Paulo Sotero, Washington Correspondent for the Brazilian
newspaper, O Estado de Sao Paulo. For Common Ground I’m Mary Gray-Davidson.
Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.
Copyright © Stanley Center for Peace and Security