On-Camera Spanish Press Briefing with Mike Hammer, Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs

MIKE HAMMER: Hello, good afternoon and welcome once again to the State Department.  I am glad that so many of you were able to come back.  You were motivated after the last one, so I hope that we will continue having these Spanish language press conferences, which we at the State Department believe are important for us to be able to communicate in different languages, but especially in Spanish as we can reach quite a wide audience worldwide, in Latin America and in the United States, and even in Europe, in Spain.  So, before we begin, I don’t know if there are any birthdays today.  I know that last time we celebrated Sonia’s, who has come back.  No birthdays today?  Sonia again!  It’s always yours!  OK, OK.  Congratulations.

Perhaps let me share a few comments to begin with, given that this weekend the General Assembly of the OAS has an important meeting in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson, who is in charge of Latin American affairs, will be skillfully representing us alongside Carmen Lomellin, our ambassador at the OAS.  We are going to have a very full schedule, following up on the important work that the OAS does in the region, supporting and strengthening the Democratic Charter.  There are many issues on the table, including issues that are important for our citizens here in the hemisphere.  We want to encourage prosperity and economic opportunities, but there are also issues of food, food security, cyber security, there are issues around citizen security; we are even trying to develop an additional charter regarding social inclusion.  That is an issue that we know is very important and was handled in Cartagena, Colombia as well.  So, you all are very familiar with many of these issues.  We are very much looking forward to this meeting because, on behalf of the United States, we want to work together with the governments of the region to see how we can move forward on these issues that we know are very important to our citizens.

So, with that, I hope we can follow our tradition by addressing global issues, regional issues from Latin America and well, of course, if you want to talk a little bit about soccer, I am up for that too.  In any case…Well of course I went to the match!  My Brazilian friend is asking me, so I have to comment that yes, I went with my son to watch how the Brazilian team beat the United States this week, 4 to 1.  It was a great game.  Yes, that too.  I didn’t hear you.  I didn’t hear much from you.  But no, it was fantastic, and I hope that, well, in the preparations for the World Cup the United States will qualify and that we will have our revenge there in Brasilia, in Rio, in Sao Paolo.  There’s always hope, right?  OK, with that let’s move on to your questions.  Yes, please.

QUESTION: José Díaz from Reforma in Mexico.  I wanted to go directly to the issue that is causing a great deal of concern in Mexico; that is, the attack on the PepsiCo subsidiary called Sabritas, the snack company in Mexico.  I would like for you to tell us about the protocol that the Department of Security, excuse me, that the State Department follows when a multinational American company is attacked in this way, and to know if there has already been contact with other American transnational companies based in Mexico to advise them on any new security measures.

MR. HAMMER: OK, thank you José.  I know that you all also asked my colleague a question on this issue. Clearly it is an issue that is a little bit…, well, that has to be handled with a certain measure of sensitivity in terms of handling it with the company, in this case with Pepsi.  We recommend that you ask them what security measures they are taking.  But here at the State Department, we have a global program through which we offer security support and advice to companies who are working abroad.  And in each country we have our advisors and experts on these issues, and we have frequent meetings with our ambassadors or security experts to assess the security climate in order to assure that our companies and our citizens, obviously, can work and live in peace and take the necessary precautions.  So, I don’t have any specific details for you regarding the attacks against Pepsi.  We know that it is being handled.  Obviously we want to cooperate with the Mexican government on these security issues because we want to encourage a healthy investment climate, a healthy trade climate.  It is always concerning when incidents like this one occur.  And, well, we are always looking to broaden our cooperation on this issue.  So, yes.

QUESTION: But after the incident, have the people from [indiscernible] in Mexico City already contacted other companies to advise them to take a different position on security?

MR. HAMMER: Well, I would have to refer you to our Embassy in Mexico.  We would have to verify if that kind of meeting has already occurred.  There are often, as I have said, in general, when something occurs, any kind of security issue that affects any companies, they themselves can request a meeting with our authorities to get our evaluation of the situation.  I do not know, in fact, if this has occurred at this time.  I would imagine that at the next meeting, because they occur every three months or so, but we can always have a special meeting to handle issues like this.  Because obviously it is something concerning.  We do not know if it is an isolated case or if we are going to witness more attacks like these.  But, well, we will have to see.  Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, Mike, I am [indiscernible] from Mexico.  As you know, we are practically a month away from the presidential elections in Mexico, and within Mexico a student movement known as “Yo también soy 132” (I am also 132) has surfaced.  It is a student movement that has appeared and is growing, and that basically demands more access to the media, as well as transparent and democratic elections.  My question is, is the United States, the State Department, watching this movement?  How far could it go within the electoral context?  And does the United States welcome it or not?

MR. HAMMER: OK, well, I have read reports about this movement.  I would like to respond in a more general fashion, in the sense that we in the United States clearly want to see transparent elections in which the Mexican people can express themselves and elect their next president.  That is the United States’ interest.  We will work with, and we want to have the best cooperation possible with whomever shall be elected by the Mexican people, and at the moment we have no concerns about how the preparations for the elections are being undertaken.  On the topic of freedom of the press and the media, in fact I was in Mexico City and we had the good fortune to go to Cancun for the G-20 tourism summit (T-20), and at that time there had been some very concerning attacks against the Mexican press.  And, clearly, these attacks were carried out by drug traffickers and the cartels, and that is concerning.  Obviously the State Department has programs to help the media and to assist their level of professionalism, and we always want to see that there is freedom of press, that there is active journalism, because that is important in any democracy.  So, in general terms, we support efforts that we see in many countries to promote the freedom of press, to ensure that journalists can conduct their work, that they can freely express themselves without fear.  When there are criminal elements present it is very difficult, and that is something that, obviously, one has to confront with a great deal of courage.  I believe that, obviously, this is an issue that the Mexican government has to handle, but if they would like any support from us, we are at their service.

QUESTION: But in the specific case of this growing student movement, and in some ways people have even compared it with a type of “Mexican Spring,” I would like to know if you are concerned by it, worried about it, or if you see it as being something positive.  Do you all see it as healthy that these students have taken to the street to demand more transparency, and above all, more equity in the electoral process?

MR. HAMMER: Well, I would say that is a Mexican issue.  Rather, that people can express themselves.  They have the right to express their ideas, all types of groups.  As long as they do it peacefully and within the framework of the constitution, it is a matter that we really believe to be a Mexican issue.  Again, the important thing here is that one always wants to see that people can express themselves freely within a democracy.  We will not always agree with every opinion that they may offer, whether they are students, young people, adults, any kind of group.  But one wants to see that that type of debate can exist, and that governments respond to the interests of the people.  And of course, in an election they have the opportunity to demonstrate their interest in the person that they want to represent them in the future of the country.

QUESTION: [indiscernible] I would like to go back to the issue of the attacks on Sabritas, Pepsi’s subsidiary.  After what occurred with those attacks, did the Mexican government communicate in any way with the American government?  Was there any type of communication from the U.S. government to the Mexican government expressing concern and perhaps asking for guarantees for its businesses?

MR. HAMMER: Actually I do not know if there has been that type of communication, but I would imagine so.  Our Ambassador, Tony Wayne in Mexico City, is frequently in dialogue with the Mexican authorities on a daily basis, and also, as you know, we have broad relations with so many different departments here in the United States that are in contact with their partners in Mexico.  But I would imagine that since this is an issue that affected an important American company, that there has probably been some type of discussion. But I don’t have any details about the level at which it has been discussed.  Yes.

QUESTION: Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan mentioned yesterday that the Mexican government requested an investigation of Fast and Furious from the United States government and the Department of Justice.  He said that the matter of Fast and Furious has changed Mexican public opinion about the United State’s real commitment to actually fight the drug war.  This investigation was requested through the State Department and in this case, also, how is the investigation going, when will we the results be released, and to what extent has this affected relations with Mexico?

MR. HAMMER: OK.  Well, the case of Fast and Furious is obviously something that has received a great deal of coverage, and truly, it is not a case here at the State Department but rather with our authorities in the Department of Justice who are investigating the matter.  When they conclude their investigation, I imagine that they will make their findings public.  It is an issue that has been handled in depth, and which we would like to resolve.  As you may know, the Obama administration and all of us here at the State Department are very conscious about the problem of weapons trafficking from the United States to Mexico.  We have a responsibility to try to prevent and assure that the transport of illegal arms does not occur.  This is critical because it is something that affects Mexican security, and it is also something that concerns us on the border.  So, it is an issue that we follow very closely.  There is a great deal of cooperation.  We always want to see how to strengthen institutions within the framework of Merida and all the aid that has been provided through it.  We know that when it comes down to it, we have to do certain things regarding the demand for drugs and the issues of arms trafficking, but at the same time we have to work together to face the drug trade problem, the cartels in Mexico.  And, in fact, we have always worked very well with the Calderon administration, from the beginning.  And we anticipate that whomever is elected, well, that we will continue in the same spirit of cooperation, because we see that this is an incredibly crucial problem that needs to be overcome, and the best way to do that is by working together between the two countries and with more international cooperation.  Yes, we can….

QUESTION: I am Luis Alonso from AP.  Hello.  I would like to know if the United States is concerned about the fact that the new Honduran police chief designated by Lobo to purge the police force was investigated ten years ago for at least three homicides or forced disappearances?  Do you all believe that he is the ideal person to purge the police, with that kind of a record?

MR. HAMMER: OK.  In fact, I am not, I do not know about that past, in particular.  In general, we are working quite well with the Honduran government with regards to the security problem that is so serious and grave for Central America, and Honduras in particular, as we all know.  The great majority of drugs that are trafficked in Latin America cross through Honduran airports and other means of transport there. So we have the initiative known as CARSI to support Central American countries in facing this problem.  And clearly, what we want to see is that they strengthen their institutions, both in law enforcement and judicial structures, while respecting human rights, but taking this problem very seriously and working in a way that it can be overcome.  We are putting on pressure, and I believe that we are taking some important steps together.  There is very good cooperation between our governments.  And clearly, if an issue arises, well we will be very willing to handle it because it is important; as I have said, the way to face a problem like this is clearly respecting human rights, so that there is no corruption.  And these things are concerning to us, and we have to handle them with our friends in the hemisphere and specifically and obviously with Honduras.  Let’s see, go ahead, Sonia.

QUESTION: It’s Venezuela, of course.  Listen, first I would like to know about the former judge Aponte who is here.  What is his status here in the United States?  Is he being protected because he is giving information to the government?  I would like to know if you have details about that, and as a continuation to that question, what is the state of U.S.-Venezuela relations?  Do you have any kind of dialogue?  Whom do you speak with?  Which institutions, what person?  At the end of the day, what is it?  How are things?  Or it appears that you are waiting for the elections to occur to resume dialogue.

MR. HAMMER: OK.  Well, regarding the case you mention, I really don’t have any details that I can share.  Regarding relations between Venezuela and the United States, we continue to be interested in finding areas in which we can work together, whether it be cooperation against drug trafficking, against terrorism, or on other issues of mutual interest.  So we continue to look for opportunities, if there is any interest on behalf of the Venezuelan government.  We know about the elections and we are attentively observing how they will be conducted.  The important thing there, clearly, is that the Venezuelan people have the opportunity to freely express themselves in transparent elections, and we are willing to work with whoever wins, equally.  But one should not lose sight of the fact that, once again, the United States will express our differences when the issues arise, when we have concerns, just as we would with any government.  But we hope that we can also find issues on which we can work together in a productive manner.

QUESTION: Speaking of the differences that you all have expressed, one of the issues that you all have been very repetitive about is precisely the lack of cooperation by Venezuela, from your perspective, on the antidrug issue.  I would like to know if you have any details.  You have always indicated Venezuela as a transit country that is in some way collaborating, and if you have any, could you could discuss any details.  What would these transit routes that cross Venezuela be, or what details do you have in that regard?

MR. HAMMER: Well, we follow the drug trade transit routes very closely.  The traffickers are always looking for an environment that permits that type of transit.  We used to have good cooperation with the Venezuelan government years ago, and unfortunately we have not been able to maintain that same level of cooperation.  And, for us, that is worrisome.  Because part of not being able to count on that cooperation means not being able to see exactly what is happening, in terms of the movement of the drug traffickers. Yes, we have certain concerns.  We are willing, moving forward, to share the information that we have with the Venezuelan government.   We will see if we can work together, but obviously, there has to be an interest on their behalf to do so.  Just now, in fact, I saw a report which I hope is correct, that they had arrested a couple of Colombian drug traffickers and that they were going to send them back to Colombia to face justice.  This occurred in Venezuela.  So, that is what we would like to see.  We would like to see that there is a spirit of cooperation between countries.  Because the drug issue affects all of us and all of our populations.  It is not something unique to one country, and we believe that the only way to face it is by having the kind of cooperation that we really do enjoy with many countries in the hemisphere.  So, wherever we can, we would like to expand that cooperation, because it helps us face the problem.  Drug trafficking also increases corruption in countries, it increases violence.  And these are issues that I imagine will be discussed even in the OAS assembly in Cochabamba, because security issues are incredibly important to citizens.  Most people want to live in peace, and they want to see that their governments are working to overcome these problems.

QUESTION: Is there any possibility that you will speak with Venezuela in Cochabamba?

MR. HAMMER: Yes, I mean, there is no reason why we would not talk with Venezuela if there were issues we are mutually interested in.  Sometimes we even speak just to clarify the positions of each country, so it is not a question of always having to talk with just the people who share our point of view.  Sometimes there are moments in which we would like to clarify our positions and insist on certain issues.  We’ll see.  Shall we continue on this topic?

QUESTION: [indiscernible] aside from the OEA meeting, do you have any other meeting planned with the Bolivian government?

MR. HAMMER: Well, I would imagine that with a schedule that, I imagine, is quite full, that yes, there will be an opportunity for various meetings, and to meet formally or informally with a series of countries that will be represented in Cochabamba.  I do not know specifically at what level we will meet with Bolivian authorities, but I imagine that over those three days of meetings there will be an opportunity to try to move ahead with our bilateral relations with Bolivia.  Yes, let’s continue with Venezuela and then a round.

QUESTION: Has the United States taken any special initiatives to ensure the presence of observers at the October elections?  And is there a concern…. Are the elections at all especially concerning to you, considering the problems that prior elections have had in Venezuela?

MR. HAMMER: Well, the important thing here is…. It would be good if there were observers, because that always instills international confidence that the elections have been conducted in a transparent, open and democratic fashion.  Thus, no country should oppose observers there to see how the elections occur, in order to ensure that the next day one can trust that the results reflect the intention of the people and that the elections have been conducted in an appropriate fashion.  Any other questions?

QUESTION: What will the United States do to ensure that presence?  Are you speaking with any third party countries, or have you approached multilateral organizations like the OAS? Is there any special effort?

MR. HAMMER: Well, I imagine that it is an issue that will be handled within the OAS as well as with European countries.  The European community also sends observers.  Sometimes it is handled with NGOs.  It is possible that there have been discussions with the Carter Center that, for example, will be present for the elections in Egypt.  They were there in the first round and they have been invited to the second.  So it is a good thing when this type of transparency exists and NGOs or other international observers can participate in order to show that the elections are really being conducted in an appropriate manner and that instill confidence not only in the country at stake but also in the international community.  Shall we move on to Spain?  Let’s move on to Spain.

QUESTION: Thank you.  I would like to follow up on the response that you gave us yesterday on the issue of ETA, by Twitter.  You commented that the United States, by law, must review the list of terrorist organizations every five years, and that the last time the list was reviewed in 2008.  And you commented on the current situation of ETA, and what the role of Washington is regarding this list.  And this means that when five years go by, that’s to say next year, in 2013, Washington is going to propose the possibility of taking ETA off of that list?  That is one question.  The other refers to the report that the State Department published here recently on human rights.  This report states that the Barcelona police, up to 57 times, mistreated and tortured detained persons linked to the movement equivalent to the Occupy movement here.  The local Barcelona government has demanded a rectification of this report to the American consulate in Barcelona, claiming it to be false.  Has this complaint from the local government reached you, and what would the response be to this accusation of falseness?

MR. HAMMER: OK.  Let me handle the second question first.  Because I was looking for a response to it just as I came in here.  As far as I understand, our consulate in Barcelona has not yet received any complaints, which doesn’t mean that one isn’t on its way.  I would like to assure that, regarding our human rights reports, we have groups of experts that handle that work, because it is incredibly important, and we appreciate how delicate it is when one is analyzing and stating problems that we see.  So, great efforts are taken by the State Department and our embassies to conduct these projects of human rights reporting very carefully and they are always ensuring that the data we have is correct.  And in fact, in most cases, we consult with the governments to ensure that the statistics and data we have, the information we have, are correct. So, that is the intention.  The intention is always to deliver a report that can be seen and that people feel, in fact, has the information that reflects what has occurred.  But I do not have any more information regarding this particular issue.  Regarding ETA, as I said yesterday in our Twitter session, we are required by law to review terrorist organizations every five years to see if they continue to be terrorist organizations.  That does not mean that it can’t be done beforehand.  I mean, it can be done beforehand.  But in the case of ETA, the last time it was reviewed was in 2008, which means that before the end of 2013 a new evaluation must be conducted.  This evaluation will have to be conducted with the facts as they are at present.  We understand that there was another ceasefire declared in October of last year, but as we can see in ETA’s history, many times ceasefires have been declared and they have still resorted to committing terrorist acts.  So it is something that we must continue to examine very carefully. We shall see if the moment arrives in which that elusive peace can finally be achieved and that the terms be clearly declared, and that no more terrorist acts be committed.  And that is what we would like to see, and thus we are obviously continuing to work with the Spanish government with that result as our goal.  But for now, I don’t have any news regarding that evaluation.  We are very aware of the issue, and we are following it very closely.

QUESTION: … with the Spanish government, when will you eventually take that organization off of the list?  Washington won’t take the organization off of the list until the Spanish government and Washington are in agreement?

MR. HAMMER: Well, in general it is something quite obvious, I mean, in terms of when an organization continues to commit terrorist acts or has intentions of committing terrorist acts.  The fact that they haven’t done anything doesn’t mean that they are not planning to do something, right?  So, they are very sensitive issues.  One has to take the designation of any organization as a terrorist organization very seriously because that decision has very serious repercussions, and logically we are working on this with the governments of different countries.  But at the end of the day it is our decision, with regard to which organizations we designate as terrorist organizations.  OK.  On to Colombia.  Let’s see.

QUESTION:  Just a little while ago the Colombian senator Roy Barreras met here in the State Department with [indiscernible] about the project regarding the legal framework for peace that is being studied in the Colombian Congress.  What are the U.S. government’s main concerns regarding the legal framework for peace that is being studied in Colombia?  What are the observations that you all have about that?

MR. HAMMER: Well, I am going to see that my colleague in the back… The one in the back who is hiding.  I hope that he has a response afterwards because I didn’t know, I mean, the issue of that meeting, and if you want, we can provide you with a more complete response afterwards..

MR. HAMMER: Let’s continue with Colombia to see if there is another one I don’t know.

QUESTION: I wanted to know if you have any comments on Langlois’s release, the French journalist, this Wednesday, as well as on his trip to Paris in which he supposedly issued a message on behalf of FARC to Hollande requesting his mediation in the conflict. Do you think that France should get involved, advocate, act as a mediator in this matter?

MR. HAMMER: Well of course it is good news that this individual was released; they have given him his freedom. One always wants to see anyone who has been kidnapped or detained this way, by FARC or by any other terrorist or guerrilla group, be granted his freedom. I really have no comment with respect to this person’s intention, on the message he has for France. This is an intimately Colombian issue. It is for the Colombian Government if they want other countries to help them on how to overcome the FARC problem and how to arrive at a moment when FARC renounces all forms of violence. Clearly, the United States has been supporting the Colombian governments, since Pastrana’s government with Plan Colombia, President Uribe’s government, and now President Santos. And there has been progress and a movement toward a level of calm in Colombia, which is really impressive; we see opportunities for the Colombian people and the economic growth that is taking place, and as the United States, we want to continue cooperating with Colombia in several ways, as what we have been doing to overcome this FARC problem, the guerrilla terrorist group. And hopefully the day will come when they surrender and see that the movement, the use of violence is not appropriate in a democratic country.

MR. HAMMER: Let’s go to my friend over here, go ahead.

QUESTION: You said before the visit of President Dilma Rousseff that the United States would like to drive Brazil to a harder position against the Asad regime in Syria. This has not been possible during the visit; there was no agreement between United States and Brazil in this topic whatsoever, and even Brazil has not changed its position in relation to the regime. I would like to know, how have you viewed the fact that Brazil has not declared anything so far about the last massacre in Syria and how Brazil is behaving in this matter? If it is something that, for example, is detrimental to the international effort driven by the United States and Europe, of a tougher stance before the Asad regime.

MR. HAMMER: Well, certainly the Syria issue is something that we are dealing with on a daily basis. It is a grave, serious issue. We have seen the massacre that you’ve mentioned. And in fact, in Geneva, at the United Nations Human Rights Council, this has been strongly condemned, with different countries supporting an investigation so that those involved in this horrible attack may be found, and that justice is carried out. The effort by the United States together with many Arab countries, Europe and around the world is to put pressure on Asad’s government to finally stop their brutality, and that there is a process to support the efforts of Kofi Annan so that there is a political process whereby Asad steps aside; so that the Syrian people can live in peace, and soon, they can pursue their aspirations. It is an issue that obviously, we are discussing with other countries of the world. We would like Brazil to support these efforts. Likewise, we have seen in these last few days our frustration with Russia, for example. In fact, they continue to support Asad’s government. What can be done is that the international community comes together even stronger, and puts economic pressure on Asad and his followers so that they stop this violence. Yes, it is important that every country condemns the horrible circumstances that are happening there. And that they state clearly, that they condemn it and participate in this good international  cooperation that we are witnessing. Indeed, we know that not every country is in agreement on all these issues. However, here I believe that there is a consensus in this situation; that this situation, and this violence, and this brutality must stop. Then hopefully over time, interests are developed, in other words, common positions, because that helps us to deal with this difficult problem.

QUESTION: Does that mean that Brazil, on this subject, is leaning towards Russia’s line of thought more than other countries?

MR. HAMMER: Well, I will leave it to Brazil to issue a statement in this respect, on how they view the situation. What we would like to see is more support for the plan of the former United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan. We would like to see action from the United Nations Security Council, to be able to strengthen this effort of pressure, and we want Brazil to be part of it. Then, it is not a question of comparing Brazil to other countries, simply that this is an important issue. We believe that a country of Brazil’s stature can have influence, and we want them to be part of this effort; pressing Asad and his military to put an end to this horrible campaign.

QUESTION: I am sorry, however, about the Geneva decision; would you know if Brazil was among those 41 countries?

MR. HAMMER: In fact, I don’t know if Brazil is in the Human Rights Council currently, yet, because in the report, there were three vetoes against, which were Russia, China and Cuba, and I believe there was one abstention, someone who did not participate. That was not Brazil; then, yes with the numbers that I have been given, in fact, Brazil is there; maybe we can check on this. However, they have not told me that Brazil was against it, in this case.

QUESTION: About Mariela Castro’s visit, many were surprised that the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs  would say that she personally was disappointed about the position that even your closest allies had taken on the Cuba issue at the Summit of the Americas and a few weeks later, you issue a visa to the President Castro’s daughter to visit the United States. This is something that triggered criticism in both parties, including people in high places in the Democratic Party like Senator Menendez. What is the… let’s say, many people think about the inconsistency of the policy towards Cuba, what is it aiming to? Let’s say, I wanted to know what is the position, what is the reason for the decision to give this visa to Mariela Castro? Why do you allow her visit? And did it produce the result you expected by allowing her to enter the United States?

MR. HAMMER: Well, first let me say that this person has visited the United States twice before, under President Bush’s administration. The way in which we give visas to Cuban individuals is regularized by a presidential proclamation; I believe it is the 5377, which makes the rules on how visas are issued. Then, I cannot elaborate on specific details of why this person is given a visa, and another one is not. However, one should not mistake the fact that a visa was granted to this person with our general policy towards Cuba. In fact, we want, and we allow freedom of expression in our country, something, which in fact, does not occur in Cuba. Then, sometimes people come to express themselves, maybe sometimes we do not share the same ideas, and this is part of democracy, and that is part of why the United States is the kind of democracy that it is. And yes, our position is very clear that Cuba is not democratic and as understood within the framework of the OAS, it should not participate in these summits; there is great consistency. We are simply saying that Cuba is a country where there is no democracy today, there is no freedom of press, there is no freedom of expression, there are violations of human rights, there are political prisoners; and that is why they are not part of the OAS process; this has even been discussed in the OAS. You will remember that at the meeting of the General Assembly which took place in Honduras, the possibility was put on the table of exploring how Cuba could become a member if it took certain measures. And Cuba has never shown any interest. Then let’s not mix two issues that are quite different. One is having, is wanting to have exchanges in which we can talk about some different ideas, some people in particular, and another is the behavior of a Castro government that until today unfortunately, is not allowing the Cuban people to live in freedom. And the day they allow it, when democracy exists, as we have said, we wish obviously that Cuba is involved the process of the community of the Americas, as a participant in the OAS.

QUESTION:  Did she meet with a member of the administration, and second is there some progress in the matter of Alan Gross. The Secretary met with [Judy] Gross this week. Is there anything to report in this regard?

MR. HAMMER: First, no one from the administration met with Mariela Castro. Second, the issue of Alan Gross is something we consider every day here.  The State Department is very concerned about his health and situation. Secretary Clinton, as you mentioned, met with his wife, Judy Gross, and continues to urge the Cuban authorities, well, to release him immediately. It is a very unfair case, and even for humanitarian reasons they should allow Alan Gross to come to visit his 90 year-old mother, who is ill, just as René González was allowed to go to Havana in a similar humanitarian case. We will continue to insist. I really cannot understand why the Cuban regime does not allow Alan Gross to have his freedom. But at least it should allow a humanitarian release, given the seriousness of the illness of his mother, who is very old.

QUESTION: And the United States has always argued that this is a case that cannot be compared with the other case. Now you say that, it should now be with Gross just like it was for Rene. Isn’t this comparison just like that made by Havana?

MR. HAMMER: No, the only thing similar is that here, our judicial authorities gave humanitarian permission in a similar situation in the case of Rene Gonzalez, who had a relative who was also very sick. There are very different circumstances under which the Cuban spies were imprisoned here than for Alan Gross, who actually was working in an appropriate manner in Cuba.  Therefore the cases are very different, but they are similar in that there sometimes are circumstances where you want to see that you can provide a way out for someone for humanitarian reasons; and one would like to see the same kind of understanding by the Cuban authorities. But let me be clear, Alan Gross should not be imprisoned. He has been unfairly imprisoned for more than two years and five months. In this case, he should be released immediately, and that is what we believe. But if they are not ready to do that now, at least in this case they should grant a humanitarian visit.

MR. HAMMER: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: The Bolivian people obviously have great expectations for this meeting of the OAS to be held in Cochabamba, and I imagine that there is a very specific agenda. For you, will there be a rapprochement with the Bolivian government while taking advantage of this visit to Bolivia, or just with the OAS?

MR. HAMMER: What I know is they will eat very well in Cochabamba, and that people are very friendly. I had the fortune of living in Bolivia and visited Cochabamba several times. Yes, of course we want a better relationship with the Bolivian government. I imagine that there will be opportunities to advance this relationship. We fully respect the sovereignty of Bolivia, and what we see are areas where we can cooperate. In fact, there are serious issues of drug trafficking. It is not just in terms of what comes out of Bolivia, but what is also in Bolivia, since it affects its society. There are issues of social inclusion, where we do share many of the same views. We want to see that indigenous people are respected and can participate in society, and the advances that have been made are important. So there are many things; there is the issue of climate change that we know is also a topic of Bolivian interest, which is also our interest. So we see many areas where we can work with the Bolivian government. And that is, in the same spirit of cooperation, what we want to see; and I imagine that if there is the opportunity for meetings and discussions in the coming days, that we will move forward. In fact, we have reached a framework agreement in which we can advance our relationship and we’re working on that. Then we see also the day that maybe we can exchange Ambassadors and normalize the relations between our countries.

QUESTION: This year? Do you expect there will be an Ambassador this year?

MR. HAMMER: This is a very complicated issue, not in the least because it would have to go through our Senate. But you never know when we will be able to reach this agreement. But we would like to reach an understanding on being able to exchange Ambassadors.


QUESTION: In the OAS, in the Assembly, they will discuss a rather complex issue, which is the reform of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The United States has expressed concern that this reform may weaken the work of the Commission and in a vote of the foreign ministers, could even… these recommendations could become a mandate for the Commission. Is there any concern of the United States in this regard?

MR. HAMMER: Well, I think you’ve expressed it well. We obviously are very interested in strengthening the institutions on which human rights depend. It is something that is a major concern and the entity that you mention is one of the important entities of the OAS in which we have seen that important cases can be resolved. So, we want to ensure that institutions that have been established in the OAS democratic charter, or maybe at least a democratic charter that will advance the protection of human rights, so, we want to see in what way we can strengthen it, and I imagine that it will be as you say. It is a complex issue. And there are always different points of view, but hopefully we will reach a consensus and we will express ourselves about the other items where we have any concerns.

QUESTION: The United States will vote NO if there is a vote on the recommendation, if this recommendation becomes a mandate for the activity?

MR. HAMMER: I will not speculate on what will be our position. Let’s see how things go as they develop these discussions.

QUESTION: Neutrally, you know that Brazil has an important role in the reform of the Human Rights Commission and is a leader who wants to make changes to weaken, to regulate the position of the Commission a little. How do you view the position of Brazil and especially the facts that have occurred during the last year, for example the suspension of payments, contributions, resources from Brazil to the OAS as retaliation for the decision of the Commission Human Rights on a dam, a hydroelectric project in the Amazon?

MR. HAMMER: Well, as you said, or as I should say, we see the Human Rights Commission as a major player in the region, and the issue of human rights is something we all share and want, from one point of view, our point of view of the United States, is it can support the institutions. And we see that the institutions of the OAS have really provided some security to the citizens of the hemisphere, one can see there is an international organization that can carry out these things. I know that on some issues, as you mentioned, Brazil has its point of view. We will deal with it, I imagine, pretty thoroughly. Hopefully we can reconcile the positions. I think it will serve the interests of citizens of the hemisphere when these institutions are strengthened and supported. Sometimes there will be differences as to what is the best way, and that has to be discussed; and I imagine there will be some broad and deep discussions during the meeting in Cochabamba.

QUESTION: In the assembly, you mentioned that with regard to the topic of Cuba, well, specifically in an assembly of OAS chancellors, it was decided that Cuba would start, that there would be a process to reintegrate Cuba. There was no interest, but in the latest Summit of the Americas, it was very clear to a great majority of countries that Cuba has to be present at the next function. For you all, is it clear that that is something you can fit together with something else? Also, is it clear for many countries in the region that this is not related? In other words, Cuba could have the right to go to the next summit independently of whether a process is performed. If that is addressed in the assembly, what is the strategy? What will the United States do?

MR. HAMMER: Well, our position is very clear, but we can continue to repeat it. It’s just that… for Cuba to be able to participate in the Summit of the Americas process, above all the country has to be democratic. And as of right now, it is not. If this topic arises again, clearly, obviously we are going to express our position. Taking into account the fact that a decision was already made in San Pedro Sula with respect to Cuba’s position, saying that they are providing Cuba the opportunity to be a member. But so far Cuba has not wanted to take any measure to have the type of democratic opening that they are asking for. This is very important for the ministry if there is going to be a process and an organization in which there is a democratic charter. If they are making advances on human rights, then the members have to respect what that purpose is, so therefore Cuba needs to change and have liberty that frankly today, regretably, they do not have.

QUESTION: After Cartagena, do you think that the Summit of the Americas will continue to exist?


WOMAN: To us, it appears to be no….

MR. HAMMER: Well, for Panamanians, it would be very sad if it were canceled all of a sudden. No, I believe that obviously there is going to be a future Summit of the Americas. It must be taken into account that a lot of important work is done in these summits. For example, they concentrate on the questions of energy cooperation, of how to promote more investment, of how to advance the topics of women’s rights, of how we can take care of environmental issues. There are always going to be disagreements at certain political levels with respect to some topics, and I understand perfectly that the press is going to focus on the topics of disagreement and not on where there have been good agreements. But it is a good process, in the sense that the regional leaders meet, as was done in Trinidad and Tobago, when I had the opportunity to work there with President Obama, and as was done in Cartagena in order to advance in topics where there was common interest and topics on which we disagree can be debated. But I believe that this process is going to continue. It is going to continue. It is important that the leaders in the hemisphere meet to discuss the topics that affect all of our citizens. And I see that this process will continue despite a few differences. I believe that we are about to finish the questions….

QUESTION: Now let’s talk about the situation of the former High Commissioner for Peace Luis Carlos Restrepo. He was faced with an arrest warrant in Colombia, and his last known whereabouts were in Washington. He sent a request for asylum. Did Luis Carlos Restrepo receive asylum?

MR. HAMMER: Well, right now we cannot make any comments on asylum cases, so this is an easy question to respond to, as we cannot make any comment.

QUESTION: I am reiterating what other colleagues have said regarding the latest attack against Pepsi. We want to know if you are talking about specific protection for businesspeople who work for US firms there in Mexico and in a more general framework with regard to the violence. We want to know whether in the end, whoever wins the elections in Mexico, the anti-drug strategy will need to be rethought, taking into account the high number of deaths there have been lately.

MR. HAMMER: I believe that we already dealt with that topic fairly well at the beginning of this press conference. I do not have any more details with regard to the Pepsi case, and obviously we have to wait to see who is going to be the next president of Mexico. We want to continue the good cooperation that we have enjoyed so far.

QUESTION: Any more comments about the exchange rate controls that took place last night in Argentina, the recent gimmicks for limiting the purchase of dollars for Argentineans?

MR. HAMMER: Well, what we want regarding investments is that Argentina allows and encourages investing to continue. Then we are always going to  … if there are any concerns, we will deal with them. I am not up-to-date with regard to those changes that you mention, which occurred last night. But when we see that there is some circumstance that is worrying, we obviously consider that matter in a bilateral manner and even discuss it with other countries who are interested. Well, I have to go, well, let’s see.

QUESTION: Mike, with regard to the OAS summit or meeting, is there an interest in discussing the matter between Bolivia, the dispute that Bolivia and Chile have, and also putting forth the matter of the Falklands? What concerns could they create, like those two topics that ended up dominating the agenda? That is also occurring with the Summit of the Americas. A bit of the attention could be diverted from the topics that you have scheduled initially and it is possible that this could end up diverging from the agenda that you have scheduled….

MR. HAMMER: Well, our position with regard to these two topics that you mention: the maritime matter between Chile and Bolivia must be discussed bilaterally, like the topic of the islands. Therefore, we do not see them as being topics for this assembly. Without a doubt, the interested countries will raise some of these topics, but the focus, we believe and I believe that the majority of the countries in the hemisphere are interested in, that we should focus on the topics that affect all of us, or rather all of our citizens, or whatever the basic security and cyber security may be. These include the topics of security, topics of social inclusion, and that must be the focus in Cochabamba and in these assemblies. Because what citizens want to see is that everyone’s interests are reflected. Without a doubt, there will be separate discussions. It is fine that several countries express topics that are special for them. But what we really want to see is a meeting in which we can advance a lot in the topics that we believe in, in which there is a lot of passion and great interest by the countries in advancing in them to create a better process, prosperity and a future for all of our citizens.

MR. HAMMER: Hey, Gregorio, please, please!

MAN: The security program involves the issuance of experts [indiscernible] and experts in the embassies who are consultants….

MR. HAMMER: They are already experts in terms of what we are talking about with regard to security for our companies. As you know, we… one of your colleagues commented that we have RSOs – Regional Security Officers – experts in security, and obviously they can always invite whoever may come from Washington for support, if there are any topics in particular. We have communication through our embassies with US companies abroad where they deal with security matters. But in general, it begins here in the embassy, and if it is necessary, it can be asked for…

QUESTION: There is no security personnel scheduled?

MR. HAMMER: Actually, each company is in charge of its own security. What we do is advise, give them advice, perhaps give some recommendation. But responsibility for security is the responsibility of the companies that work abroad. Well, many thanks, and hope to see you soon. Let’s get ready for the Olympics.

[end 3:07 p.m. EDT]