Press Availability with Salvadoran President Francisco Flores
San Salvador, El Salvador
March 24, 2002
1:00 P.M. (Local)
PRESIDENT FLORES: Good afternoon. It is an honor for us to be here with you,
and to be able to answer the questions that you want to ask President Bush and
myself. I would like to start by saying that for El Salvador, it is an immense
honor to have President Bush in our land.
El Salvador has been a country that has faced enormous difficulties -- the war,
combat against poverty, earthquakes. And El Salvador has done this through a
system of freedoms, in the search of a democracy, the search of economic freedom,
as well -- giving people the opportunity, the opportunity to get education,
to trade of their products, and to integrate into the new world.
So a country like ours, that believes in freedom, feels especially honored to
have a world leader that has built a leadership based on values and principles,
values that have to do with the rights of human beings. And this allows us,
countries that are so different like the United States and El Salvador, to find
each other in a common point.
So welcome to our country, President Bush. It is an immense honor to have you
here in our country.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Gracias, Senor Presidente, mi amigo. Thank you, President Flores,
for providing such warm hospitality in this beautiful country. Laura and I were
struck when we flew in about your beautiful mountains and your beautiful sea.
I'm honored to be here, for the first time in my life.
We've just completed our fifth meeting -- this is the fifth time that the President
and I have met. And in each of them, I have come away from out meetings most
optimistic about the future of El Salvador. I truly believe this country has
got a unique President and a great President. El Salvador -- and the reason
why I believe that is because of the success of the country.
El Salvador is one of the really great stories of economic and political transformation
of our time. Just over a decade ago, this country was in civil war. For millions
of Salvadorans, violence was a daily reality, and prosperity was just a distant
dream. Today, El Salvador is at peace. The country has renewed its commitment
to democracy and economic reform and trade. It is one of the freest and strongest
and most stable countries in our hemisphere.
The United States considers El Salvador a close friend and strong ally. As friends,
we come to each other's aid in times of crisis. Since September the 11th, El
Salvador has been unwavering in its support for the international coalition
against terrorism. I want to thank the President and the people of El Salvador
for their prayers for the American people during this crisis. I want to thank
you, as well, for ordering a freeze on suspected terrorist assets and for strengthening
your border security.
And when the devastating earthquakes hit El Salvador last year, the United States
immediately dispatched rescue workers and relief assistance. We proudly contributed
millions of dollars to El Salvador's reconstruction effort. And we will spend
even more in the year 2002.
Our countries are united by ties of commerce and culture and kindship. The large
number of Salvadorans who live in the United States make valuable contributions
to our economy and send approximately $2 billion back home to family members
in El Salvador each year, cada anno. Trade between our countries now approaches
$4 billion annually. That is up 140 percent. And trade means jobs. Trade means
people who want to work are more likely to find jobs in both countries.
El Salvador is one of the really bright lights in Latin America. Many countries
in this region have changed old ways and have found new wealth and new freedom.
In this coming decade, El Salvador and the United States, and nations throughout
this hemisphere are committed to maintaining and extending this progress.
Greater trade can help us accomplish this goal. In January, I announced we would
pursue a free trade agreement with Central American nations. And the President
and I, after this press conference, will be having lunch with other leaders
in Central America to discuss this very proposition. And we're also going to
continue to pursue the Free Trade of the Americas, which aims to encompass the
entire hemisphere in a free trade agreement. Completing these agreements will
promote prosperity throughout the hemisphere, and reinforce the region's progress
toward political, and economic, and social reform.
I just met with two El Salvadorans, who are seated right here, who personify
the cause of reform. One's an architect, and one's an economist. They are El
Salvador's first two participants in the Americas Fellows Program. Soon, they
will be coming to Washington to spend time working in the United States government
offices, where I believe they will acquire new skills and training. And they
can bring them back home, and share them with others. And thank you all so very
much about participating in the program.
I'm also optimistic about this country's future. There's no doubt in my mind
that because of this man's leadership, there are bright days ahead for El Salvador.
And it's an honor to be invited here, and it's an honor to call him friend.
And I want to confirm the fact that this nation remains a strong ally with the
great people of El Salvador.
Senor Presidente, gracias.
QUESTION: Good afternoon, President Bush. Good afternoon, President Flores.
As you said, I'm William Melendez (phonetic) from Channel 12, and I have the
honor of trying to summarize the questions of all my other colleagues and the
mass media of El Salvador.
Presidents, the benefits, the needed benefits of a free trade agreement can
delay themselves, if we are not mistaken, to arrive to our countries, maybe
five, six years, because the mechanism is a bilateral mechanism, bilateral negotiation.
And so the migration could continue working hard during that phase.
I would like to know, what will the treatment be of the United States of America
for those fellow men of ours so that they can regulate their migration status
immediately. And, besides, since poverty is the weakness, what conditions could
be applied so that the countries, the poorer countries of our region, especially
El Salvador, can optimize their resources and avoid that the states could become
main allies of the economic oligopolies?
PRESIDENT BUSH: A couple points. One, you're right, trade agreements sometimes
take too long. And we intend to push as hard as we possibly can to get the trade
agreement done. I was very serious when I announced the trade agreement and
we're going to work hard to expedite the agreement.
Secondly, the President made an interesting suggestion, which I will take very
seriously. He said, make sure that a country is allowed to accelerate its moving
into a free trade agreement. In other words, if the country meets conditions
and conditions of rule of law and private property, conditions that I'm confident
El Salvador will meet early, let us make sure that if another nation hadn't
met those conditions, El Salvador can ascend to the free trade agreement early.
So one way to cut the time is to analyze the President's request. It made a
lot of sense to me, and we'll take a good look at it.
There's no question there's a lot of hard-working Salvadorans in the United
States. And the first thing I want to assure the people of this good country
is that we want to make sure they're treated with respect. We want them to be
-- we recognize -- I recognize that family values, something we talk a lot about
in American, don't stop at the Rio Bravo.
There are people who care deeply about their families in El Salvador; they want
to work; they're looking for jobs. And the cornerstone of good economic policy,
or good immigration policy, is to match a willing employer with a willing worker
to make that happen, to facilitate that arrangement. And that's going to be
the cornerstone of immigration reform in the -- as this issue comes up in Congress.
On the other hand, there are specific areas of immigration policy that affects
the people of El Salvador, starting with TPS. My administration granted TPS
last time the issue came up. And it doesn't come up until September, and we'll
take a very hard look at it this summer.
And the second issue is a bill that's working through the Congress introduced,
if I'm not mistaken, by a Democrat and Republican -- one named Berman, one named
Davis -- that would grant same status to Salvadorans, Hondurans, Guatemalans,
as those granted to Nicaraguans and Cubans. And we will take a look at that
bill, as well.
In term of oligopoly, the best way to avoid oligopolies is to encourage open
markets and competition. The best way to make sure that oligopolies do not dominate
an economy to the detriment of the people is to do what the President's done
-- insist that the markets be open; insist that competition allowed -- is encouraged.
And another way to enhance open markets and competition is through trade --
honest, open trade.
And so that's what I've come to talk about today. And I believe President Flores
is on the absolute right track to making sure oligopolies don't dominate this
Ken Walsh, U.S. News, fine American. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. Mr. President, when you return home, new
campaign finance legislation will be awaiting your signature. I wonder if you
could tell us if you're going to, given your criticisms of campaign finance
legislation in the past, if you're going to sign this bill reluctantly or whole-heartedly;
what the impact you think will be on our political system; and how you regard
the impending legal challenge to the legislation?
PRESIDENT BUSH: I sign it -- I have a kind of a firm, semi-firm signature as
it moves across the page -- (laughter). I wouldn't be signing it if I didn't
think it improved the system. And I think it improves the system this way: One,
individuals will be allowed to contribute more to the campaigns. I've always
been skeptical of a system where monies were put into the system where people
didn't have a choice -- whether it be a labor union worker or a shareholder
of a corporation. Sometimes shareholders of corporations -- they make an investment
for hopefully a good rate of return, and yet they wake up and realize that some
CEO or somebody's made the decision to support a political party or a candidate
not of their choosing. And I've always kind of thought that the individual ought
to have a choice. And so, therefore, the fact that the system encourages more
individual participation I think is positive.
Finally, they've raised individual limits. I also think this will help challengers.
And as much as I now love incumbency -- (laughter) -- I think it's important
to encourage challenges in the system.
I am worried about some of the provisions; I stated so in my signing statement.
One such provision was that you can't -- they're going to try to control who
can participate in the election process in the last 60 days. And we'll see whether
or not that stands up. I'm going to stay, by the way, totally apart from the
One of the things I'm disappointed in the law is -- and again, this may not
stand a court challenge -- but I've always thought that people who pump money
into the political system, we ought to know who they are. I was a little discouraged
-- not discouraged -- I was quite discouraged at the end of the 2000 campaign
to see tons of dollars flowing into the political campaign at the last minute,
on these so-called independent groups, and we don't know who was funding them.
And -- you know the kind of ads I'm talking about: scurrilous, untrue ads, coming
into the campaign. A so-called front group, independent. And we don't have any
idea who's putting the money in. And that's not good for democracy.
And so I didn't particularly appreciate the fact that this campaign bill didn't
adequately address full disclosure. Now, the excuse, evidently, was the courts
won't allow it. Well, I would have liked to have seen them challenge the system,
to see whether the courts might allow it now that we're going into the 21st
But, nevertheless, the bill is a better bill than the current system, and I'm
going to sign it. And there will be -- I take it back. It will be a signature
-- I won't hesitate. It will probably take about -- you know, about three seconds
to get to the W, I may hesitate on the period, and then rip through the Bush.
(Laughter.) Thank you.
QUESTION: Good afternoon to both Presidents. The first question is for President
Bush, because we're talking about taking very seriously the free trade agreement
with Central America. President, you're also saying and talking about openness.
You said that we were going to eliminate subsidies in the International Conference
for Development in Monterrey. But the market of the United States continues
being a protectionist with your national -- there are subsidies for agriculture.
I don't know how much it would be willing -- that is, your government -- to
eliminate these subsidies that are really disrupting the market of the small
producers. And also, if the Senate is going to approve in the short-term the
permit to start the negotiations, because it also -- the advancement of the
free trade agreement will depend on this also.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Let me just say one thing. Look, we buy more goods from all
around the world than any nation. And, of course, we're the biggest nation,
we're the biggest market. But, nevertheless, we buy billions of dollars of goods
on an annual basis -- billions. I think it's like $650 billion a year the United
States purchases from countries. And Africa alone, we signed a free trade agreement
with Africa and we had a billion dollars of purchases last year, which significantly
increased employment in Africa.
And there are some instances where we've got -- farm policy, for example, where
people -- where the Congress has decided to fund certain programs. But this
-- our market is wide open. And by the way, any time there's unfair trade, we
will respond, and I have done so, and will continue to do so, because free trade
must be fair trade, as well.
But I think if you look at the facts and statistics, you'll find that the U.S.
market is one of the most open markets in the world, and we intend to keep it
PRESIDENT FLORES: I would like to say the following: Never, never in the history
of El Salvador had El Salvador had the opportunities that they have with the
United States of America, thanks to the Caribbean Basin Initiative. And never
had El Salvador had the possibility of signing a free trade agreement with the
United States before. So the possibility of openness that the region has with
the United States has no precedent in the history.
Today, while we were flying with President Bush from the airport to this site,
I was telling him what this openness is doing in El Salvador. And I was explaining
to him that many women in the rural areas have opportunities to work today thanks
to that openness of the United States. And it is producing a dramatic change
throughout the rural areas of our country.
Undoubtedly, the comparison between donated funds and trade is a comparison
that is very different, because it is so much more important to have trade than
donations. So in this sense, we believe that the focus of President Bush is
absolutely true: that the only way to come out of poverty is through work. And
the way to generate employment in our region is giving the possibility of investment
and work and labor.
Obviously, the agricultural topic is a topic, is an issue, but this has had
an enormous advance for the Salvadorans and the region.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Are you asking another question?
QUESTION: Yes --
PRESIDENT BUSH: Okay. What is it?
QUESTION: Excuse me. My colleagues from Guatemala are asking that in Guatemala
there has been the withdrawal of the visas to some militaries. And they want
to know if this is part of the control or the enforcement of the improvement
of economies that the countries are asking for.
PRESIDENT BUSH: ---
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. Mr. President, what is --
PRESIDENT BUSH: Raise the mike a little.
QUESTION: Don't think it goes that high.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Okay. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: What is your reaction to the Democratic Party using its national radio
address to criticize you on foreign soil, saying you made this trip to Latin
America merely to pander to Hispanic voters?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Wow. That was the ad?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Or not the ad, but the -- well, I guess I'd say I'm disappointed.
When I first got elected, I said the best foreign policy for the United States
is to have a prosperous, peaceful and free neighborhood. My first trip as President
of the United States out of the United States was to Mexico. And my longstanding
interest in this -- in Mexico and Central America is well-known.
I firmly believe that the best policy for the United States is to pay attention
to our friends, is to promote trade. Trade produces liberty and freedom. And
sometimes in Washington, D.C., people cannot get rid of old habits -- which
is petty politics, Mr. President. But that's just what happens. But people in
America know that our administration is focused on what's best for America.
And what's best for America is a prosperous and peaceful El Salvador, y Mexico,
y tambien los paises in Sur de America. There is a great opportunity for all
of us to be equal partners, to work otros para todos los personas cual vida
in nuestros paises.
Senor Presidente, gracias. El honor es mio de esta in este pais. (It has been
my honor to be in this country. Thank you very much. We have to all work together
to make this happen.) (Applause.)
PRESIDENT FLORES: I just wanted to say, just to close this conference, that
El Salvador, through myself, wants to express their profound appreciation to
the United States of America for having accompanied us in so many difficult
times. And this has to do with the leadership of President Bush. And Salvadorans
want to recognize you at this moment.
And I would like to end by saying this -- and this is very personal. I have
had some honors in my life, but never had I had such a high honor as President
Bush calling me his friend. Thank you very much. (Applause.)