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CARACAS, Monday December 19, 2011 | Update
 
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Interview | Barack Obama, President of the United States of America

"Venezuelan govt's ties to Iran and Cuba have not served its interests"

"In Venezuela, we have been deeply concerned to see action taken to erode the separation of powers." "I look forward to the day when our governments can work more closely"

US President Barack Obama at his White House Office (Photo: Pete Souza / The White House)
REYES THEIS |  EL UNIVERSAL
Monday December 19, 2011  10:06 AM


US President Barack Obama expects "the day when the governments of both the United States and Venezuela can work more closely to advance the aspirations of our people."

The US Head of State answered in written form to a questionnaire forwarded by El Universal. President Obama highlighted that his government is worried to see undermined public powers in Venezuela and the ties of the Venezuelan government to Iran. He also advocated more cooperation between the United States and Venezuela.

1. What is the future of relations between the U.S. and Latin America taking into account the anti-American tendencies that some governments in the region are imposing?

I'm very optimistic about the future of our relationship with our partners and friends across the Americas. As I said during my visit to the region earlier this year, we're bound by shared values, a common heritage and common interests. With no other region of the world does the United States have so many connections. That includes the tens of millions of Hispanic Americans across the United States, including so many of our friends and neighbors from Venezuela.

As President, I've committed the United States to a new era of partnership with the region based on equality, shared responsibility, mutual interests and mutual respect. This reflects the reality that Latin America is a dynamic and growing region in which nations are playing a greater role in advancing prosperity and security, across the Americas and around the world. And at the upcoming Summit of the Americas, I look forward to deepening our cooperation.

Some in the region—including the Venezuelan government—have demonstrated anti-American tendencies. But to be blunt, I don't think the people of the Americas want to live in the past because they're interested in the future. I believe that most people in the Americas are tired of refighting old ideological battles because it doesn't do anything to help their daily lives. Our citizens want to know what we stand for, not just what we stand against. Our citizens are focused on what our governments can do to help them realize their aspirations, like jobs that pay good wages, education for our children, security in their communities, and a future where our economies and countries are tied together more closely and where fundamental human rights are respected. That's what our people want. That's what we owe them.

2. How would you analyze the relationship Venezuela has with its allies like Iran and Cuba and what sort of consequences might this relationship lead to?

Venezuela is a proud and sovereign nation with a rich history and historic ties with the Americas and the world. The United States does not pretend to dictate its foreign affairs. I would argue, however, that the Venezuelan government's ties to Iran and Cuba have not served the interests of Venezuela or the Venezuelan people.

With regard to Iran, the international community's concerns are well known. Ultimately, it is up to the Venezuelan people to determine what they gain from a relationship with a country that violates universal human rights and is isolated from much of the world. The Iranian government has consistently supported international terrorism that has killed innocent men, women and children around the world - including in the Americas. It has brutally suppressed the Iranian people simply for demanding their universal rights. And Tehran continues to pursue a nuclear program that threatens the security of the Middle East. Here in the Americas, we take Iranian activities, including in Venezuela, very seriously and we will continue to monitor them closely.

All our countries -including Venezuela- have a responsibility to abide by our international obligations, including full implementation of all UN Security Council resolutions and sanctions on Iran. The United States has already taken a number of significant and effective steps to indicate our concern to the Venezuelan government, including annual certification of Venezuela for not fully cooperating with anti-terrorism efforts each year since 2006. Most recently, we imposed sanctions on PDVSA for selling gasoline components to Iran.

With respect to Cuba, my policy is clear. Cuba's future must be freely determined by the Cuban people. Sadly, that has not been the case for decades, and it is not the case today. The people of Cuba deserve the same rights, freedoms and opportunities as anyone else. And so the United States is going to continue supporting the basic rights of the Cuban people. At the same time, we'll continue to work with others across the region to defend the shared values that are enshrined in the Inter-American Democratic Charter and that belong to all people, whether the live in Cuba or elsewhere in the Americas.

3. There are a large number of Venezuelans playing on various teams in Major League Baseball and many others in the minor leagues. Another Venezuelan, Greivis Vasquez, plays in the NBA. Venezuelan baseball teams and basketball teams have numerous American players. In this context, how can sport contribute to bringing Americans and Venezuelans together?

I do believe that sports can help bring people together, and builds bridges among people. I'm a big basketball fan, and basketball - including the NBA -- is one of those sports that's been made better, and more exciting, by players from all over the world, including Greivis Vasquez of the Memphis Grizzlies. And baseball, of course, occupies a special place in the hearts of both Venezuelans and Americans. As a huge Chicago White Sox fan, I will never forget watching Venezuelan-American Ozzie Guillen lead my team to the World Series. Beyond that, watching our people play together, and compete together, is one of those reminders that, despite whatever differences there are between governments, our people have so much in common.

On a more personal level, seeing my two daughters grow up, I know how important athletics and sports can be in fostering the positive values and character that serve our children well throughout their lives. So I'm proud that our embassy in Caracas has a wonderful program called "Beisbol y Amistad" that uses baseball to instill in young Venezuelans the virtues of discipline, responsibility, teamwork and a healthy lifestyle. Who knows, maybe one of them will one day be playing in Major League Baseball.

4. In some countries in Latin America, governments seek to silence the independent press, intimidate judges, weaken legislatures, and limit the opposition's possibilities to compete and be heard. In that context, how do you see the threat to human rights, the lack of separation of powers and the uneven playing field for elections in Latin America?

As I've said many times, every nation will pursue its own path, but certain freedoms and rights are universal, among them the right of individuals to express their views freely. History shows that a free press, and strong independent judiciaries and legislatures are essential elements of a free society. In our interconnected digital world, the freedom of expression is essential to safeguarding a democracy, whether it's in print, on the radio, on television, or in an online blog or social network. Nations that uphold these rights and freedoms are ultimately more prosperous and more successful. In nations that don't uphold these rights, officials can't be held accountable, corruption is more likely to endure, and people can't live with the basic freedoms they deserve.

These principles are not just the ideals of the United States of America, they are fundamental human rights, and both the United States and Venezuela have a responsibility to uphold them. . The charter of the Organization of American States declares that "representative democracy is an indispensable condition for the stability, peace and development of the region." The Inter-American Democratic Charter states that "the peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend it."

Here in the Americas, the story of our region has been of more people gaining greater control over their lives. Virtually all the people of Latin America have gone from living under dictatorships to living in democracies. However, we must also speak out when we see democratic principles threatened. In Venezuela, we have been deeply concerned to see action taken to restrict the freedom of the press, and to erode the separation of powers that is necessary for democracy to thrive. In all countries of the region, we want to see elections that are free and fair.

6. What will be the sources of energy in the future? How will petroleum fit into the picture?

Oil, coal, and gas will continue to be a part of the world's energy mix for the foreseeable future. At the same time, the world is clearly moving toward clean energy economies, which is important for our economic vitality and our planet. In the United States, for instance, we've made unprecedented investments in clean, renewable energies like bio-fuels, solar, geothermal, hydropower, and wind.

As we do, governments and industry should be working together to ensure that our use of traditional hydrocarbons is as clean and efficient as possible, and to develop the technology and regulations to permit renewable energy sources to provide more of our energy supply.

Time and again in U.S. history, scientific and technological advancements have replaced primary fuel sources with new, innovative ones. In our time, it is possible that scientific discoveries will transform the energy landscape much faster than anyone expects. This is one of the reasons I have placed heavy emphasis on research and development to develop the energy sources that will power the future.

7. How would you evaluate the bilateral relationship between Venezuela and the United States?

The ties between the American and Venezuelan people are strong. For much of our history, we also enjoyed friendly relations between our governments based on shared ideals of liberty and justice, deep cultural and social ties, and a mutually beneficial commercial relationship. Today, our economic relationship, which benefits both countries, endures.

My approach to Venezuela is guided by my policy toward the Americas as a whole. The United States seeks to engage on issues of common interest with governments that are interested in working constructively with us. For example, the American people - and I believe the people of Venezuela - have an expectation that their governments can and should cooperate on matters of mutual concern, including what should be common struggles to prevent terrorism and drug trafficking.

For their own reasons, Venezuelan authorities to date have shown little interest in that kind of cooperation. And, as I said, we're concerned about the government's actions which have restricted the universal rights of the Venezuelan people, threatened basic democratic values, and failed to contribute to the security in the region. Moreover, it's unfortunate that the Venezuelan government is often more interested in revisiting the ideological battles of the past than looking forward to the future that we could build for our citizens.

I believe that the people of Venezuela would benefit from a better relationship with the United States, just as the American people would benefit as well. The United States will continue to seek opportunities to work in equal partnership with countries and societies across the region to advance common interests and confront shared challenges. I look forward to the day when our governments can work more closely to advance the aspirations of our people.

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