Skip to comments.Bush Defends Foreign Aid Plan
Posted on 03/20/2002 12:04:05 AM PST by JohnHuang2
WASHINGTON, Mar 20, 2002 (AP Online via COMTEX) -- AP White House Correspondent
On the eve of his Latin American trip, President Bush is defending a $5 billion foreign aid proposal that would require nations receiving the money to change their economic and political systems.
"I'm not interested in funding corruption," the president said.
"If a country thinks they're going to get aid from the United States, and they're stealing money, they're just not going to get it," Bush told several Latin American reporters on Tuesday.
On Thursday, he opens a four-day trip to Mexico, Peru and El Salvador.
Bush chugged bottled water during the 30-minute White House interview as he discussed immigration, foreign aid, border security, misgivings about Venezuela's political stability and his hopes to help curb terrorism in Colombia.
The president said he feared that the Senate might not pass legislation extending amnesty for illegal immigrants. The measure, which Bush had hoped to carry to Latin America as evidence of America's compassion, passed the House and is held up in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
"I'm not confident they'll move on it. I am confident we've got the votes, but the problem is I haven't been confident they're going to move on many things these days," Bush said. "We've got a lot of bills out of the House but not much out of the Senate."
On foreign aid, Bush said the aid package may not get a warm reception in all circles, "but it's the right thing to do."
The initiative would provide about $1.7 billion the first year, about $3.3 billion in the second year and the full $5 billion in the third and subsequent years. The money, which comes as an addition to current U.S. aid levels, is tied to reforms and would be rewarded to nations largely as grants rather than loans.
Previewing his remarks at an economic summit in Mexico, Bush said the United States is obligated to help poor countries, but those nations have "a responsibility to rout out corruption. I think it makes no sense to give aid ... to countries that are corrupt, because you know what happens? The money doesn't help the people. It helps an elite group of leaders.
"And that's not fair to the people of a particular country, nor is it fair to the taxpayers of the United States," Bush said without naming any nations.
Reflecting U.S. unease about one southern neighbor, Bush said Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was not invited to attend trade talks in Peru because he does not support free trade.
"Why have somebody there who's not in favor of what we're all trying to do?" Bush said.
The administration is worried that Venezuela could become politically unstable. Chavez irked the administration when he questioned the war in Afghanistan and, separately, visited Iraq, Libya and Cuba.
"We are concerned any time there is unrest in our neighborhood, and we're watching the situation very carefully," Bush said. "This man was elected by the people, and we respect democracy in our country. And we hope he respects the democratic institutions within his own country."
On another issue, Bush said he was looking at several ways to increase border security. His homeland security team recommended Tuesday that he ask Congress to remove the Customs Service from the Treasury Department and create a new agency in charge of securing America's porous borders.
The Justice Department would oversee the new agency, which would take over enforcement activities of the embattled Immigration and Naturalization Service.
"I'm exploring all options to make our borders more secure and more modern," he said.
Aides said Bush was likely to accept the recommendation.
-Renewed his commitment to try to broaden American security assistance to Colombia beyond counternarcotics efforts as President Andres Pastrana deals with terror groups, saying, "We have no interest in committing ground troops, but we do want to help training, and we will do so."
-Said America must accept some responsibility for the drug trade in Colombia and other Latin American nations. "So long as we got people in American using drugs," he said, "we're going to have people who will provide them."
-Argued that Latin American citizens would benefit from more trade with America. He said his message on the trip will be: "Trade equals jobs."
-Urged economically strapped Argentina to enact economic reforms to earn the confidence of international lending institutions.
On the Net:
International Monetary Fund information on individual countries: http://www.imf.org/external/country/
By RON FOURNIER
Copyright 2002 Associated Press, All rights reserved
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