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EFE: Mr. President, the central theme of the VII Summit of the Americas is "Prosperity with equity: The Challenge of Cooperation in the Americas". In your second term, you have focused on policies to try to reduce the inequity and the gap between rich and poor people. What kind of concrete commitments are you expecting from the Summit and how US can help the region to fight inequity?

Barack Obama: As President, I’ve pledged to our brothers and sisters in Latin America that the United States will work with the countries and people of the region as equal partners, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. That’s because I believe the opportunities and challenges we face as a hemisphere can only be solved by all of us working together, in a spirit of shared responsibility-and that includes addressing the injustice of economic inequality.

I think this summit can build on the incredible progress the region has made in recent decades. Economic growth, trade and a shared commitment to expanding opportunity has lifted countless millions of people from poverty. Since 2002 the middle class has nearly doubled, and countries like Brazil and Mexico have middle class majorities for the first time in history. That said, alongside the region’s new wealth, about a third of people across the region still endure grinding poverty, and it’s still too hard for them to access the education, health care and basic service their families need. This isn’t just a drag on economic growth, it’s a moral challenge to us all.

I believe that the most effective way to close this gap is to unleash broad-based economic growth that creates new opportunities and to expand access to the tools people need to lift themselves out of poverty-including education, skills and job training. That’s why we’ve boosted the trade and investment that creates jobs. Across the region, we’re expanding access to electricity and connecting families and communities to the global economy. Our Small Business Network of the Americas is helping grow 250,000 small businesses throughout the region, and our WEAmericas initiative is helping to empower women entrepreneurs. And through our 100,000 Strong in the Americas Initiative and other educational exchange programs, we’re connecting our students, young people, and entrepreneurs with each other and with the skills and networks they need to collaborate and succeed in the 21st century.

My trip this week will build on this work. In Jamaica, I’ll be announcing a new initiative to empower young entrepreneurs and civil society leaders across the Americas, and I’ll be working with Caribbean leaders to promote cleaner and more sustainable energy. The Summit of the Americas in Panama is an opportunity to keep improving the competitiveness of the region, which is why the United States will be encouraging all the countries in the Americas to ratify the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement. I also look forward to meeting again with leaders from across Central America as part of our continuing effort to partner with their countries to strengthen governance and improve economic and security conditions so more people in these countries have the opportunity to live in safety and prosperity.

At the same time, every government has a responsibility to do its part by ensuring the good governance and transparency that attracts trade, investment and the economic partnerships that lead to greater prosperity for all, as well as promoting the social inclusion that gives people of all backgrounds the opportunity to succeed.

EFE: Cuba will be making its first-ever appearance at the Summit, which will bring all the countries of the region together for the first time. Are you ready, along with the Cuban president, Raul Castro, to announce in this Summit the reopening of the embassies in Washington and Havana? Do you think that the Cuban regime is doing enough to improve the situation of human rights in the country and make progress in that field?

Barack Obama: The historic policy changes that I announced in December represented a break with an approach that for more than 50 years had failed to promote improved political or economic conditions for the Cuban people. As part of that announcement, both the Cuban and U.S. governments committed to negotiate the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, broken since 1961, and the United States intends to carry through with this commitment. Secretary of State Kerry and his team have already engaged in our highest-level and most intense set of bilateral discussions with Cuba in decades. Our diplomats are making significant progress and I’m confident that we will be able to move forward with the re-opening of embassies. That said, re-opening embassies is only one part of the broader process of normalizing relations between our two countries. In the meantime, our governments have already begun talks on issues such as civil aviation, human rights, and telecommunications and other issues affecting the citizens of both our countries. I strongly believe that this engagement will be good for the United States and Cuba; improve the lives of the Cuban people; and promote more effective cooperation across the hemisphere.

Our new approach toward Cuba will also facilitate increased engagement with the Cuban people, including an increased flow of resources and information to the Cuban people-and it’s already showing results. We’re seeing increased contacts between the people of Cuba and the United States, and the enthusiasm of the Cuba people for these changes proves that we’re on the right path.

As I said in December, we will continue to have significant differences with the Cuban government, including on issues related to human rights. The United States will always support universal values such as freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. During the Summit of the Americas, I’ll be meeting with civil society leaders from across the region, including Cuba, as I regularly do in different countries around the world, because we believe that civil society has a critical role to play in supporting progress in all of our societies.

EFE: The request of 1 billion dollars to help Central America countries to improve their security in order to contain illegal immigration to US still need the approval by Congress. Besides, your executive orders on immigration are stuck in courts. So, what are you going to do to try to move forward in both issues?

Barack Obama: The $1 billion that I have requested for our strategy in Central America is not simply for security alone or focused exclusively on the spike in migration that we saw. Rather, it’s part of our comprehensive approach to partner with Central American countries as they address the underlying factors that have led many in the past to take the dangerous journey north, including violence and poverty. It builds my Administration’s ongoing efforts to promote security and prosperity in the region, including successful, community-level violence prevention programs.

Throughout my trip this week, I’ll continue to make the case for our $1 billion request to Congress, which aims to help Central America’s leaders make the difficult reforms and investments required to address the region’s interlocking security, governance and economic challenges. The people of the region are seeking the same things as people everywhere-institutions that are democratic, effective, accountable and transparent, communities that are safe for their families, and economies that are integrated so the region can compete in the global economy. The United States is determined to be their partner in building that future.

At the same time, I remain deeply committed to fixing our broken immigration system. The executive actions that I announced last year are designed to fix some of our current problems, and while some of these actions are temporarily on hold by our courts, I am confident that the law is on our side and that we will ultimately prevail. Still, the actions I took are not a substitute for the comprehensive, bipartisan reform that we need to improve our broader immigration system, where millions of people continue to live in the shadows. And so I remain committed to working with Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

EFE: Mr. President, there is a global perception about US losing influence and presence in the Americas. Regional organizations like Unasur or Celac are seen more effective and powerful than OAS and, for example, Brazil has joined the China-led bank known as AIIB. Do you think US is still the main and most important ally for the region?

Barack Obama: Yes, because the relationship between the United States and the Americas is like no other in the world. We are inextricably linked by ties of family, commerce, culture, shared values and our aspirations for the future. We’re bound by tens of millions of Hispanic Americans, the fastest-growing group in America that will only become more influential in the decades ahead. And since I took office, we’ve deepened our partnerships with Latin America, including economic ties-boosting U.S. exports to the region by nearly 70 percent.

In fact, it’s no exaggeration to say that our relationship with the Americas is the best it’s been in many decades. The new chapter of engagement that we’ve begun with Cuba has been welcomed across the region and is an historic opportunity to also advance regional cooperation and progress. The United States is leading the international effort to support Caribbean nations as they secure their energy future. We are the partner of choice for the countries of the Northern Triangle as they tackle the region’s security and developmental challenges. We are working in partnership with Canada, Chile, Mexico, and Peru to conclude a 21st century trade agreement in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. When it comes to standing up for the security, prosperity and human rights of the people of the Americas, no one does as much, in more places, as the United States.

While it is true that the region has changed dramatically over the last two decades, it has done so in a way that largely aligns with our values and advances our national interests. We can take pride in the fact that the inter-American community today is a region free of inter-state conflicts and broadly dedicated to democratic principles, social progress, and sustainable growth. We very much want countries in the Americas reaching out and cementing commercial relationships with Europe, Africa, India, and Asia-it can mean more prosperity and opportunity for us all.

We welcome the contributions of any country and regional organization that is actively working toward our shared objective of achieving a hemisphere that is democratic, more prosperous and secure from Canada to Chile. As the countries of the Americas expand their international relationships and take on a more active global role - a role that largely advances our shared values and interests - it is natural that other international actors and new sub-regional organizations will play a greater role in the region. If those countries and organizations work to uphold regional security, prosperity and human rights, then it’s a good thing.

EFE: In March, you issued an executive order to impose sanctions to Venezuela and declaring Venezuela a national security "threat". That executive order has been rejected by some countries in the region. Why do you think this order was the right choice to confront the situation in Venezuela? Are you open to have a direct dialogue with Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro?

Barack Obama: I want to be clear-our deep and abiding interest is in a Venezuela that is prosperous, stable, democratic, and secure. We want the Venezuelan people to succeed and to thrive. The United States is Venezuela’s largest trading partner, with over $40 billion in bilateral trade a year. We have deep and long-standing connections between families and our citizens. I am a firm believer in diplomatic engagement, and the United States remains open to direct dialogue with the Venezuelan government to discuss any matter of mutual concern.

Venezuela is confronting enormous challenges right now. For many months Venezuela’s neighbors sought to promote an internal dialogue and a political solution to the divisions tearing at Venezuelan society, hoping to prevent the situation in Venezuela from negatively impacting others in the region. We have consistently supported that kind of dialogue, and we continue to see it as the best way for Venezuela to move forward.

This does not mean that we, or any other member of the inter-American community, should remain silent about our concerns regarding the situation in Venezuela. We do not believe that Venezuela poses a threat to the United States, nor does the United States threaten the Venezuelan government. But we do remain very troubled by the Venezuelan government’s efforts to escalate intimidation of its political opponents, including the arrest and prosecution of elected officials on political charges, and the continued erosion of human rights, as we would be troubled by such developments in any other country in the world. That’s why the sanctions that we imposed were focused on discouraging human rights violations and corruption. These sanctions are focused specifically on individuals responsible for the persecution of political opponents, curtailment of press freedoms, use of violence and arbitrary arrest and detention. These sanctions are not intended to undermine the Venezuelan government or to promote instability in Venezuela.

Going forward, we’ll continue to work closely with others in the region to encourage the Venezuelan government to live up to its commitment to promote and defend democratic governance, as articulated in the OAS Charter, the Inter American Democratic Charter, and other relevant instruments related to democracy and human rights. Thus week’s summit in Panama is an important moment for leaders across the region not only to reaffirm our commitment to these principles and values.