President Obama Speaks at a Town Hall With Young Leaders of the Americas in Jamaica

President Obama:
Greetings, massive! (laughter and applause) Wah gwaan, Jamaica? (applause) Can everybody
please give Aubrey a big round of applause for
the great introduction? (applause) I want to thank the
University of the West Indies for hosting us. Big up, You-Wee! (applause) Thank you. I’ve been making
myself at home here. (laughter) It is great to be in
beautiful Jamaica — not only because I’m proud
to be the first President of the United States
to visit in more than 30 years, but because I just
like the vibe here. (applause) I was born on an island, and
it was warm, and so I feel right at home. And I’m grateful for
the warm Jamaican hospitality that I received this
morning, including from Prime Minister
Simpson-Miller. I also had the chance to meet
with leaders from across the Caribbean, where
we focused on issues of shared prosperity
and shared security. And tomorrow, I’ll meet
with leaders from across the hemisphere at the Summit
of the Americas in Panama. But before my trip
became all business, I wanted to come here and hear
from young people like you. Because it is your generation
who will shape the future of our countries and our
region and this planet that we share long after
those of us who are currently in public service are
gone from the stage. So I’m going to only speak
for a few minutes at the top, because I’d rather spend time
taking questions from you, and also because after
we have a chance for our town hall, I get a
chance to say hi to Usain Bolt and Shelly
Ann Fraser-Pryce. (applause) When you have the fastest
people on the planet, you’ve got to say
hi to them, right? Because that’s fast. (laughter) There are a lot of
people out there, and they’re the fastest. Now, we are not just nations,
we’re also neighbors. Tens of millions of Americans
are bound to the Caribbean and the Americas through
ties of commerce, but also ties of kin. More than one million
Americans trace their ancestry to Jamaica. More than one
million Americans visit Jamaica each year. So we’re committed to
you and this region. And as I’ve said before, in
our foreign policy there are no senior or junior
partners in the Americas; there are just partners. And that’s one reason why
the United States has started a new chapter
in our relations with the people of Cuba. (applause) We will continue to have
some differences with the Cuban government, but we
don’t want to be imprisoned by the past. When something doesn’t
work for 50 years, you don’t just keep on doing
it; you try something new. (applause) And we are as committed
as ever to supporting human rights and
political freedom in Cuba and around the world. But I believe that engagement
is a more powerful force than isolation, and the
changes we are making can help improve the lives
of the Cuban people. And I also believe that this
new beginning will be good for the United States and
the entire hemisphere. My point is, I believe
we can move past some of the old debates that so
often define the region, and move forward in a way
that benefits your generation with new thinking — an
energetic, impatient, dynamic and diverse
generation that you represent, both in
the United States and across this
hemisphere. More than 100 million
people in Latin America and the Caribbean are between
the ages of 15 and 24. Most of the region
is under 35. And what gives me so much hope
about your generation is that you’re more interested in the
hard work of waging peace than resorting to the quick
impulses of conflict. You’re more interested in the
hard work of building prosperity through entrepreneurship,
not cronyism or corruption. (applause) You’re more eager
for progress that comes not by holding down any
segment of society, but by holding up the
rights of every human being, regardless of what we look
like, or how we pray, or who we love. You care less about the
world as it has been, and more about the world
as it should be and can be. And unlike any other
time in our history, the technology at your
disposal means that you don’t have to wait for the change
that you’re looking for; you have the freedom to
create it in your own powerful and
disruptive ways. Many of you already have,
whether by starting your own enterprises or by
helping others start theirs. And I’m going to just single
out two remarkable young leaders who are here today
because I think they’re an example of what is
possible, even in the most difficult of
circumstances. So Angeline Jackson
is here today. Where is Angeline? There she is, right there. (applause) Several years ago,
when Angeline was 19, she and a friend were
kidnapped, held at gunpoint and sexually assaulted. And as a woman,
and as a lesbian, justice and society were
not always on her side. But instead of remaining
silent, she chose to speak out and started her own
organization to advocate for women like her, and
get them treatment and get them justice, and push
back against stereotypes, and give them some sense
of their own power. And she became a
global activist. But more than anything, she
cares about her Jamaica, and making it a place
where everybody, no matter their
color, or their class, or their sexual orientation,
can live in equality and opportunity. That’s the power of one
person, what they can do. (applause) Jerome Cowans grew up in
a tough part of Kingston. Where’s Jerome? (applause) When Jerome was 12,
he saw a friend gunned down. And when he looked at
the shooters, he said, “I realized that wasn’t
a life I wanted to live. They had expensive machinery,
but they had nothing else.” So at the ripe old age of 13,
he founded a youth group to help others like him
stay on the right path. And he started small,
with only six people, but they had one
big thing in common and they believed that
change was possible. And like Angeline, he was
threatened for his work, but he kept at it. And he said, “Things
won’t get any better if no one does anything.” And today, the LEAD Youth Club
he started has six chapters, including one in Colombia. His work has taken him
to five continents. Last year, he became the
first Jamaican to receive the Nelson Mandela
Innovation Award. He’s just 25 years old. (applause) So individuals like those
two young people — the young people here
today — you remind me of something that
Bob Marley once said. You know I went to
his house yesterday. (laughter) I thought, I’m only five
minutes from his house, I got to go check it out. (laughter) And one of the displays
has to do when he was shot right before a concert
he was supposed to give, trying to bring the political
factions in Jamaica together. And he was treated for his
wounds and he went ahead with the program, went
ahead with the show. And somebody asked, well,
why would you do that? He said, “The people
who are trying to make this world worse are
not taking the day off. Why should I?” Why should I? (applause) So none of us can afford
to take the day off. And I want you to
have every chance, every tool you need to
make this world better. So today I’m announcing
nearly $70 million in U.S. investments in
education, training, and employment programs
for our young people throughout Latin America
and the Caribbean. (applause) And these investments
will help young people in unemployed and impoverished
and marginalized communities, and give them a chance to
gain the skills they need to compete and succeed in
the 21st century economy. And that’s not all. As President, some of the
initiatives I’m most proud of the ones that increase my
country’s engagement with the next generation of leaders
like Angeline and Jerome and all of you — leaders in
government and civil society, and entrepreneurship
and the private sector. Four years ago, I
launched an initiative called “100,000 Strong
in the Americas.” And the goal was to
have 100,000 U.S. students studying
in this region, and 100,000 of this
region’s students studying in the United States by
the end of this decade. And we are on track
to meet that goal. So today, to build
on that progress, I’m proud to launch the Young
Leaders of the Americas Initiative right
here in Kingston. (applause) Let me say this. This is not your
traditional exchange. We’re going to seek
out the most innovative young entrepreneurs and
civil society leaders in the Caribbean, Latin
America, and we’re going to give them a
chance to earn a substantial continuum of the training
and the resources and the connections, the networks and
the capital that you need to make a difference. So this year, we’ll bring two
dozen entrepreneurs and civil society leaders from Latin
America and the Caribbean — including young Cuban leaders
— to the United States. (applause) Then next year,
we’ll increase this fellowship to 250
young leaders. And we’ll help you to expand
your commercial and social ventures; we’ll embed you
in an American business and incubators. We’ll give U.S. participants
the chance to continue their collaboration with
you in your home countries. So the idea is that you’ll get a
chance to implement your ideas but now have linkages that
give you access to capital and research and all the
things you need to mobilize and implement the kinds of
things that you’re doing. And this isn’t
charity for us. This is an investment
in your future, because that means it’s an
investment in our future — a future where climate
researchers in the Amazon can collaborate with
scientists in Alaska. An idea in Barbados
suddenly can be developed in an
incubator in Boston. Anti-gang activities in
Honduras can be connected to similar activities
in Houston, Texas. It’s a future where any kid
from Kingston can choose a path that opens his or
her horizons beyond their neighborhood
to the wider world. (applause) And that impulse
to make the world better, to push back on those
who try to make it worse, that’s something that your
generation has to hold on to. And you have to remember,
it’s never easy; there are no days off. But if there’s one thing
that I know from my own life, it’s that with hard
work and with hope, change is always
within our reach. The Jamaican-American
poet Claude McKay, who was a central figure
of the Harlem renaissance, once wrote something along
those lines: “We must strive on to gain the height although
it may not be in sight.” As long as we’ve got young
strivers like you — and I hope to see you in Washington as
part of this Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative
— I’m confident that a brighter future will
always be in sight. So thank you very much. With that, let’s
take some questions. All right, so — (applause) All right, since
we’re getting to work I’m going to take my jacket
off and get comfortable. All right. There are no rules to this
except that there are people with microphones
in the audience, so wait for them to
come when I call on you. We’re going to go
boy, girl, boy, girl so everybody gets
a chance, so it’s fair. (laughter) Before your question,
please introduce yourself and tell us where
you are from, okay? And try to keep your question
or comment relatively short so we can get more questions
or comments in, okay? We’ll start with this
young lady right here in the white blouse. It’s a little tight here. Female Speaker: Thank you. Yani Campbell (ph), a
lecturer at the University of the West Indies. Thank you so much for your
talk, very interesting. And I wondered as well,
on the Cuban issue, now that your policy has
actually changed towards Cuba, I wondered about your views
on how it is that we should approach — CARICOM should
approach its relationship with Cuba in terms of
deepening that relationship. Should they now perhaps
move to join in CARICOM? Thank you. President Obama:
Well, first of all, I think CARICOM can make
its own decisions and we’ll respect it. Cuba will be participating in
the Summit of the Americas, and I think — it is my strong
belief that if we engage, that that offers the
greatest prospect for escaping some of the
constraints of the past. I think the Cuban people
are extraordinary and have huge potential. And what’s encouraging is, is
that the overwhelming majority of Cubans are interested
in ending the Cold War — the last vestige of the Cold
War — and moving forward. It’s going to take
some time for the United States to
fully implement some of the things that have
already been agreed to, and it’s going to take a
little bit longer before you actually have
complete normal relations between the United
States and Cuba. What I would say to Caribbean
countries is, absolutely, you should continue to engage
in Cuba in the ways that you’ve already doing — you’ve
already done in the past. I do think that it
is important for all of us to be able to speak
honestly where we see concerns about issues of human rights
and political freedom. And I’m not saying
anything publicly that I haven’t said directly
to Raul Castro. There are still
constraints on the ability of the Cuban people to express
themselves, or to organize political parties, or
to start a business. And sometimes, the same
things we expect for ourselves and our country,
somehow we think other people don’t want. But I believe that each
country — I believe each country has its
own unique cultures, its own unique traditions. I don’t expect every
country to pursue the same policies or have the
same political practices as the United States. And I am certainly aware
of the flaws that exist in our own country
that we have to fix. But I do believe there
are certain principles that are universal. I think that all people want
basic dignity and want basic freedom, and want to be able to
worship as they please without being discriminated against,
or they should be able to speak their mind about an
important issue pertaining to their community
without being arrested. And so wherever we see
that, we try to speak out. But what we also try to do is
engage and recognize that even with countries that
we have differences, there’s also going to be
commonality and overlap. And the United States and Cuba
should both have an interest in dealing with climate
change, for example, because when the oceans
start lapping upon Miami or on Havana, nobody is
going to distinguish, well, where do they stand on this
or that ideological issue. And so we have to find where
there are areas of cooperation, but I will continue to try
to be consistent in speaking out on behalf
of the issues that are important to all
people, not just some. All right, it’s a
gentleman’s turn. This gentleman
right here. He looks very serious;
he’s got glasses. Looking sharp. Plus, he’s got a
copy of my book. (laughter) So he’s
clearly a wise man. Male Speaker: Thank
you very much. My name is Chef
Brian Lumley — I’m a young
Jamaican chef here. (applause) And I own a
restaurant — 689 by Brian Lumley. (laughter) Just saying. My question to you —
I’m going to stay a little bit off the
politics for a bit. And I’ve witnessed
your journey a lot, and the question is
kind of two-part. If you go back and give
yourself one piece of advice before the start of you 2008
term, what would it be? And the second part is if
you can sign this book when you’re finished. (laughter) Thank you very much. President Obama:
I’ll sign the book. So the question was, for those
couldn’t hear: If I were to go back and give myself advice
before I started in 2008, what would the advice be? I suppose I could have started
dying my hair earlier — (laughter) — so then people
wouldn’t say, man, he’s getting old. You’re going like this —
at least I got hair, man. (laughter) I’m teasing you. I’m messing with you. I think that — keep in mind
that when I came into office we were going through the worst
global financial crisis since the 1930s, and so we had to
make a series of decisions very quickly, many of
which were unpopular. Overall, I think
we got it right. I think we did the
right thing. And because, I think,
we took these steps, not only were we able to avoid
the kind of Great Depression that we saw in the 1930s, not
only was America able to bounce back and start growing more
rapidly than most of our peers, drive down unemployment faster,
create more jobs faster, but that also had an impact
on the global economy and it had an impact on
the Caribbean economy, that we were able to bounce
back quicker than we might have if we hadn’t
taken those steps. But it was, I think,
costly politically. And what I would have probably
advised was that I might have needed to warn the American
people and paint a picture for them that was more
accurate about the fact that it would take some time
to dig ourselves out of a very big hole. Because FDR, when
he came into office, the Great Depression had
already been going on for two, three years, and so people
understood how serious it was. With us, we came in just
as people were really starting to feel
the impacts. And trying to paint a picture
that we’ll make it but it’s going to take some time, and
here are the steps that we need to take — I think I would have
advised myself to do a better job spending more time not
just getting the policy right, but also describing it in
ways that people understood, that gave them confidence
in their own future. I think that would probably
be the most important advice that I would
have given myself. (applause) All right, it’s a
young lady’s turn. That young lady
right there. Yes, you. You, yes. Oh, well, I’ll call
on both of you. I’ll call on you later. Go ahead. Female Speaker: Okay, so
we’re here and we’re looking at you, and we’re all
very honored to be here and very taken about by
your leadership qualities. And seeing that you are the
President of the United States of America and you’re
so influential, I want to know how you
handle the mental strain that comes with being
in charge of so much. President Obama:
What’s your name? Female Speaker: Kimberly
— from the University of the West Indies. President Obama: Fantastic. How do I handle stress? You know, I’ll be
honest with you. One of the things that happens
as you get older is you start appreciating both your
strengths and your weaknesses. Hopefully you gain a
little wisdom about what you’re good at and
what you’re not. And Michelle can give you
a long list of things I’m not good at. (laughter) But one thing
that I’ve always had, which has served me well, is
a pretty good temperament. And I attribute that partly
from growing up on an island with trade winds and beaches,
and it makes you calm. But I try not to get too high
when things are going well so that I don’t get too low
when things are going badly, and try to keep a long view
of how the process of social change takes place,
and how the trajectory of your own life is
going to proceed. We get caught up in the
day-to-day so much, and it’s interesting now when
I’m talking to my daughters and “somebody said something
at school,” or there’s — “well, I didn’t do quite as
well on that test as I wanted.” And you want them to
take it seriously, but you also want to say to
them, you know what, this, too, shall pass; I promise
you three months from now, much less 30 years from
now, you will not remember. And so I think that trying to
keep your eye on the prize of where it is that
you want to go and not be discouraged or overly
impressed with yourself on a day-to-day basis I
think is very important. And then you have to get some
exercise in the morning. (laughter) I don’t run
as fast as these folks, but I get a little exercise,
which does help in terms of stress relief. All right. It’s a gentleman’s turn. Let’s see, somebody
from this side. This young man right here
in the sharp-looking checkered shirt. Male Speaker: Good afternoon
again, Mr. President. Especially as it
relates to human rights and social change — I’m
Jomain McKenzie and I’m a focal point with the
Global Fund Board. As it relates to human
rights and social change, how do you make the decision to
allow societies to go through the natural evolutionary
process of having change occur on their own versus having
governments exert policies to make these same
political social changes? President Obama: That’s a
really interesting question. It’s an interesting
question and it’s one that I have to struggle
with all the time. Every society, as I said,
is at a different phase in development, in
their own history; they have different
cultural traditions. And so the way I
think about it is, is that the United States
has certain core values and principles that we
believe deeply in. And we don’t necessarily
expect that every country will formulate how to secure those
ideals and those principles. We don’t expect it to be done
exactly as we do any more than we expect every —
obviously, our democracy is not the same as
aJamaican democracy or a British democracy
or Australian democracy. But we believe in democracy. We think that if people
have the ability to speak out about their own lives,
some sense of agency, then that society
will be stronger. And that doesn’t mean that we
won’t work with a country that doesn’t precisely
abide by those principles, but we will still speak out. There are times where a
country is clearly engaging in activities that are so egregious
that it’s not culturally specific; it typically has to
do with a government wanting to exert control over
people and oppress them. And in those instances, I think
it is entirely appropriate for us to speak out
forcefully and, in some cases, to not do
business with them. Look at a country
like North Korea. I mean, obviously, Korean
culture is different than American culture. On the other hand, you look at
what’s happening in South Korea and you look at what’s
happening in North Korea and those are two entirely
different societies. And I can tell you which
one you’d rather live in. And if you have a
situation in which people are being murdered simply
because they didn’t agree with the
government on something or didn’t want their
economic fate to be entirely determined by the whims of
some government bureaucrat, and suddenly they’re sent to
a labor camp — that’s something where we as
an international community have to speak out on. And then there are some
issues that may be culturally specific, but you know what,
I think they’re wrong. I won’t — we’re not going to
try to force that country to change, but I may try
to shame that country. There are nations where
slavery still exists. And that may be part of
the ancient culture in that society, but
slavery is wrong. And I’m not going to
give them the excuse that, well, this
is who we are. In Africa — and I can speak
I think fairly as somebody who is the son of an African
father — there are practices like female genital
mutilation that may be part of the tradition there,
but it’s wrong. And I’m going to say so. And it will be U.S. policy
to say that it’s wrong. So the tools we use to try
to bring about change around the world
may vary. And as I said earlier, we’re not
always perfectly consistent. There are times where we’ve got
allies who are not observing all the human rights we would
like, and there are times where there are countries
that are adversaries of ours where they do
some things quite well. And you can’t expect
us, or any country, to be perfectly consistent
in every circumstance. But what I’ve tried to do is
be fairly consistent in terms of what we
believe, what we stand for, and then we use different
tools depending on what we think will bring
about the most change. In some cases, it will just
be a diplomatic statement; in some cases, it may be serious
enough that we will organize — try to organize the United
Nations or other multilateral forums to speak out
against certain practices. In some cases, it may be so
egregious that we need to sanction them, and we will try
to organize the international community in that way. And then finally, in the
ultimate circumstance, where the violations of our
values are so severe that they start spilling over and — in
the instance of, for example, genocide — we may
be say to ourselves, in concert with the
international community, we need to intervene because
this government is so brutal and so unacceptable that we
need to protect people. But we do that in the
context of an international conversation so that
we’re not simply making these decisions — or
we’re not so arrogant that we’re not paying
attention to what the rest of the world
community is saying. This young lady who I
originally had called on and got
skipped over. No, no, this
one right here. Yes. Right here. I’m sorry, I love
you, too, though. (laughter) Female Speaker: Good
afternoon, Mr. President. My name is Katrina
King-Smith. I’m from the Turks
and Caicos Islands. My question is
two-part, as well. Firstly, in countries such as
the Turks and Caicos Islands where the population is
small and our main sources of revenue are tourism and
foreign direct investment, I was wondering if you can
suggest two ways that the government may better generate
and regulate sustainable revenue, especially with
regulations currently being put in place to close
off-shore financial centers. And secondly, I was wondering
if after your term has ended, would you mind coming to the
Turks and Caicos to vacation? (laughter) President Obama: On the
second question, absolutely. (laughter) I’ll do some
island-hopping once I’m out of office. And you guys can show me
all the good places to go. (applause) On this issue of
off-shore financial centers, we respect each country
to set up its own financial regulations. And we recognize that
for small countries, that providing services —
including financial services — may be an important
source of revenue. The one thing that we have to
make sure of is that these financial centers are not
either used for illicit money laundering or tax
avoidance by large U.S. corporations that set
up cut-outs or front organizations, but as a
practical matter are operating in the United States, employing
folks in the United States, essentially headquartered in
the United States and yet, somehow, their mailing
address is such-and-such island where they
have to pay no taxes. Those are the kinds of
egregious concerns that we’re trying to deal with. I think we try to take it
on a case-by-case basis. And in my CARICOM
meeting that I just had, this issue was brought up. There were a number of leaders
who expressed concern that maybe they were being
unfairly labeled as areas of high financial risk. And what I committed to them
is we will examine their complaints and go through in
very concrete ways where our concerns are and how our
governments can work together. More broadly, I think that
the — if you look at some of the most successful
countries in the world, they’re actually pretty small
countries — like Singapore, for example — that on paper
look like they have no assets, and yet, if you go to
Singapore, it has one of the highest standards
of living in the world. What is it that Singapore did
that might be replicable? Well, one of the most
important things they did was they made an enormous
investment in their people. (applause) And if you’ve
got a highly skilled, highly educated workforce, if
you’ve set up rules of law and governance that are
transparent and non-corrupt, then you can attract actually
a lot of service industries to supplement the tourist
industry, because people would want to locate
in your country. You could envision people
wanting to operate and have offices there where you’ve
got a trained workforce. And these days, so many
businesses are operating over the Internet that if you’ve
got a really skilled workforce that provides value
added, you will attract companies and you’ll
attract businesses. What deters people from
investing in most countries is conflict, corruption, and a lack
of skills or infrastructure. And those countries that
are able to address those problems have rule of law
and eliminate corruption. Make sure that you are investing
in the education of your people and it’s a continuous
education; it doesn’t just stop at the lower grades,
but you give people constant opportunities
to upgrade their skills. You have a decent
infrastructure — you’re going to be able to succeed. That’s the recipe, the formula
for a 21st-century economy. All right. Uh oh, they’re starting
to holler at me. (laughter) Let’s see, I haven’t
gone back here in a while. This gentleman in the
blue shirt right here. Male Speaker: Thanks
so much, Mr. President. We know that there’s been
an increasing military assertiveness of
China, especially in the South China Sea. And it seems that the
U.S. has responded to that by pledging
to increase its military presence because it
recognizes the danger that that military increase of
China poses to its friends and allies there. Now, China’s growing power isn’t
just military, it’s economic. On this side of the world,
China has used this soft power, this economic power especially
to woo Caribbean governments. My questions are,
how does the U.S. view China’s influence
in its own backyard, especially since you’ve just
talked about the Cold War and alliances? And secondly, what
plan does the U.S. have, if any, to contribute
more to economic life in the Caribbean to
ward off China in terms of foreign direct
investment? (applause) Thank you very much,
Mr. President. President Obama:
What’s your name? Male Speaker: Oh, sorry. My name is Newton Harris
from the University of Technology-Jamaica. (applause) President Obama: Fantastic. Well, first of all, let
me say that it is U.S. official policy and it
is my strong belief that we should welcome
China’s peaceful rise. What China has done in the last
20, 30 years is remarkable. More people have been lifted
out of poverty in a shorter period of time than perhaps
any time in human history. (applause) And that’s
good for the world. I mean, we should be more
fearful of a poorer, collapsing China than a China
that is participating in the world marketplace and trading
and is getting along with its neighbors and part of
the international order, because there are a really
large number of Chinese people and we want
them to be doing well. So our policy is not to
fear China’s peaceful rise. Where we get concerned with
China is where it is not necessarily abiding by
international norms and rules, and is using its size and
muscle to force countries into subordinate positions. And that’s the concern we
have around maritime issues. We think this can be
solved diplomatically, but just because the
Philippines or Vietnam are not as large as China
doesn’t mean that they can just be
elbowed aside. And, by the way, we don’t
have a particular view on the territorial disputes,
the maritime disputes. Our attitude is simply,
let’s use the mechanisms that we have in place
internationally to resolve them. Now, with respect to Chinese
investment in the Caribbean or in the Americas, in
the Western Hemisphere, my response is the same one
that I gave when I was asked this question in Africa,
which is, if China is making investments that are building
up infrastructure, or improving education, or helping the
people, then we welcome that. We think that’s great. The only thing is you
got to make sure you look at what strings
may be attached. If the investments are made
and it’s solely to build a road to a mine to extract
raw materials that are going to then be
immediately going to a port and
shipped to China, and if Chinese workers are
shipped in to build the road — (applause) — and if you don’t know
exactly what the deal was with the government that led to
China getting the contract — (applause) — in those situations,
it may not be, in fact, serving the long-term
interests of the country. Now, I would say — by
the way, I’d say the same thing about the
United States. So if we come in with an
aid package to your country, and we say we
got this great deal, we’re going to give you $100
million for such and such, but if when you evaluate
the actual benefits, it’s U.S. companies that are
disproportionately benefitting from it, and it’s creating a
situation where over the long term the United States is
making a whole lot of profits but is not leaving behind a
sustainable industrial base or ways in which that country
can develop, then you have to evaluate that and
try to get a better deal. So what I’m saying is
not unique to China. I think that’s how all
countries should be operating. Your government
should be transparent; it should be clear about
what you’re getting. There should be an accounting
of how the money flows. (applause) There should be a sense
that over the long term, Jamaican businesses or
somebody from Belize is getting a job,
or — right? I mean, there should be
some sense of how is this benefitting us over
the long term. And that’s I think the
only criteria that we’re going to lay out. Now, last thing I’ll say
— because you asked — you kind of posed, is there
like a bidding war going on here for affections. The Chinese are giving us
flowers and chocolates — (laughter) — what are you
doing for us lately? (laughter) And so what
I would say is this. The United States, I
think historically, has been an enormous
provider of development aid. Not always, by the way, has it
followed the rule I just laid out in terms of whether or
not the local recipients are benefitting, but I think we’ve
gotten a lot better at that. And if you look at
institutions like the World Bank or other
multilateral institutions, we remain the largest
contributors by far. So sometimes when you get money
from a multilateral institution — you look at who’s doing
what; if you look at what happens in terms of when
Haiti gets decimated, who’s raising the money —
we tend to look pretty good. It turns out we’re doing
more than our fair share. And we will continue
to do that. We do have some
fiscal constraints. And sometimes, I think —
when I travel to the Americas, to the region, people ask,
why don’t we have sort of the kinds of Alliance
for Progress programs with huge sums of money. Well, part of it is, is that
right after World War II, the United States was so
large relative to the rest of the world. Japan was decimated;
Europe was decimated. Huge chunks of the world were
behind the Iron Curtain. And so it was natural that
we gave fivefold or tenfold more than
anybody else could do. Well, things have evened out,
in case you haven’t noticed. We’re still, by far, the most
powerful nation on Earth and we still do more
than everybody else, but we do expect others to step
up and do their fair share. But I can guarantee you this: We
will always do our fair share. And nowhere is that truer than
in the Caribbean and in the Americas, because you are
our neighbors and some of our closest friends. (applause) Let’s see. It’s a young lady’s turn. This young lady right here. Right here. Female Speaker:
Welcome, Mr. President. I lived a block away
from you in Chicago when I went to the
University of Chicago. President Obama:
Is that right? Female Speaker: And my
college sweetheart, Sam Kass, was your private chef
until very recently. President Obama: Oh, wow! (laughter) Well, you’re just
putting Sam’s business all out there. (laughter) All right. What’s your name? Female Speaker:
Lisandra Rickards. I work for the Branson
Centre of Entrepreneurship. President Obama: Cassandra? Female Speaker: Lisandra. President Obama: Lisandra. All right. Well, I’ll tease
Sam about this one. (laughter) Female Speaker: Please do. (laughter) President Obama: Everybody
knows about you now. Go ahead. Female Speaker: My question
is around immigration. We’ve heard a lot about
your immigration policy for undocumented immigrants who are
currently living in the U.S. But what about hopeful
families that are seeking a legal pathway for
immigration into the U.S. but are finding seven- to
ten-year delays before they even can get to apply? I’d love to hear you talk some
more about your policy regarding shortening that timeline
and making it less onerous on the applicants. President Obama: Good. That’s a great question. That’s a great question. (applause) The United States
is a nation of immigrants. And this region has
contributed to the remarkable progress that the United
States has made over the last two centuries. And my goal during the
course of my presidency has been to make sure we
continue to be a nation of immigrants as well as a
nation of laws, and that we’re attracting talent from
all around the world. Part of what makes us
special is you walk in Brooklyn and there are
folks from everywhere. But they’re all striving,
they’re all talented, they’re all trying to make
their dreams come true. And that is what gives us
the energy and the strength to be able to accomplish
everything we’ve accomplished. So we need to fix
what is, right now, a broken immigration system. Part of it is dealing with those
who are undocumented but who have been living there a long
time, are part of the community, providing them with a pathway
in which they have to earn a legal status, but
recognizing that they’re there and we’re not going to be
separating out families. That’s not who we are. That’s not true
to our values. And ultimately, it’s not
good for our economy. But you are absolutely right
that part of the reason that some people take the illegal
route is because we make the legal route so difficult. And so we’re trying
to identify ways to streamline that process. Now, I have to be honest. A lot of people want
to come to America. So unless we just
had no borders, there’s always
going to be a wait. There’s always going to
be background checks. There’s always going to
be some prioritization in terms of who’s
admitted and who’s not. But I do think that there
are practices we have — for example, where someone has a
relation in the United States, is clearly qualified to
become at some point a legal resident and maybe
in the future a citizen, but in order to do it they have
to first leave the country, wait, and now they’re
separated from their families. I mean, there have to be
ways in which we can make the system clearer
and less burdensome. Some of those changes we wanted
to make were in the legislation that was proposed and passed
the United States Senate. I think there is still the
opportunity to get that done before my presidency is
over, but it does require the Republican Party
I think to engage with me in a more
serious effort, and to put aside
the politics. Thank you very much
for the question. (applause) All right, this side
has been neglected right here. I’m going to go with this
guy with the beard, man, because he looks a
little bit like — (applause) — he looks a little bit
like Marshawn Lynch. (laughter) Male Speaker:
Greetings, Mr. President. President Obama: How are you? Male Speaker: More life
and blessings on you and your family. President Obama:
What’s your name? Male Speaker: My name
is Miguel Williams, but you can call —
I am Steppa. (laughter) President Obama: Steppa. Male Speaker: Yeah, man,
that is quite sufficient. Yeah, man. My question has to
do and surrounds U.S. policy as it regards
the legalization, the decriminalization
of marijuana. President Obama: How did I
anticipate this question? (laughter) Male Speaker: Yeah, man. President Obama: How did
I guess this question? Male Speaker: Yes. And, Mr. President, it really
comes under (inaudible). We face economic challenges
with the IMF, et cetera. And and we find realistically
that the hemp industry, the marijuana industry
provides a highly feasible alternative
to rise above poverty. So I am wanting to over stand
and to understand how U.S. is envisioning and how you
would you see Jamaica pushing forward on a decriminalization,
legalization emphasis on the hemp industry. (applause) President Obama: Okay. Well. (laughter) Let me — I do want to
separate out what are serious issues in the United States
and then how that relates to our foreign policy and our
interactions with the region. There is the issue of
legalization of marijuana, and then there is the
issue of decriminalizing or dealing with the
incarceration and, in some cases, devastation
of communities as a consequence of
nonviolent drug offenses. I am a very strong believer
that the path that we have taken in the United States in
the so-called “War on Drugs” has been so heavy in
emphasizing incarceration that it has been
counterproductive. You have young people who
did not engage in violence who get very long penalties,
get placed in prison, and then are rendered
economically unemployable, are almost pushed into, then,
the underground economy, learn crime more
effectively in prison, families are devastated. So it’s been very
unproductive. And what we’re trying
to do is to reform our criminal justice system. And the good news is there has
actually been some interest on the part of unlikely allies
like the evangelical community or some otherwise very
conservative Republicans, because it’s very expensive
to incarcerate people, and a recognition that this
may not be the best approach. So that’s one issue. There’s then the second issue
of legalizing marijuana, whether it’s medical marijuana
or recreational use. There are two states in the
United States that have embarked on an experiment to
decriminalize or legalize marijuana — Colorado
and Washington State. And we will see how that
experiment works its way through the process. Right now, that is
not federal policy, and I do not foresee
anytime soon Congress changing the law at
a national basis. But I do think that if there
are states that show that they are not suddenly a
magnet for additional crime, that they have a strong enough
public health infrastructure to push against the potential
of increased addiction, then it’s conceivable
that that will spur on a national debate. But that is going
to be some time off. And then the third
issue is what will U.S. international policy be. And we had some discussion
with the CARICOM countries about this. I know on paper a lot of
folks think, you know what, if we just legalize
marijuana, then it’ll reduce the money flowing into the
transnational drug trade, there are more revenues
and jobs created. I have to tell you that it’s
not a silver bullet, because, first of all, if you are
legalizing marijuana, then how do you deal
with other drugs, and where do you
draw the line? Second of all, as is true in
the global economy generally, if you have a bunch of small
medium-sized marijuana businesses scattered
across the Caribbean and this is suddenly legal,
if you think that big multi-national
companies are not going to suddenly come in and
market and try to control and profit from the
trade — that’s I think a very real scenario. And so I think we have to
have a conversation about this, but our current
policy continues to be that in the United States, we
need to decrease demand. We need to focus on a
public health approach to decreasing demand. We have to stop the flow of guns
and cash into the Caribbean and Central America
and Latin America. (applause) And at the same time,
I think the Caribbean, Latin America have to — Central
America — have to cooperate with us to try to shrink the
power of the transnational drug organizations that are vicious
and hugely destructive. And if we combine a public
health perspective, a focus on not simply throwing
every low-level person with possession into prison by
trying to get them treatment, if we combine that with
economic development and alternative
opportunities for youth, then I think we can
strike the right balance. It may not comport with your —
completely with your vision for the future, but I think
that we could certainly have a smarter approach to it
than we currently do. Got time for one
more question. One more question. Let’s see — this
is always hard. It’s always hard to be that
last — it’s a lady’s turn, so all the guys just have
to put down their hands. It’s too late for you. Let’s see. You know what, I’m
just going to go with this young lady
right here. She’s just right in front. Go ahead, yes, you. Hold on a second,
wait for the mic. (laughter) Female Speaker:
Afternoon, Mr. President. I’m Alana Williams (ph), I’m
from the South Side of Chicago. President Obama: Wait,
you’re from Chicago? Female Speaker: Yes! President Obama: Well,
what are you doing here? This is supposed to be for
Caribbean young ladies. Female Speaker: Actually,
I attend Olivet Nazarene University and I’m studying
abroad, so I’m here. President Obama: I see, okay. Well, you’re cheating
a little bit. I’ll have to call on
somebody else after you. (laughter) But I’m going to go
ahead and let you ask a question real quick. Because I’ll see
you in Chicago. (laughter) Female Speaker: Most definitely. My question is really
more so about home. I love my city, but the
violence is terrible, specifically amongst
young black men. And I know we’re talking a
lot about police brutality, but I’ve lost a lot of
friends from people who look just like me. And that’s the problem. And so I would like to
know what you believe is the true source of the
violence, and what is one solution to an
extreme problem. Thank you. President Obama: Well, look,
I know you asked it about Chicago but I know there
are neighborhoods right here in Jamaica that have
the same problems, and in every place all
across the Caribbean; certainly in
Central America. I don’t think there is
just one single factor. Obviously, a contributor is
one that we just talked about, which is the drug trade. If you have an illicit
trade that generates huge amounts of money and is
not regulated above board, that is going to attract
ultimately people trying to carve out turf, trying
to control markets, and violence ensues. So that’s point number one. Point number two is the easy
accessibility of weapons. And we were talking earlier
about different traditions; the United States has a
tradition of gun ownership that is deep; dates back
to the pioneer past. And I think it is a mistake
that we do not do a better job of putting in place common-sense
gun-safety regulations that would keep guns out
of the hands of criminals, but unfortunately a
majority of Congress does not agree with me. Even after six-year-olds
were gunned down viciously in their classroom, we
could not get action done. But what we are doing is
cooperating with the region as we are cooperating with
local jurisdictions to try to stem at least
the flow of guns using the administrative
tools that I have. So that’s number two. Number three is providing
alternative paths for young people. If a young person is reading
by the age — by the third grade and at grade level, if
they are enjoying school, if they see a path for
success, then they are less likely to get involved in
criminal activity and that will reduce gun violence,
and that will reduce crime, and that will
reduce death. (applause) Which means investing
in things like early childhood education and improving our
schools — those things are absolutely vital. (applause) But there is a fourth
element to this, and that is our own
responsibility. And particularly, as I
speak to young people here today, we always talk about
what can we do about the violence as if it’s like
just separate and apart. But we have control
in our communities of our immediate friends,
our immediate family. We influence our peers. And I do think that the power
that all of you have as young leaders to be able to not
make excuses for violence — because there are a whole
bunch of folks who have really tough backgrounds
and come from terrible circumstances, and
are really poor, but they don’t go around
shooting somebody. They don’t beat somebody over
the head because of sneakers or because they looked
at them the wrong way. And so there is an element of
us retaking our communities and being willing to speak
out against violence in our midst. That doesn’t ignore
all the social factors. But Dr. King used to say it’s
not an either/or situation, it’s a both/and situation. Government has to act. We have to have
effective policing, which means policing that is
actually protecting as opposed to some of the things that
we’ve been seeing of late in the United States,
and I’m sure is true in other countries. And I say that saying that
police have an extraordinarily difficult job, and the
overwhelming majority do a great job under
severe circumstances. But there’s got to be trust
built between the communities, and I had to put a task
force together that put together some excellent
reports in the wake of Ferguson around how
we can do that. But ultimately, what
happens in the home, what happens in the school
— some of you are parents already; some of you will be
parents — what we teach our children in terms of
values, valuing themselves, valuing others, that’s
important, too. (applause) So there’s
no single solution. But all of us have
to do better. Because the tragedy of what
we see in the United States but also in cities and towns
all across the Caribbean and Central America,
is terrible. And there’s no
excuse for it. All right. Because I called
accidentally on a Chicagoan, I’ve got to call
on one more person. Look, this young lady stood
up, so she showed — that wasn’t fair, but I
called on her, go ahead. You’re not from
Chicago are you? Female Speaker: No. President Obama:
You promise? Okay. All right, get the
mic — oh, I’m sorry. You know what, I confess,
even though I was going to call on you, she
thought she was going to be called on. I’m going to call
on both of you now, but each of you get a
really short question. Really short, quick. Female Speaker: Well,
I’m the team leader for the Global Entrepreneurship
Monitor and I want to thank you for the
initiatives that you’re planning to do here. And I wanted to invite you to
our annual general meeting that’s going to be held
in Babson in the States, so we want you to come
because you are part of a global team. So I’m representing Jamaica
as the youngest female team leader, and I’m inviting you
to come so we can talk about Startup America
and we can collaborate on different projects. So I’m inviting you
to come to that event. President Obama:
Okay, that was good. And I can say I’ll
await your invitation. And what I will say very
quickly is entrepreneurship, small- and medium-sized
businesses, that is a priority and that
means that we’ve got to create channels for access to
capital, technical training. These are areas where a
lot of our development aid is shifting. Instead of just giving
somebody a fish, we want to teach
them how to fish. (applause) And what you’re seeing
— what you see among young people all
around the world is, is that instead of just finding
a job in a big organization, they may want to create
something of their own, a new vision. And that kind of creativity
has to be tapped. So we’re shifting a lot of the
work that we do around issues of entrepreneurship, so I’ll
be interested in seeing what you have to say. All right. This young lady
right here, go ahead. Female Speaker:
Hello, everyone. Hi, Mr. President. My name is Davianne Tucker,
and I’m the Guild president-elect for the
University of the West Indies. (applause) Thank you. So my question is, the
Jamaican government has been holding firmly
to the stipulations of the IMF agreement. There are many who would
like to know if the debt write-offs for Jamaica are
being considered as a means of improving the
livelihood of our people. So is that being considered? President Obama: Well, this
came up in my bilateral with your Prime Minister. And, look, historically, I
think there has been times where the IMF or the
international multilateral organizations worked
with governments in ways that weren’t always
productive, got them deep into debt, and then
suddenly you’ve got a lot more flowing out
than was going in. And in some cases there were
governments around the world that were corrupt, lent money,
money goes into a Swiss bank account, suddenly the people
are paying off for decades. In Jamaica, some of it just
had to do with tough circumstances, not always
the best fiscal management. I think that the current
government has been wise to work hard to abide by
the IMF provisions. That’s not been easy. And I think that has been
the right thing to do. But what I also agreed with,
when I spoke to the Prime Minister, is the need
to try to address in a more systematic fashion
how we can spur growth and not just put the
squeeze on folks. Because what it turns
out is, is that if a — the best way for a country
to reduce its debt is to grow really fast, and
to generate more income. (applause) Now, that does require
development plans and approaches that
are productive. And it is true that
sometimes that requires some short-term sacrifice. And I think the question
that the people of Jamaica, just like the people of
the United States and everywhere else,
should be asking is: If the government is
spending money right now, is it on something
that is going to help create long-term growth
and help people succeed? (applause) If the answer is no, you
shouldn’t spend that money. Spending money just for
the sake of spending money is not — that’s not the
formula for success. But if the money is being
spent on what we talked about — early childhood
education; if it’s being spent on infrastructure;
if it’s being spent on research; if it’s
being spent on building skills for workers — those
are good investments. And I do think that the
international financial institutions have to accommodate
the interests of countries who have a sound plan for growth so
that they cannot just stay in this static state but can,
over time, thrive and succeed. And the way that’s going
to happen is because of outstanding young
leaders like you. I’ve had a great
conversation. Thank you, Jamaica. Thank you. Appreciate it,
young leaders. God bless you. (applause)


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