U.S. Congressman Mike Pence, Chairman of the House Republican Conference, made the following foreign policy remarks today at the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute:
(As prepared for delivery)
"Thank you Lincoln for that kind introduction. As many of you know, Congressman Diaz-Balart brings an important voice to the United States Congress, to the Hispanic community and to the Republican Party. I am grateful for your service Lincoln.
"¡Buenos días! I want thank the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute and its Executive Director Octavio Hinojosa for the invitation to speak today, and for its critical and bipartisan support of the diversity of thought within the Hispanic community.
"I would also like to recognize my colleagues, Representatives Albio Sires, Henry Cuellar, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart for their leadership at CHLI and in the United States Congress.
"I am honored to be here today as a member of the House Republican leadership. I am also proud to serve as a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
"Many of the issues you will discuss during your conference are near and dear to my heart.
"In the next few moments I want to talk to you about the challenges that confront our neighbors in the Western Hemisphere. And about the continued threat to freedom that exists today in many parts of the world. The question before us is what role will the United States play as we struggle to expand the horizon of freedom?
"Not too long ago President John F. Kennedy pledged to 'support any friend' and 'oppose any foe' to ensure the survival of liberty. Throughout the last century, American presidents across the ideological spectrum provided hope to dissidents held captive by tyranny and reminded their captors that America's cause would remain the cause of freedom.
"Those of us who cherish this American tradition are deeply troubled by President Obama's first six months on the world stage. The president continues to travel the globe apologizing for alleged American transgressions. He has passed by opportunities to advance the cause of freedom. And he has met each international crisis with an unpredictable foreign policy. All of this has undermined our ability to remain a symbol of hope for those fighting for democracy and civil liberties.
"It began in the streets of Iran, where hundreds of thousands of Iranian dissidents rallied for the right to have their votes counted and their voices heard. Their cries for human rights were carried on signs written in English intended for a watching world. Sadly, the Iranian government responded with a violent crackdown on the dissidents. President Obama's response was to assure the Ayatollah that we would not 'meddle.'
"The week before violence broke out in Iran, President Obama spoke eloquently about the fundamental rights of all individuals to have a say in how they are governed. But as Iran violated these very human rights, President Obama remained silent, missing an opportunity to carry real hope to thousands of helpless Iranians.
"While the President didn't want to 'meddle' on behalf of Iranians seeking freedom, he was quick to take sides in the current crisis in Honduras. The American people have seen that act play out on numerous stages around the world.
"After President Zelaya sought to expand his presidential authority beyond constitutional limitations and ordered the military to violate the rulings of their Supreme Court, he was arrested and removed from office. The National Congress, a body of elected representatives, affirmed Mr. Zelaya's removal unanimously. In following with the constitution they named an interim president until new elections could be held.
"As these events unfolded, President Obama sided with despots like Hugo Chavez, the Castro brothers and Daniel Ortega. These men denounced the decision of the Honduran legislature to enforce the rule of law. In fact, the Administration tried to interfere to protect Zelaya.
"The Organization of American States, a body of nations that once stared down dictators like Fidel Castro, suspended the membership of Honduras. They literally kicked Honduras out the back door while it invited Castro's Cuba through the front door.
"Let me be clear, this was not a military coup in any sense of the term. Hondurans saw a growing threat to their democracy and took action to defend it and to preserve the rule of law. It is disappointing that President Obama would offer his unqualified support for Zelaya when his actions would have trampled Honduran democracy.
"These events come at a time of growing authoritarian presence in the Western Hemisphere. Hugo Chavez has successfully amended Venezuela's constitution, securing power indefinitely. A former guerilla party has risen to power in El Salvador. Meanwhile, Hondurans have struggled for years to build the foundation for a stable democracy and the United States has been, and must remain, their steady ally in that effort.
"I am encouraged by Secretary Hillary Clinton's recent statements that suggest the Administration may be coming back around to freedom's defense. But it's time, as President Kennedy said, 'to convert our good words into good deeds.'
"We can start by reestablishing our financial support to Honduras and our recognition of their diplomats in Washington. The President must also answer a congressional request for the legal justification of his Administration's actions in light of the fact no military coup took place.
"Next, Congress must pass free and fair trade agreements with Colombia and Panama. Such an act would send a strong message that the United States is committed to its Latin American allies. We must always stand by our friends when tyranny spreads, especially when it is in our own backyard.
"Many of the challenges that threaten the young democracies of Latin America also exist throughout much of the world once held captive behind an Iron Curtain. There the vestige of Soviet communism clings to power and intimidates the peaceful and democratic ambitions of its neighbors.
"Unfortunately, while in Russia, there was no indication President Obama engaged in serious discussions about Russia's continued aggression in its part of the world. The president did not secure the cooperation of Russia in checking the growing danger of a nuclear Iran. Tough questions regarding NATO expansion and a missile shield in Eastern Europe were not discussed.
"Meanwhile the assault against democracy and freedom continues to fester in many parts of the world. It is deeply unfortunate that the United States is starting to take a more passive approach to its defense. During the campaign President Obama promised to engage friend and foe. Indeed, many presidents have during the life of their administration. But, they did so while remaining firm in our support for human freedom, regardless of the aggressor who sat at the table.
"While the arc of history bends toward justice, it also teaches us weakness emboldens evil and that rogue dictators grow stronger when appeased. The American people have learned throughout our long history that peace is secured through strength. The people of Latin America have learned that as well.
"For some, it's hard to understand why a man from Indiana would care so much about the struggle for freedom in distant parts of the world. In closing, allow me to explain.
"President Reagan once told the story of a conversation between two men and a Cuban refugee who had escaped from Castro. In the midst of this Cuban's story, one American turned to the other and said, 'We don't know how lucky we are.' And the Cuban replied, 'How lucky you are? I had someplace to escape to.'
"That Cuban-American spoke of a fundamental truth about the United States: Estados Unidos está a favor de la libertad (the U.S. is for liberty). American liberty is why a mother once bought her 17-year old son a ticket from Ireland to the United States. That young man was Richard Michael Cawley, a hard-working, freedom-loving American who would one day have a grandson that would get elected to Congress so that he could have the privilege of speaking with you all today.
"When the question is asked, 'what role did America play in the struggle to advance human freedom,' for the sake of liberty at home and around the world, let us answer that America remained a faithful servant in freedom's defense.
"Thank you for the invitation to speak with you today."