THE WHITE HOUSE
AUGUST 09, 2021
On-the-Record Press Call by National Security Council Senior Director for the Western Hemisphere Juan Gonzalez on Official Travel to Brazil and Argentina
2:32 P.M. EDT
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to a briefing to discuss the National Security Advisor’s trip to Brazil and Argentina. We weren’t able to be joined by the National Security Advisor today, so we are joined by National Security Council Senior Director for the Western Hemisphere Juan Gonzalez.
This call is on the record, and the contents of today’s call are embargoed until the end of the call. We’ll start with remarks from Juan, and then we’ll open it up for question-and-answer.
With that, I’ll turn it over to Juan for some introductory remarks.
MR. GONZALEZ: Great. Thanks, Kedenard. So, first, I want to apologize for not being Jake Sullivan, and — but then, even though this was the National Security Advisor’s first visit to Latin America and the Caribbean, I wanted to reflect briefly on just what has been a very active six and half months of work by pointing out a few things — not all-inclusive, but I think they’re worth highlighting how Brazil and Argentina fit in this broader context.
The first is: Obviously, in February, the President and the Canadian Prime Minister launched the Roadmap for a Renewed U.S.-Canada Partnership to revitalize our historic alliance through a whole-of-government effort against the COVID-19 pandemic, a partnership on climate change, bolstered cooperation on defense and security, and a reaffirmed commitment to diversity, equity, and justice.
Since that meeting, our departments and agencies have been meeting and engaging regularly to execute on that plan, and it was part of the discussion of the President and the Prime Minister’s discussion — or phone call — last week.
Secondly, during his virtual meeting in March with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the President laid out a vision for bilateral cooperation with Mexico, which can be summarized in the President’s own words during the on-the-record remarks at the beginning of the meeting where he said that “The United States and Mexico are stronger when we stand together.”
And, you know, while our cooperation on migration occupies the front pages, we’ve been working actively with Mexico to repair the bilateral law enforcement cooperation that broke down over the last four years. I personally travelled to Mexico in May to kick off a dialogue with the Mexicans on this.
We’ve also been working to revitalize our bilateral economic ties. And out of the Vice President’s visit — her first to the region — there was an agreement to hold the U.S.-Mexico High Level Economic Dialogue in September. So we’ll have announcements on that soon.
And then, of course, you know, it’s no — it’s not by error that we’ve shared over 4 million vaccines with Mexico, given our interest in promoting and supporting Mexico’s economic recovery.
We also submitted to Congress our strategies to address the root causes of migration from Central America and collaborative migration strategies, and we’re going to be working with Congress to demonstrate that we’re executing on those in the weeks and months to come.
On Venezuela, the administration provided Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans already in the United States, and now we are working with the international community to pave the way forward toward negotiations that lead to free and fair elections in the country.
On Cuba, since the July 11th protests, we have been working to hold the regime accountable while, at the same time, doing everything we can to support the Cuban people. And in that regard, we’ve been doing a regular pace of sanctions of individuals involved in the crackdown against the July 11th protestors, and then doing everything to support the families of those who have been detained by increasing funding, working to expand Internet connectivity on the island, and a series of other things. So that continues.
And then, in Haiti, following the July 7th assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, we’ve marshalled a robust response to support the investigation and support the Haitian National Police’s efforts to address the country’s security situation, provided 500,000 vaccines to Haiti with more on the way, and we are working in unison with the international community to promote dialogue between political actors and civil society in support of Haitian solutions to Haitian challenges.
I would say our highest priority in the Americas, of course, is managing and ending the COVID-19 pandemic and contributing to an equitable recovery, which is why, out of the 110 million vaccines we’ve shared globally, nearly half of those have gone to the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. So this is just a sampling of an active pace of engagement by this administration, and it is reflective of the President’s vision that a “secure, democratic, and middle-class hemisphere” is in the national interests of the United States.
You know, specifically with regard to Jake Sullivan’s visit, our partnership with nations as diverse as Brazil and Argentina — on everything from climate change, to promoting a green economic recovery, to winning the fight against the pandemic, to securing the hemispheric consensus in favor of democracy — is not just fundamental to the region, but to the future prosperity and security of the United States.
Brazil and Argentina are the largest economies in South — and in South America. They bring significant resources to bear, technical know-how, industrial capacity to build resilient supply chains. So, we covered the gamut of issues with them, from elections to 5G, to OECD, to NATO, to climate. You name it, it was something that was covered in the span of the visit.
So, I’ll leave it there and then happy to dive into specifics during the Q&A session.
Q The U.S. announced its support for Brazil to become a global partner of NATO during the visit of the National Security Advisor. This comes after days — several days that President Bolsonaro was saying that there might not be elections and that the elections were rigged. How do you reconcile these two things — these strikes against elections and rewarding Brazil with a military partnership?
MR. GONZALEZ: So, okay, that’s a good question, Patrícia. Look, the first thing is — so the — the offered support for NATO global partner is something that begun under the previous administration, and we conveyed our interest to, you know, continue supporting Brazil in becoming a NATO global partner.
I would say there is — there have been also reports that have argued that there was an exchange on Huawei for U.S. support for that. At no point there was a quid pro quo, no exchange of a favorable position on Huawei for U.S. support becoming a NATO global partner. They are separate issues. And, entirely, we don’t link these discussions.
We do support Brazil’s aspirations as a NATO global partner as a way to deepen security cooperation over time between Brazil and the NATO countries. And it basically provides for increased access to training and education, and increases interoperability.
But, look, on the issue of elections, we were also very direct in expressing great confidence in the ability of the Brazilian institutions to carry out a free and fair election with proper safeguards in place to guard against fraud. And we stressed the importance of not undermining confidence in that process, especially since there were no signs of fraud in prior elections.
So, our point here is that we can — we have a broad and institutional relationship with Brazil. We can engage on matters of security cooperation, economic cooperation, and then — and still be very clear in terms of our support for Brazilians being the ones that really determine the outcome of their — of their elections.
And those conversations are ones we had, and we were very candid in terms of our — our views, particularly given some of the parallels, you know, with calling elections “invalid” before their time — something that obviously is — parallels with what’s happened here in the United States.
Q Mr. Juan Gonzalez — I would like to ask him if there was any request from the United States to the Argentinian government, to the government of Alberto Fernández, for Argentina support most the democratization of Cuba, Venezuela, or Nicaragua in terms of, for example, any declaration against the repression of the Cuban people by the government, in the case of Cuba, and if there was any request in that sense for Argentina to participate in the dialogue that the opposition and the Maduro’s regime will start in Mexico this week.
MR. GONZALEZ: Great. So, look, on the question of democracy and human rights in the region, Jake Sullivan mentioned, just as he did in Brazil, in Argentina, in the conversations with President Fernández, with Foreign Minister Solá, with Gustavo Beliz, and others that — you know, that we have a — we really have to break through the left-and-right mindset when it comes to promoting democratic values and that we need to really focus on a conversation with regard to democracies and countries that are not democracies if we are to ensure that, as a region, we maintain this international consensus in favor of democracy.
So, you know, I think we underscored the importance of breaking through this ideological problem that exists in the region, both in the left and the right, when it comes to democratic values and that, you know, we did raise the issue of Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela as one where we’re urging all countries, not just Argentina, to stand up for those ideals, given in particular the history that Argentina has suffered in the past.
And so, it’s somewhere where there was a — I think a very constructive conversation with the Argentines’ willingness to find areas of common ground and an interest in them being — in being helpful. I mean, I think they made clear that they’re not always going to agree with us on how — on matters of approach, but that we’re going to continue to have a very open and fluid dialogue when it comes to these matters.
And, you know, we believe that Argentina is a country that can speak to governments of both the left and the right, and can play an important role in encouraging the defense of democratic values. Particularly, I think, when you see in Nicaragua, which has been, you know, a move — a very kind of concerning move toward authoritarianism in the run-up to the November elections.
And I think you’d also asked about the dialogue, sorry, on Venezuela. What I would say is — is that we’re not — we don’t — we’re not the ones that get to pick who is seated at the table in the dialogue. I think that’s a question, really, for the Unity Platform, led by the — those Venezuelans that are in favor of democracy and the regime that is on the other side of that equation.
And, you know, I think our perspective — which has been one that is articulated between the United States, Canada, and the European Union — is that the international community is going to continue to push for free and fair elections, and we’re going to use everything we can to press the regime to take concrete steps in that direction.
Q Hi, good afternoon. Thank you. I wanted to see if you could please elaborate on the message that you sent President Bolsonaro with regard to Brazil’s upcoming elections. Did NSA Sullivan warn the President not to interfere in the elections? And how worried are you about President Bolsonaro’s efforts, for example, to delegitimize electronic voting?
And secondly, if I may, I was wondering if NSA Sullivan is planning any more visits to Latin America this year and, if so, which countries would be a priority.
MR. GONZALEZ: Great. On the latter, I have nothing to announce, but I know that he’s — you know, remains very engaged and interested in the region. So, you know, I think we should expect more — obviously, more engagement.
On the previous question, look, I’ll say again that we have confidence in Brazilian institutions to carry out free and fair elections with the proper safeguards in place to guard against fraud. And so, in a meeting with President Bolsonaro, as well with others, we made this case that we are not concerned about Brazilian institutions to carry out free and fair elections.
But, you know, obviously, as you — we’ve obviously, both here in the United States but abroad, encouraged to make sure that there are proper safeguards in place, because ultimately what we want to do is ensuring that the voters of each country are the ones that determine the outcome. And we want to make it easier for people to vote and for that vote to be counted.
And so, we were very clear that that’s — you know, that was the view of the United States. And it is our view, whether it’s Brazil, whether it’s Argentina, whether it’s, you know, Mexico, Colombia — it doesn’t matter the country or where they are on the political spectrum. For us, the bottom line is that the international consensus in favor of democracy that has existed in the region for so long depends on empowering voters to be the ones to decide the future of their country.
Q Hi, Juan. Thank you for doing that. Just one more about the conversation about elections with President Bolsonaro and — and a quick other question. So, has President Bolsonaro said that he believes that former President Trump won last year’s election in the U.S.? And if so, how does that change the way the relationship of the Biden administration with the Bolsonaro government will go on?
And a quick second question, if I may, is: What is the next step in the relationship with Brazil? Is there any request or sign that you are expecting from the Brazilian government after this visit?
MR. GONZALEZ: Yeah, so — look, without getting into the contents of what was a government-to-government conversation, you know, which obviously are privileged by nature, I will say there were some reporting that was inaccurate about Donald Trump coming up in the conversation. That never came up.
There was — you know, the issue of elections was discussed, but really the shift — I think the crux of the discussion was — covered everything from climate change and where, really, Brazil has an opportunity to be, I think, the leader, the — or the, kind of — the champion or the hero of the COP. And we urge higher levels of ambition and a clear demonstration of efforts to combat deforestation ahead of the COP.
And we talked about ways that we would work on that together. We talked about Brazil’s aspirations to accede to the OECD, and we think it is important for Brazil to create favorable conditions.
(Inaudible), obviously, the climate issue is something that we go back to. We look to not just the NATO global partner conversation, but we talked about U.S.-Brazil security cooperation as an area of opportunity not just bilaterally, but regionally, given that Brazil has had — has a long history of working with — also with the countries of Africa on security cooperation.
We talked about Brazil joining the U.N. Security Council, you know, beginning next year, and the opportunities that presented in terms of multilateral cooperation.
And we talked about — also we talked about 5G and where we continue to have concerns about Huawei’s potential role in Brazil’s telecom infrastructure. And we’re going to have discussions that prepare on to — to continue on that front.
A specific point on 5G, and then kind of next steps — to your question: So, both Brazil and Argentina are preparing to make major investments in their digital infrastructure. These investments — everybody talks about 5G, but they’re not only in 5G telecom networks, but also in cloud data services and fiber-optic cable networks. The potential development and economic prosperity impact of these investments, it can be transformational for these countries.
And our message was fundamentally that we want them to succeed in those ambitions. And that to do those — to do so, they need digital infrastructure that is secure, resilient, cost effective, and that fosters new domestic players, as Open RAN technologies promised to do so for 5G in a way that Huawei and, frankly, other providers do not.
Both countries have an opportunity to create innovative domestic technology companies that support Open RAN deployments, not only for the domestic market, but also to export around the region and beyond. And 5G deployments will attract hundreds of billions of dollars of investment worldwide over the next few years.
And it’s — what we encouraged and offered support is that they have an opportunity here to build native industries that could make Brazil and Argentina transformational in how Latin America deploys on 5G and digital infrastructure.
And so, you know, we underscored, as well, that — I think it’s an important point that has not been really covered enough — is that Huawei is facing major challenges to its semiconductor supply chain and will leave international customers, frankly, high and dry by failing to deliver on its commitments as it prioritizes China’s domestic 5G deployment or, best-case scenario, by delivering subpar, energy-inefficient equipment that is going to be far more expensive to operate than that of competitors.
So national authorities, telecom operators, and their shareholders really need to take this into account. And we agreed to have follow-on strategic and technical dialogues that look at both the cybersecurity challenges as well as the significant opportunities at hand.
So, I think if countries embrace Huawei in Latin America, they need to recognize that Huawei is going to be running into chip shortages and it’s going to leave, again, consumers high and dry, and could stall the deployment of what is going to be a very important technology for the countries of the region.
Our next steps are: We have a series of dialogues. We have at least eight dialogues with Brazil. It allows us an opportunity to engage actively. Right now, what we’re focused on is taking concrete steps to deliver on those dialogues.
And so, we have a lot of homework from the National Security Advisor. And the National Security Council is going to be maintaining a very active pace to make sure that we’re delivering on all the conversations that we had with both Brazil and Argentina, because we’ve lost over four years in these countries and we have a lot of time to make up.
Q Hi, there. Thank you. Just wanted to follow up on 5G and Huawei really quickly. Did you get any assurances from Brazil that they would not use Huawei? Or what was their response to your message over Huawei as a 5G provider there?
MR. GONZALEZ: Yeah, so, I mean, they’re focusing on finalizing an auction, time TB- — to be confirmed. And they are very focused on making sure that the auction allows for — creates very high standards for transparency, but also allows, you know, kind of a level playing field for market participants.
So, they made no commitments to us on Huawei. But what we did agree on is, you know, finding ways for us to support them in developing potential opportunities for a Brazilian entrant into the market as something that could really be a market mover in Latin America and the Caribbean.
I think, right now, the 5G market is essentially an oligopoly. And it’s not that we don’t — it’s not that the market is not working, it’s that there are not enough participants in the market.
And given the size of Brazil’s economy — just the very active nature of its tech industry, and the interest of private equity, venture capital, and even, I think, domestic family funds that are looking at opportunities — there is a huge opportunity here for Brazil to break into O-RAN and develop its own domestic industry in a way that can create trends for Latin America and the Caribbean.
Again, O-RAN — as you folks at Bloomberg probably know better than I do — is a place where you’re basically creating an open infrastructure where other, you know, either manufacturers or software providers can engage. It’s not a one-stop shop, as it is with Huawei and others.
And this is a huge, huge economic and development potential for Latin America and the Caribbean. So it’s something that we’re doing because it’s in our interest to make sure that these — this infrastructure is safe, it’s transparent, it’s resilient, but also, like I said, one that fosters new domestic players.
Q Yes, hey. Thank you. What other issues, Mr. Sullivan and President Fernández discuss? And did they talk about the IMF program with Argentina?
MR. GONZALEZ: Yeah, so they did discuss this. And, you know, what we have conveyed is that we are in a very unique situation around the world and that, as the country with the largest IMF loan, the way that the institution comes to resolution with Argentina on this will send the region a message — not just to the region, but to other emerging markets that are struggling financially and may need to turn to the IMF for support.
And so, we signaled that, you know, the United States has an interest in making sure that our, you know, international institutions are responding to the current challenge, signaled willingness to work with Argentina on this. And ultimately, we want to make sure it’s something that we are not just developing a solution that is specific to Argentina, but one that sets a precedent for other markets that are facing similar challenges.
And so, there was a lot of back-and-forth that we had. Minister Guzmán joined many — you know, several of those meetings. We had very detailed conversations. And — and so, you know, it was very constructive while, ultimately, it’s the Department of Treasury that is going to lead those discussions for the United States.
I got to say that the broader conversation, not specifically to the IMF, is one where, you know, the — what the — what the President of the United States is trying to do here is making sure that the U.S. government is addressing gaps in how the market responds to these sorts of crises and making sure that we’re investing in workers and working families. And in that regard, there’s a lot of coincidence with Argentina.
And, you know, we’ll have some disagreements on how we each manage our economies, but that’s — the Argentines are the ones that get to decide how they manage their economy, and we get to decide how we manage ours.
But our conversations — on everything from a global minimum tax, to how our international institutions respond to the current crisis, to how the United States and Argentina can find areas of cooperation — are ones where the conversations were constructive, productive, and where there was a lot of commonalities.
MODERATOR: Thanks, Juan. And thanks, Ryan. With that, we’re going to conclude the call.
As I mentioned at the top of the call, this is an on-the-record call and the contents of the call are now lifted. We’ll send out a transcript as soon as it’s ready to the participants of the call. You don’t need to ask us, we’ll just send it around.
And if any questions, feel free to email me, Kedenard Raymond at the NSC press team.
Thanks very much, everyone. Bye-bye.
3:00 P.M. EDT