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Transcript of Remarks by Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman and Ernesto Luis Derbez Bautista, Secretary of Foreign Affairs for Mexico at the signing of the Nutrition Assistance Memorandum of Understanding Washington, DC - July 22, 2004
SEC. ANN VENEMAN: "Well, good morning and thanks to all of you for being with us today.
"I am very honored today to be joined by Secretary Derbez who is the Secretary of Foreign Affairs for Mexico. Previously, as most of you know, he served as the trade minister, which is when we first worked together. And he's become a good friend and was a terrific host last year when we were in Cancun, Mexico, for the WTO Ministerial. So we are very pleased to have you at our Department.
"We greatly appreciate the close relationship that our two countries have long enjoyed and the spirit of cooperation that continues to endure between Mexico and the United States.
"President Bush has said: 'Mexico and the United States are more than neighbors. We are partners in building a safer, more democratic and more prosperous hemisphere.'
"We are here today to announce additional steps we are taking to strengthen that relationship. The agreement I am signing with Secretary Derbez will utilize the extensive network of Mexican consulates within the United States to educate eligible populations about available nutrition assistance.
"USDA's Food and Nutrition Service administers 15 different domestic nutrition assistance programs to help the most vulnerable populations meet their food needs. In fact, one out of five Americans participates in at least one of these programs every day. In addition, this administration supported and fully implemented the restoration of Food Stamp benefits to legal immigrants who have been in the United States for five years. This program was resumed last year.
"But many Mexican Americans and Mexican nationals working within the United States have limited awareness of eligibility for Food Stamps and other nutrition programs such as Women, Infants and Children program and school meals.
"Additional barriers such as the language heightens the need for specialized outreach. The objectives under this agreement include new partnerships, communications outreach in both English and Spanish, and other activities to educate eligible populations.
"The 45 Mexican consulates across the United States represent the largest network of consulates in this country, making them ideal partners in this effort. This network assists Mexican nationals with services relating to citizenship and also functions within the Mexican-American communities to strengthen their identity and enhance education and culture of those born abroad.
"Therefore, these consulates are an ideal network to help with outreach for USDA nutrition programs. The Bush Administration has aggressively provided assistance and outreach to minority populations through a number of programs. Our outreach efforts include the Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, the Minority Homeownership Initiative, the South of the Border Initiative, and the Food and Nutrition Service's Partnership for Change, to name just a few.
"Today's agreement will enhance those overall efforts, providing information on important programs which improve the health and nutrition of historically underserved populations.
"I'd like to again thank Secretary Derbez for coming today. We look forward to signing this agreement that will strengthen the ties that already exist between our two countries."
SEC. DERBEZ: "Good morning to all of you. Thank you, Secretary Veneman, for your invitation and for all of the work that we have done together.
"The signing of the Mexico-U.S. Partnership for Nutrition Assistance Initiative is undoubtedly a very significant step for both of our countries. I appreciate and salute the leadership of Secretary Veneman in consolidating these cooperation efforts.
"This cooperation initiative being signed today, which deals with the issue of nutrition education and eating habits, is of great interest to both governments in promoting good health conditions for Mexicans living in the United States.
"Through this agreement, the government of Mexico reaffirms its commitment to adopting concrete actions aimed at improving the living conditions of Mexicans living abroad as one of our fundamental duties.
"This agreement represents a great opportunity for us to disseminate essential information on access to different nutrition assistance programs through our network of 45 consulates in this country and in conjunction with USDA authorities and community organizations. In many cases Mexicans in this country are unable to enjoy the benefits of the programs offered by the Food and Nutrition Service due to the language barrier or a lack of knowledge of their existence.
"These programs include Food Stamps; the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children; and the School Lunch Program in which many Mexican residents and their families are eligible to participate.
"This agreement is also a great opportunity to promote information on the benefits of a healthy diet, and in this way contribute to the prevention of conditions, which are caused by nutritional deficiencies such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
"In sum, the signing of this agreement represents the start of the development of a cooperation relationship in nutrition matters with USDA authorities, which we hope to continue expanding.
"Steps such as the one we are taking today respond to our spirit and purpose of extending our bilateral cooperation in social issues for the benefit of Mexicans in the United States who, with their effort and hard work, contribute to the progress and well-being of this great nation.
"Thank you very much."
(Sec. Derbez remarks in Spanish): "Señora Secretaria Ann Veneman. Muy buenos días a todos.
"La suscripción de la Iniciativa de Sociedad para la Asistencia Nutricional México-Estados Unidos, es sin duda un paso muy significativo para ambos países. Agradezco y reconozco el liderazgo de la Secretaria Veneman para consolidar estos esfuerzos de cooperación.
"La iniciativa de colaboración que hoy suscribimos en materia de educación nutricional y hábitos alimenticios, es un tema del mayor interés para ambos gobiernos en la promoción de las condiciones de salud de los mexicanos radicados en Estados Unidos.
"El Gobierno de México reafirma, mediante este acuerdo, su compromiso para adoptar acciones concretas encaminadas a mejorar las condiciones de vida de nuestros connacionales en el exterior, como una de nuestras tareas fundamentales.
"Este acuerdo representa una gran oportunidad para difundir a través de nuestra red de 45 consulados en este país, en conjunto con las autoridades del Departamento de Agricultura y con las organizaciones comunitarias, información de primera importancia para acceder a diversos programas de asistencia nutricional. En muchos casos los mexicanos que se encuentran en este país, por desconocimiento o por la barrera del idioma, están marginados de estos los beneficios que provee el Servicio de Alimentos y Nutrición.
"Dichos programas incluyen el de Cupones de Alimentos, el Programa Especial de Nutrición Suplementaria para Mujeres y Niños, y el de Alimentos Escolares en los que muchos mexicanos residentes y sus familiares tienen posibilidad de participar.
"Este acuerdo permitirá igualmente difundir información sobre los beneficios de una dieta sana, a fin de contribuir a la prevención de enfermedades relacionadas con una deficiente nutrición, tales como la diabetes, las cardiovasculares y las derivadas de la obesidad.
"En suma, la firma de este acuerdo constituye el inicio del desarrollo de una colaboración en la materia que esperamos ampliar con las autoridades del Departamento de Agricultura.
"Acciones como la que hoy llevamos a cabo responden al espíritu y el propósito de extender la colaboración en la agenda social entre nuestros países en beneficio de los mexicanos radicados en Estados Unidos, que con su trabajo y esfuerzo contribuyen al progreso y bienestar de esta gran Nación.
[Agreement is signed.]
SEC. VENEMAN: "I again want to thank Secretary Derbez for being here today and to thank all of you for being here today as well. We have a few minutes to take questions from the media, so we'll begin."
QUESTION: "Hello. Pablo Bachelez (sp), Latin America correspondent with Reuters. A question for Secretary Derbez. The 45 Mexican consulates seem to be turning themselves into almost branches of the U.S. government with your agreement yesterday and with the agreement today. Sort of what's the end game of this? I mean, what is -- where are you leading? I mean, is this some kind of a new policy, a new initiative? Can you sort of put this in some context for us?"
SEC. DERBEZ: "Yeah. I would answer this one in English. Whenever I get a question in Spanish I will have to answer in Spanish. "
In this regard let me explain, the Mexican government has the network of consulates precisely to provide our citizens support, defend protection of their rights, and at the same time to provide them therefore with the capacity to live much better in the United States society.
"As a result of that, we are finding that all the actions that we are taking plus this kind of agreement with the United States government will allow us to provide a much better service. It will allow us to provide the kind of service that will help these people live better, integrate better and be part of the society obtaining all the benefits.
"So those are the protection of the rights. This is the role of the consulate, the Mexican consulates have-- the most important aspect, the protection of the rights of our citizens, and that's what we are doing.
"So we are not becoming a network of the United States government. We are a network of the Mexican government, and what we do is, we provide protection, we provide information, we provide assistance to our citizens. And in that regard everything that will help make their lives better we should be pushing forward and doing together.
"And in this particular case we're very appreciative that the United States government is allowing us to reach this agreement that will then bring many of the benefits there for our citizens to be known by them and take advantage of."
SEC. VENEMAN: "This gentleman here."
QUESTION: "Thank you. You mentioned, Dr. Derbez, about the prevention of -- sorry? Javier Garcia [inaudible], Monitor, Mexico City. Dr. Derbez mentioned this program would help the prevention of certain diseases related with eating.
"We know that Hispanics are one of the population segments most affected by obesity, and we know that one of causes is that people have a certain living conditions that don't allow them to have a healthy diet or eat well or even eat in a balanced way. So how would someone who spends all of his time working, doesn't even have time to eat well, would find time to go to a consulate and try to find out -- I mean, what's really the outreach effort from the consulate down to the people?"
SEC. DERBEZ: "The thing that you have to realize is that many of the programs do exist where Mexicans can have access to them. So particularly in the case that you have mentioned, children can take advantage of the School Lunch Programs, people can have advantage of the Food Stamps Programs. And all these are elements that will help to inform in many, many cases population, Mexican population are not aware of this, either because they are afraid to ask or because the information is provided in a manner which they do not understand.
"So what we are doing is providing that support, letting people know in their own language what are these benefits that they have access to, they have the right to utilize.
"Also we are working with community organizations as part of the agreement that we have reached. With community organizations through the outreach by themselves will now be able to have information in Spanish, will be able to refer people into the consulate if that will be case so that we can help them and support them.
"And you will be surprised how many of these people once they have that channel of information are able to utilize the resources for their children. And in that way what we are trying to do is to provide the capacity for children to be well-nutrition and at the same time have a healthy growth pattern that will make sense in the long run."
SEC. VENEMAN: "If I might just also speak to the issue of nutrition and information and assistance in terms of the obesity issue. You are absolutely right-- we are seeing growing obesity in this country and other parts of the world. And there needs to be more nutrition education.
"One of the things that many of these programs, these nutrition programs that we have in this department, have a nutrition education component. For example, Women, Infants and Children, which helps pregnant and lactating mothers and children in the early years of their lives-- one of the main elements of this particular program is nutrition education, helping the mothers learn about what are the healthy foods that children ought to be given. And as well, Food Stamps has nutrition education as a component of it as well.
"So by reaching out to more people who are eligible for the programs, by participating in these programs they will be also getting nutrition education as part of the program participation.
"Woman in seat?"
QUESTION: "Yes. Thank you. Maria Penyel (sp) with FM News. I do have a follow-up to the very first question that was asked, and it has to do with the political context where these two agreements have been signed on, yesterday and the one today. And basically it just seems like the Mexican government is playing into the hands of the Bush Administration to cater to the Hispanic vote given that we are having elections in November.
"So how would you respond to critics who say, well you know this is sort of helping Bush get the Hispanic vote in November?"
SEC. DERBEZ: "How would you respond to people that are suffering and have the need to obtain these kind of benefits and tell them because there is a political election in one country we the Mexican government feel that we not do anything that will benefit you, that will provide you with better food, better situation, better living conditions?
"How will you say that to people that you will be then staying in a situation where you will not be providing any kind of action that will benefit and improve the living standards of this population?
"So we should not be stopped by that. What we have to do and very clearly is understand that these are things that have been worked on for the five years, not for the past three weeks or two days and that now is the time that we are obtaining all the benefits and therefore we are working in that process.
"And this is a commitment of the Mexican government. We will be working for the benefit of our population and providing [inaudible] support and defense in any way that we can so that their living conditions will improve every single day of their life."
SEC. VENEMAN: "If I might just add to that. One of the things that the Bush Administration has said from the outset is that we want people who are eligible for these programs to participate in them. And therefore outreach is an important component of this.
"As we looked at how do we outreach to the various communities that may have eligibility, that may not be actually participating in the programs, this was one of the ideas that was surfaced to provide outreach to people who are Mexican-American.
"And this is an idea that's been in the works for a number of months. We finally have the opportunity with Secretary Derbez's visit here to announce this initiative, and to provide the kind of outreach to people to allow them to know about these programs and participate. And that is part of the overall agenda that we've had for some time."
QUESTION: "Thank you. My name is Maria Gonzalez (sp), and [inaudible] of Mexico. Mrs. Veneman, I wanted to ask you, do you have numbers or data about how many Mexicans are you reaching now, and how many do you expect to reach with this agreement? And the other thing I wanted to comment, you were talking about obesity and nutrition and education about it.
"But I have read recently a lot of, I have seen a lot of information that says that it's much cheaper to get some fast food than to go to a supermarket and get say fresh fruits, fresh vegetables. That's really so expensive that many people -- it's not that they don't know. It's that they cannot afford it."
SEC. VENEMAN: "Well, I think that as far as the numbers are concerned, I don't have those at my fingertips, but we will have someone provide them to you afterwards, one of our experts.
"With regard to obesity, this is an issue that gets more and more play in the press, and people in various ways try to say well it's because food is less expensive here. Food in this country is a very good bargain. It is well-priced. Most people can afford food. And through these types of nutrition programs, particularly Food Stamps, there should be the opportunity for everyone to buy a nutritious and well-balanced diet.
"The Food Stamp allocations are based upon family requirements and provide recipes, provide shopping guidelines, provide you know specific information about how you can purchase nutritious meals for your families within the allocation that Food Stamps, for example, provide.
"WIC on the other hand -- the Women, Infants and Children Program -- is a very targeted program in terms of the kinds of commodities that you can buy. It's formula for babies, very important; it's fruit juices and cheeses and things that are important to maternal and infant and small children's health.
"And so these are programs which can help to address some of the very issues that you're talking about, and that's what they're intended to do."
QUESTION: "I will ask this question in Spanish to the Foreign Minister if you don't mind.
(Question presented in Spanish)
(Through interpreter): "Mr. Secretary Derbez, since you've been here in Washington on other occasions within your functions as foreign minister you have met with other people such as Ambassador Zoellick. On this occasion did you make use of this opportunity to speak to Secretary Veneman about the problems that exist between the Mexico-U.S. relationship?"
SEC. DERBEZ: "(Answer presented in Spanish)
(English translation through interpreter): "(laughs) Thank you for that correction because I was about to say that it's not Secretary Veneman's fault.
"Rather, what I did on my visit here was made use of this occasion to discuss issues, discuss how we can better use our consulates and how we can promote our programs. The Secretary also discussed with me several programs which are very interesting and which I was previously unaware of. So these are programs that have to do with our citizens in the United States.
"In particular we focused on housing programs, rural housing programs. These are the types of activities that will have a direct impact on the social well being of our benefits. These are the types of topics that we covered. This is the areas and subjects that I discussed with the Secretary of Agriculture here."
SEC. VENEMAN: "If I might just add however that we do work continuously between our two countries and our staffs meet with my counterpart and Ambassador Zoellick with a whole range of issues between our two countries. We've seen a tremendous increase in trade since the implementation of the NAFTA.
"Nevertheless, there have been trade irritants, and we continue to work closely together to try to resolve those as quickly as we can and to work towards greater harmonization of our regulations that will allow trade to better flow between our two countries to the benefit of the citizens in both of our countries.
"Thank you all very much. We really appreciate you being here today, and I again want to thank all of our guests from Mexico today and particularly Secretary Derbez.