Watch live video and later see replay and transcript of U.S. President Barack Obama’s town hall in Buenos Aires, Argentina at Usina del Arte on Wednesday, March 23, 2016 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. See it in real time via the embedded video player below starting at 3:03 p.m. EDT (GM – 4). Thereafter, check back for the full replay video and transcript text which be added as soon as available.
UPDATE: Replay video and transcript are below.
Update: Live coverage is over; replay video is above.
Remarks by President Obama in Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative Town Hall
Usina Del Arte
Buenos Aires, Argentina
3:41 P.M. ART
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Hola! (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you so much. Muchas gracias. (Applause.) Thank you so much. Buenos dias, Buenos Aires! Please have a seat. Well, thank you so much for the warm welcome that you’ve offered me, and Michelle, and Malia and Sasha and my mother-in-law — (laughter) — a very important person. And on behalf of the people of the United States, I want to thank you for your friendship and the strong bonds between our two peoples.
Celeste, thank you for the wonderful introduction. Please give Celeste a big round of applause. That’s not easy to do. (Applause.) The work that she’s doing to prepare more of our young people — and especially young women — for the jobs of tomorrow is inspiring. I’m glad to hear that when Celeste visited the United States as part of the Young Leaders Initiative, she got to go to her first National Basketball Association game in Denver. I don’t think Ginobili was playing, but I can confirm that he is not only a nice guy but also one of the best players in the world — and a proud Argentinian. So he is a great champion. My Chicago Bulls have been losing and the Spurs have been winning, so I’m not that happy about that. (Laughter.)
I want to thank everybody at the Usina del Arte for hosting us today. And I want you to know that the reason I came here is, in part, because I wanted to come to Buenos Aires ever since I was a young person like you. I very much enjoyed Argentinian literature — authors like Borges and Cortázar. And so I would read them and became fascinated with Buenos Aires. I said at my press conference today, the only problem was when I was reading, people were always drinking mate, and I didn’t know what that was. (Laughter.)
So I just had my first mate today. (Laughter and applause.) It was good. It was good. And my team, my staff thought I was very clear-headed at the press conference, and they said it must be the mate. So I’m going to try to take some back.
But I also wanted to bring my daughters here, so they could see the beauty and the vibrancy of this city. They’ve already met one famous Argentinean — His Holiness Pope Francis. Now they want to meet Messi, but I could not arrange that. They will not get a chance to experience the Palermo at night. (Laughter.) They will have to come back on their own to do that — not with their father. (Laughter.) And we’re looking forward to visiting Bariloche tomorrow.
But also, whenever I travel, I always want to spend time with young people. Your generation has grown up in times of breathtaking change. In your lives, you’ve seen massive global declines in poverty and disease — so there’s a lot of good news out there — you’ve seen incredible strides for women’s rights and LGBT rights. You’ve mastered technology — the world is connected now in ways that we couldn’t imagine even 10, 20 years ago. But you’ve also seen unthinkable violence from terrorists who try to tear us apart — whether at an airport in Brussels, as we just saw, or a Jewish center in Buenos Aires. And all of us — Americans and Argentinians alike — stand against the scourge of terrorism, and we stand with the people of Belgium during this time of enormous sorrow.
And yet, even though you’ve come of an age where change is happening so rapidly, your generation I think believes deeply that you can change this world for the better. You’re more interested in hard work — the hard work of waging peace than the easy impulse towards conflict. You’re more interested in the hard work of building prosperity through entrepreneurship, instead of cronyism and corruption. You’re more eager for the progress that comes not from holding down people who are not like you, but lifting everybody up so that everybody has an opportunity, regardless of what they look like or how they pray or who they love. And that makes me hopeful. I’m always inspired by young people.
So I’m going to be speaking very briefly, because I want to mostly hear from you.
I am here because these past several years mark a new era of U.S. engagement in the region, in the Americas. We’re not just nations, but we’re also neighbors. Millions of people in the United States are bound to the Americas through ties of commerce and family. Thousands of Argentinians study in the United States every year. Hundreds of U.S. companies employ thousands of people here in Argentina. And we’re committed to expanding those ties of leadership and scholarship and trade.
And I’m here in Argentina because I’m impressed with many of the reforms that have been initiated by President Macri in recent weeks — his effort to reconnect Argentina to the world community, and to lay the groundwork for a more sustainable and inclusive economy. He inherited a tough economic situation, just as I did when I first came into office. He’s working to make it better. And in fact, to show their confidence in this new direction, U.S. companies are announcing tens of millions of dollars in new investment in Argentina. And I’m launching a new dialogue to strengthen business ties between our countries.
So the United States welcomes Argentina’s leadership role not just in the region, but in the world. Because to solve today’s challenges, we have to be partners. Somos un equipo. I got to practice my Spanish. (Laughter.)
But it’s critical that we work together. And that’s one of the reasons why the U.S. has started a new chapter with our relationship with Cuba. I was honored to be the first U.S. President to visit Cuba in almost 90 years. And we still have differences with the Cuban government, but what I said to President Castro is we can’t be imprisoned by the past. When something doesn’t work for 50 years, we have to try something new. And I believe that engagement and dialogue is more powerful than isolation, and that the changes that we’re making can improve the lives of the Cuban people.
And all of the people of the Americas deserve the right to speak and gather freely, and access the world’s information, and participate in forums like this. And so we hope that that will happen in Cuba. We hope that will happen everywhere in the world. But ultimately, it’s going to be up to the Cuban people, just like it’s up to sovereign peoples everywhere to be able to find their own voice and create democracy and freedom. We can be partners in that, and we can help.
And this new beginning is going to be good, I think, for the entire hemisphere. Part of my goal is to move past the old debates that have defined this region, move forward in a way that benefits your generation. And unlike any other time in history, the technology at your disposal means that you don’t have to settle for the world as it is; you can create the world as you want it to be. You already have the freedom to build a world in powerful and disruptive ways.
That’s why we’re going to spend a lot of time in the coming months in building more vibrant connections between young people. Five years ago I started an initiative called 100,000 Strong in the Americas. And by the end of this decade, we want 100,000 U.S. students studying in the Americas, and we want 100,000 students from the Americas studying in the United States.
And today I’m proud to announce that that effort is growing here in Argentina. Partners like INET and CAF Development Bank in Latin America have committed to increase student exchanges between our technical colleges. And I want to thank President Macri for committing to a thousand new exchanges.
And finally, last year I launched what we call the Young Leaders of the America Initiative. And we’re seeking out the most innovative young entrepreneurs and civil society leaders, and giving them a chance to earn the training and the connections and the capital that you need to make a difference. So this year I’ll welcome the first full class of fellows to Washington. We’re going to help them expand their commercial and social ventures by embedding them in U.S. businesses and incubators and nonprofits and universities. We’re going to give U.S. participants the chance to continue their collaboration with you back in your home countries.
And that’s how we want to empower all young people. That’s how we want to empower young women like Celeste. It’s how we create a future where climate researchers in the Amazon collaborate with scientists in Alaska; where an idea in Buenos Aires can develop with an incubator in Boston. It’s how we can make sure that we create a future where any young person can choose a path that opens his or her opportunities beyond their neighborhood into the wider world.
It’s where a young person can learn skills in the state of West Virginia in the United States, and put them to work right here in Argentina. So, Gino Tubaro, who’s here today — where’s Gino? Somewhere. (Applause.) There we go. All right, Gino. (Applause.)
So Gino is a great example. He was tinkering with 3D printing as a teenager when, through the U.S. Embassy, he participated in a National Youth Science Camp in West Virginia. Then he learned about the latest 3D printing technology. When he came home to Argentina, he co-founded a company that used these new skills to work. He received a request from a woman looking for a prosthetic hand for her young son, Felipe. And typically, those hands can costs tens of thousands of American dollars. Gino “printed” a new hand for Felipe for far less. Just a few weeks later, for the first time, Felipe could ride a bike, go fishing, do many of the things that normal children do. And since then, more than 1,000 Argentinians have signed up for Gino’s help.
So that’s what’s possible when we work together. That’s what’s possible when we invest in young people like all of you. So I am very proud to be here. I’m excited for your questions. I’m excited for our conversation. As you heard, my Spanish is not as good as it should be. But we have a translator here so you can ask questions in English or in Spanish, and I will answer them as best I can. And we have about an hour. Preguntenme. Let’s go. All right? (Applause.)
Who wants to go first? This young man right here. You. Introduce yourself, please.
Q Mr. President, I wanted to ask you the following question. We live in a world where cultures often clash instead of coexisting peacefully; where some believe their very survival depends on the eradication of others; where intolerance and violence have become a currency; and people are forced to abandon everything and flee their homes, a drama which I believe will characterize much of this century’s history.
My question is this: Do you think all of the different human cultures will eventually unify or converge on a unique and universal culture, something like — perhaps something akin to the United Federation of Planets in TV series “Star Trek”? I do not seek a scientific answer, just the honest opinion of a man who, as President of one of the world’s leading countries, has been given a privileged point of view on that matter.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: That’s an interesting question. Thank you.
I believe that under the surface all people are the same. Now part of that is my own heritage and my own background. My father was a black man from Africa. My mother was a white woman in the United States, whose ancestors had come from England and Scotland. My mother remarried, and then we moved to Indonesia. So I have a half-sister who is Asian. I have nieces who are half Chinese. And so in my own family, I’ve got the genetic strains of everybody. And it gives me confidence — confidence that’s been reinforced as President — that people are all essentially the same. Similar hopes, similar dreams, similar strengths, similar weaknesses. But we’re also all bound by history and culture and habits. And so conflicts arise, in part, because of some weaknesses in human nature. When we feel threatened, then we like to strike out against people who are not like us. When change is happening too quickly, and we try to hang on to those things that we think could give us a solid foundation. And sometimes the organizing principles are around issues like race, or religion. When there are times of scarcity, then people can turn on each other.
And so I don’t underestimate the very real challenges that we continue to face, and I don’t think it is inevitable that the world comes together in a common culture and common understanding. But overall, I am hopeful. And the reason I’m hopeful is, if you look at the trajectory of history, humanity has slowly improved. Not in a straight line — sometimes you take two steps forward and then you take one step back.
But if anybody here was asked the question, what moment in human history would you want to be born, and you didn’t know ahead of time whether you were going to be born in the United States or in Namibia, you didn’t know ahead of time whether you were going to be male or female, born into a wealthy family or a poor family, so all you knew was what moment in history would give you the best chance for the best life, you would choose today. Because the world is wealthier than it’s ever been. It is better educated than it’s ever been. It is more tolerant of differences than it’s ever been. It’s more connected than it’s ever been. It’s healthier than it’s ever been. We live longer than we ever have. We have better dental care than we ever have.
It used to be if you had a bad tooth, that was bad. You had a problem. Now you go see the dentist most of the time — in many countries around the world. It’s a small thing, but it’s important. Penicillin. Books. Women are treated with more respect, on average, today — even though we have a long way to go. People with sexual differences are treated with more respect.
And even violence — because today we see terrorism and it’s painful, and we’re shocked and horrified by what happens — and yet, if you look even in the 20th century, much less if you go back to the days of the conquistadores or Genghis Khan or slavery — but even just in the 20th century, the world is far less violent today, on average, than it was 25, 50, 100 years ago.
So all of that makes me hopeful. But as I said, it’s not inevitable. And I think one of the things that’s important for bringing about further progress is that we listen to each other and we understand our differences. I don’t think it’s necessary for us to all speak one language, or all have the same foods, or all have the same customs. But I do believe that there are some universal principles that are important.
I believe that the most important principle is a very simple one that is at the heart of most of the world’s great religions, which is treat somebody the same way you’d want to be treated. And if you start with that basic premise, then we will continue to make progress.
But I also think that in order for us to make progress, we have to have that fellow feeling and we have to combine that with the use of our brains and reason, and our intellect. And what’s interesting now, everybody here has a phone — everybody is looking all the time. And in some ways, that’s actually isolating people sometimes more than it’s bringing people together. And what I also notice is, because there’s so much information coming in, that sometimes people just surf the surface of information as opposed to analysis and understanding and study.
In America, sometimes in our politics you see sound bites — what we call sound bites. I don’t know the translation. But it’s just the Twitter line without trying to figure out, okay, is this true or not? What are the facts? And when it comes to an issue like climate change, we have to have a maturity to say, okay, here’s what the science tells us — the planet is getting warmer — and even though it’s not happening right now, and it’s a beautiful day outside in Buenos Aires, we have to start working now, so that 20, 30, 50, 100 years from now we still have a beautiful planet to live on.
That requires not just a strong heart, but also using our heads. And if we do those two things, then I feel confident that we’ll make progress. We’ll still have problems, but that’s what makes life interesting, is having a few problems.
I’m going to alternate between men and women, so that we make it fair. This young lady right there, since she’s standing right in the front.
Q I’m going to have a heart attack, Mr. President.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Oh, don’t have a heart attack! That would be bad!
Q I’m a university professor. I teach American political communications. I have no answers, but I don’t want to feel worse for my students. And I want to say that you are my hero, yes. (Applause.)
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, thank you so much. I appreciate that. Thank you.
Since you didn’t have a question, I’ll call on that young lady in the front, as well, just so that she — that way I get a question. But that was very nice. Thank you.
Q Thank you. Mr. President, I’m a research scientist. I’m very proud to have you here in my country, really. And I’m thankful, too, because I was educated in your country during my postdoc in teaching research. So my question is related with that, with science, principally, because I feel like always art and science was like the fields where the human being have not limits. And I was wondering if you are not fine, if you are not really just doing more than collaboration between our countries — and this is the most important thing in this area — why not to do a stronger collaboration between your country and mine, like this idea between others that perhaps other people have? But I was organizing with a Professor David Kaplan in the United States, who was my mentor there, to have a representation here in Argentina from their laboratory of research.
I know that there are a lot of programs of collaboration, like Georgetown, to be done like I did. But I feel like stronger collaboration in this field must be another kind of thing — not only to have knowledge, but to put in real — like, for example, technologic transfer. But I feel like science, basic science is very, very important. When I’ve been there like a researcher, I feel like we can do more. So I want to know about that.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good. Well, President Macri and I spoke about this in our meeting. I think the possibilities of collaboration between Argentina and the United States in scientific fields as well as the cultural fields — there’s a huge opportunity there. We can do much more than we’ve done so far. And you’re right that it’s not enough just to have student exchanges. There’s work that also has to be done together. And the more minds we have that work on it, the sooner we’ll be able to solve problems.
I’ll give you one specific example, and that is when it comes to diseases and medicine. Everybody here is familiar with the emerging problem of Zika throughout the Americas. It turns out the Zika is not a complicated virus. And I’m actually quite optimistic that we’ll be able to find a diagnostic tool and a vaccine for Zika. But the reason in the past that it hasn’t been developed was because it was predominantly in small, poorer countries in isolated areas. There wasn’t a lot of money to be made selling drugs to solve this small problem. And so it didn’t get any attention.
Except now we live in this world where everybody travels, where everybody is mobile, and so there’s no such thing as a disease that’s just isolated in one place, because if we don’t cure that disease, if we don’t identify it early enough, it will sweep the world. And oftentimes it will sweep very rapidly because there’s no immunity and people aren’t accustomed to it.
And that’s true — we saw what happened with Ebola. Now were seeing it with Zika. And obviously the thing I’m most concerned about is if we end up seeing a flu, an airborne disease — because we know that in the past, in 1918, with the Spanish Flu, millions of people around the world died — it can go very fast.
So this is an example where our goal is to work with the Brazilians, with the Cubans, with the Argentinians, with everyone so that we are pooling our resources, solving the problem quickly, getting clinical trials done quickly, finding ways that are culturally appropriate to make sure that people get the medicines they need quickly. And if we use the old model where each country is doing its own thing and working with its own companies, and not worrying about what’s happening elsewhere, we’re not going to solve it.
So I think the opportunities for collaboration are there. They are strong. We’re going to be developing over the next several months, I hope, a plan for the kind of collaboration that you described. Now, it won’t all change overnight, but we do think that we can make progress in this area. And this is the kind of thing that not only solves problems but it also breeds understanding. It creates — it makes people simpatico — right — in a way that reduces the possibilities of conflict over time.
So it’s an excellent question. Thank you.
All right. It’s a gentleman’s turn. Let’s see, this gentleman right here in the sweater.
Q Hi. And welcome to Argentina, Mr. President. And first of all, I would like to say thank you for having us here. It’s a pleasure and an honor. And thank you, and thanks, Argentina — as a truly proud member of the gay community — for fighting for our rights as humans, as we all are.
My question is, given the fact that, right in the world, most of the main causes of death — such as heart disease or chronic lower respiratory disease, diabetes, or even clandestine abortion in Argentina — can be prevented with proper health education, climate change policies, and of course medical research. So which ones do you think are, in these seven years now as President of the United States, your greatest achievements in terms of those issues?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, first of all, I had to start in the United States, because we were the only advanced nation on Earth that didn’t have a universal health care program, and so we had millions of people who did not have health care. So I had, as some of you know, a very big fight to establish a system — that’s not ideal because we had to modify it and adapt it to the existing system that we already had, but that has now provided 20 million people with health care that didn’t have it before.
So part of the answer is to make sure that people have access to basic care, particularly preventive care. Because so many of the diseases that occur around the world, we can prevent fairly cheaply, and once people are sick, then it’s very expensive. So, in Africa, if we can get mosquito nets — we know that a lot of disease and death is caused by mosquito-borne diseases. And we’ve pushed very hard, and we are now in a position where we could potentially, if not completely, eliminate and then shrink drastically the incidents of malaria around the world.
It’s not that complicated. It’s just a matter of organizing how we do it. And we know we’ve done it before because polio, for example, is an area where there’s been enormous progress, and there’s just a few pockets of polio left in the world. Small pox, same thing. So we know how to do this. It’s a matter of global organization that’s very important. So that’s point number one.
Point number two. People’s incomes have to be increased. Nothing kills you like poverty. And so you can’t separate trying to make people healthier from giving them the ability to make enough money and have enough resources to support themselves and their families. One of the things that we’ve done, in addition to the global health initiatives that we’ve worked on, is programs like Feed the Future. And what we do is not give food
— although we obviously are the biggest contributor of food around the world — but what we do is we take small farmers and we say, what is it that you need to increase yields?
And in some cases, it may be something as simple as new seeds. In some cases, it may be something as simple as a small mechanized system so that they can process the seeds on sites. And just that small amount of processing allows them to sell it on the market more expensive because they don’t have to send it to a big grainery, and that person takes a cut of their income. And by getting a little bit more money, now maybe they can buy a small tractor in a cooperative.
And what we’ve been able to do is to see small landholders increase their incomes by five, seven, ten times. And suddenly, they become not just farmers but small business people, and they start hiring people. And it creates a new economy in those communities. And that’s not just an economic program, it’s also a health program — because if they’ve got more money and now they’ve got a roof over their heads, and they can afford a mosquito net, and they’re eating better so their body has greater immunity to diseases, there’s enormous improvement generally.
Now, the good news — remember I said this is why I’m optimistic — if you look at the U.N. Millennium goals that were set 20 years ago, we did not achieve all the goals. But infant mortality has dropped dramatically during that period of time. The number of people who live in extreme poverty has dropped dramatically during this time. And so I was very glad that the U.N. came together this year around a new set of sustainable development goals. If we can do that, and we continue with the kinds of joint health care programs that I discussed, then I’m optimistic that we’ll continue to see progress. Because most of the deaths that happen, they happen to infants with preventable diseases; they happen to mothers when they’re giving birth; they occur because of diseases that could have been prevented with very little money and people having slightly higher incomes.
And so it’s going to be up to young people like you, though, to continue to find new areas where we can make progress and make improvements. Good luck. (Applause.)
The young woman right there. Yes, right there.
Q Good afternoon.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good afternoon.
Q First of all, I want to thank your country and your administration for investing in women like me and others from around the world that use sports as a way of developing other women through the Global Sports Mentoring Program.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Excellent.
Q And then you mentioned two things during your speech before. One was that this is the generation that needs to make a change in the world — and I honestly believe that. And then you also mentioned that we cannot expect to create those changes if we keep on doing the same things over and over for this amount of years. And in my opinion, when it comes to businesses, that’s kind of the way things are working right now. And when it comes to social entrepreneurs like myself or social businesses, there are very few countries that have a framework to empower people and social entrepreneurs to create those kinds of businesses. So my question is, what would be your advice for social entrepreneurs to keep on doing this hard work? And what do you think is the responsibilities of government to change those rules so that social businesses can be the new kind of businesses in this world?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Before I answer your question, tell me a little bit — tell me about your business. What is it — tell me about the programs that you’re doing.
Q Okay, so I run a nonprofit organization in Rosario, and we focus on creating social change by empowering youth living in poverty and by generating civic participation. By that, we also use innovative tools such as coding for kids, new type of businesses we develop — we help them achieve and develop life skills. That’s what we are doing right now.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: And how long has the program been going on?
Q Almost 10 years now.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Okay. Excellent. Well, I started in the nonprofit sector in community work, and so it’s something that I care deeply about. Each country is different. In the United States, most social entrepreneurs are typically financed through the private sector. Essentially philanthropies, rich people, or businesses, they finance it. Other countries — it will come through the government and the taxes that people pay.
But what we’ve learned is that for many of the social problems that we face, it has to be a combination of the private sector and the nonprofit sector and government working together to really make a difference. And what do I mean by that? So I’m sure if you go into a poor neighborhood in Argentina, just like a poor neighborhood in the United States, there are a lot of different kinds of problems. You have, first of all, economic issues because these communities don’t have jobs, businesses have not invested in them; in some cases, it may be factories that used to be there moved away, and so the jobs that people used to have there no longer exist.
So part of the effort has to be how do we bring private-sector businesses and attract investment into those communities to create jobs. That’s point number one. But the businesses may not come unless the government has built the infrastructure — the roads or the Wi-Fi connections or what have you. So the government has to make an investment. And even if the businesses and the government are prepared to do what they need to do, the human capital — the people — they have to make sure that they’re getting the education that they need, the training that they need.
In some cases, in the United States at least, if they’re very poor communities, you have young people who have been in poor families for generations. So they may not even know what the inside of an office building looks like. They may never have experienced what it means to go to a job at a certain time and structure their day in an organized way. And that’s where a nonprofit, a social entrepreneur, can come and say, we’ll partner with young people and have a professional or an adult who is working with that person and showing them, this is what’s possible for you. Opening their eyes to telling some young girl in a poor neighborhood, you can be a computer scientist and why don’t you come with me, and this is what computers are, they’re not that complicated, this is what coding means, and if you can do math, then you can start coding. And suddenly, just by them seeing the possibilities, that inspires their effort.
The point is, is that each of those pieces are important. I don’t know enough about how social entrepreneurs and community organizations and nonprofits are financed here in Argentina to give you a good opinion. I could give you an opinion — politicians always can give you opinions, but I can’t give you a good opinion because I don’t have enough information about what changes might be made to give an organization like yours more support.
But one of the things that’s interesting that’s happening in the United States is that you’re starting to see organizations that are kind of a blend of for-profit and non-for-profit. So they might have a business component that, let’s say, sells handcrafts and artwork that’s made by a community for profit, but then the money goes into financing the social programs that help give people these opportunities. And how they’re treated in terms of taxes and the corporate organization — that’s going to change by country. Each country is going to have a different model. But more and more, I believe that that’s going to be the wave of the future if we want to make progress on these problems.
I guess to make a broader point, so often in the past there’s been a sharp division between left and right, between capitalist and communist or socialist. And especially in the Americas, that’s been a big debate, right? Oh, you know, you’re a capitalist Yankee dog, and oh, you know, you’re some crazy communist that’s going to take away everybody’s property. And I mean, those are interesting intellectual arguments, but I think for your generation, you should be practical and just choose from what works. You don’t have to worry about whether it neatly fits into socialist theory or capitalist theory — you should just decide what works.
And I said this to President Castro in Cuba. I said, look, you’ve made great progress in educating young people. Every child in Cuba gets a basic education — that’s a huge improvement from where it was. Medical care — the life expectancy of Cubans is equivalent to the United States, despite it being a very poor country, because they have access to health care. That’s a huge achievement. They should be congratulated. But you drive around Havana and you say this economy is not working. It looks like it did in the 1950s. And so you have to be practical in asking yourself how can you achieve the goals of equality and inclusion, but also recognize that the market system produces a lot of wealth and goods and services. And it also gives individuals freedom because they have initiative.
And so you don’t have to be rigid in saying it’s either this or that, you can say — depending on the problem you’re trying to solve, depending on the social issues that you’re trying to address what works. And I think that what you’ll find is that the most successful societies, the most successful economies are ones that are rooted in a market-based system, but also recognize that a market does not work by itself. It has to have a social and moral and ethical and community basis, and there has to be inclusion. Otherwise it’s not stable.
And it’s up to you — whether you’re in business or in academia or the nonprofit sector, whatever you’re doing — to create new forms that are adapted to the new conditions that we live in today. (Applause.)
Okay, let’s see. It’s a guy’s turn, a gentleman’s turn. Hold on a second. That guy right there, in the dark shirt. Yes, you. No, right there. Go ahead. You. Yes, I can hear you. Go ahead. Speak right into the microphone. You don’t have a microphone. Where is the microphone? Here, it’s coming. But be careful. Don’t fall over. It’s a little tight over there.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yes, I can hear you now.
Q Hello, Mr. President. I am a senior in high school. This fall I will be — I will start studying international relations in American University at the School of International Service.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Excellent. We look forward to seeing you.
Q Thank you. My question —
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Make sure to bring a coat, though. It’s going to be cool during the winter.
Q My question to you is regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I am an Arab Israeli myself. And the reality is that with an increase of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, this is leading to more and more — to having a binational state. Do you think that a binational state where there is an Israeli Prime Minister and a Palestinian President, or a Palestinian Prime Minister and an Israeli President is a possibility?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: No, it’s an interesting question. I was asked at the press conference to reflect on the seven and a half years where I’ve been President — where I’ve been happy and feel that I’ve accomplished my goals, where I think I’ve been frustrated. And obviously the situation with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been an area where despite enormous efforts on my part — and a lot of people’s parts — we haven’t made the kind of progress that I wanted to see.
I continue to believe that the only way to resolve this issue is to have an Israeli predominantly Jewish state that is secure and safe, side by side with a sovereign and contiguous Palestinian state.
And the reason I say that is because I think the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a state of their own and self-determination is too strong to be denied. And I also think that the Jewish people, given their history, have to feel that they have a state that they are secure with, and that they can preserve from aggression.
And so there has been talk about a one-state solution, or sort of divided government. It’s hard for me to envision that being stable. There’s such deep distrust between the two peoples right now. And the neighborhood is in such a mess that I continue to believe that a two-state solution is the best way.
Now, over time that could evolve. But initially, at least, I think the Palestinians have to feel like they have something of their own that they can say, this is ours and it expresses our deepest aspirations. And I think that the Jewish people have to feel safe.
Now, the problem is, is that history casts a heavy cloud on this. Each side only remembers its grief, and has a very difficult time — has a very difficult time seeing the other side, the situation. And both of them have legitimate fears. And I will also say, though, that in some ways because Israeli society has been so successful economically, it has I think from a position of strength been less willing to make concessions. On the other hand, the Palestinians because of weakness have not had the political cohesion and organization to enter into negotiations and feel like they can get what they need. And so both side just go to separate corners. And we have worked and worked and worked.
And last year and the year before that, John Kerry — that poor man, he was flying back and forth, and taking messages back and forth, and I was making phone calls. But ultimately we can’t do it for them. And so the tragedy of the situation there is that until the populations of both peoples recognize the truth, which is they’re going to be living together one way or another. And the question is: Are you going to be living together with checkpoints and people being stabbed and hatred? Or are you going to be living together in a way that creates opportunity and hope for children? Until they make that decision and that is reflected in the political leaders they elected, and the politics that they promote, there’s very little that we can do to force it to happen.
That doesn’t mean we don’t keep trying and trying to persuade and provide incentives. But ultimately, this is going to be something that those people have to decide on.
And here’s the last thing I will say, though, and I’ve said this to Prime Minister Netanyahu, and I’ve said this publicly. If you look at the demographics of the region and the West Bank and Gaza, and the Arab-Israeli population, it’s growing much faster than the Jewish population. If you don’t find a way to resolve the conflict, then over time you’re going to have to make a choice: Do we preserve this as a Jewish state, but it is now no longer a democracy? Because if it was, then the Jewish people would be a small minority. Or do you preserve its Jewish character, but now it is — or do you preserve the democracy, but now it’s no longer a predominantly Jewish state? You’re going to have to make a choice.
The only way to avoid that choice — if you want to preserve it as a predominantly Jewish state and a democracy, then you have to give the Palestinian people and Arab people who are living in that community their own state in order to have self-determination. And I hope that that happens.
And even once I’m no longer President, I will continue to try to promote that peaceful dialogue. But I will be the first one to confess this is not something I was able to get done. And I’m not that hopeful that it’s going to happen in the next nine months. It’s been 60 years; it’s not going to happen in the next nine months. (Applause.)
All right, so I’m going to go back here in the shadows here. I didn’t even see these folks back here. Yes, this gentleman in the t-shirt and the sunglasses. This side hasn’t gotten attention? Okay, you’ll be nice.
Q (As interpreted.) The question is, taking into account that Donald Trump is one of the candidates in the Republican Party, why do you think that the people is supporting the policies that he supports? And do you think that he will reach the presidency?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: So the question was about the elections, the elections in the United States. Look, politics in the United States is complicated, just like every other country. You know something about this here in Argentina. Politics is complicated. But that’s part of the problem with and the benefit of a democracy, which is, it’s loud and it’s noisy and complicated.
What you’re seeing right now is, in part, that the Republican Party has moved to the right very strongly during the course of my presidency. Now, there are a lot of reasons for that. But that’s just a fact. And I think that the Republican Party, because of their efforts to oppose me, found themselves taking positions that were further and further away from the mainstream. It was successful in some ways in getting congressional candidates elected, because during the elections the turnout is typically very low, and so the most passionate people vote. And in this new media age where people are getting their info, as I said before, in sound bites, and where they don’t necessarily get the same information, depending on whether they’re on the left or on the right, they can decide, I’m only going to read the things I agree with already, as opposed to getting a broader opinion.
What happened was, is that it reinforced a politics that was based on what they oppose as opposed to what they were for. And primarily, they opposed me. And so that’s what’s happening inside of the Republican Party. Within the Democratic Party, which I think is not going through as big of a change, I do think that Mr. Sanders and Secretary Clinton are responding to a continued concern, which is the economy has recovered, it is much better than it was when I came into office, but the crisis that we went through in 2008-2009 has left a lot of people feeling more insecure. And so even though their lives are better now, they’re worried how is it going to be in the future.
And they see some of the global trends that you probably see here in Argentina, which is globalization is disrupted, and the days are over where you get a job and you stay in it for 30 years or 40 years, and then you retire and you have a pension, and it’s all simple. Now you might have a job for five years, and then the company closes and you’ve got to retrain, and you’ve got to go to another job, and you’re trying to figure out how to save to pay for your child’s education, while you’re also trying to save for retirement.
So you’re starting to see, I think, a more vocal discussion of changing some of the economic arrangements and institutional arrangements in the United States. And in that sense, this is the same debate that’s taking place everywhere in the advanced economies. What you’re seeing is more and more growth is going to just a few, and the poor may have improved a little bit, but the middle class starts to feel more insecure. And that creates a willingness to question some of the existing institutional arrangements.
So both on the left and the right, there are disruptions and people are asking more serious questions about the economy. It’s just that it’s a little more extreme in the Republican Party. But look, I am a Democratic President, so you should assume that my answer is a little biased. I will acknowledge that.
The good news is, though, that ultimately I have great trust and great faith in the American people. I think, ultimately, they will make a good decision in terms of the next President and the next administration. I also think that one of the great advantages of the United States system, even though it’s very frustrating sometimes for the President, is that power is distributed across a lot of institutions. It’s what we call separation of powers and decentralization. So it’s not just that the President and Congress are separate centers of power; it’s also true that you have state governments that are powerful. The private sector is powerful. And this makes it hard sometimes for America to change as rapidly as we need to, to respond to changed circumstances or problems because it’s sort of like herding cats — you’re constantly trying to get everybody to work together and move in the same direction at the same time. And that’s difficult.
The advantage is that even if we end up with somebody who I might not consider a great President, there is a limit to some of the damage that they can do because — and I’m sure Republicans feel that about me — they’re glad that there’s distribution of power because they imagine that I would have turned the United States into Cuba, I suppose. They tend to exaggerate little bit how I see the world.
But that’s why I think that the United States has been stable as a democracy for a very long time. And that’s why I think not only do I have confidence the American people will make a good choice, but we usually can recover from mistakes and typically we find leadership, and because it’s a democracy, there are enough voices that lift up to correct those mistakes over time. (Applause.)
Last question? Okay. This young lady right here.
Q Good afternoon.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good afternoon.
Q I’m 16 years old. I was part of the Young Ambassadors Program 2015, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. Thanks to that program, I had a chance to see the world from a different point of view by living with a host community in Missouri.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: In Missouri?
Q Yes, in Kansas City —
PRESIDENT OBAMA: What city — what town were you in?
Q In April, in late summer.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Okay, where were you in Missouri?
Q Kansas City.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yes, in Kansas City.
Q So that made me realize how different and similar are the cultures between Argentina and America. But at the same time, this program was given to us to make an impact in our community when we came back. And I was thinking, why sometimes it’s so hard for nations to work together to invent a better world? Why sometimes it’s hard for political leaders to get along if, after all, we are all humans, and we all have blood in our veins, and we all want the world to be a better place? But sometimes you see news, terrorific things, and you just think, why can’t I be President to change that? So you are a President, and maybe you can answer me? (Laughter and applause.)
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, first of all — so I’m just curious — what was the thing that you thought was most different about the United States? What was the thing that surprised you or you said, well this is — I did not expect this?
Q I’m real sorry the question — the answer is not going to be a serious one, but toilets.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Were they better or worse?
Q They were better, but they were automatic, so it’s, like, kind of scary to get in there. (Laughter.)
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Oh, that’s a good point. If you don’t know what’s happening, you jump up. (Laughter.)
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, not everybody has automatic toilets, so this must have been a very nice —
Q If I’m serious, I think it’s the way students, I had an opportunity to have some classes at the high school — it was a public high school — and how students see the world from a different perspective. Some didn’t know what Argentina was, where it was; they would ask if we had Coca-Cola, if we had iPhones, if we had phones. And some others knew so much about Latin America. So it’s like the U.S. is a big diverse country and it was so awesome, and it was different from here.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: That’s interesting. Well, every country has strengths and weaknesses. I will say that an area where the United States — I’d like us to do better is greater awareness of the world outside of the United States. (Applause.) And part of this is just history. America was so big and relatively protected from threats from other countries. And it was able to develop its own internal market, and so for a long time, in some ways, America didn’t feel as if it needed to know what was really going on outside. It’s part of the reason why we don’t do as well on foreign languages compared to a lot of other countries with the kind of educational levels.
And this is something that I’ve said to the American people and through our Education Department — we have to change how we approach the world, because the world has shrunk. And if we want to train young Americans to be able to compete, they have to know where Argentina is. They have to know how to speak Spanish or Chinese — Mandarin. Or understand the cultures and customs of other peoples. Every young person does in order to live in this now global community.
A reason that Presidents can’t just solve things right away is because every leader in every country is gathering and expressing a very particular set of interests and history and institutional arrangements. And those interests oftentimes constrain what a leader can do, even if he or she wants to do it.
So I was just mentioning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If a Palestinian leader like Abu Mazen, President Abbas, wants to make peace with the Israelis, he has to convince Palestinians that they should give up certain claims that they may have in a negotiation. But if he makes that commitment, then there may be a younger Palestinian politician who sees that as a weakness, and it will turn around and say, look, Abbas is selling us out, he’s not looking out for the interests of the Palestinian people, he is being manipulated or taken by the Israelis.
And then if Netanyahu wants peace, he’s got to make concessions to create a Palestinian state. But he has to get elected, and he’s thinking to himself, if I make this concession, then somebody in my party, the Likud, may challenge me. And so what happens is, is that most politicians are constantly making decisions based on what they’re hearing from their various constituencies. And their constituencies — they want what they want. They don’t want to compromise sometimes. They don’t want to understand the nuances of things.
And then it turns out that in politics, sometimes making somebody afraid of somebody else or creating an enemy is more successful in stirring up passion than trying to say let’s understand this other person or these other people. So there are leaders who I think do a better job of focusing on the common good, and there are other leaders who are very narrowly focused on just how do I stay in power. And ultimately, if you’re lucky enough to live in a democracy, then part of making sure that your leaders can act well is the citizens, the constituency, have to also be well-informed and be willing to give him or her the room to do things that may not be convenient for you right now, but may actually be the right thing to do.
And one thing that Argentina and America share is we are democratic. And I always say to the people of the United States, the most important position in a democracy is not the office of the President. The most important office is the office of citizen, because if you have citizens who are informed and know about other countries, and recognize that if we provide foreign aid to some distant country in Africa, that ultimately may make us healthier. And if you have a citizenry that recognizes that even if I have to pay slightly more in taxes — which nobody likes paying taxes — but if I do, maybe I can provide that young child who lives in a poorer neighborhood an opportunity for a better life. And then because she has a job and a better life, she can pay taxes, and then everybody has more, and the society is better off.
If you don’t have citizens like that, then you’re going to get leaders who think very narrowly and you’ll be disappointed. So the job — one thing I always tell young people, don’t just think that you elect somebody and then you expect them to solve all your problems and then you just sit back and complain when it doesn’t happen. You have to work as a citizen also to provide the leaders the space and the direction to do the right thing. It’s just as important for you to challenge ignorance or discrimination or people who are always thinking in terms of war — it’s just as important for you to do that as the President because I don’t care how good the person, the leader you elect is, if the people want something different. In a democracy, at least, that’s what’s going to happen.
Now, the good news is I think all of you are up to the task, up to the job of being good citizens. And I look forward to the citizens of the United States and the citizens of Argentina continuing to create a better world together.
Thank you very much, everybody. (Applause.)
4:54 P.M. ART
The live stream video player is posted above; if not viewable on your mobile device try the free official White House apps for iOS iPhone, iPad, and Android; free download here.
As noted, President Obama’s town hall meeting is scheduled for 3:05 p.m. EDT (UTC/GMT – 4). Use World Clock to find the equivalent in your own time zone on Wednesday, March 23 or Thursday March 24 accordingly.
According to the White House, the President will meet with young people at the town hall “to talk about the relationship between the United States and Latin America and, more broadly, the Young Latin American Leaders initiative.”
The President and the First Family arrived in Argentina in the early hours of Wednesday, March 23rd, after the historic visit to Cuba, the first by a sitting U.S. President since President Calvin Coolidge in 1928.
Today’s complete schedule, according to the White House, is below.
12:50 am ART || Arrives Buenos Aires, Argentina
11:10 am || Meets with President Mauricio Macri of Argentina; Casa Rosada, Buenos Aires
1:00 pm || Holds a press conference with Macri
2:30 pm || Participates in a wreath laying ceremony; Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral, Buenos Aires
3:15 pm || Meets with staff of the U.S. Embassy to Argentina; Sheraton Buenos Aires Hotel & Convention Center, Buenos Aires
4:05 pm || Holds a town hall; Usina del Arte, Buenos Aires
8:15 pm || Attends a state dinner hosted by President Mauricio Macri; Centro Cultural Kirchner, Buenos Aires
Get more details on today’s itinerary here.
Photo credit: Screenshot via White House YouTube
- Video: U.S. President Barack Obama and Argentine President Mauricio Macri Joint Press Conference, Weds. Mar. 23, 2016
- Video & Transcript: President Obama Speech in Havana, Cuba at El Gran Teatro de Havana, Tues., Mar. 22, 2016
- Video: U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro: Statements to the Press, Mon. Mar. 21, 2016