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Interview with Mexico's Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray; A refugee's journey to America. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired July 4, 2018 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST, AMANPOUR: Just ahead, America is the original immigrant nation. So, as the country marks Independence Day, we
dedicate our program to this, which is the issue of our time.
And Mexico's Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray joins us on the border wall, family separations and US-Mexico relations after the stunning election win
of Mr Lopez Obrador.
Plus he escaped his war-torn homeland before winning a new life in the United States. My conversation with a Somali migrant to America and why he
feels President Trump is betraying his American dream.
Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
President Trump and the left-wing president-elect of Mexico might make strange bedfellows, but they're pledging to work together in the future
after they spoke at length by phone this week.
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, won in a landslide victory this weekend. Despite a net outflow of migrants from the United States to Mexico,
immigration and trade disputes have sunk relations between the two countries to perhaps unprecedented lows.
The Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel to meet with Mexico's president-elect next week. And there, he will also meet my next guest, the
current and outgoing foreign minister Luis Videgaray and he's joining me now from Mexico City.
Foreign minister, welcome to the program.
LUIS VIDEGARAY, MEXICAN SECRETARY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Hello, Christiane. It's great talking with you from Mexico City.
AMANPOUR: So, I just want to start by asking you, obviously, the question of our time and the question that's really standing between you and the
United States, and that is the immigration issue.
You have called the president's policies cruel and inhumane. We've all seen these horrendous pictures of children crying, weeping, separated from
The president has changed this policy. But are you getting any assurances as to what's happening with the children, what the immigration policy is?
VIDEGARAY: Christiane, let me start by saying that Mexico's relationship with the US is extremely important and it's also very wide, very complex.
We have - it's not only about immigration. It's not only about trade. It's about security. It's about investment, tourism, culture, education.
It's one of the tightest, more intense relationships between neighbors in the world.
Certainly, we want to have a very good relationship with the US, and that's in the best interest of Mexico and Mexicans.
However, there are some issues where we have public (INAUDIBLE) differences. And certainly, Mexico has its own limits.
And one of the things that has been a clear problem recently has been the treatment of children that have migrated into the US and have been
separated from their parents.
We are, of course, encouraged by the decision from President Trump to stop that policy from continuing, but you have to keep in mind that still over
2,000 children are still separated from their parents and we want to make - we want to be sure that this does not continue.
We have introduced a resolution that was unanimously approved by the Organization of American States condemning this policy and demanding from
the US government to take care of the children in a proper way and quickly reunite them with their parents.
We have - I have also talked personally with Secretary General Gutierrez from the United Nations also for the UN to be involved in this issue.
So, this is this is something that I believe all Mexicans, not only the Mexican government, certainly consider unacceptable. And, yes, separating
children from their parents, it's a cruel and inhumane policy that should not continue.
AMANPOUR: Now, as I said, the president has reversed that particular aspect of it. However, by implication, these children are being detained
now with their parents, who are deemed to have crossed illegally and have to undergo some kind of prosecution under criminal laws now.
Again, have you received any assurances or explanations from the US administration as to what's actually going to happen?
VIDEGARAY: Well, let me tell you, Christiane, we, as the Mexican government, fully respect US sovereignty and the absolute right of the US
to define its own immigration laws and policies.
[14:05:00] However, no immigration laws can be above human rights protection, particularly those of children. So, this is why we're so
involved in this problem.
I have been talking to both the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and to the Secretary of Homeland Security Kirsten Nielsen. I will be meeting with her
in Guatemala next Tuesday with my colleagues from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador will be meeting with her. And we expect not only to have words
about it, but also actions. How can we all work together to prevent this?
And what kind of policies is the US putting in place to make sure not only the kids are not separated from their parents, but also that they are
treated accordingly to their needs. And certainly. detaining children is also a potential violation of the basic rights.
So, we continue to be concerned and we continue to be working closely with the US. I expect that, on Tuesday, in Guatemala, we have a productive
meeting where we hear from the US specific measures to prevent this from continuing and happening again.
AMANPOUR: So, let's move on now to relations going forward. As you have said, it's very important to have a working relationship with the United
States. So, what do you think will change under a new presidential administration in your country?
For instance, President Trump has often derided what he calls a trade deficit with Mexico. He's talked about ripping up and renegotiating NAFTA.
Your own president-elect thinks NAFTA needs to be renegotiated. But, I guess, he comes at it from a different political vantage point than
How do you think things are going to be different under a new administration in Mexico?
VIDEGARAY: Well, that's for the elected president, and he seemed to explain.
What I can tell you is that trade between Mexico and the US is good for both countries. And we do not oppose modernizing NAFTA and we're working
hard to get it done.
Yesterday, when President Pena Nieto met with soon-to-be President-elect Lopez Obrador, they agreed that the current administration before president
Pena's term ends November 30 will continue to work hard in close coordination with the incoming team on trying to get the NAFTA
And I've been in contact with the US, with the White House, over these days and they are certainly sharing this objective. So, the next few weeks will
be of intense work with the US and also with good communication and coordination with the incoming administration.
NAFTA is good for everybody. It needs to be modernized, but trade between the two countries - I should say the three countries. Let's don't forget
NAFTA is a trilateral agreement and we are very close to Canada and feel very good about Canada being our partner in NAFTA - is something that
And that I will not change regardless of politics in every country. Trading is good. Trade is needed for the well-being of the free countries
and that will continue.
AMANPOUR: You say that. And, of course, trade is good and all the economists say it's good. President Trump takes the view that the trade
has been unfair and that actually a trade war is good. He's actually used those words and he said it's easy to win.
And clearly, Canada, Mexico, other US allies and indeed adversaries are being slapped with tariffs and threatened with more tariffs.
So, again, are you concerned that that is going to be you know the course of the future even under a future Mexican administration?
VIDEGARAY: We've been working already for over a year in the NAFTA renegotiation. We've been through moments of conflict. We've been through
different ups and downs, but the process continues.
I think we are significantly close to the agreement. There are some issues that have not been resolved. And that's what the negotiation will be about
in the coming months.
But I think we are on a good track. I feel good about our odds to get it done. Obviously, you have to wait until the completion of the negotiation
to see what the outcome is.
There are risks in the process naturally, but I think that we've made enough progress and the will both from President Pena Nieto and incoming
president Lopez Obrador is there. And I see also a strong will from the White House to complete the renegotiation soon.
So, we are, I should say, reasonably optimistic about the process being completed relatively soon.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, that's about the substance, but there's also a lot of how to deal with President Trump that many leaders around the world are
still trying to figure out.
[14:10:00] Some like your own president, who received candidate Trump before the election, were incredibly nice and kind and polite and
hospitable and got sort of, some might say, not the kind of response and relationship they had hoped to get.
I wonder what you make again with this trade situation of the Dutch prime minister, who was in the Oval Office yesterday, and he didn't sort of take
it from President Trump. He pushed back on the idea of tariffs. I'll play a few and I want to I want to ask you about it afterwards.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we do work it out, that will be positive; and if we don't, it'll be positive also because.
MARK RUTTE, DUTCH PRIME MINISTER: No.
TRUMP: We'll just think about those cars that pour in here and we'll do something.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Well, there you go. The Dutch prime minister telling President Trump that actually there's nothing positive about slapping tariffs on cars
and creating sort of this this tit-for-tat trade war.
So, have you in Mexico learned a lesson about how to deal with President Trump? Does it pay to appease him or do you have to stand up for what you
believe is in your own policy interest?
VIDEGARAY: I'm not in a position to provide lessons to anybody. I can share our experience and I can share that we've chosen engagement, close
communication. We have very clear public differences on several topics including some aspects of trade.
And when we agree, we clearly agree. But also, when we have differences, we make it very clear to the US administration and President Trump himself
on tariffs. The US imposed, we believe incorrectly, tariffs on our steel and our aluminum exports. So, we replied immediately with tariffs on
several US products.
So, it's not only about rhetoric. It's also about actions. And I think that Mexico's actions speak for themselves.
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you to respond to this then. You yourself, foreign minister, are considered somebody to have had a very close
relationship right at the heart of the Oval Office. In fact, with Jared Kushner, the president's adviser and son-in-law.
"Jared and Videgaray pretty much run Mexico policy," which is what a US official told "The New Yorker" late last year. But that was a problem for
the US Ambassador to Mexico Roberta Jacobson, who, as you know, has now quit and this is what she said to me yesterday about her ability to reach
the Mexican government. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTA JACOBSON, FORMER US AMBASSADOR TO MEXICO: It was a combination of things, but among them was this analysis that I wasn't having influence on
the president, even if I felt like conversations perhaps with then- Secretary Tillerson or other cabinet secretaries might have been productive.
If in the end, the vilification of Mexico continues, the demeaning of its cooperation continues, and the kind of language that we've seen from the
president continues, then I felt I could no longer defend the kinds of policies that were being implemented.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, what do you think then since they won't have somebody like yourself to talk to, somebody who can try to sort of smooth the edges? Do
you perceive the US still having a confrontational policy towards Mexico?
VIDEGARAY: I think there are unresolved issues certainly, on which we definitely don't agree, but I expect the current administration and the
next administration to work hard to don't allow our differences to define their relationship.
By the way, I should say I like Roberta Jacobson a lot. She was a great ambassador to Mexico and we appreciate all the work that she did. But
let's be clear, the relationship between Mexico and the US is driven by the presidents.
It was President Trump who decided that our main contact was to be Jared Kushner and now Secretary Pompeo. And it was President Pena Nieto who
decided it would be me as foreign minister who would coordinate the relationship from our side.
But its presidents who make the important calls. And I expect that to fully continue through the end of President Pena's administration and
started with President Lopez Obrador's incoming administration starting December 1.
AMANPOUR: And on that note, Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray, thank you so much for joining us from Mexico City tonight. Thanks a lot.
Now, as Mexico and the United States wrestle with how to handle migrants crossing their borders, we turn to someone who has made that treacherous
journey on the other side of the world.
Fleeing everything you know in search of safety, a better life and freedom takes a lot of courage and it represents the ultimate July 4th story as
Abdi Nor Iftin well knows.
[14:15:09] He grew up in Somalia, a fervent believer in the American dream. Later, when the murderous Al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab forced him to flee
to Kenya as a refugee, he sought a journey to America and his story does have a happy ending because he literally won the lottery - the visa lottery
- that allows him into the United States.
Now, the Trump administration is threatening to axe that program and it's all chronicled in Abdi's new memoir "Call Me American." He joined me from
his home in Maine to share the harrowing journey that it took to get there.
Abdi Nor Iftin, welcome to the program.
ABDI NOR IFTIN, AUTHOR, "CALL ME AMERICAN": Thank you for having me.
AMANPOUR: So, Abdi, you talk about your earliest memories when you were in Somalia, your home country at the height of a terrible famine.
I remember that famine because I was one of many journalists who came to cover it and when President Bush at the time sent Marines to try to stop
that famine. But can you remind us of what you remember of those terrible days?
IFTIN: As a child at the time, I remember that it felt like just we were dying because I was 5 years old when the war happened and then the famine
began in late '91 and then early '92.
The thing that I can remember was we could die in any ways. The bullets could kill me or the starvation could kill me. So, at that point, we were
- we never expected that I would wake up.
I don't remember one day that I thought I would wake up and go back to bed without something happening. So, it felt like death was very, very close.
AMANPOUR: And describe the feeling of hunger and starvation. I know that one of your little sisters died at the time. How did your family cope? I
mean, what did you do when you saw that happening in front of you, your own family and you were so young.
IFTIN: We did everything we could do. We ate the tree leaves. We ate the skin of our feet at the time because we were trying to stay alive. And
then, my brother and I, when our mother could not do anything more and her feet was swollen because of the malnutrition, my brother and I jumped in
and became the supporters of our family.
AMANPOUR: You said that you ate the skin from your feet. I mean, that is about as desperate as it can be.
IFTIN: It is. It is extremely desperate, as it can be. At that moment, in that specific moment, it was - we could eat anything, honestly. I mean,
we were just trying to have something in our bellies, something that could keep us alive another day.
AMANPOUR: What gave you hope? You did - you grew up there. You did everything you could to survive. But in your book, you describe - and, of
course, your book is called "Call Me American" and you were known as a kid there as Abdi, the American.
What was it about you that had your friends calling you that?
IFTIN: I felt completely overwhelmed by the American films, and specifically, the few moments that I had encountered with the American
marines in Mogadishu.
To me, it was amazing to see someone in uniform with M16 guns and the guns were not pointed at my head, they were pointed away from me. But my
friends had started calling me American specifically when I became a movie buff that I could not stop going to the movies, I could not stop listening
to the sounds and the words that the movie actors were saying.
So, at this point, when I became a translator and I started calling my friends to sit in a circle in this movie shack and I said everything that
was happening in the movie, I said, oh, he's going to kill someone, oh he says he is going to come back, and they thought, wow, you're understanding
what they're saying. And I said, oh, yes, so please call me American. And I was so proud of it.
AMANPOUR: You became so good at English that you translated all these movies for your friends. And then, at one point, things started to go
really badly, right? Didn't you start getting recruited by the terrorist group al-Shabaab , the offshoot of Al-Qaeda?
IFTIN: The al-Shabaab, which was actually aligned or part of Al Qaeda, they just arrived in 2006 when I turned 22. And it was a perfect timing
for them to start recruiting young men of my age.
[14:20:15] And it was when America recognized Somalia as an emerging Islamic state and I found myself in the most difficult days in my life
because earlier when the warlords were there, it was easy for me to hang out with my girlfriend, go to the beautiful beach of Mogadishu and walk
around and ask my friends to call me American. And I would dance on the streets. I would go to the weddings with some friends and we danced on
American music and I spoke American English and I wrote English phrases on the streets.
But when al-Shabaab came, everything that I was doing became a crime, a sin and they whipped me so bad for going with a girl to the beach. And they
had called me on the phone to give me really a warning about my nickname.
And they said, are you the one they call American, and they're asking me to drop it. And that's what they were doing. They give you a warning first
and then the second time they shoot you.
I wish I could leave at the time, but the Somalia was - the borders were closed. I couldn't go to Kenya. I couldn't cross the ocean. The pirates
were at the time active on the oceans.
So, I wish I could leave in 2006 when al-Shabaab came, but leaving Somalia was in my mind every minute of those days. And, yes, that's when I
actually decided to leave Somalia, but it took me years to do that up until 2011.
AMANPOUR: So, Abdi, you then became one of the lucky ones. You won a diversity lottery for a green card, for permission of visa into the United
States. That must have been the happiest day of your life?
IFTIN: It was my happiest days in my life. I was wondering if - I prayed for miracle in my entire life and that day is when I realized, wow, the
miracle has just happened because no other country offers diversity visa lottery, the lottery that I applied at the time, and it was only America
and it was a perfect timing for me.
And out of the 15 million people that apply to this program every year, I became part of those few lucky ones. Actually, the chances are very, very
low. All my friends applied, but they did not win, but somehow I did.
AMANPOUR: Fast-forward to this year where on World Refugee Day, you wrote a piece for "TIME Magazine" and you say, "People with the bad luck to be
born in a war zone have always had a chance to become American. We could win the visa lottery, as I did, tougher odds at getting into Harvard or be
accepted as refugees. But when President Donald Trump banned immigrants from seven Muslim countries, including my own, a ban expected to be upheld"
- of course, we know it was upheld - "the message to millions of people around the world was your luck has run out."
So, how is it for "Abdi the American" in the United States right now? What do you feel about this country that offered you a new chance, a second
chapter in life under the current administration? Do feel at risk?
IFTIN: Under the current administration, I feel threatened. I feel that my American dream had been betrayed by the current White House and the
current president that we have.
And, unfortunately, what they are doing, the travel ban, is a gift to the group like al-Shabaab, the same group that I avoided to recruit me and that
I ran away from my country because of them. It's a good news for them. It gives them a good chance to recruit and it also strengthens their image to
go all over the place and try to recruit everybody else because the current US administration has closed its borders to everybody else.
And it was not only me. It's not about Abdi. It's about all other dreamers that are out there that wanted to come to the United States in one
way or another. And I have friends that are still living next door to my mother in the locally-displaced makeshift homes in Mogadishu that say,
well, you know, Abdi, you made it and you have given us some hope. It shows us that we have to dream too, that we can be like you one day and
they have been doing this for years.
They applied the green card lottery every year. Unfortunately, they have not been selected, but they have been trying it. But now, I receive text
messages and they're saying, I don't even want to try this year, I mean my dream has died and I don't know what to tell them.
[14:25:06] AMANPOUR: So, President Trump has said that ending this diversity lottery is part of his immigration reform idea. And, obviously,
Somalia, your own country, is on the travel ban.
You are trying to become a citizen. Do you think you will be able to? And how do you feel this July 4th, Independence Day?
IFTIN: I don't look at America the way I looked at America years before Trump was elected. I can't feel sad. I sometimes see my face frowning.
And I'm disappointed, of course, but I'm not disappointed in the entire American system.
This administration is not going to be around forever. And I have thousands of American friends that feel frustrated as well, that feel so
bad the way America is behaving, the way this White House is behaving.
What makes America a wonderful country is the way that the rest of the world sees America as an exceptional nation, as a nation that's known for
its tolerance, democracy, freedom and opportunities. And that is the way I saw America for my life.
Growing up, since those Marines have arrived and they have given me candies and sweets and everything else as I was recovering from famine at the time
and then all the way up to when I became friends with so many Americans that saved my life and raised money to get me out of Somalia and then get
me out of Kenya when I won the lottery.
AMANPOUR: You've made a huge and exceptional effort to get to the United States and we really appreciate you talking to us. Abdi Nor Iftin, thank
you so much for joining us.
IFTIN: Thank you for having me. It's an honor.
AMANPOUR: Really poignant story of exceptional courage.
And that is it for our program. Thanks for watching. And goodbye from London.