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Julián Castro, 2020 contender and former ASSU Senator, returns to campus to talk foreign policy

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“We need a new vision for the future that pursues a more just world by defending democracy,” said Julián Castro ’96, former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, at a Thursday event hosted by Stanford in Government (SIG) and El Centro Chicano y Latino and spearheaded by graduate student group Grand Central Strategy. Castro, a Democratic candidate for the 2020 presidential election who served on the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) Undergraduate Senate, spoke on foreign policy and national security. 

Castro kicked off his address by reflecting upon the start of his political career: a 1995 ASSU election where he and his twin brother, Congressman Joaquin Castro, tied for first place. 

“My interest in going into politics was sparked during my time at Stanford because of what I saw in the Bay Area compared to my home town of San Antonio — how much more opportunity there was over here, how much more ready for the future the community seemed,” Castro later explained in an interview with The Daily. “I wanted to go back home and make sure that other people who grew up like I did could have that same opportunity that I’d had.” 

“The University has made some good strides,” he added, but “a lot of the same challenges remain.” 

Castro shifted from discussing his political roots to addressing politics now, specifically by outlining his foreign policy plan. He told the audience the United States could best take action that would reflect its values as a nation by committing to “inclusive prosperity at home and supporting security abroad.”

“When people around the world think about what the US stands for, they can all say three things: freedom, democracy and opportunity,” Castro said.

To work toward becoming a nation that stands for these values, he added, America should reclaim its role as a place of hope and refuge for the vulnerable.  

“We have to be a nation of moral authority that stands up for human rights, that pushes back against tyranny anywhere, and that promotes peace and prosperity everywhere,” Castro said. 

In Castro’s telling, the United States has failed to fulfill these duties in recent years. He critiqued the Trump administration’s failure to defend and protect relationships with allies and work towards concrete goals. 

“The current administration is more interested in photo ops with dictators than [with making] progress on nuclear proliferation,” Castro said, admonishing President Trump for withdrawing from the Iranian nuclear deal and “abandoning our Kurdish partners in Syria.” 

Despite having his criticisms of Trump, Castro believes the United States should not let the president’s shortcomings distract from the largest challenges the country faces today — “climate change, endless war, inequality and poverty around the globe and at home, mass migration and nonproliferation, cybersecurity” — and the difficulties of grappling with the growing impact of artificial intelligence. 

In addressing these challenges, Castro targeted the rise of authoritarianism around the globe, which he described as responsible for creating a new era of political competition between open societies and closed states. He told the audience that “our security abroad is inseparable from the help of our democracy at home. We cannot credibly say we support fair elections in Ukraine or Venezuela if we cannot guarantee them in the state of Georgia.”  

In addition to focusing on free and fair elections, Castro emphasized the freedom of the press, which he characterized as a “guardian of democracy.” Free press is under assault worldwide, he said, and the United States should do everything possible to restore it, even going as far as holding NATO allies accountable. 

“We can no longer separate our interests from our values, and it is important that we demonstrate that to our allies,” Castro said. 

He also addressed protecting these basic rights in an evolving age of technology, specifically critiquing Facebook for allowing its platform to spread hate in Myanmar, and encouraging the audience — most of which were Stanford students — to take action. 

“We need a new generation of leaders to ensure that technology is ultimately a force for good,” Castro said. “You are part of that new generation of leadership.”  

Castro called for diplomacy over warfare, stating that “diplomacy, backed by the weight of our national power and built on the foundation of our values, is so much more effective than a rifle.”

He sought to emphasize the importance of America’s relationship with Latin American countries. He championed working with partners in the region to secure free and fair elections in Venezuela, granting Venezuelan refugees temporary protected status and repairing the country’s relationship with Mexico through gun safety legislation and ending the war on drugs. 

When talking about migration from Mexico and other Latin American countries to the United States, Castro stressed addressing the root causes of mass migration, which he described as “insecurity, inequality, violence and injustice.” 

“The people in these nations must be able to find opportunity and safety at home so they don’t have to make the dangerous journey to the United States,” he said. 

Castro proposed rethinking the nation’s relationship with China, criticizing the decision of the current administration to implement a trade war that “has inflicted more pain on American consumers and American farmers than on China, and leaves our nation isolated in the Indo-Pacific.” Instead, he argued for pushing back against Chinese coercion and welcoming Chinese economic growth only when China “plays by the rules.” 

In closing, Castro cautioned the audience about what he believed to be the greatest challenge of our time: climate change. He expressed support the Green New Deal and the Paris Climate Accords. 

“The US is the nation best equipped to lead this effort,” Castro said.

Despite his emphasis on the high stakes of climate change, Castro was optimistic about the future. 

“Defeating climate change is the calling of this generation,” he said. “While this is a crisis, it is also an opportunity. Millions of jobs will be created in green industries, and hundreds of new technologies will transform daily life, all while we save our planet.” 

He closed by extending the call to action to his audience. 

“A new generation of leadership, like those in the room and so many others across our country and the world, are ready to make progress on reality, to defeat climate change, to start new enterprises and to serve the common good,” Castro said.

A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to El Centro Chicano y Latino as “El Centro Chicago y Latino.” The article also referred to Myanmar by its former name, Burma. The Daily regrets these errors.

Alejandro Salinas contributed to this report. 

Contact Sarina Deb at sdeb7 ‘at’ stanford.edu.