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What Is at Stake Today

What Is at Stake Today ?

Fiftieth anniversary of the French Consulate in Houston: Speech by H. E. Jean David Levitte, Ambassador of France to the United States. Austin, October 25, 2003. Source: Embassy of France in the U.S., Washington D.C.

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Dear friends,

It is a great pleasure to be with you today in Austin to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the French Consulate in Houston. I am delighted to see that so many French and American people came to this event. I want to thank the organizers, especially here in Austin, and I wish you a joyfull stay in this beautiful city and a very, very happy celebration.

Even if a golden jubilee marks indeed an important milestone, we must keep in mind that the common history that France shares with this part of the United States of America goes back much longer that these last fifty years.

We should first remember Cavelier, sieur de la Salle, who landed in Matagorda Bay in 1685 with three vessels among which La Belle, that was excavated in 1995 and is still under restauration at the University of Texas A and M in College Station before being shown at the Texas Historical Museum in Austin. Cavelier de La Salle was among those French explorers, settlers, exiles or missionaries who came to this part of the world year after year, not only to Texas but also to Oklahoma and Arkansas.

The presence of France is still recognized among the six flags of Texas, and of course in names like Little Rock (Petite pierre), La Grange, Paris (Texas) or Fayetteville, not to mention Louisiana.

That is the reason why the French Consulate wanted to celebrate this event in a very emblematic place : this beautiful and so charming former French Legation in Austin. I would like to seize this opportunity to thank the daughters of the Republic of Texas for allowing us to use this property today.

As you know, France was the first country which recognized the new republic of Texas founded in 1836 and Dubois de Saligny became the first Ambassador to the republic of Texas. Other French representatives succeeded him, in San Antonio, the largest city in the region at that time.

But the real big move was made in July 1953 when France opened a Consulate in Houston. You could ask yourselves why Houston was chosen over Dallas or Austin. The main reason, at this time, was the developpement of the port of Houston, which had quite a lot of trade with France. In 1955, according to our archives, 363 French vessels anchored there, almost one per day.

Since then, our presence has constantly grown in the three states from few hundreds in 1953, to more than ten thounsand today.

On trade and economic issues, our links are also very strong. More than 150 French companies or subsidiaries of French companies are employing over 60 000 people. Some of them had a difficult time recently, but many are doing very well like Schlumberger, Accor, Essilor, Tractebel, EADS, Dassault Falcon Jet, Oberthur, the French Banks, Axa or Zodiac.

We have also established successfully three French-American schools in Austin, Dallas and Houston which are very good supports for the business community and contribute to the cultural diversity of those cities.

I am confident that we will continue to have a lot of common projects to share in the coming months and years, that will give me the opportunity to come back : the exhibitions of La Belle’s artefacts which are taking place all over Texas, the creation of a French-texan Cultural Foundation, the opening of the French-texan center in Normandy, for which the governor has deployed a lot of energy, the opening of the Bill Clinton Library, the pursuit of crossed-investments both in France and in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas, in particular in biotechnology, information technologies, transportation and agribusiness. As you can see, there are a lot of success stories in this part of the country between France and the USA.

And we don’t forget that this part of the country is also the place from where all presidents of the United States of the last 13 years are coming !

Let me conclud with fews words on the French-American relations.

Our two countries were side by side, in the early days of your war for independance. One week ago, I was at Yorktown to commemorate the decisive victory of this war and the Franco-American alliance and friendship forged on this battlefield.

America in turn has given unfailing support to France in the most tragic circumstances. Twice last century, in 1917 and 1944, American soldiers have restored freedom in my country, on my continent.

We will never forget.

And forever the names of Pershing, Einsenhower and Patton will echo in our memories the names of Rochambeau, Lafayette and de Grasse.

In a few months, we will commemorate, on the sixth of June 2004, the sixtieth anniversary of D-day and pay tribute to all the American heroes who sacrificed their young lives on the beaches of Normandy.

You wanted France to be free, and as a free people we express our views. Only true friends and family members can argue their differences through frank and candid discussions. On Iraq, it triggered a diplomatic hurricane. But today, the storm is abating.

The storm is abating and we rediscover that our alliance has survived, and the tight bound of friendship which unites us for two hundred and twenty two years is truly indestructible.

Ladies and gentlemen, my friends,

We live in a dangerous world, a world transformed by 9/11. On this very day, I was in New York as the French Ambassador to the United Nations. I saw the destruction of the twin towers from my office, on the forty fourth floor of an another skyscraper. I will remember this tradedy for the rest of my days. And President Chirac was the first head of State to come to Washington and New York to express the solidarity of France with the American people.

France participated in the war in Afghanistan with five thousand troops and we maintain hundreds of them in Kabul and the border, side by side with yours. Elsewhere, in the Balkans, in Africa, American and French soldiers together bring peace and stability to regions destroyed by hatred and violence.

And in Iraq, despite past differences, France is willing to help because what is at stake today is huge: the future of the Iraqi people, the future of the Middle East, the future of the relations between the Muslim world and the Western world.

Yes, in this dangerous world, America and France must indeed stay together, and fight together their common enemies : terrorism and the proliferation of arms of mass destruction.

America and France must fight together, as they did from Yorktown to Normandy, to maintain their freedoms and their values.

That is what we want, and that is what America wants : three days ago the Congress has decided to establish, for the first time since the independance of the United States, a bipartisan Congressional Caucus to reinforce the friendship between the United States and France. This is truly an historical initiative !

Our friendship is a treasure. And this treasure must be protected, preserved and maintained.

Thank you. God bless America and God bless Texas !

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).