— Publinews Guatemala (@Publinews_GT) enero 14, 2016
In Guatemala City for the day to meet with Northern Triangle leaders and attend the inauguration of President-elect Jimmy Morales of Guatemala. The United States will always be a strong partner to the people of this country. We are invested in their success -- and we hope they'll seize this opportunity.
– Jimmy Morales was elected amidst a political crisis in Guatemala. What could change with regard to the U.S. relationship with Guatemala given the new leader?
The United States will always be a strong partner to the people of Guatemala. We are invested in your success. This has been an incredibly turbulent time for Guatemala, but I believe President Morales’ election represents the desire of the people of Guatemala for a better future for themselves and their families. So this is a moment of opportunity—a chance to continue strengthening the relationship between our two nations and to work together to deliver results for the Guatemalan people.
The United States wants to see a Guatemala where people feel safe in their homes and where anyone can advance as far as hard work and their dreams can carry them. The nations of Central America can be the next great example of the rapid rise of our hemisphere. And that’s not just good for people in the region—it’s in all our interests.
Of course, great challenges lie ahead—urgent challenges that require difficult decisions. But as I told President Morales in our meeting this week—as long as he remains committed to advancing the types of reforms he ran and won election on, the United States will continue to stand with Guatemala.
That’s why it was important to me to lead the U.S. delegation to President Morales’ inauguration and to bring with me members of our Congress. I wanted to demonstrate the personal commitment of our administration and the broad support that exists in the United States for the people of Guatemala and our shared future.
– You have made regular visits to Guatemala, how have you assessed Guatemala’s biggest challenges? Do you see progress or regression?
This is my third visit to Guatemala in the past two years, and I’ve seen progress each time—from creating the Alliance for Progress to coming together to stem the flow of migrants to the United States. I’ve seen the people of the region step up and take responsibility for their own future. This third trip came about, in no small part, because the Guatemalan people made it clear that they will no longer tolerate corruption. They want greater transparency. They want their leaders to be held accountable.
So progress has been made, but that doesn’t diminish the scale of the problems Guatemala faces. Too many people are living in deep poverty—particularly in the Western Highland. Too many people are struggling to feed their families, and it’s only made worse by the ongoing drought. Too many people still don’t feel like the possibility for a better life here in Guatemala is real. And increasing numbers of migrants, including unaccompanied children and families, are embarking on the dangerous journey to the United States. More needs to be done—and as I said, the United States will continue to help Guatemala make progress on all these issues, including by supporting your Alliance for Prosperity plan.
– Do you believe that the Alliance for Prosperity Plan for the Northern Triangle is sufficient to spur development in Central America and through this, deter illegal immigration? Could you estimate for us the amount of time and money needed to generate this development?
Guatemala’s future—and the future of the entire Northern Triangle—isn’t a question of how much time or how much money. There’s no set equation that equals success. What it comes down to is commitment. It’s the political will to tackle corruption, ensure independent judiciaries and effective prosecutors, increase tax revenues, and reform key government institutions. It’s the ability to inspire confidence in the private sector and attract investment that spurs growth. It’s the desire to educate your young people and create opportunities for them to thrive.
Obviously there is a long road ahead, but the Alliance for Prosperity is focused on the right issues: providing security for the people of the region—because almost nothing else matters if you don’t feel like your children are safe; improving governance to increase transparency and build confidence in the region’s institutions; and advancing reforms to draw outside investment and address economic needs across the region.
So yes—if our partner governments meet their commitments under the Alliance for Prosperity—I believe that is the most effective way to deter migrations to the United States. I can’t imagine how desperate parents must be to make the decision to turn their precious children over to a criminal and subject them to an incredibly dangerous journey to the United States. Every Guatemalan wants a country that they can be proud of—a country where families choose to stay, where they can build a life and achieve their dreams. So we have to get at the root causes that drive migration—widespread violence and poverty. It will take time, but we can do it if we work together.
We’re also taking steps to expand refugee resettlement for vulnerable families and individuals from the Northern Triangle. Working with the United Nations, we’re improving our ability to identify people who may be targeted by criminal gangs, or because they defend human rights, and others in need of refugee protection. Our goal is to both address the underlying drivers of migration and provide a safe and legal alternative for those who qualify for refugee status in the United States.
But let me be clear: we will enforce our laws. If individuals enter the United States and are not qualified to receive asylum or refugee status, and they lack legal avenues for residency or citizenship, they will be removed and sent home.
– How will the United States continue supporting the fight against corruption in Latin America? Should CICIG-like organizations be formed in other countries?
Corruption destroys societies from the inside out. We see it in every region of the world, from Central America to Eastern Europe. Corruption drains resources, weakens national security, and without addressing corruption, we won’t see progress on any of the serious challenges facing Latin America. Streets won’t be safe if the police are in the pocket of cartels. Economies won’t grow if the rich don’t pay their taxes. Governments won’t improve if politicians’ votes are for sale.
The anti-corruption efforts of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and the actions that the Attorney General’s Office has taken against organized crime are enormously important for Guatemala’s democracy. For the first time, Guatemalans can see and believe that no one is above the law. And now we’re seeing other nations in the region, like Honduras, begin to follow Guatemala’s lead and take steps to root out corruption.
The United States fully backs all these efforts. CICIG has delivered results. If other countries in the region could also benefit from this model, and if it is appropriate for their individual circumstances, then I think it could be very valuable to consider standing up similar commissions elsewhere in the region.
– Many analysts say that the United States has put its relations with Latin America on a second tier. How do you see diplomatic ties in the future?
That’s simply not true. There are a lot of challenges in the world—from ISIL in the Middle East to Ukraine and Russia—but as President Obama made clear in his State of the Union address, our relationship with Latin America is right there at the top of our foreign policy priorities. We are invested in your success—not only because instability in this region directly affects our interests, but also because we recognize the enormous opportunities we have for shared prosperity in the hemisphere.
From the very beginning of our administration, President Obama asked me to lead the United States’ policy towards our hemisphere. I’ve long believed that we have the possibility to achieve a hemisphere that is democratic, middle class, free and secure—from Canada in the north to the southern tip of Argentina. That’s the future we want to achieve. That’s a first-tier priority. And Central America is a keystone to achieving it.
That’s why we’ve stepped up with $750 million in our new budget to help the countries of the Northern Triangle address critical challenges. This commitment represents the largest aid package from the United States to Central America since the 1980s—but the nations of the region also have to do their part and demonstrate concrete progress in key areas.
For us, the question is no longer, “What can the United States do for you?” The question is, “What can we do together, as neighbors and partners, to benefit our entire hemisphere?” We expect the nations of the region to do their part to help shoulder shared burdens, just as we will do ours. And that legacy of mutual respect and engagement will endure beyond the Obama-Biden Administration.