Monday, January 15, 2024

Guatemala City, Guatemala

ADMINISTRATOR SAMANTHA POWER: Our delegation just finished meeting with President [Bernardo] Arévalo, during which I had the chance to offer the warm congratulations on behalf of President Biden, Vice President Harris, and the American people on his inauguration. 

From President Arévalo’s landslide victory in August, to his persistence through repeated challenges of the past days and months, his journey, the Guatemalan people's journey, to this moment, is proof that when people come together, a country's trajectory can change in profound ways. 

No matter who you voted for in this election, the President's inauguration was a victory for all of Guatemala. Despite obstacles that persisted up until moments before the inauguration, the will of the Guatemalan people triumphed. 

At this table, you have representatives from across the United States government: from USAID, the State Department, the White House and the U.S. Congress. We are all here in Guatemala, because of how important this inauguration and this moment in Guatemala's history is to President Biden and to leaders and citizens across the United States. 

The U.S. commitment to our partnership with the Guatemalan people has never been stronger. And if there is one message I want to leave you with, here today – we want to leave you with here today. It is that we are with you. You are not alone. We stand with you on behalf of your democracy. And we will continue to do so. 

This morning, we had the opportunity to meet with civil society leaders. We see the courage it has taken to speak out when doing so puts you at risk of intimidation or of arrest. We see the perseverance it has taken to stand against corrupt individuals who are manipulating institutions to advance their own personal interests. And we see the enduring faith it takes to keep showing up to vote when you have been disappointed again and again. 

Democratic systems are being challenged all around the world right now, including in the United States. So seeing civilians across Guatemala rising up to defend democracy is an inspiration not only to those of us gathered here, but to the American public back home.

The United States is truly honored to stand with you in support of your democracy. Now, of course, the work begins for the government that was decided by the people to deliver for the people. This is going to require public officials, members of Congress and the private sector to work with President Arévalo in good faith. The United States and many of Guatemala's partners have stood with the Guatemalan people in rejecting the recent attempts to keep leaders with clear democratic mandates from taking office. And we now stand with the Guatemalan people in rejecting any attempts to sabotage the new president's ability to govern. 

Guatemala, this new administration deserves the opportunity to do the work that the Guatemalan people elected it to do. This work, we know, is going to take time. And I know how frustrating that can be when you are a citizen who has been pushing for progress. We need impatience to stand up to demand change. But we need patience to take on the longer term work of transforming our politics, and of course to persist in the face of inevitable setbacks. 

We encourage the Guatemalan people to sustain their efforts to build transparent and accountable systems of governance. To achieve lasting security. And to drive economic growth for all Guatemalans. As Guatemalans take on this work again, you will have the full support of the United States. Our two countries have worked together for many years, bolstering job opportunities for young people, strengthening citizen security, improving the health of tens of thousands of children, protecting invaluable natural resources, expanding legal pathways for Guatemalans to work in the United States, and attracting more foreign investments in the Guatemalan economy. 

The United States is investing $219 million this coming year in these and other efforts. We are getting started on day one of the Arévalo administration to expand our investments in the prosperity and security of the Guatemalan people. We know that the top priority for most Guatemalans is greater economic opportunity, particularly for communities who have been left behind. 

With 44 percent of the rural population, particularly women and indigenous communities, lacking access to financial services, we are kicking off a new program to connect farmers with the savings and loan services that they need to invest in their own futures. Over the next five years, we aim to reach 100,000 rural Guatemalans with the services and generate $20 million in agricultural related financing to boost prosperity in farming communities across the country. 

President Arévalo and I discussed how to generate additional momentum on this front. And I am pleased to share that the U.S. and Guatemala will soon conduct a high-level economic dialogue to advance Vice President Harris's Central America Forward Initiative by promoting investment, creating jobs, reducing poverty, and addressing the root causes of migration. The United States will also soon welcome a new class in the Academy of Women Entrepreneurs – a program that helps equip marginalized women who want to grow businesses here in Guatemala to pursue their ideas. Four hundred women entrepreneurs from across the country are going to receive months of training to acquire the practical skills and expand the networks they need to build successful businesses. 

At the same time, we know that economic opportunities only matter if people feel safe, and if the rule of law is secured. So we are deepening our partnerships that help protect the security of Guatemalan citizens. Most tangibly and immediately, we will work with the Arévalo Administration within the first 100 days to disrupt illicit trafficking, including by helping increase the number of highway checkpoints and by inaugurating a newly refurbished National Civil Police Command and Control Center here in Guatemala, in Guatemala City in fact, that will help police respond more effectively when citizens need help. 

We are looking forward, across the board, deepening our collaboration on a number of fronts in the coming months and years. Because when citizens stand up and demand accountable, democratic governance, governance that will also advance security and drive prosperity for all, the United States is going to be there to support you.

 Again, we are with you, you are not alone. And now, we will take some of your questions.

QUESTION (via translation): Good afternoon, my name is Sonia Pérez, and I am a correspondent for the AP agency in Guatemala. My question is for Brian Nichols or Mr. Gordon. Yesterday, information was made public; Senator Mike Lee posted a message on his X account saying that one of President Alejandro Giammattei's sons had been detained and deported to Guatemala. What we want to know is if the visa of former President Giammattei has been revoked, and if this also applies to his family. In the same vein, we want to know what other actions the United States would be taking if, in the case of the Attorney General, she continues with her intentions to undermine democracy and attempt to reverse President Arévalo's inauguration. 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIAN NICHOLS (via translation): Good afternoon. Visa cases are privileged, they are private. The visa situation of individuals is not revealed. However, it's important to remember that the U.S. has used the legal tools we have access to defend democracy, to fight against corruption at the global level. And as you well know, we are willing to use these tools in the future against individuals who hinder democracy in Guatemala. We have tools such as the Global Magnitsky Act. We have several provisions in our law regarding visas. Our purpose, however, is to promote respect for democracy and fight against corruption. Individuals who act properly and change their attitude can recover their visa rights in the future. 

QUESTION (via translation): Good afternoon. My name is Carlos Kestler, I’m a journalist for  Prensa Libre and news anchor for Guatevision. This is a question that can be answered by Mr. Nichols or whoever feels the most capable of doing so. Yesterday before the inauguration of Mr. Arévalo, while Congress completed its session, the congressional representative Sandra Jovel claimed that some of her fellow congressional colleagues received pressure and threats from the personnel of the U.S. Embassy staff here in Guatemala to vote for one of the two options that were competing for Congress’s Board of Directors. The Congresswoman claimed that they were threatened with having their visas revoked or facing economic sanctions from the United States. My question is: what do you, as the delegation, have to say in response to this allegation from the congresswoman?

CHARGÉ D'AFFAIRES PATRICK VENTRELL (via translation): Good afternoon, it is a pleasure to be here with you. Patrick Ventrell, Chargé D'affaires of the Embassy and I would like to answer your question first. Everything that Assistant Secretary Nichols said applies to visa sanctions. But I'd like to respond to the role of the Embassy and what we have done to defend democracy in Guatemala. It has been in order to open spaces so people can speak openly to share their joint visions for the country. We have cooperated and opened the doors to many people in different sectors of society to speak to us. And regardless of where you're from in Guatemala, or whether you're left or right, indigenous, [or from the] private sector and so on. What we have done, we have worked, in the full respect and with full openness in spaces for dialogue. 

What has happened in Guatemala is that people voted. Guatemalans actually chose their future. That was not an issue done by the U.S. – the U.S. was here to protect and support the results. And together with the international community, that's what we have been doing. We have been very proud of the role we've had at the Embassy. We're very happy to have Ambassador Tobin Bradley, who soon will be coming to take on his role as ambassador, and I will be the DCM at the embassy. And we are certainly here to work with people who are under pressure, under threat. We have seen so many people coming to us at the embassy telling us about how fearful they are. It's amazing to see how many cases we have. And they're Guatemalan. So if they want to talk to us, of course, they can talk to us. Thank you.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: A comment, just to look at the broader perspective, a global perspective, which is the United States does not pick favorites. We do not try to dictate outcomes in political processes. There are a set of principles that guide the support that we provide. One of them is that elections should be free and fair. So we invested in election observation, and again, congratulate the Guatemalan people in achieving a free and fair election and in coming out to vote and in securing their democratic will. 

We support strong institutions, strong checks and balances. And as Assistant Secretary Nichols, illustrated, we hold those actors who would defy democratic will accountable. We hold accountable, not just here in Guatemala, but all around the world, those actors that violate human rights, or that steal from their people. And so those principles are being brought to bear but I would caution against any claim that the United States is trying to dictate who governs, quite the contrary. Our goal is to support the Guatemalan people in making their voices heard.

QUESTION (via translation): Good afternoon, I’m Aurora Bayo from France 24. Perhaps this is a question for Mr. Nichols. I wanted to know what is your opinion regarding the events of yesterday in Congress before the inauguration?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS (via translation): Well first of all, my impression was that it was a successful day for democracy and for Guatemalans, at the end of the day. President Bernardo Arévalo and Vice President Karin Herrera took office as president and vice president – that's a very important accomplishment for democracy. And an impressive victory for all Guatemalan people. The actions to block the inauguration, some of them tried to use anti-democratic tools, were regrettable. And the parties that were responsible have to render an account for their actions. However, our approach is to work with the new government administration, with Bernardo Arévalo as an ally, and to promote the well being of the Guatemalan people, the good relations between Guatemala and the United States. 

QUESTION (via translation): Good afternoon, my name is Iris Perez from the News Network. My question is, now that Bernado Arévalo and Karin Herrera have taken office, what can be expected from the U.S. in terms of migration, economy and international relations for Guatemala? Thank you.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: I will start. One of the things that our delegation had the chance to discuss with the new President and his team are a whole series of programs that we will be launching in the coming days to enhance financial inclusion, particularly for marginalized communities, and those who live in rural areas. So as I mentioned in my remarks here, we will see tens of thousands of Guatemalans getting access to savings accounts. And in being able to save, then getting technical training and advice about how to invest those resources to enhance economic opportunity for them and their families. 

We also have made substantial investments in expanding labor pathways – temporary labor pathways – to the United States, to allow Guatemalans to work in the United States seasonally, and then to come back to Guatemala. And we met today, this delegation with the new labor minister, and discussed the ways in which the numbers of labor visas, which had been increasing every year, how we can expand that program with the new administration. And the wonderful aspect of that program is that Guatemalans return to their communities, which most have no desire to leave, and are able to invest the resources that they have earned in getting new educational training and paying back their loans, and even in starting businesses here. So we view labor pathways as also a tool for development back here in Guatemala. 

And then one of the most important messages, I suppose, that I would like to impart on behalf of President Biden and Vice President Harris, is that economic development and strengthening democracy go hand in hand. And one of the things that is very exciting about the Guatemalan people claiming their democracy for themselves, insisting that their will, as demonstrated in the election, insisting that that was respected, demanding that the rule of law be strengthened, that public officials be accountable to the people – all of that is incredibly important for Guatemala's democracy, but it is equally important for Guatemala's economy. And Vice President Harris has invested a huge amount of time and attention in attracting private sector interest in investing in Guatemala. And as Vice President Harris' National Security Adviser Phil Gordon may wish to elaborate on, this now is an incredible moment for the private sector, to deepen what it is already doing, and for new companies to look at Guatemala with fresh eyes, because the new administration is pledging to ensure that the rule of law is strengthened, and new companies over time are going to, we hope if the new administration is able to implement its agenda, we'll be able to operate with less of a fear of having to engage with corrupt officials who are more interested in their own welfare than in the broad inclusive growth that we know the Guatemalan people want to see.

NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR TO THE VICE PRESIDENT PHILIP GORDON: Would just add a point on the private sector piece of this. It has been our view from the start, when the administration launched the root, Root Causes Strategy on migration for northern Central America, that there was a big governmental piece involved in it. And you'll recall that the Biden-Harris Administration, when we took office three years ago, pledged to, working with Congress, generate a billion dollars per year that would go to development in cooperation with the countries of northern Central America – and we are on track to meet that goal. But we were also clear, and this is one of the things that the Vice President initiated early in the administration, that for everything governments can and must and should do and will do, we can only really achieve our goals if the private sector gets involved. And so she launched early on a private sector, public private partnership, and galvanized the interest of a lot of major companies, U.S. and multinationals that has to date generated more than $4 billion in foreign direct investment in the countries in northern Central America. But not just the money in direct investment – connected millions of people to the internet, worked on financial inclusion. And then beyond the investment piece, the good governance piece, which as the Administrator said goes hand in hand with what we're trying to do economically – which is to say pledges on good governance, rule of law, labor, rules enforcement and to get to another big priority of the Vice President, gender, opportunity and opportunities for women, and this public private partnership Central America forward also include is an arm initiative called In Her Hands, which is designed to promote opportunities for women. So all of that is what we've done so far. 

But since the question was about like, how do you expect to work with this administration moving forward? We see it as an enormous opportunity to build on the good work we have done already. What we're hearing from President Arévalo are his interests in creating a business-enabling environment, in promoting the things I just mentioned about good jobs, and opportunity for women, and training and skilling, and financial inclusion, so that's a real opportunity for us. The Vice President called the then President-elect right after he was elected, and expressed her interest in working directly with him and with Guatemala. So we're really excited about that. And we think there are great opportunities to add private sector work on top of all the good official work that this team is doing together with the Government of Guatemala.

QUESTION (via translation): Good afternoon, Sergio Morales, from La Hora, a daily newspaper. Well, I wanted to ask you the following: During the just-ended administration, it's no secret that there was a rather strained relationship with the United States government. I would like to ask you, if you expect, of course, that this bilateral relationship between both governments and countries can improve. And to what extent does the cooperation you are willing to provide to the country depend on and how much does it rely on good relations between the governments? Because over the years, we have noticed a significant amount of cooperation in millions of dollars, but it hasn't necessarily worked, and people continue to migrate, and the conditions of poverty in the country remain without improvement. How much does the success of cooperation depend on good relations?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you so much. Let me start by touching a little bit on the development work up to this point. USAID and other U.S. agencies have been active in Guatemala for decades. You're absolutely right, that there is not enough economic opportunity in this country for young people. You have, I think, 170,000 young people entering the job market every year or seeking employment every year, and between 10 and 30 thousand jobs. So we need to make more progress together. There need to be more opportunities for young people who want to stay in their communities, with their families, and give back to their own countries. And that is why, again, we have these major private sector initiatives, why we are promoting financial inclusion, greater agricultural productivity. But having said that, U.S. assistance, and the U.S.-Guatemalan partnership has made a profound difference. Whether that's in English language training over the years, enhancements to educational training, and curriculum, investments in health infrastructure. Guatemala has been a flagship country and USAID Feed the Future program, especially selected for investments in helping farmers adjust, for example, now to a changing climate. There are farmers here in Guatemala, just in the last year about 35,000 farmers who've been trained in new agricultural techniques that have helped them increase their yields by an order of magnitude. 

Climate change is going to require all kinds of adjustments in the realm of infrastructure, in the realm of disaster response, in the realm of agriculture, and more. These are the kinds of programs that we have operating all across Guatemala, including in communities that before had not really been given a lot of attention by the national government. So I want to really underscore, I think, actually how productive the partnership has been over decades. And I think if you go to the communities in which USAID operates in which the United States has had programs, I think you will hear testimonials to that effect. But again, our objective is to expand prosperity, so that all Guatemalans who want to provide for their families can do so right here in Guatemala. And so that is our objective and we continue to invest around that objective. 

In terms of how a new administration does or doesn't affect cooperation, I would just underscore that anywhere in the world – and we're seeing it here in terms of the commitments of the new administration – but when a government tackles corruption, that is going to mean that development investments go further. When a business based in the United States has confidence in the rule of law, that is going to mean they're going to be more interested in making an investment. So, you know, it is absolutely the case that we have a very collaborative relationship with the new President and his team. It is also the case that we got a tremendous amount of work done in recent years – even when sometimes there was friction in the bilateral relationship – because of our continued, again, support for democratic institutions, and accountability for those who were defying those institutions. So that development cooperation has not ceased. 

But one of the main reasons that I think that we can see a much more substantial return on our development investments is the commitment to strengthen democracy and to fight corruption. Corruption is development, in reverse. It is setting back the kind of economic gains that the Guatemalan people are fully capable of achieving for themselves. And I'm an outsider to this country, but I believe that is one of the reasons that the Guatemalan people have just elected a president who ran on a platform of fighting corruption and ensuring that the resources that are here in this country are made available, not to some handful of individuals or to some select individuals who look out for themselves, but to the broad population of this country.

Administrator Power Travels to Guatemala - January 2024
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