Vice President’s Ceremonial Office

4:19 P.M. EDT

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  It is an honor to be with all of you.  And thank you for accepting the invitation to meet with me and our team this afternoon. 

As you may know, my background and most of my career I spent as an attorney fighting for justice and fighting against injustice.  And this is a table of leaders who have fought for justice, who have fought against injustice — often at great peril to yourselves but in the interest of the greater good, in the interest of democratic values, and in the interest of all that we hold dear in terms of ensuring that we have a just society, that we fight corruption, that the individual does not experience injustice at the hands of its government.

And so, today, we have leaders from — from this background who have fought and have spent their entire careers fighting for justice in Guatemala.  At this table are attorneys who have prosecuted drug traffickers and organized crime.  At this table are judges who have advocated for an independent judiciary and the rule of law; leaders who have taken on corruption, who have taken on violence, and have worked to commit themselves to what must happen in terms of ensuring that there will be justice as it relates to all people in Guatemala. 

Some of these leaders have been forced to leave the country because of this work.  And we are here because I want to hear your stories unfiltered, unedited, and directly.

I intend to then work — informed with your knowledge, your feedback, and your perspective — on the work that we, as the United States, intend to do to address the root causes of migration from the Northern Triangle, understanding that among the root causes is the issue of corruption and the disintegration or violation of the rule of law. 

So that’s why I’ve asked you to join me today, and along with my team, in preparation for the ongoing work we will do, including my visit to Guatemala at the beginning of June.

And as you know — and I don’t need to tell you this — injustice is a root cause of migration.  And in particular, it is causing the people of the region to leave their homes involuntarily — meaning they don’t want to leave but they are fleeing: Women, Indigenous people, Afro-descendants, LGBTQ people are facing discrimination and persecution; families are living in fear of traffickers and gangs. 

Corruption is preventing people from getting basic services that they should be entitled to receive, such as educating their children, getting a business started, or participating in a fair judicial trial.  And so these are some of the areas that we will focus on. 

I want to underscore one point also, which is that corruption is also a deterrent to financial and economic investment in the region — a significant deterrent.

So if part of our goal is to look at what we can do to support and enhance economic development in the region, understanding that lack of economic opportunity is one of the reasons that people flee — if we are prevented from a course of action that is about spurring economic activity because of the legitimate concern with corruption — that is another reason that demands our attention to what we must do to reduce corruption, if not eliminate it, in the region.  So that’s the work we are going to do together. 

I believe strongly in judicial independence.  That is a topic — that will be a topic of our discussion. 

I believe that the government must be held accountable when it violates the rights of its people. 

And I believe that a judicial system, when it is just, gives people confidence that they can live in a way that they can raise their families, that they can live with freedom, and they can live with certainty that there will be an equal application of the law as it relates to all people, regardless of who they are and which family they were born into.

So, I will say, as my final points, that the work that we are doing in this region is motivated by a number of principles, including my firm belief that if we give people a sense of hope — that if they stay, help is on the way — that they will indeed do what they want to do, which is remain with their families, remain in their community.  And part of giving people hope is having a very specific commitment to rooting out corruption in the region. 

So that is our work.  And I am honored again to have these incredible leaders join us.  And I’m looking forward to our candid conversation. 

So, with that, I thank you all.  Thank you very much for being here.

4:46 P.M. EDT

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