Vice President’s Ceremonial Office

Eisenhower Executive Office Building

3:32 P.M. EST

     THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everyone. 

Well, today, we mark an important milestone.  Six months ago, we launched a call to action for businesses to invest in Central America.  Six months ago, 12 people were around this table.  Today, we have 77 partners, who are here and virtually here, with 1,300 more businesses, civil society leaders who are watching this conversation and this convening. 

Six months ago, we had a commitment of $750 million; today, we have a commitment of over $1.2 billion. 

     We’ve seen great progress, with a commitment to do much more.  And I want to thank everyone at this table, virtually at this table, for all that you are doing.

     I also want to thank the State Department and the United States Chamber of Commerce for working with my team to convene this event. 

And a special thank you to Ajay Banga and Blanca Treviño of the Partnership for Central America for your leadership.  Ajay is with us in spirit.  At the last minute, he had some family obligations, but he sends his best to everyone here.

The people of El Salvador, of Guatemala, Honduras — we have talked many times during our meetings about who they are.  They are not unlike people all over the world.  When they leave their home country, the place of their birth, the place where their grandmother might still leave [live] — they usually leave for one of two reasons: not because they want to, but either because they are fleeing some harm, or because they simply cannot satisfy the basic needs of themselves or their family if they stay.

The work of this group of leaders in this call to action has been the work of addressing one of the main reasons that they leave.  And that is the lack of economic opportunity if they stay at home — not because they don’t have talent, or skills, or work ethic, or desires, but simply because the natural resources of their environment may not accommodate opportunities for them to satisfy those needs or to achieve any type of success.

So, this group of leaders — this group of extraordinary private-sector, private-enterprise leaders — has agreed to come to this table countless times to address these challenges but also understanding and fueled by a sense of opportunity, in terms of what we can provide for the people in these countries.

And so I thank you again for that.  I thank you because we also acknowledge and understand that the environment in which we exist includes that, often, when folks leave these countries, they are forced to leave their home and undertake a very dangerous journey to arrive here.

Sadly, just last Thursday, in Mexico, more than 60 Guatemalans died.  They were in a tractor trailer accident after paying smugglers to take them to the border.  And this, of course, underscores the human toll that is associated with that plight.

As a neighbor in the Western Hemisphere, I believe — I think we all know — the United States has an important role to play in addressing the root causes of migration.  At the same time, our government cannot do its work alone.  And again, that is where you have all stepped up in your roles as leaders, nationally and internationally, to help us get the job done.

     Private sector investment in the region, of course, has both a direct and indirect impact, from job creation and financial inclusion, to promoting good governance and rule of law.  Many of us have talked about the significance of your approach, which is to adhere to international norms and standards on issues like corruption and what we can do to create positive incentives for an adherence to rule of law and an adherence to international norms and standards.

     In May, I announced a call to action for businesses to invest in Central America.  Since then, as I mentioned, we have secured more than $1.2 billion in commitments for the region.  And I’d like to mention a few of those who have stepped up — again, to thank you but to make clear the level of commitment that you have made.

     Nespresso, Microsoft, MasterCard joined the call to action in May and are making progress after announcing further action today. 

Several new companies are also committed to act.  Parkdale Mills will invest $150 million in new facilities in Honduras.  PepsiCo will invest at least $190 million in the region’s infrastructure and manufacturing.  Grupo Mariposa, a Guatemalan company, will provide over 70,000 small-business owners with access to credit and digital services, which also is some of the work that, I know, MasterCard is doing as well. 

CARE, a humanitarian agency, will establish a $50 million center focused on gender equity — another big issue for the region and our country, and one that we will address through the work we do together.

These commitments will make a significant difference in the region and give many people there an opportunity to find hope at home.  Other parts of our Root Causes Strategy, which we launched in July, include not only the call to action, but the significant progress that we have made and are committed to making, not only working with the private sector, but working bilaterally and multilaterally on security, corruption, human rights, and economic opportunity.

The United States government has sent 15 million vaccines to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.  We have sent $310 million in humanitarian assistance.  Half a million people, in the wake of hurricanes, will benefit from this type of approach and work. 

We have conducted extensive diplomatic engagement in the region toward needed reforms.  For example, in Guatemala, we have announced two important task forces: one, a human smuggling task force, which has led already to the indictment of Guatemalan prosecutors — by Guatemalan prosecutors — of eight leaders in human smuggling organizations and seizure of at least $320,000, with more work to come.

We also established an anti-corruption task force where we have, through the Department of Justice, trained hundreds of judicial personnel.  This work is ongoing, and this work is having an impact, we believe.

In Mexico, a partner to us — and I’ve had now a number of meetings by telephone and in person with President López Obrador.  And we have talked about the partnership that Mexico is willing to extend to the United States to work with us in the region, understanding our mutual commitment but also interest as important members of the Western Hemisphere. 

To that end, the Mexican government entered into a memorandum of understanding with the United States around development.  And the first joint program we have launched was in Honduras, providing job skills training. 

In my most recent meeting with the President of Mexico, we renewed our commitment to joining forces to do this work, knowing how we can have a positive impact in the region.  And, of course, we stand ready to do work with the new administration in Honduras. 

I spoke with President Castro last week to congratulate her on her election.  We spoke rather extensively about her concerns and desire for assistance and support from the United States on a number of issues that are about development and also about corruption. 

So we have also engaged with countries around the world, through the United Nation and directly.  I spoke, for example, with many heads of state and leaders, including the Republic of Korea, and they have doubled their foreign assistance to the region as a result of those conversations.

I spoke, again, with leaders in Israel, and they have agreed to provide 48 water catchment systems to Guatemala to improve sanitation and hygiene.  And at the United Nations, our Ambassador to the United Nations was extraordinary in her leadership to help launch a humanitarian response plan at the United Nations for these three countries.  And there’s a commitment to raising $588 million by those countries that have participated.  Two hundred million has already been pledged.

And finally, I’ll say: I’ve also met the people of Central America.  And in those conversations, these extraordinary people have expressed an incredible amount of optimism.  I believe, born out of their knowledge about the work that this group has been doing and the potential for our collaboration and our partnership, they are aware of the Root Causes Strategy and they see themselves in it.  They see their voices of leadership in it.  And we are counting on them to lead. 

This is not about us coming in and telling anyone what they should do.  It is about being partners and assisting in helping to facilitate the natural desire of the people of these nations.

This is important work; this is good work.  I think this reflects the best of who we are as the United States, recognizing our responsibility as neighbors to these countries in the Western Hemisphere.  And I’m very excited for not only everything that has happened thus far, but what we are pledging to do going forward.  It will have real impact.

And as we said from the beginning, this is not going to be addressed overnight.  But I will tell you, given the kind of commitments that have been made at this table and virtually at this table, there’s already been a lot of action.

And so, again, I thank you.  And I look forward to our conversation and the time that we have today, and also the time we are committed to giving to this very important effort. 

Thank you all.

                              END                 3:44 P.M. EST

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