11:05 A.M. EST
MODERATOR: Thank you, Tom. And good morning, everyone. This is an on-background briefing to discuss the Summit for the Americas announcement that we made Tuesday evening and the Biden-Harris administration’s priorities in the Western Hemisphere.
For your reference today, our speaker is [senior administration official], but from this point on, we ask that you refer to him as a “senior administration official.”
We’ll start with some initial remarks from him, and then we’ll open it up for our question-and-answer. The call contents will just be embargoed until the end of the call. By participating in this call, you are agreeing to these ground rules.
And with that, I’ll turn it over to our senior administration official.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great. Thank you, [senior administration official]. And Happy New Year, everybody. I am very excited to talk with you today now that we have announced the city and dates for the Summit of the Americas — the ninth Summit of the Americas — which will be June 6th through 10th in Los Angeles, California.
And so, what I intend to do here is talk a little bit about the summit and then use it also as an opportunities as I run through the priorities that the White House is going to advance in the run up to the summit; talk a little bit about what we’ve accomplished this year and how the summit priorities really look to further advance this administration’s agenda in Latin America and the Caribbean.
So, first, as I mentioned, we’re very excited to partner with the City of Los Angeles — Mayor Garcetti, Governor Newsom — to convene this meeting of our hemisphere’s leaders. It’ll be the first time that the United States has hosted the summit since the inaugural meeting in Miami in 1994. And it is incredibly — incredible opportunity to reflect on what have — what we’ve accomplished over the last 20 or so years since the last summit.
Briefly, what I’ll — I’ll mention, if you read President Clinton’s speech from 1994, which I highly recommend to everybody, it is a very ambitious and optimistic laydown of our relationship with the hemisphere and the opportunities for the countries of the Western Hemisphere. However, it is also stark how far we still are from the promise of the summit: greater integration; greater economic — broad-based economic prosperity; lower inequality; the promise of citizen security; and the consolidation of this hemisphere consensus in favor of democracy.
Today, it’s easy to think that all of that is at risk. And so, we are — we’re going to use this opportunity to really talk about the core issues that are facing the hemisphere. And we think there’s no better place than Los Angeles, which is emblematic of the ethnic, racial, and cultural diversity that, you know — that is the United States, more so as a majority Hispanic and Latino community.
It is an opportunity for us to really bridge the parallels between the President’s domestic agenda — the Build Back Better agenda — his climate agenda, his successful efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic with many of the challenges that the people of the region are facing.
And we look forward to galvanizing the full offerings of Los Angeles, from the culinary diversity to Hollywood to just the amazing political and business leaders that represent Los Angeles and California in general. And, of course, we have a Vice President of the United States who has a special affinity with the state of California.
So with that said, look, the summit, I’ll say, will focus on — our theme for the summit is: “Building a Sustainable, Resilient, and Equitable Future.” As you know, the Summit of the Americas is the only convening that brings together all the leaders of the Western Hemisphere. So there’s a leaders component, but there are also a number of events, including a CEO forum. Traditionally, there’s an Indigenous peoples forum. There is — and there are other opportunities for leaders to interact with the private sector, civil society, and others.
What I’ll say is that hosting this event and leading this process really demonstrates our deep and historic commitment to the people of the Western Hemisphere and to realize the promise of the Build Back Better World initiative, which is something that we’ve been talking about as — with the hemisphere is a priority.
I’ll go through the priorities that we are looking to advance in our conversations and preparations for the summit. And then I’ll finish just with a quick lookback to what we’ve accomplished in 2021.
So the first priority of — for the summit is, of course, combatting the COVID-19 pandemic, but also health systems and health security. So we’ve had a very active vaccination campaign in Latin America and the Caribbean beyond vaccine donations, making sure that we are, you know, supporting manufacturing and production capability in the region to prepare for future pandemics, but also given the focus on COVID vaccination; making sure that we are also buttressing our continuing efforts against other diseases — yellow fever, measles; and making sure that we’re using this as an opportunity to bolster the region’s health systems, which the pandemic demonstrated are incredibly weak, particularly for a large swath of the population of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.
The second is — related to the pandemic is promoting a green and equitable recovery from the pandemic. And what that means for us is, of course, the Build Back Better World initiative as a central point. It’s five vertical themes which are, of course, gender, health and health security, digital connectivity. And I believe I mentioned climate and the issue of gender as a human capital priority in the Western Hemisphere.
So that’s part of it.
Also making sure that for a region that is so dependent on fossil fuels, to ensure that we are mobilizing capital to help facilitate what is a global energy transition away from fossil fuels and toward the energies of the future. Making sure that the hemisphere does not get left behind is something that we’re very focused on. Of course, issues of climate finance in areas like the Caribbean, Small Island Development States that are impacted by climate change.
We’ve, as you know, published a climate and migration report recently, so that’s something that’s going to inform our efforts.
And the third element is — obviously, migration has been a core element of our work in the Western Hemisphere. But the theory of the case that the President has talked about in the rollout of the blueprint for migration is the need for us to take a comprehensive approach to the migration challenge, to go beyond just border and migration policy to recognize that we need to change immigration laws in this country. We need a border that is functioning, that is treating migrants with dignity, an asylum system that’s effective.
But also the leadership — continuing the leadership that he had as Vice President of the United States and now the — has passed the baton to the — to Vice President Harris is addressing the root causes of migration, because nobody wants to — nobody wants to leave their home and undertake the dangerous journey and go somewhere where they potentially don’t speak the language, as the President has said.
And so, investing in the security and prosperity of not just Central America but the — supporting the people of Haiti and supporting countries in South America as they deal with some economic security and health challenges — what the Secretary of State has called the “right to remain,” investing in these countries so that their societies are places where they don’t want to leave.
And we are taking a regional approach to migration. You all may recall, in October, Secretary Blinken was in Colombia and co-hosted migration — a hemispheric migration ministerial to talk about not just migration policies, the need for, you know, robust asylum systems, in-country processing mechanisms, legal pathways to migration, but also the need to making sure that we’re working in coordination to address the economic and security challenges that often lead to migration — what we call the need to provide stabilizing support to the countries of the Western Hemisphere, including those at Colombia — like Colombia, for example, that are hosting a very large population of Venezuelan migrants. So that’s the third one.
And then the last but not least is — continuing on the theme of the democracy summit from December — is helping to — making democracy deliver in the Americas. And that goes beyond the, kind of, abstract debates of representative and participatory democracy and really getting at the issues of disinformation as a challenge in the region, issues of protecting the work of journalists and also independent prosecutors that are combating corruption — corruption being a cross-cutting theme for us, but one that is central to the health of our — and vibrancy of our democracies.
And so these are relatively — you know, despite being, you know, four priorities, they’re incredibly broad issues. And they really get at some of the major structural and fundamental challenges that the countries of the hemisphere have been — have been facing long before the pandemic, and look forward to really working with the countries of the region and make sure that the leaders have an excellent conversation and one that is outcome-oriented when they meet in June.
To finish, I just want to — a quick note, since the President gave a thorough briefing yesterday with the press. Just briefly on what I would say are the most noteworthy accomplishments over — we’ve spent really a lot of our time in the — in the Western Hemisphere.
The first I would say is: We have successfully repaired our relationship with the countries of North America. And we’ve done that by rebuilding institutional mechan- — institutional mechanisms for cooperation on challenges like migration, on shared challenges like security, and in our shared economic prosperity.
The High-Level Economic Dialogue that we launched with Mexico really produced projects on supply chain coordination, modernization of borders, our coordination on development in Central America. As I mentioned, the first-ever supply chain working group that the United States has with another country on issues of telecom, of health security, and other issues.
The High-Level Security Dialogue, for us, was something that established the Bicentennial Framework for Security — what we would say is basically a new framework for security cooperation with Mexico that looks not just at the challenges that Mexico is facing but, frankly, the — also the responsibilities and the challenges that the United States has as a — as somebody that — as a country that has a shared responsibility and a need to work in partnership with Mexico to address these challenges — not just on the law enforcement front but on the opportunity front, and a new kind of approach or business model to going after transnational criminal organizations.
The approach, overall, I think I would summarize is one that is focused on public health, homicide reduction, combating the cartel business models, specifically the illicit finance, and then building judicial capability.
And then, with Canada, very early on, the U.S.-Canada Roadmap basically reinvigorated a very active whole-of-government relationship that — with Canada — had been dormant for the last four years, and has served for us to work on everything from cooperation on COVID-19; you know, coordination on border issues, economic recovery; as I mentioned, supply chains, health security, climate, diversity, inclusion, security, defense, global issues — a panoply that represents the full breadth and scope of the U.S.-Canada relationship.
All that culminated in the North American Leaders Summit later this year that produced over 50 deliverables. And so — not to say that we don’t have disagreements, and we have, certainly, issues of tension with both of these countries, but so do we with — any great powers will have disagreements. We’ve built a respectful way of working through these issues while still working from a reservoir of goodwill to advance our shared priorities.
The others, of course, are the Vice President’s leadership. We have — under her leadership, we have made significant strides in the first year of the administration on addressing the root causes of migration in Central America.
The strategy that we — that we rolled out this summer really creates a new approach that’s focused on not just expanding economic opportunity, supporting good governance, combating corruption, and addressing citizen security, but really some of the Vice President’s priorities are issues of empowering women, addressing the urgency of climate change, matters of human rights, and gender-based violence, which is a particular challenge in Central America.
But I think a signature of her work has been this call to action that has brought in a robust private sector element that, since it was announced, mobilized over $1.2 billion in private-sector commitments since it was launched in May of last year.
It is something that for us is central to this, because governments alone are not going to — you know, are not sufficient to really transform what have been some longstanding challenges of corruption, of lack of competitiveness, of opportunity. So we’re very excited, and it’s something that the Vice President has been personally engaged in.
Last — I would say, last, maybe two or three points. We’ve dealt with a lot of crises in the Western Hemisphere — Haiti being one that has been particularly concerning where, in addition to the broad humanitarian crisis that the country has been facing, the first assassination of a leader since the ‘60s, it’s something that has thrown the political system into disarray. But through the leadership of USAID Administrator Sam Powers, the SOUTHCOM commander at the time really marshaled a robust response to the earthquake.
We have been actively involved in promoting a political accord — a political accord between different actors in the country — following the July 7th assassination of Jovenel Moïse — and looking to really expand and strengthen the capability of the Haitian National Police to address the country’s security challenges.
Ultimately, we are, you know, supporting Haitian-led solutions and working to rebuild institutional mechanisms for cooperation on migration, security, health, and economic priorities.
Tomorrow, there will be a ministerial hosted by the government of Canada that we will participate in and where we’re going to lay out our approach to Haiti. And it’s something that we have developed in very close coordination with the diaspora community here and in a dialogue with Haitian civil society and the different stakeholders inside Haiti.
We’ve worked to promote a negotiated outcome in Venezuela, where, you know, really, through a very close alignment of the White House and the State Department promoting a peaceful and negotiated resolution to the crisis in Venezuela, has — it has helped bring together the international community, including the European Union, in favor of a negotiated outcome that would lead to free and fair elections.
And, obviously, we’re going to stay the course. And we see that as really the best way forward to empower the Venezuelan people to determine their own future.
And then, what I would say is — just as a cross-cutting issue for the hemisphere, and we look at issues of democracy backsliding and issues of economic and social rights in corrupt — in combating corruption. We have made making democracy deliver — or renewing the consensus — the hemispheric consensus in favor of democracy, really, a top priority.
A lot of that really has been a change in tone from the last four years where we’ve focused much less on where leaders lie on the political spectrum and more on how they are elected and how they govern to ensure that we’re really focused on democratic governance as an issue of — around which we are galvanizing regional action.
So, combating corruption has really been a central theme of all of our work.
We’ve cracked down on illicit finance, seized and frozen stolen assets throughout the region, strengthened tools to hold corrupt officials — corrupt individuals and groups accountable. And this includes targeted anti-corruption sanctions, criminal civil enforcement actions, and denying visas to corrupt officials.
I will say that the — probably the two emblematic issues have been the response to election fraud in Nicaragua. We’ve, you know, sanctioned — we’ve been to bring together the Organization of American States in rebuke of the actions of the Ortega-Murillo regime.
We’ve imposed sanctions on individual key regime figures. And we’ve not done it unilaterally; we’ve done it joined by Canada, the European Union, the UK. Imposed visa restrictions on at least 169 individuals linked to the regime. And brought together 26 countries, as I mentioned, at the Organization of American States, something that is a high watermark in terms of a Pan-American response to break downs in democratic rule.
And then lastly, you know, obviously the situation in Cuba — the direction that the President has been to be tough on the regime, but soft on the Cuban people. And that approach has led us to — after the July 11th protests — to really raise the profile of those individuals that have been responsible for the for the brutal crackdown.
We’ve imposed individual sanctions on Cuba Security Force officials with the Canadian, UK, and EU support and, at the same time, prioritized the delivery of food, medicine, and humanitarian supplies to the Cuban people. And then expanded our support for tools to avoid censorship so that Cubans can communicate to from and among each other. As they demand greater freedoms.
This is just in the first year of the administration. And now, in conclusion, I think all of these really create the momentum necessary for us to have these broader strategic conversations going into the Summit of the Americas in June. And we look forward to receiving the leaders of the region in Los Angeles in June.
So, I’ll leave it there. Thank you.
(Call has technical issues.)
Q Awesome. I was not — for the record, I was not muted. (Laughs.)
Thanks. Thanks so much for doing this. I wanted to talk to you about the root causes of migration, as well as — you mentioned a little bit about democracy. Can you talk a little bit about the relationships going forward with the leaders in the Northern Triangle? El Salvador and Guatemala have kind of taken authoritarian turns. You know, how important are these relationships? Kind of, like, how you see these relationships proceeding?
Particularly with the inauguration of Castro — a president — a new — incoming President Castro in Honduran. I know the Vice President is going there. How important is that? And how do you see those relationships going forward??
And secondly, if I can, we cannot heard as much about the administration — Harris’s efforts in the Northern Triangle. I’m sure there’s things that have been doing down that hasn’t been as public.
I wanted to ask, is the relationship, or the potential of a new relationship, with the new incoming Castro government in Honduras — are we likely to see more steps taken with Honduras in the future? Will we be seeing, you know, new deliverables that — coming forward? What (inaudible)?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Certainly. Thank you, Franco. And Happy New Year.
So, let me start with the second part, because as you know, the Vice President is going to be — is going to lead the presidential delegation to the inauguration of Xiomara Castro next week. She’s going to be traveling with USAID Administrator Power.
And the Vice President — you know, she has been — I can speak directly from just experience — been hands on as we move to implement the strategy on root causes. Not only that, she has, in my view, taken a strategic focus so that we are really thinking strategically about the outcomes that we’re trying to drive, having a well-calibrated approach to engagement with each of these countries.
But also fundamentally — because the President has entrusted her to have a lead role — is she has been personally engaging with, you know, Giammattei but also Castro to try to be responsive to their needs as we also are — you know, have our own asks as well and are trying to promote a series of broad-based reforms in some of these countries.
So, the — I think the optimism and the hope — because she’s had a very constructive engagement with Castro — is that we helped set her up for success and that we are responsive to the needs and the challenges of governing — issues of, you know, pandemic response, responding to the need to get kids back to school, the desire to have an anti-corruption commission. These are areas where the United States can play a really important supporting role and — you know, creating a very positive, (inaudible) relation.
That’s — we’re very optimistic and, you know, look forward to seeing where it goes.
On Guatemala, I will say that, again, the Vice President has engaged regularly with President Giammattei. And where the Vice President hasn’t engaged directly, her National Security Advisor, Nancy McEldowney, has been very active, as have Jake Sullivan, [redacted], and others with Guatemala.
And the conversations go like this. They start very much in a positive tone, because we agree on a majority of issues — the need to promote what Giammattei calls a “wall of prosperity”; a need to combat drug trafficking and illicit smuggling — port security is a priority of his; excellent cooperation between the DEA and the government of Guatemala; and an agreement that we need to, as a part of the Partnership for Central America, really find ways to support private sector activity in these countries.
The issue of institutional corruption governance is one that we have made very clear is not negotiable — a negotiable priority on the part of the United States; that we are not — do not feel like we are sacrificing that as a priority at the expense of cooperation on migration.
To the contrary, we’ve — you know, from the President, to the Vice President, and everybody in government — whether or not this is in their portfolio — is the top issue that is raised with the government.
But also I would say, beyond the relationships that we have with the government, we have relationships with the private sector, with civil society, and obviously with representatives from the international community. So we’re not going to agree on everything. And we have obviously unilateral means — as we’ve suspended visas, imposed sanctions on officials in Guatemala. But we also are constantly trying to broaden the aperture of cooperation on rule of law and combating, I think, corruption much more broadly in Guatemala, as we see it as a root cause of migration.
I’m not saying it’s easy, but it is a priority. If it was easy, it would have done a very long time ago.
In El Salvador — look, we’ve engaged at different levels with the administration of President Bukele, recognize that he remains incredibly popular in the country, but have also been very public — [redacted] have been specifically very public that popularity is not a blank check to undermine democratic institutions.
And there — we have seen a concerning trend in El Salvador, but we’ve, I think, had some — and we’ve also seen — we’ve seen attacks on social media levied against our ambassador who has departed and has returned to SOUTHCOM. That is concerning. It’s not really how governments should get along.
But we’ve, at the same time, continued to try to have that constructive engagement with El Salvador and feel like we’re making progress. And we recognize that making progress on these issues given, kind of, the, I would say, generational challenges that we’re facing are not — are not as easy as flipping a switch and require us to remain sustained, remain committed.
And that’s what we’re going to do. And we hope to have these conversations. I think, in the context of the summit, we don’t expect all the conversations that leaders will have will be positive ones. I think there’ll be areas of disagreement.
But President Biden, I think, relishes the give and take of those sorts of debates. And I think we’ll be eager to engage on — along those conversations.
I hope that’s useful.
Q Thank you. Thank you [senior administration official], for doing this. Thank you.
A couple of questions, if I may. The first one is: Is the White House preparing a special announcement, particularly on immigration, during the summit? Should we expect anything — any announcement particularly? Maybe you cannot share the announcement today, obviously, but at least the topics that you are interested in?
And second question: Cuba participated for the first time in this Summit of the Americas in the summit in Panama. It was not invited in Peru’s. But I was wondering if the United States is likely to invite the Cuban regime to the summit.
And also, what’s going to happen with Nicaragua and Venezuela?
Q Great. Thanks, Gustau.
So, the second question is easier to answer. We have not yet made decisions on what the invitation list will look like. And we want to have that conversation with the countries of the region.
I think that — I think the operating assumption is that we look forward to welcoming the democratically elected leaders of the Organization of American States to the summit.
So, you know, but I think we’ll make more formal announcements on the invitations as we get closer to the summit date.
But on the migration issue — and thank you for raising this — it’s important to underscore that — or to highlight that we have the chairmanship — we have the chair of the summit for all of 2022.
So, what does it mean? For us, it means that the summit itself is going to be a leader-level engagement, an important moment in time to talk about these priorities that I mentioned at the beginning of the call.
But we see this as something that — where we’re going to have summit-related activities that are going to take place before the Summit of the Americas, on the margins of the Summit of the Americas, and after the Summit of the Americas.
Why is that? For two reasons. One is that a traditional summit is — usually comprises 20,000 people in the course of a week in a convention space. That does not — is not really a realistic expectation in the, kind of, pandemic environment that we’re currently in.
And so, we are going to have a hybrid format for the summit. So some of these sessions are going to be in person; some of these are going to be virtual. The virtual space is one that we see as an opportunity to innovate and to make the summit accessible so it’s not just a bunch of people in suits wearing lanyards talking to each other in a convention center, but so that we can actually connect with the countries of the region using virtual platforms. We’re trying to get creative on that.
But we’re also — some of the different summits we may have before — kind of this — the parallel summits before and after the Summit of the Americas so you have a kind of continuous year of activity.
And on the migration front, we hope to bring — to kind of galvanize an agreement or an accord or a broad set of principles at the summit with those key countries that are either the source, transit, or destination for migration that look at not just, as I mentioned, migration policy; the need for, obviously, protections; but also the need to support — for the international community to stabilize — help stabilize these countries that, you know, sometimes are a source of migration because of the — their economic — the economic crisis.
Again, I would identify Colombia as a perfect example. [Redacted], you know, Colombians migrated to Venezuela during the late ‘90s when there was a security and economic crisis in Colombia. Venezuelans, now facing their own crisis, are migrating to Colombia. And it was the strength of the Colombian economy that allowed them to assimilate and to absorb these populations, but also, I would say, the leadership of President Iván Duque, where I think a legacy of his presidency — a positive legacy — will be just, I think, the example that he’s setting for the hemisphere, not just Latin America and the Caribbean, on the humanitarian and open treatment of migrants.
So we hope to bring these conversations together in a broad accord that recognizes the shared responsibility to address migration. So — but again, we’re going to have, I think, announcements before, during, and after the summit. And you’re going to see travel and engagement by Cabinet and sub-Cabinet officials to help support the President’s hosting of the summit, and then to also follow up from any outcomes that are produced at the Summit of the Americas.
Q Thank you. Thank you, [senior administration official], for this opportunity. You didn’t mention China in your remarks, and some people believe that it’s going to be like the big elephant in the room. There is this view when you talk to some public officials and people who are following closely the U.S. and the relationship with Latin America that there’s a new era of influence — China in the region — and that the leadership of the U.S. is not what it used to be, and the difference between the U.S. and the hemisphere has not come closer, despite the good intentions of the Biden administration. And that has created some frustration.
I was hoping you could address how you’re planning to touch on this issue during the summit.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Certainly. No, thank you for raising that. I — look, I will say — and we’re also finalizing our National Security Strategy which, I will preview, has a — probably one of most robust sections on the Western Hemisphere that, since I’ve been reading these, has never really been this comprehensive or articulated a (inaudible), kind of, U.S. national security approach to the Western Hemisphere.
What you will note is the word “China” is not mentioned in the Western Hemisphere section. And I’ll say — I’ll say this: that obviously that’s been a defining characteristic of a lot of our foreign policy engagement, but what we see as really the best — whether it’s the democracy strategy; whether it’s security, economic prosperity; whether it’s, you know, China — really is an affirmative agenda for the countries of the Western Hemisphere.
We, in the 42 years of normalization between U.S. — the United States and China, have gone between competition, confrontation, and collaboration.
And what I would say is that, as National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, said during his visit last May to Brazil and Argentina: We’re not asking the countries of the region to choose between the United States and China.
Any country that is investing in the economic prosperity, security, and social wellbeing of the countries of the region are advancing U.S. national security interests and are welcome, as far as we’re concerned.
Also, the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean are not chess pieces on a board but rather, you know, independent nations that will make decisions based on their own national security interests.
And for us to be competitive in that space, we have to be present, we have to be active, and that, by definition, is an affirmative agenda.
I will put just a finer point on this — is that, for the United States, you know, recognizing that our ties with the Americas, whether they’re geographic, familial, economic, or, frankly, value-based, are a source of U.S. prosperity, diversity, and resilience.
We’re the only hemisphere in the world where there are not interstate conflicts. It is a region that is relatively at peace. And that is something that has been a strategic reservoir for the United States.
So, the security and prosperity of our neighbors has incredibly important implications for us. And as such, though, the region’s economic prosperities, as democracies — so, meaning, their democratic — their democratic development — for us is a national security interest.
It’s such — our policy toward the Western Hemisphere is really predicated on the region’s democratic development, in their self-determination of democracies as essentially — as essential to our ability to address a widening range of global challenges and opportunities.
Why is that relevant to China is that, for us, the issue of democratic self-determination is emblematic, and those countries that are supporting authoritarian leaders are working against this — these goals. And so, that’s where I think I would identify areas of tension or disagreement that, for us, it’s really not about any sort of system of government but rather one where the citizens of the region get to determine the future and not autocratic leaders that are using violence and oppression. And I think that’s where you see the distinction between the United States and China, in that regard.
And I think our — for example, our response to the pandemic in the hemisphere and around the world has been emblematic of this approach where we’ve not used vaccines as leverage but rather because it is in our interest to just support the hemisphere being able to successfully combat the pandemic but also why we’ve emphasized corruption across the board and why we’ve been able to organize a bipartisan response and a full, kind of, throated rebuke by the international community of what has been the authoritarian decline in places like Nicaragua.
Q Hello. Thank you for doing this. I’d like to know specifically if you expect Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela to participate in the summit.
And also, yesterday, President Biden said that you’re having trouble — “great difficulty,” he said — making up for the mistakes that were made the last — in the last four years. What are those mistakes that were made in the last administration, in regards to Latin America? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you for the question. So, look, on Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela — so, again, we don’t have like a formal position to announce, but I’ll just restate what I said to Gustau, which is: We look forward to welcoming the democratically-elected leaders of the Western Hemisphere, given just this affirmation of democratic values and the need to have democracies debate some of these issues.
But, again, we, as the host, have a lot of — I think, decide, ultimately, who will be invited. But we’re going to consult with the countries of the Organization of American States as the Secretary for the summit.
And we’ll announce something I think as we — as we put together, I think, just the agenda and the invitations, et cetera. We’ll have announcements in the future.
On the other question, I think that’s probably something that would probably span well beyond the time we have left in this call. I would say that — I think the first and, I think, most immediate challenge that we inherited from the previous administration is a border and a migration system in disrepair, where there was a intentional effort to dismantle our legal — or our legal asylum system or our legal immigration system, our asylum process, our ability of the government — of the border to process individuals humanely.
And that has been an incredible challenge because, ultimately, we don’t — enforcement regimes are not effective migration management tools, no matter how loudly somebody screams that we need a wall. But you do need a border that functions. You do need to have laws in place where those who have a credible claim to protection or to asylum are processed expeditiously and those who do not are repatriated humanely.
That has been incredibly challenging for us to rebuild, but it’s ultimately a central component of the President’s blueprint and the theory of the case that you cannot build walls and forget about your neighbor’s challenges but, rather, you need to have a well-functioning border and invest in your neighbors’ prosperity and security to successfully address migration. You also have to have legal pathways, robust asylum systems.
And we need to bolster the capability of our partners like Mexico to have strong asylum and protection systems themselves. So, that certainly was something that set us back.
But as a Latin Americanist [redacted], I think the — perhaps the biggest mistake of the previous administration was that — was to divide the region into those who were either “those who agreed with us” and “those who were our enemies.”
And I think that that really ignores the diversity that represents the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. I think that is something that we’ve been able to come back from by simply a change in tone — to say that we may not agree with the country but we’re willing to find common ground. If you really focus on pursuing shared interests, then there’s no — then you can always find common ground with other countries. You know, whether or not we agree with everything that the government of Bolivia has done, we think we can find ways to work together and to improve that relationship.
The reason that Jake Sullivan traveled to Brazil and Argentina was to show that we work — we look to work actively with countries across the political spectrum. And people have — people have taken note that we have taken a very different approach.
Q Thank you so much for having the call, [senior administration official]. Really appreciate it. We had talked a bit about — a good amount about corruption here and the expectation for, you know, democratic — and for the integrity in governance when it comes to these partnerships.
I’m just wondering how much of that will factor into who gets invited to this summit? I know that you haven’t finalized it yet. But at this point, I mean, is the United States open to inviting officials from somewhere like Guatemala, where there has been undermining of prosecutors in the region, or El Salvador, where, as you said, you know, there was targeting on social media of an ambassador at that point.
And, secondly, on the Vice President’s investment that we’ve heard about a couple times of $1.2 billion: Just going through some of the information that’s put out there, I see that some of the descriptions from those private sector companies go towards training programs or expanding access to economic opportunity, and that a complaint from some on the ground — both community leaders, Indigenous leaders, as well as business leaders — was that previous investment did not go to creating immediate jobs.
So, I’m just wondering how — if you can assess, out of that $1.2 billion, how much goes towards a certain training program or something that we might see years down the line, and how much of it will actually create jobs in the short term. Thanks so much.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, that’s an excellent question. Look on the participation one: Again, not — I can’t offer too much, just because we don’t have a position. I want to make that clear, as (inaudible) to report on it.
But I think that anybody who was in — elected democratically will be invited to the summit. And that — I think there’s no question that the president of Guatemala will be invited to the summit, that the president of El Salvador will be invited to the summit.
And again, as — that is because if we only invite the people who agree with us, then we’re not really going to be having a debate but rather preaching to the choir.
And as somebody who, you know, has worked on Latin America and the Caribbean with President Joe Biden dating back to 2012, 2013, he does not shy away from these debates and, I think, looks forward to engaging personally and debating with leaders on these matters of corruption, not from a point of, you know, kind of preach- — kind of imposing or finger-wagging, but rather ones where, frankly, on matters of democracy, we are also facing some of these challenges.
I’ll go to countries like Brazil — and questions about democratic governance. You know, there is such a long democratic tradition in Brazil, and the institutions have been so robust that it really doesn’t matter who the leader is today and tomorrow. There’s a lot that Brazil can teach the rest of the hemisphere, including the United States, on matters of democracy, social jus- — social and racial justice.
And so, we want to have those debates out in the open as — between leaders, but also having civil society, Indigenous peoples, and others, you know, making very clear demands of governments, and that includes our very robust and raucous civil society to, you know, make demands of us.
So, I think it’ll be a very exciting — and hopefully, it is a kind of robust component of the agenda.
And the — I’m sorry, what was your second question? I missed it. Oh, yeah, on the Vice President’s participation. I got it. Okay.
So, look, I — this has — this is multifaceted, right? We — you know, the President made a commitment of $4 billion over four years in U.S. assistance. That is assistance to prosecutors, security forces, supports that USAID is leading on — you know, on reintegration efforts, on job creation, on rural livelihoods.
One, kind of, specific issue the Vice President has been driving is the use of technology to address rural poverty. And so, that’s one element.
It’s — and obviously, the job creation front. And that’s an area where the United States and Mexico have been — you know, USAID and its Mexican counterpart, AMEXCID, have been expanding their partnership to deploy programs to create jobs in the short term in southern Mexico and in Northern and Central America. That’s one component.
The private sector component is something that, I think, builds on the efforts that were begun when Vice President Biden was leading this. And it has its own, kind of, piece here. It’s one of specific investment by companies that are either establishing a presence, expanding their presence, or expanding their programs and job training. Some of those are short-, medium-, and long-term commitments.
We are also moving forward with engagement with the multilateral development banks, recognizing that we have to also mobilize multilateral, kind of, financial capital to — towards these ends.
So, I wouldn’t take it in each of their parts, but we recognize that, I think, one of the most important deterrents to migration in the short term is a good-paying job. And that’s something that, if you look at the, kind of, broader strategy has — is hit by different elements, whether it’s government, private sector, the multilateral development work.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much, [senior administration official]. And thank you, everyone, for your great questions.
As a reminder, this call is on background, attributable to a “senior administration official,” and the embargo ends now.
Have a great day. Bye-bye.
11:59 A.M. EST