Thank you, Madam Ambassador. I begin with congratulations for your upcoming Independence Day festivities and we have the opportunity to cheer for independence and let you know that we recognize the significance of this day.
This is my third trip to Honduras under President Obama and Secretary Clinton’s leadership. My frequent visits here reflect the great importance the United States places on our relationship with Honduras, as well as the broad range of challenges we are addressing together in an equal partnership.
As many of you know, the primary purpose of my visit was to lead the U.S. delegation of the High Level Bilateral Human Rights Working Group. The protection and promotion of human rights are essential to building a more secure and prosperous future for the Honduran people, and are critical to our broader bilateral cooperation.
That is why a high-level delegation traveled from Washington for the first of these annual meetings. Through this important new mechanism that we have created, we are enhancing our partnership to help the Honduran Government deliver concrete results in combating impunity, reforming the justice sector, and strengthening its human rights institutions.
At yesterday’s Working Group sessions, we discussed some of the most important challenges that Hondurans face – countering impunity, reforming the justice and security sectors, and ensuring respect for human rights. We talked about the diverse but very interrelated nature of these challenges – gangs and transnational criminal networks, lack of opportunity and employment for Honduran youth, intolerance, violence and intimidation against vulnerable groups like women, LGBT persons, and journalists, and the corrosive effects of corruption and impunity.
We discussed, in the Working Group, ways forward on these challenges – starting with the Honduran Government’s commitment to human rights. We are encouraged by the steps President Lobo has taken to promote human rights, and we will continue to seek improved conditions for all Hondurans. In my conversations with President Lobo and Secretary Corrales, we also explored ways in which we can increase our collaboration and cooperation.
We all know that these are not abstract issues – they affect the lives of Hondurans every day. During my visit, I met NGOs and activists who risk their lives every day to promote a safer future for others. I applaud the Alliance for Peace and Justice for its leadership in encouraging meaningful progress in institutional reform in Honduras. We encourage the government to continue to support the work of La Alianza, and to empower the Public Security Reform Commission that is charged with tackling corruption. I also met with journalists, and we discussed the importance of promoting freedom of expression and ensuring that journalists have the ability to report the truth without fearing their safety.
I also met with youth activists, who continue striving to improve their own society. With the right opportunities and skills, young people are able to turn their backs on gangs and violence, and become agents of change for a better future in Honduras. Youth and civil society will play an important role to insure a democratic transition in the primary elections that will take place this year and obviously in the general elections of next year.
The United States remains committed to assisting the Honduran people in combating the scourge of transitional criminal organizations, ending impunity, strengthening Honduras’ law enforcement and justice institutions, providing youth with viable alternatives to linkages to crime, and tracking and seizing the illicit cash funding criminal activity.
To improve our coordination in these activities here, yesterday Foreign Minister Corrales and I signed a bilateral Memorandum of Understanding that sets the stage for results-oriented action towards our shared objective of a safe Honduras that respects the rule of law and human rights.
Ambassador Kubiske, who works on this day in and day out, also signed an agreement with the Minister of Foreign Affairs to increase the existing U.S. financial assistance to counter gang activity in Honduras. This agreement was in the amount of $1.8 million. These are new funds, additional funds to support the efforts to dismantle domestic gangs in Honduras.
As I wrap up my third visit to Honduras as Under Secretary, I leave recognizing that we still have much work to do to advance our common interests. Together, we will continue to address the difficult challenges that lie ahead, and work to build a more secure and prosperous future for all Hondurans. Thank you very much.