SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, good afternoon, everyone.
Let me start by saying that yesterday, 143 countries, including the United States and Mexico, came together to condemn Russia’s sham referenda as a clear violation of international law, and unequivocally rejected any attempt by Moscow to illegally annex Ukraine’s sovereign territory.
As much as a condemnation of Moscow, the UN resolution is also a resounding affirmation of global support for everything that President Putin is actually trying to destroy. It’s a vote affirming the right of every nation – big and small – to have its sovereignty, its independence, its territorial integrity respected. A vote affirming our shared commitment to upholding the United Nations Charter and international humanitarian law. A vote affirming the human rights of all people, including Ukrainian civilians, who continue to suffer barbaric atrocities at the hands of Russian forces. With this vote, the world has never been more united in its repudiation of Russia’s war, and President Putin has never been more isolated.
We just completed our second High-Level Security Dialogue between Mexico and the United States, in which we took stock of important progress toward three main goals that we set out to accomplish together a year ago under the Bicentennial Framework for Security, Public Health, and Safe Communities: protecting our people, preventing transborder crime, pursuing criminal networks.
We’ve made significant progress, reflected in unprecedented investments, legislation, law enforcement action. And these efforts have already made a tangible difference in the lives of Mexicans and Americans.
Today’s discussion focused on the areas where we need to make even more progress, such as redoubling our efforts to combat the threats of fentanyl production and trafficking, arms trafficking, and the exploitation of migrants.
This is part of a broader, deeper collaboration between our two nations, with today’s dialogue coming a month after our second High-Level Economic Dialogue in Mexico City.
Both dialogues reflect shared priorities set out by President López Obrador and President Biden. And both focus on delivering on issues that have a tangible impact on the lives of our people, such as strengthening our competitiveness in the 21st century economy, making our communities safe for all of their residents, dismantling transnational criminal organizations.
The issues at the core of our economic and security dialogues are deeply intertwined. Strengthening security, combating corruption, ensuring accountability for crimes and human rights abuses – these not only makes our civilians safer, our citizens safer, but they create a better environment for starting a small business or attracting private investment. And fostering inclusive economic opportunity is also one of the most effective ways to address a root driver of organized crime, by providing people with pathways they otherwise would not have.
While these high-level dialogues happen a handful of times during the year, dialogues are happening at multiple levels of our governments every single day between U.S. and Mexican diplomats and development workers, prosecutors and law enforcement officers, public health experts, and migration officials. This is where our commitments are actually translated into actions that improve the lives of our people.
Across all of these efforts, one fundamental proposition holds: none of these challenges can we solve alone. And increasingly, we have to build our bilateral cooperation to work with others.
We’re increasingly partners in adopting also a regional approach to shared challenges. Just last week in Lima, we held a meeting of the 21 signatories of the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection. We discussed the concrete progress we’ve made since the Summit of the Americas on meeting our shared commitment to create the conditions for safe, orderly, humane, and regular migration in our hemisphere, and charted further implementation efforts moving forward.
Our nations are also working shoulder-to-shoulder at the United Nations to move forward a critical resolution that will sanction those responsible for supporting gang violence, corruption, and human rights abuses in Haiti, as the country experiences a dangerous resurgence of cholera and widespread insecurity.
And so, across the bilateral, the regional, and global cooperation, we have I think one of the strongest – if not the strongest – partnership we’ve seen, certainly in my experience. And I just have to say we’re so grateful to our colleagues from Mexico, both for the substance and the spirit of our conversations today and, indeed, every day.
And with that, Marcelo, the floor is yours.
FOREIGN SECRETARY EBRARD: Thank you very much, Antony. I am going to turn to Spanish.
(Via interpreter) Thank you very much for your warm welcome and for our meeting today. President López Obrador proposed a security strategy that starts with dealing with root issues. There are 2.2 million young people who are working, building the future – Sembrando Vidas – half a million. So we’re helping many families and people.
The idea is to make sure that there is no impunity. A national commission for searches was created, as was a national guard, because the president wanted to secure our territory because there were hundreds of police officers who continue to work.
And there’s a fourth issue, which is the agreement with the U.S. in the area of security. So this piece is working. The Bicentennial Framework has shown results. That is important. We signed this a year ago. I think we are the only two countries who have a framework with a plan of action and periodic evaluations in every area to protect our societies.
I’ll give you just an idea of what we’re talking about. This morning I was saying that it is thanks to the work between the U.S. and Mexico 32 million weapons did not end up causing lethal wounds in our countries. These were secured before they continued killing people. Seventeen million rounds of ammunition, tons of chemical substances, methamphetamines, 94 tons of cocaine, a good part of that cocaine has been seized on the high seas with common communication systems with the United States, 129 ships, labs throughout the country.
So from our point of view it is evident that the Bicentennial Framework is working. There is still a ways to go. This doesn’t mean that everything has been solved. But the most important indicator is that for the first time in the last few years we have seen a reduction in the homicide rate in Mexico. But not just homicides, also kidnappings, robberies, and vehicle theft.
When it comes to the homicide rate in Mexico though, the most concerning thing in Mexico, there’s been a 9.2 percent reduction. A part of this is thanks to the framework that we share with the United States. That is what it means to work together. Let me explain why.
This is a map that I showed Secretary Blinken just a while ago. These are all the municipalities in Mexico where there are weapons that were made by U.S. companies – mainly, but not only in the U.S. – and the U.S. is helping us to bring them under control. So you can see this map. This is the weapons pandemic that we have in Mexico. These are the U.S. towns where these weapons are sold. These are shown in red.
So why do we appreciate the support so much? We want to thank you for that today, and we will continue to thank you for that next year. If we reduce this, then violence in Mexico will continue to go down: 9.2 is a lot of lives, and if we reach 10 or 15 percent, that will create an entirely different, peaceful environment in Mexico.
So thank you very much, Antony, for your personal commitment to the Bicentennial Framework. Mr. Attorney General, thank you as well, Secretary Mayorkas.
ATTORNEY GENERAL GARLAND: Good afternoon. Last year, Secretary Blinken, Secretary Mayorkas, and I traveled to Mexico City to meet with our partners and colleagues in the Mexican Government. Together our two countries launched the U.S.-Mexico Bicentennial Framework. Today we had the opportunity to reflect on the work we had done over the past year and to share our commitment to addressing the shared security challenges facing both of our countries.
The first topic we covered during our dialogue discussions today was also the first goal we outlined in our framework last year: to protect our people. That goal is the foundation of our partnership and the thread that runs through all of our work.
As part of that effort, the Justice Department is working to meet the crisis of substance abuse within our own borders with a particular focus on fentanyl. We are providing resources to help communities with prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and recovery services.
Our second goal – to prevent transborder crime – is an essential element of both of our countries’ national security. Our agents and prosecutors are working to dismantle the dangerous cartels that bring deadly fentanyl into our communities in both countries. And we are working to disrupt both the supply and the demand of fentanyl. Just last month, the DEA concluded a four-month operation that resulted in the removal of 36 million lethal doses of fentanyl from American communities.
To strengthen our efforts to combat human smuggling and trafficking groups, the department launched Joint Task Force Alpha last year. And to crack down on the criminal firearms trafficking pipelines that flood communities in both of our countries with illegal guns, the department has set up cross-jurisdictional strike forces across the United States to disrupt these networks from start to finish.
We have instructed our prosecutors and law enforcement agents to prioritize prosecutions of those who are responsible for the greatest violence, including criminal gun traffickers. And we have worked to enhance cooperation and bilateral information sharing on illegal firearms investigations.
Finally, our third goal: to pursue criminal networks, particularly drug cartels, is an area of intense focus and prosecutorial resources for the Justice Department. A critical aspect of our work is our joint efforts to shut down illicit financial networks, which we know are the lifeblood of these criminal organizations.
We will continue to work closely with our partners in Mexico to investigate, arrest, extradite, and prosecute individual members of dangerous transnational criminal organizations as well.
On behalf of the Justice Department, our prosecutors, and each of our law enforcement components, I want to thank the Government of Mexico for their continued partnership on all of these fronts, and I look forward to our work together in the coming years.
SECURITY SECRETARY RODRÍGUEZ: (Via interpreter) Thank you very much. Good afternoon, everyone. The High-Level Security Dialogue that was held today, the diplomatic missions of the U.S. and Mexico, public officials from both countries represent the commitment and the conviction that both countries mean to continue to tackle together the cross-border security challenge for the benefit of our citizens. Working together at the international level, based on mutual respect, is delivering. We are closing ranks in the fight against drug trafficking, which has caused so much violence in our country and has caused a health problem for the United States. During this meeting, we discussed progress made and tasks that we are taking home with us. The pillars of this cooperation are focused on fighting against criminal networks that are disrupting peace in both countries and on making sure that our communities have peaceful, sustainable lives.
Mexico and the United States face the challenge of reinforcing our joint work to avoid the use of synthetic drugs and making more efforts in order to ban the operations of fentanyl trafficking by transnational organized crime. We can say that the Bicentennial Framework is delivering for the region, and therefore we commit to continue to work together in order to provide more and better results and peaceful outcomes.
It is with this in mind that the Mexican cabinet, led by President López Obrador, has two major channels. One, to interfere with the channels of drug trafficking groups using intelligence in order to dismantle structures and arrest the main actors responsible for violence; and fighting drug trafficking, weapons trafficking, and human smuggling.
In Mexico, the results are astounding. For example, when it comes to the Mexican fight for zero impunity, we reached the highest number of arrests in history. We went from 65,149 members of criminal organizations – 5,900 of these were members of organized criminal networks. Many of them caused violence, and this was done under the zero impunity, zero corruption program.
Our other task is to deal with the causes that lead to violence – poverty, disenfranchisement – by creating public health, education programs, anti-poverty programs. And there is a campaign in the media that will be held for preventing addiction in both countries. Because these actions are necessary in order to work on the prevention side of this issue.
Finally, I would like to say that as you can see, our national security strategy is extremely important. We must continue to strengthen our lines of effort. Because as the first woman who is secretary of security in my country, I’m proud to be a part of this cabinet, and I am proud to be a part of the work of the Bicentennial Framework. We say that Mexico is not condemned to war. Mexico is destined for peace.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Ali.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Thank you very much, Secretary, and good afternoon. The Government of Mexico is among our strongest and most valued partners. I am extremely honored to be here to mark the 200 years of friendship between our countries. The Department of Homeland Security is proud to play a role in implementing the historic Bicentennial Framework for Security, Public Health, and Safe Communities and honored to be a co‑chair of the U.S.‑Mexico High-Level Security Dialogue.
We share so much with Mexico; our history, our cultures, our heritage are inextricably linked. Our economies depend upon the efficient flow of trade and travel across our shared border, and DHS, our Department of Homeland Security, is committed to ensuring our security efforts facilitate lawful trading. We also have shared challenges. Our two nations face an increasingly complex and dynamic threat in the environment, including arms trafficking, migrant smuggling, and fentanyl trafficking; and we are committed to facing these threats with our neighbor, our partner, and our friend – Mexico.
Today, at the High-Level Security Dialogue, our two countries discussed ways in which we can improve upon our joint efforts. DHS is committed to doing its part in several ways that I’d like to comment on briefly now.
The flow of illegal firearms from the United States to Mexico feeds the cartels that are smuggling drugs and migrants into the U.S. Decreasing that flow not only helps stem violence in Mexico, it also increases our homeland security. Homeland Security Investigations, HSI – firearms investigations are up 500 percent since DHS launched Operation Without a Trace to identify, target, and investigate arms smuggling. From October 2021 to August 2022, CBP, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, seized 215 handguns, 159 long arms, and approximately 380,000 pieces of ammunition in 210 separate southbound seizures at our shared border. This summer, our Department of Treasury leveled sanctions against an arms trafficker with connections to the Jalisco Cartel. This designation was a direct result of the strong relationship between the Government of Mexico and U.S. agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security.
We are increasing our ability to detect contraband through increased screening, using nonintrusive inspection technology. Technological innovation and our harnessing of it is the key and vital tool to our efforts. We have also increased our interdiction capacity through expanded cooperation between our customs and law enforcement authorities along the southern border. Together, we increased northbound and southbound screening for contraband, including weapons, controlled substances, ammunition, and bulk cash.
With our Mexican counterparts, we have increased mirror patrols at our shared border, developed a unified border taskforce, and enhanced our information sharing, including locating and addressing cross-border tunnels. To protect the most vulnerable among us, we have put in place detection and referral measures to identify and assist potential victims of human trafficking. In support of our Smart Border Initiative, we are assessing ports of entry from both sides of the border in support of developing a model port with integrated technology and joint processes.
The goal of this project is to ensure more efficient trade and travel and improve security. I want to recognize the valiant efforts of our ambassador to Mexico, Ken Salazar, in all of the efforts that I am describing. Yesterday, we announced additional steps we are taking to reduce the number of people arriving at our southwest border irregularly and create a more orderly and safe and humane process for people fleeing the humanitarian and economic crisis in Venezuela.
Those who attempt to cross the southern border of the United States illegally will be returned. Those who follow the lawful process we announced yesterday will have the opportunity to travel safely to the United States and become eligible to work here. We also announced that we will make available nearly 65,000 H-2B temporary nonagricultural worker visas for Fiscal Year 2023 on top of, in addition to the 66,000 H-2B visas that are normally available each fiscal year. This advances the Biden administration’s pledge under the Los Angeles Declaration for Migration and Protection to expand legal pathways as an alternative to irregular and dangerous migration.
I am grateful for the close partnership we enjoy. DHS is dedicated to the U.S. and Mexico’s shared commitment to security, as reflected in the Bicentennial Framework. This effort will make us stronger and safer together. Thank you.
MR PRICE: We’ll now turn to questions. We’ll start with Tracy Wilkinson of the L.A. Times.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you and bienvenidos. Secretary Ebrard, for you, please. President López Obrador has been issuing a lot of anti-U.S. statements lately, a lot of anti-U.S. rhetoric. He’s criticized – he says arming Ukraine is a terrible mistake. Mexico is entering into a satellite installation deal with Putin that some people say has espionage capabilities. Given these things and others, do you – does that harm U.S.-Mexican bilateral relations, and does it make it difficult for you to negotiate with the U.S. on other topics like immigration and drugs and such?
And related to that, I wanted to ask you about the militarization in Mexico right now. In a country where historically the military has been implicated in massacres and egregious human rights abuses, and where still, despite the 9.2 percent drop in homicides that you say has taken place, still thousands of Mexican civilians are being murdered and disappeared with impunity, including more than a dozen journalists this year alone – what, then, is the rationale and the reason to have the military evermore in the streets, extend their permanence in the streets, something that López Obrador campaigned against, and now including expanding their economic power, unprecedented in Mexico?
And to Secretary Blinken, having listed all these things I just listed, does this give you pause or make you question Mexico’s commitment to democracy?
And if I may on a very different topic – I apologize – Saudi Arabia issued a statement last night or early this morning over the OPEC deal accusing the administration of politicizing oil, saying they will not submit to dictates – their word – from supposedly friendly nations. And also, why did the administration ask for a month’s delay in the announcement, as the Saudis claim? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Before turning to Marcelo, Tracy, in response to your first question to me, the answer is no.
FOREIGN SECRETARY EBRARD: (Via interpreter) Thank you very much for your questions. Let me summarize. What President López Obrador is saying that the involvement of the armed forces must be in accordance with our laws. They have been participating intermittently with no legal authorization to do so, and they were involved in a way that was not very transparent. Now we have created a national guard and command was given to the secretary of defense because no one wants any ambiguity. For example, the head of the federal police is on trial in New York. So that’s what we don’t want to happen in the future. That is the reason, that is the substance of it.
Now, Mexico has a system that guarantees rights in our legal system, more so than many countries in the world. The fact that you have a national guard doesn’t mean that human rights will be violated. We have a legal system that makes that impossible. And to convince you, I would say the following: look at the number of complaints with the office of the national guard, and it’s much lower than with any law enforcement agency in the country right now. So that means that we are meeting very high human rights standards.
Now, based on what you’re saying about journalists, every week we hear about investigations. There are people who are being arrested, masterminds and such. There is no impunity. Every case is being investigated. As to the 12 journalists, when it comes to disappeared persons, investigations are being investigated. They never used to be investigated before. The U.S. is helping us to grow our platform and our forensic capacities. I can tell you a – our secretary could tell you our whole story, Ms. Quintana, because she has directed these efforts, things that have not been done in Mexico in the entire century. Now, why is this an issue? Because we are being open about everything. We’re finding how many places, how many people were found, how many people have not been found. So everything that was murky before is now subject to public scrutiny. So that ensures that it will not be repeated. It can’t be that in the box of disappeared persons you have a ton of different homicides, murders that are not investigated, and therefore they’re not part of statistics. So we’re reducing the murder rate when we’re finding people who were murdered in the past, and we are shedding light on this.
So there is no – point two, when it comes – that’s security. Now, when it comes to Ukraine, all positions of Mexico – and we adopted a resolution yesterday together with the United States, which is to reject annexing Ukrainian territory to the Russian Federation. We are against that. We explained that before the Security Council. It’s – those have always been the instructions of our president. Our foreign policy is determined by him; we execute it. So we have a very clear position.
The issue of satellites – that’s September 2021 that was published back then. It has not gone into effect yet. So what happened? When we signed that agreement, the U.S. and Russia had a cooperation agreement for space. We were doing the same thing with Ukraine, with the EU, but then war broke out. So today the situation has completely changed as compared to when it was signed. But we’ve made all of this public. There are no installations of that type in Mexico. So the position vis-à-vis Ukraine and Mexico is very clear. We have made sure to take to the general assembly humanitarian corridors that were vetoed by Russia. We put this together – put this forward together with friends, and that’s our position. We want a peaceful solution, hopefully, but we cannot accept an invasion or annexing Ukrainian territory and we won’t do that.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Tracy, with regard to OPEC, a few things. First, just to review the history here, the Saudis had conveyed to us both privately as well as publicly their intention to reduce oil production, which they knew would increase Russian revenues and potentially blunt the effectiveness of sanctions. We made clear that that would be the wrong direction on that basis alone – the impact that it would have potentially on sanctions – but also because we’re in a global economic recovery. The recovery is fragile. We’re dealing with headwinds from COVID. We’re also dealing with headwinds from the Russian aggression itself. And so now is not the time to take energy off the market.
For many, many months now, President Biden has been making clear that our goal when it comes to energy is to make sure that there is enough supply on world markets to meet demand. And particularly as we head into to winter in various places around the world, that’s even more important. And so that was the lens through which we saw the OPEC decision.
They also presented no market basis for the cuts. We said that to them and we suggested that if they did have concerns about prices going down significantly, if their objective was to keep prices at a certain level, they should wait and see how markets reacted over the coming weeks there and wait at least till their next monthly meeting. So that’s what we strongly urged them to do for the reasons I just said. They didn’t do it. And as you know, we are not only deeply disappointed in that, we think it’s it short sighted. And as the President has made very clear, that decision has to have consequences, and that’s something that we are reviewing as we speak.
The President’s also made clear that given the strong bipartisan reaction against the OPEC+ decision, that he wants to consult with leaders of Congress when they come back from the campaign trail to look at the most effective steps that we can take moving forward, keeping in mind that we have a multiplicity of interests with Saudi Arabia and our policies need to reflect that.
From before he was President, the President has made clear that we need to recalibrate the relationship with Saudi Arabia. We’ve been engaged in doing that for the better part of two years. We’ve taken a number of steps last year, including the focus on human rights, the efforts to end the war in Yemen, policies on arms sales. And that process is now continuing with one goal in mind: to make sure that the relationship with – between the United States and Saudi Arabia more effectively addresses and advances our interests.
MR PRICE: Ariel Moutsatsos from Televisa.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(Via interpreter) I’ll ask my question in Spanish because we’re going live. There’s violence in both countries that comes from weapons. And being very honest, you, all of you here, continue to provide data, but both in Mexico and in the United States weapons continue to kill people – in Mexico because cartels obtain these weapons because of permissiveness in the United States when it comes to purchasing these weapons, and in U.S. specifically also because of that permissiveness.
So beyond policies and the political use that governments on both sides have made of this issue, my question is: Do you, not as politicians but as public servants, do you believe that it is feasible to solve the weapons problem? And if you can very specifically tell us what actions must be taken, what actions are needed, in order to solve the weapons problem. My question is for Foreign Minister Ebrard and for Secretary Blinken, but if Secretary Mayorkas or the Attorney General would like to answer, you’re welcome to do so as well. Thank you very much.
FOREIGN SECRETARY EBRARD: (Via interpreter) Yes. Thank you very much for your question. We believe that that issue is like other issues; it’s a security issue. These are very complex, but I think that there is a solution to them. If we didn’t think that, then we shouldn’t be public officials. If you think that you’re not going to fix something, then please just step down. It would be intellectually dishonest act, so of course there is a solution. Of course, it is complex.
We have worked very closely with Secretary Mayorkas’s department as well as the Department of Justice, with the support of Secretary Blinken, to achieve the following: this map, showing where we find the weapons that I showed you earlier, this map shows where more weapons are found secured in Mexico. So you’ll see in dark blue – dark blue shows where there are more weapons. On the border then, we have a higher number of weapons because we can surveil who is coming in with weapons. This is a map that we created together with the United States as far as who sells them. These are 10 counties in the United States that sell the most weapons. We couldn’t do this without the help of the United States. This is a common plan.
What actions are going to be taken? Secretary Mayorkas asked us to create a working group for additional measures that we are requesting. We have already made significant achievements, but we want to achieve even more. And to that end, 20 different measures are suggested that are short-term regulatory issues – seizures for anyone who wants to take weapons to Mexico, just as we have in Mexico. So there is that.
These actions – I do believe that these actions will allow us next year to obtain even more positive outcomes that we – than we have achieved this first year. That is the end of my first comment.
But total weapons in Mexico: over 55,000 from January 2020 to September 2022—55,900 weapons. Of these weapons that were seized thanks to the Bicentennial Framework, these did not fall in the hands of criminals. We believe that it was a number of about 37,000, we were able to interrupt these, that is, or we would have been able to seize them after a crime had been committed. So we have done better, and that is what we are proposing, and that is what is feasible.
So I am not just hopeful, but I have a conviction that this is vital for Mexico because it’s linked to the fall in the murder rate, that is clear; we’re being more effective. There are fewer murders. So there is a solution and we are going to solve it.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: In part because I didn’t fully hear the question, but also because what I heard sounded like it was better addressed to my colleagues, I’m going to turn to them. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: I’d be pleased to answer the question. I want to make very clear that what we’re not talking about is a matter of gun policy in either country. What we’re talking about is something about which there is unanimity in view, which is that it is illegal to traffic firearms against the law across an international border, and arm traffickers and smugglers so that they can exploit vulnerable people and harm innocent people in another country. So there is unanimity of view in that.
We have taken a number of measures both independently and in partnership with one another to address the trafficking in firearms across the border. I cited some of the examples, some of the data that reflect the success that we have had.
The gravity, the seriousness of the problem, is quite significant. And this is exactly the reason why we get together in a U.S.-Mexico High-Level Security Dialogue: to assess the strategies that we have employed, to understand their successes, and to see what the gap is between what – where we are and where we need to be. And as Secretary Ebrard noted, we have agreed to create a task force to develop new strategies to look at our interdiction protocols, to look at the investigation and prosecution of cases, and to assess and determine what more we can do to counter this problem.
So that’s exactly why we have this type of dialogue. We remain committed to overcoming the challenge, and we will be unrelenting in our attack on it.
MR PRICE: Eduard Ribas from EFE.
QUESTION: Thank you, thank you. For Secretary Mayorkas, regarding the arrangement on Venezuelan migrants, and why did you set the cap in 24,000 visas if just in September 33,000 migrants from Venezuela crossed the border?
(Via interpreter) For Marcelo Ebrard, what would Mexico suggest in order to receive Venezuelans who are sent back by the U.S.?
Is the Biden administration considering Haiti’s request for troops, and how serious is this deliberation? Thank you.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So if I may —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Please.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: — jump in first and take a step back, because we have to understand the phenomenon of irregular migration, which is not specific to the U.S.-Mexico border but is a challenge for the entire hemisphere and, as Secretary Blinken mentioned in our dialogue this morning, is a phenomenon across the world. The number of displaced people is at an all-time high.
We have seen, of course, Venezuela – a population of approximately 28 million people – Venezuela has seen the exodus of almost 8 million people, a little less than a third of its entire population. Colombia has 2.4 million Venezuelans resident within its borders. Migration, irregular migration, is a phenomenon across our hemisphere. Costa Rica now, more than 2 percent of its population is Nicaraguan. So this is a phenomenon that is really gripping the region and why our multilateral efforts are so critical.
Our program is based on a core principle of the Biden administration, which is when individuals are so desperate to leave the country that is their home, they are placing their life savings and their lives in the hands of smugglers who exploit them for profit, it is our responsibility to build safe, lawful, and humane pathways that create opportunities for them so they do not need to avail themselves of the more desperate and dangerous measures that the perilous journey involve.
And so the foundation of what we announced yesterday is to reduce – to reduce the amount of irregular migration so that people can avail themselves of the lawful pathway. And the number that we announced yesterday is based on that core foundation – that people will not take that dangerous journey only to fail, to not succeed in reaching their ultimate destination, but rather will take the humane, safe, and orderly pathway to a better life.
FOREIGN SECRETARY EBRARD: (Via interpreter) As far as the number of Venezuelans, let me tell you the following: in Mexico, we have seen an increasing flow over the last four or five months. It’s been significant because we have more Venezuelans coming today than Central Americans. But many of – there are many in Mexico. Those have – who have asked to remain there are in Mexico, they’ve asked for work visas. So it’s not that we won’t receive – Venezuelans come through our country. Many remain there. They’re not coming back from the United States.
But what I think is more important than that is that you’ll be able to begin a process without having to go all the way there, meaning that people who undertake that journey have problems, but Secretary Mayorkas explained that there is a regular path. With a regular path there would be a significant reason, then, for you not to run all of those risks, but to begin the process electronically. And I think that that is very important. But there are many Venezuelans in Mexico. They are in Guatemala, in Panama, Colombia, of course.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Can I ask you to just repeat, please, the question to me? I want to make sure that I heard it properly?
FOREIGN SECRETARY EBRARD: In English? You can in English?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It was in English. I just didn’t hear it properly.
QUESTION: If you are considering the – Haiti’s request for troops, to send troops to the – to Haiti and – yeah.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. So on Haiti, we have for the Haitian people an incredibly challenging situation and one that has a multiplicity of problems: most recently, of course, the outbreak of cholera but, more broadly, a profound problem in terms of insecurity, where big parts of the capital, other parts of Haiti are actually controlled by gangs, not by the state. And absent dealing effectively with that problem of insecurity, it’s very hard to deal with the other challenges; for example, ports are blocked, roads are blocked. So some of the things necessary to deal with the cholera outbreak simply can’t get to where they need to go. That’s just one example.
We’ve been working together and with other countries for some time to do a number of things. One of them is to increase the capacity of the Haitian National Police; the other is to support a political dialogue with the prime minister, with the Montana Group, with other stakeholders, to try to advance Haiti toward elections. But one of the challenges in effectively dealing with insecurity is the nexus between the gangs and some of the elites in Haiti and outside of Haiti who are supporting them and directing them for their own purposes, not for the good of the country or its people. So we’ve been working together at the United Nations, including just this week, to impose sanctions on those who are actually taking actions that support violence and support gangs.
At the same time, we have to look at what – what steps are necessary to effectively support the Haitian National Police and whether there are other things the international community can do to help Haiti provide security effectively for itself. That’s exactly what we’re looking at now. We’re talking about that among the various countries in our hemisphere and beyond, and of course we’re talking to the Haitians about it.
MR PRICE: Final question is from Jesus Esquivel from Proceso.
QUESTION: Thank you. My question isnfor Secretary Blinken, and I hope you don’t pass the ball to Secretary Ebrard, that you respond directly. Yesterday, in a teleconference, Under Secretary Zúñiga announced that under the works on the bicentennial has been dismantled dozens of criminal organizations. And – but I ask him about where are these criminal organizations who were dismantled, if there are American organizations or Mexican cartels, because every time you guys mention cartels, everybody is thinking about Mexico. And probably Attorney General Garland knows exactly what I’m talking about: the DEA and FBI have a new strategy called the American cartels, and I wonder if these organizations are American cartels – talking about gangs or motorcycle clubs who are directly involved in the distribution, sale, and transportation of fentanyl and all methamphetamines.
And my question has to do with also the arms, because every time you guys mention the drug problem in the U.S., you look to the south. And I’ve been working here since ’88, and it was Reagan administration – the last one that I saw that they have an effective campaign against drug consumption in the U.S. Fentanyl is causing the death of 270 people every 24 hours. It is an accumulation of lack of work and a health and education problem in the U.S. It’s not always Mexico. And the numbers of the arms that have been confiscated demonstrate that the U.S. is not doing nothing in the southern border to stop the arms. By the contrary, Mexico has to go to the federal courts in the U.S. in frustration because you guys are not working as you just told us.
So I hope, even if you disagree, be honest and tell us exactly what cartels are you talking about or Zúñiga was talking about, and also, what else you’re going to do besides words to stop the arms trafficking to Mexico.
And the last question is for Secretary Rosa Icela in Spanish.
(Via interpreter) (Inaudible) reduced, but insecurity in Mexico is enormous. In the state of Mexico – and you know that – there are some municipalities that are run by criminals. They establish the price of the chicken, of the meat, of everything, and they don’t want to go to the state of Mexico because the elections are coming. So my question is, do you think that with the numbers that we’ve had in the mañanera, people – and these people – are going to keep quiet when the reality is different, when nobody is being arrested, nobody is being investigated? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much. I’m not going to pass the buck to my friend, Marcelo. I may pass it to my colleagues, however, who may be better placed. But let me say a few things based on your question.
We have and we talked extensively today about the efforts that we’re undertaking together to go after the transnational criminal organizations that are a plague on both of our countries. Because as you’ve heard from our colleagues, our number one responsibility is to protect our citizens – Mexicans and Americans alike. And as my colleagues can discuss in more detail, we have deepened our law enforcement cooperation; we’ve deepened our information sharing; and we are working together more effectively, both to deal with drug interdictions but also to deal effectively with arms trafficking.
As you know, we criminalized – for the first time this year – the illicit trafficking in weapons. That is a very important tool. The numbers in terms of the seizures are up significantly from a year ago. So I think it’s – I would disagree with the proposition that there have not been results. There have been. There are. But they’re also not sufficient. And that’s exactly what we recognized and talked about today. How do we intensify these efforts?
Every weapon seized is potentially a life saved. Every drug lab that is disrupted is potentially a life saved. And as you’ve heard from all of us today – and we have the detailed information to support it – lots of lives have been saved as a result of our efforts. But we both believe that we have to do more because the magnitude of the problem is great.
Let me just say on fentanyl, before turning to my colleagues, we have about 110,000 deaths by drug overdose in the United States every year. Of those, roughly 70 to 75 percent are tied to synthetic opioids, notably fentanyl. So this is killing more people than gun violence and traffic deaths combined, so we are deeply committed to acting effectively against it.
Mexico is also experiencing directly the ravages of fentanyl and synthetic opioids. Deaths are going up there as well. We have a comprehensive effort together that focuses on every aspect of the problem, starting with education. You’ve heard also Secretary Rodríguez speak to this. It’s vitally important that we educate all of our people – especially our young people for whom this is particularly dangerous – about the threat from fentanyl and synthetic opioids. We are doing that, and I think the Attorney General can speak to the campaign that we’re undertaking. Mexico is doing something very similar.
We are working very hard as well on making sure that the precursors that go into making fentanyl and other synthetic opioids – that are legal but then get diverted to illicit purposes – that the international community is doing a much better job in tracking those and making sure that if you’re sending a chemical somewhere you know who you’re sending them to and they’re not diverted. We’re cooperating very much on that. Mexico has put in place some important procedures to make sure that that happens. We’ve been doing the same thing. The two of us, together, will be working with other countries on this, and also the private sector, which is critical.
And we are working together ever more effectively on actually breaking up labs, interdicting illicit diversions of chemicals, going after, as we said, the transnational criminal organizations. But more has to be done. More will be done. We’re deeply committed to this together, because we see the effect that it’s having on our citizens in both countries.
But let me ask my colleagues to go into more detail.
ATTORNEY GENERAL GARLAND: Only to add to what the Secretary of State said, to begin with- on the drug issue, we are focused on following this from the beginning all the way through to the end. So organizations that ship precursor chemicals, organizations that transform the precursor chemicals into fentanyl, organizations that press the fentanyl powder into pills, organizations that transmit them across the border, and then, yes, organizations in the United States that distribute in large scale throughout the country and then on a regional basis and then within cities. We have to attack each node, and we are doing this.
The DEA has an enormous program and partnership with Department of Homeland Security and our United States Attorney’s Offices to hit organizations at every level. And our partnership with Mexico is essential to our ability to deal with the transnational criminal organizations.
Also as the Secretary of State said, we have to have an awareness campaign. And the DEA and its “One Pill Can Kill” campaign in just a few months took more than 30 million pills off the streets. These are lethal dosage pills, so we know that – how serious this matter is. The DEA is engaging at a community level, in a community-level campaign to make the communities aware, at a parent-level campaign to make parents aware, and we’re now considering a joint public campaign.
Now on the firearms matter, I think Secretary Mayorkas said it very well in saying that when we – when illegal gun traffickers sell across the border to the cartels and drug organizations, those drug organizations then use that to protect their shipments back to the United States and damage the United States. So the injury is on both sides of the border.
That’s the reason we are working together so hard, and we are working together so hard thanks to funding from INL and work by the ATF. We have steadily worked with Mexico to build its e-trace capacity. I’m hoping that that is how they were able to come up with those maps, which map illegal guns in Mexico and where they were originally sold in the United States. That will help our ability to interdict and to prosecute illegal firearms trafficking. As the Secretary of State mentioned just this summer, in the bipartisan statute that was passed, it gave us authority to prosecute illegal drug trafficking, enhanced the penalties for that and for straw purchases, allowed us to use wiretaps and other methods that we didn’t have available before. And so we are engaged in that.
Just last month, we had our first prosecution under this very statute, an American in Texas who just recently pled guilty to illegally purchasing over 200 guns, the main amount of which were transported into Mexico. So we are on this and we are on this together as a partnership with Mexico.
QUESTION: How about on the cartels that were announced with Secretary Zúñiga?
ATTORNEY GENERAL GARLAND: I’m sorry, I don’t know what the – I know what the word cartel means. I don’t know what the reference that they were talking —
QUESTION: He announced in a – in a press conference, Under Secretary Zúñiga, that last year were dismantled a dozen of cartels. I just wonder – he’s talking about American cartels? Because the Mexican cartels, as I – as far as I know, they are still working.
ATTORNEY GENERAL GARLAND: I’m sorry, that’s —
QUESTION: So what he’s talking about? You probably know.
ATTORNEY GENERAL GARLAND: I think this is a question that you should direct to him, because I’m not sure I understand the reference. I’m sorry.
SECURITY SECRETARY RODRÍGUEZ: (Via interpreter) Thank you. The level of violence has been reduced in Mexico. We are not satisfied. However, we have been able to stop the increase compared to what we had in the past. What are we doing? We are working with intelligence, attacking all those cartels, criminal cartels that are operating in our country. We are not attacking one group; we are attacking all the groups.
And the other issue: there are some areas of our country where we have a problem, an issue with violence. There are six states where 50 percent of the homicides are reported there, and especially in 50 municipalities of 2,441 that we have in the country, where you see this issue of homicides by organized crime, and that’s where we’re working.
So what have we achieved? Well, about 65,000 people that have been detained – 5,400 are members of organized crime. So based on the statistics that you mentioned, what do they mean? Each homicide, each crime has a file. And the different prosecutors’ office sent us this information. They are not our numbers or the federal number. They are numbers that come from the 32 states of the country, and that’s where we come out with the number of homicides.
But in 2021 and 2022, we can see a slight decrease that we are reporting. And we think that the trend is downward because of all the work that we do day in and day out. So there is somebody from the security council – like Secretary Ebrard – every day at 6 a.m. he starts working to be aware of everything that is happening in the country. And that’s where decisions are being made when the whole cabinet is there, the ministers, the secretaries are there, and the president itself.
We – we give this problem the relevance that it merits, and we are working together with the members of the Biden cabinet that are here today. We are working in coordination with Secretary Blinken and the members of the U.S. Government. Thank you.
MR PRICE: That concludes the press conference. Thank you.