SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, good morning, everyone. Buenos dias a todos. Very, very good to be here, and I thank you so much for the incredibly warm welcome, and I especially thank so many of the young people whose activities I interrupted this morning. I’m grateful for them allowing me to do that. And I am very, very happy to be here in Desamparados to see for myself the truly outstanding work that you’re doing to support your community, especially the young people who are the heart of Costa Rica and its future.
I very much want to thank all of the colleagues from the government who are here today –Minister Soto, Vice Minister Solano, Vice Minister Vargas, Mayor Jimenez, Minister Solano, of course, Minister Salazar. All of you: Thank you, thank you so much for coming out and spending the time as well.
I know from my conversations that the leaders of Costa Rica take great pride in what you do here, and now I can see why. I had read about this project, but seeing it firsthand makes a huge difference.
Oh, okay. Thank you very much. Thank you.
So I just met with members of the youth police brigade. I heard a performance by the municipal band. I saw some extremely impressive skateboarding moves, and I’m glad I didn’t have to try that myself, so thank you. I visited workshops with students learning pottery, violin – and the wonderful young boy and young girl who played violin played one of my son’s favorite songs, so I’ll take that back as well – an amazing display of judo, and we just saw a classroom where young adults are studying for their high school equivalency degrees. In fact, the class that they were teaching – I asked – is on negotiation. So Mr. Minister, I asked if I could sit in and maybe you can sit in with me and maybe we’ll both learn some new skills.
This is an incredibly lively, creative, welcoming space. Everyone who works here – everyone who helps sustain this community – deserves a big round of applause. (Applause.)
Many of the programs here are part of Sembremos Seguridad, an initiative which in English means “We Grow Security,” and it’s now, as I understand it, in 64 municipalities across Costa Rica and will be in 82 by next year.
The United States is very proud to be your partner in “We Grow Security.” This program reflects the aspirations of the people of Costa Rica to live safe and secure lives; to create pathways to opportunity for all people from all neighborhoods; to give children fun and enriching activities in a safe environment, instead of having to choose between staying inside all day or risking being caught up in violence or targeted for recruitment by gangs.
In fact, maybe the hardest choice here: I asked the young man playing violin – there was also a foosball table right next to it – what he preferred and he honestly – he answered me honestly and said, “Foosball.” But that was a – he made the hard decision to also stick with the violin.
“We Grow Security” also creates a new kind of relationship between police and communities, based in partnership, not punishment. It focuses on preventing crime by addressing the root causes, because we know crime does not happen out of nowhere. To stop it, we need to make the right social, economic, educational, and security investments to support communities, to create the conditions for safety, for opportunity, for dignity for all. And we have our own experience in so many of our communities with programs that bring the police closer to the community, because, in fact, they’re part of the community, and the community should be part of them as well.
Best of all – and I heard it and now I’ve seen it – the program works. Crime rates have gone down in places where “We Grow Security” has been implemented – both violent crime and property crime. Communities are now stronger in other ways too. A number of the mayors who are here are able, I think, to have an even stronger relationship with the state. They also have greater connectivity with the police; they’re able to tell the police where to focus their efforts. Police trainers know how to teach officers to build closer ties with residents, with the community. Towns have reclaimed parks and plazas, where neighbors now feel safe gathering together. And of course, COVID has interrupted things a little bit but we’re going to get beyond that, and I think these gatherings will resume. And young people have discovered science, discovered music, discovered sports, jobs programs that make them feel excited and hopeful about their futures. And I think that’s the most important thing of all.
I recently heard two stories that capture the literally transformative power of this program, about two young people that I suspect many of you know – Ariana and Mariano.
Ariana started coming to the center when she was 15 years old – now she’s 18. She joined the cooking program here. She learned how to write a resume. She practiced interviewing for a job. And then thanks to the center, she got a paid internship at a local restaurant. Now Ariana is the first person in her family to have a high school degree. She’s on her way to fulfilling her dream of being a professional chef. And her two little siblings, as I understand it, have enrolled in programs here too. This center has transformed the futures of the entire family. I don’t know if she’s actually here with us today, but I send my greetings and my congratulations.
And Mariano is 22 years old. He’s also been coming to the center since the beginning. He enrolled in skating and guitar lessons. He graduated from high school. He’s now at the University of Costa Rica, studying to become a music teacher. And he has a job here at the center teaching music to hundreds of children, a lot like the one he used to be himself. As we say in the United States, we call that paying it forward – taking some benefit and experience that you’ve received and sharing it with others, making sure that the opportunities that you receive are shared with others.
What all of you have accomplished here – and what Costa Rica has accomplished across the country – I think is a model not just here in Costa Rica, not just in the region, but potentially for the world. And I’m very glad that the Government of Costa Rica will be sharing the lessons of “We Grow Security” with other governments across Central America at a citizen security conference next week.
Because the truth is too many young people in the region live in insecurity. Many are so desperate for a better life that they risk everything – everything: their families, their communities, their town, their language, their culture – they risk all of that to make a very dangerous journey north. People die along the way. They experience violence. And those who do make it to our border are turned around because the border is not open. The United States has made it clear – and I’ll say it again – that people should not make the dangerous journey to our border. But we know it is not enough to say, “Don’t come.” We have to work together to make it safer for people across Central America to stay in their homes and communities – without fear and with hope for a better future for themselves and for their children.
One of our colleagues last night in the meeting that we had with our Central American colleagues talked about the right to remain, and I think we have to give real meaning to that right because people should want to stay and build their own communities. We want to make that possible. I think it’s what people want everywhere. And together, I believe we can make it possible.
Seeing all the young people here today is proof that we can make it possible. And with all the challenges that we face around the world as well as the challenges we face in our work every day, a moment like this is more than anything else heartwarming. It creates a profound sense of hope. It demonstrates the power of community. So thank you for what really has been a very, very special visit. Gracias a todos. (Applause.)