Press Availability at Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America
Secretary of State
Following their statements, there will be one question from members of the press from each of the countries represented, and I will identify the journalist for these questions. We now welcome remarks from Secretary of State Tillerson.
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, good afternoon, all. I would like to recognize and again thank Foreign Secretary Videgaray and Interior Minister Osorio for co-hosting the conference, today’s events as well as tomorrow’s. This conference is a direct result of conversations between Secretary Kelly and myself when we made our visit to Mexico City in February, and the idea of how to strengthen regional security and economic development was discussed with our counterparts, and it was agreed that hosting this event together and assembling the various countries in the region would advance our interest as well. And so again, I want to thank them for that.
We also, of course, had Vice President Pence in attendance today, and I think he clearly reaffirmed the Trump administration’s commitment to working with our partners in Central America. In addition to my meetings with senior leaders from the region, the Vice President and I also participated in constructive bilateral meetings with the Honduran President Hernandez, Guatemala’s President Morales, and El Salvador’s Vice President Ortiz.
These conversations amongst all of us today I think again reinforced that security in Central America is not only essential to the region’s stability, but it really is foundational to creating economic prosperity in the region, which will translate also, though, to economic prosperity for Americans as well. Without effective security arrangements in place, it is very difficult to create stability and the conditions that are conducive to investment and business activity.
Specifically, this administration’s top security priority in the Western Hemisphere is stopping transnational criminal organizations from harming American communities through the drug trade and its attendant violence. We recognize that as the world’s top source of demand for illegal drugs, our own country must improve its efforts to reduce drug consumption, which is the lifeblood of these gangs. As we address our side of the problem, we call on all our neighbors in the Americas to reject intimidation, strengthen human rights, and increase the fight against criminal organizations within their own borders.
In our meeting earlier today, President Hernandez informed Vice President Pence of his decision to elevate the portfolio of human rights from a vice ministry to full ministerial status. The Honduran Government has already allocated resources for the new ministry’s operation with the intention of further strengthening the institutional framework for the promotion of human rights, the human rights defenders’ protection systems, and communications and collaboration between the government and civil society. This very important step is to be commended as it demonstrates the Honduran Government’s commitment to protecting and advancing our shared human rights values and enabling the work of vulnerable human rights defenders. We hope others will follow Honduras’s example.
We also had many productive conversations with public and private sector leaders from across the region and, obviously, from the United States on growing prosperity in Central America. Many American companies have substantial interests already and are expanding their operations in Central America, and that interest is reciprocal for Central American leaders who want to improve economic conditions and the lives of their people.
Central American economies are fueled by private sector involvement. That will provide a more – more legal opportunities for growth. We need to create the conditions to allow people to join the formal economy, end corruption, and make sure people do not turn to illegal migration or illegal activities in order to make ends meet and simply feed their families. More private sector investment will accelerate progress on these goals.
In Central America, a surge in the growth of urban population is imminent, and we hope governments and the private sector will work together to improve needed public works infrastructure and also to see this as an emerging opportunity. With GDP growth so closely linked to internet accessibility, we also hope private and public sector partnerships will deliver improved internet connectivity. A larger, more competitive energy market will also drive prosperity in Central America, and that was a subject of our discussions today also.
All of these measures are important steps in generating prosperity for Americans as well. The more American companies we have doing business in Central America, the more jobs we create at home. Our policies in the Americas are prioritizing the well-being of American workers. The United States is quite proud of the progress we’ve made today, again, in partnership with our co-host, Mexico, and I look forward to Secretary Kelly continuing these conversations and discussions tomorrow on the topic of security.
FOREIGN SECRETARY VIDEGARAY: Thank you, Secretary Tillerson. This has been an outstanding moment of getting ourselves together and working jointly on common problems, but more importantly, on common opportunities. And I want to especially thank the leadership and the willingness to work and put ideas into reality of Secretary Tillerson. Thank you for your – thank you for all the hard work, to you and your team on the State Department, and also to Secretary John Kelly and all the team at DHS. Thank you for all the many hours and the effort to put this relatively in record time together.
We talked about this just as an idea, floating an idea back in February, and we are here not that – not that many weeks after that, and this is a reality. So thank you for the trust. It’s been an – it’s a real honor for Mexico to co-host alongside the United States Government this event.
I’m going to switch to Spanish, but before doing that, I just want to thank Florida’s International University President Rosenberg and everybody else here. Thank you for hosting us and for all your incredible support throughout the day.
(Via interpreter) This concludes the first chapter on Prosperity and Security in Central America, and this day was the day that we set aside to talk about prosperity as such. Our common objective is to reaffirm our commitment and to join together our efforts between the public and private sectors to dialogue together on the challenges and the opportunities for development in the region of the Northern Triangle.
On behalf of Enrique Pena Nieto, the president of Mexico, I wish to express my thanks to the Government of the United States for co-hosting this conference, understanding that we share a responsibility in this area.
I’d like to acknowledge and recognize also the presence and the leadership of the presidents of Guatemala, Mr. Morales, and of Honduras, Mr. Hernandez, and the vice president of El Salvador, Mr. Ortiz, for allowing us to share with them about the experiences in our region on a basis of mutual respect and a recognition for national sovereignty amongst our peoples.
I likewise wish to thank for the presence of our international allies such as Spain, Colombia, Chile, Costa Rica, the European Union, Nicaragua, and Belize. To each of you, thank you for being with us; as well as the participation of international financing institutions such as the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund; and particularly, the Inter-American Development Bank and Luis Alberto Morales, the president of the bank, for their generosity and their contribution and creativity in bringing about this event. The support of each is important to capitalize on these initiatives that would promote development in the region.
Throughout the sessions today, we’ve addressed a robust agenda, from promoting sustainable infrastructure, mobilization of investors, strengthening of the interconnection of the electric and energy grid and international energy markets to promote competitivity.
We also addressed how to improve customs and economic processes to allow for the flow free of goods between North America and Central America, as well as specific measures that the governments must undertake to promote a better business climate and increase work opportunities for our citizens.
Mexico was represented at the highest level in the meetings today with Secretary Chong, from Treasury and Public Promotion, who was able to participate in a very interesting panel with the Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin of the United States, whose presence here we are also appreciative of. Also, the secretary of electricity, of the energy secretariat of Mexico, and various representatives of private sector participated in today’s meetings in panels on a effort for constructive development and tangible results.
The conference itself manifests the commitment of Mexico to promote sustainable development in Central America, particularly emphasizing the development of countries of the Northern Triangle. We shared experiences, best practices, and promoted a greater commitment from the private sector. Central America is a priority area for international cooperation for Mexico’s development. Our objective is to contribute to institutional capacity building, economic integration and competitivity, and inclusive development.
I’d like to point out four themes of today’s agenda. We must bring together efforts of the various instruments available to us in the region, such as to the United States and countries of the regional – of the northern region the agenda for prosperity, as well as the Yucatan project for Mexico’s involvement. We can achieve synergy, greater impact, and avoid duplication. This is something that, to date, has not been undertaken, and the chance to bring together all of the stakeholders in a region – in a regional meeting like this will allow for greater impact.
Secondly, a salient theme is the opportunity for energetic integration – for energy integration as a way of reducing production costs, improving the level – the economic level, and greater – and bringing about greater prosperity for our peoples. There are projects that, if we work together, we can bring about relatively in a short term, from structured financing with the support of multilateral institutions and private actors, opportunities in natural gas and electricity, for example.
Thirdly, another theme was that we should not only focus on large-scale projects, which are very important, but also must work to promote an inclusive economy that would improve the lifestyle of our citizens, reduce poverty; improve the systems of justice and protection, opportunities for work, gender equality; the protection of our indigenous peoples; and development. Development must happen in our communities and for our people in an inclusive manner and also sustainably.
And fourthly, we cannot leave aside the importance and the agreement that we made to promote greater inclusion amongst small and medium enterprises. We must develop better instruments to promote economic growth of entrepreneurs and small and medium enterprises throughout the region.
I wish to thank very specially the Vice President of the United States, Mr. Mike Pence, for having joined us at the conference today. Transforming this complex reality requires leadership and commitment, and that is what the president – the presence of Vice President Pence supported, and I was pleased to be able to share our time here together and reinforce our shared commitment.
Thank you to Secretary Tillerson, to my fellow presidents and vice president. We are encouraged with the results of this first day of meeting and eager to begin working tomorrow on the other issues of security.
This conference concludes today its first day of meetings, but what we are doing here, in fact, is beginning an effort to collaborate and work together as a team in our shared areas of responsibility.
Thank you very much, and thank you for the trust you have shown us. (Applause.)
INTERPRETER: Well, applause must follow.
PRESIDENT HERNANDEZ: (Via interpreter) Very well. With this spontaneous applause, I’ll start my participation here saying that today I feel that not only Central America or Honduras in particular recognizes the need to work abiding by a principle of shared responsibility over – although we have different responsibilities. It is important to say that a Central America that is in turmoil, that doesn’t offer opportunities, constitutes a great risk for everybody – not just for us, but also for Mexico and the U.S. To put it a different way, upon the other hand, a prosperous, peaceful Central America is a great investment for Mexico, for the U.S., and for Central America itself, in particular the Northern Triangle.
That is the starting point for what we’re doing today, and I want to repeat that what has happened today at this summit fills us with hope. It’s very encouraging. There was a very clear and a strong message from Vice President Pence as well as from Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Kelly and all the other friends who have joined us here today in order that we can work together to attacking the root causes of the problems in the region, because that’s in the best interest of all of us.
And we have also reached the point where we must demand from ourselves concrete results. The (inaudible) of energy was discussed with clarity and with – as a subject that requires – (inaudible) requires more competitiveness. For example, to put it in numbers, if we achieve these results, we could reach a 40 percent reduction in the costs of energy in our region. That will turn us into a very competitive region. The progress we have made with Guatemala in terms of customs will also generate more competitiveness. The use of technology in the customs systems will likewise achieve the same results. Anyway, we have very concrete challenges, and we have very concrete ways of resolving them.
And I want to emphasize something that really struck me today in reference to the support of the IDB. Let’s all work together on the free trade agreements in Central America and the free trade agreements with the U.S. and how they can benefit the whole region to create a climate of larger investments, more employment, better living conditions for our people, so we can all win.
We also discussed the use of the internet. Secretary Tillerson spoke very eloquently about this. This is a – an issue that we must deal with, and we can do it within the alliance of the Northern Triangle. The U.S., through Vice Presidents Pence and the new administration, I want to thank you, and let’s focus on the results now, because the results of course will speak much louder than just words.
I want to mention also that we have made significant progress, and tomorrow when we talk about security, I’m sure we’re going to take another big step forward. I also want to thank the private sector in the region. I think they all understood very clearly today that it’s the best interest of the companies to do this. Secretary Tillerson, thank you very much. Now Mexico through Minister Videgaray, thank you very much. This is very important, and send my greetings to President Pena Nieto. I think this will mark a before and after in the history of the region. (Applause.) The applause was for him now. Okay.
PRESIDENT MORALES: (Via interpreter) Good afternoon. Before anything else, I want to thank this International University of Florida for hosting us, and also the United States and all the people who make – who are making this meeting possible.
Today, we have felt as partners and allies. This was a conference that focused on two fundamental issues for our countries: prosperity and development. During the working sessions, we focused on the factors that are the catalysts for development in our region and the strategic alliances with the private sector, all the stakeholders and international organizations. We see the participation of Mexico in the Plan for Prosperity as very positive and we thank, of course, the administration of President Pena Nieto and also the actions of Vice Minister Videgaray, which we think are really fundamental for the development of the whole region.
For Guatemala, this is a significant conference. It has given us the opportunity to start a frank and open discussion, and at the same time, it has created a space to discuss a variety of subjects, from the macroeconomy of the region to how to develop a better climate for business in the region by focusing on specific issues like infrastructure, economic integration, and energy. The Government of Guatemala in the framework of these discussions and trying to promote the necessary legal frameworks will continue to promote legal stability in the country. Likewise, it will continue to promote the appropriate business climate to facilitate the expansion towards global markets by facilitating business in the country and particularly by the establishment of companies, more investments in strategic infrastructure, and also promoting the necessary reforms.
I want to comment on one of the things that President Hernandez said in reference to the need of have a common fiscal framework so that things like the customs agreements that we will make a reality at the end of the month with Honduras can actually work for our future. Some of the conversations also that we had with El Salvador, we discussed the idea of improving the border crossing between Guatemala and El Salvador – Ciudad Jerez on the Guatemalan side and Chalchuapa on the Salvadoran side – and we also discussed the possibility of – through funds provided by the IDB to have the investment to do this. And, of course, if we can do the same thing we did with Honduras now with El Salvador, we’re pretty sure that soon Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and the whole region will join us.
During the conference, we also had a meeting with Vice President Michael Pence, with whom we discussed very important issues. In this meeting, the Homeland Security, John Kelly, said that Guatemala is the best ally of the U.S. in the region against the drug trafficking. This makes us feel confident that we are on the right path; that is, that we are participating as true partners and true allies. I thank Vice President Pence if there were not to be mass deportations of Guatemalan citizens, and we are also thankful for that. We see also a reduction in migrations and more people also coming back to the country.
Today we talked about how to generate more employment in Guatemala and in the region to prevent this migration. We talked about the fact that a legal frame or legal certainty was necessary to promote investments. We talked about the gas pipeline and how to attract more investments. We discussed how to reduce poverty and we agreed to continue fighting corruption and to ensure that the resources of the state reach those who most need it. I thank the participation of all the countries involved in this plan and, of course, the participation of the private sector, of the financial entities, and all of those who will contribute to make this plan a reality. Thank you very much and God bless. (Applause.)
VICE PRESIDENT ORTIZ: (Via interpreter) Thank you. Greetings to all of you, and really, this is a historic moment. This has been a great day for the three countries of the Northern Triangle, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, mainly because it has opened new possibilities, new potential that allows us to act not just as individual countries but also as a bloc in a planned way, in a better articulated way, and mainly focusing on the common priorities we have in the sub-region. More trade, more economic exchange in the region exists now between Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, and we have to take advantage of this opportunity. It has been a highly productive day. We are very pleased. We feel optimistic. We know that this is an effort on two different paths. We are partners that are sharing a short-term, mid-term, and long-term vision.
And also, we want to commend the participation of the U.S. administration through Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Kelly, as well as Vice President Mike Pence, and we want to establish a framework for cooperation and exchange that in this case is enriched by the participation of Mexico through Vice Minister Videgaray, who is a key ally in all the processes and all the economic issues that were discussed during this conference. It’s great also that we have the interest of other actors in the Central America region and allies like Europe. It’s important that we can now reaffirm our commitment also with one of our most important allies, which is the U.S. And we are happy and satisfied by the firm and decisive way in which from the highest level the commitment has been affirmed to accompany this initiative for prosperity in the Northern Triangle.
The main issues have been established – the main issues for our cooperation and economic exchanges: the economic issues, investments, and, of course, the issue of security. There’s a new element that we appreciate as a country in El Salvador, which is that now we are focusing on an – a factor that needs to be considered more and more. For the purpose of improving prosperity in our countries, for improving the investment environment, in order to identify better opportunities for foreign investment – for all of this the private sector is key, and this first day has shown the countries of the Northern Triangle that we need to have stronger partnerships between the public and the private sector. There’s no other way to have a qualitative leap on what our proposal is as countries, as a region.
If we do not let the private sector do what they need to do, if we don’t provide the incentives and the stimulus for this, it’s – we have a vision and it’s important to share this vision with the private sector. I think this is something that distinguishes this conference from others. We are seeing a great potential in the private sector that we have not really leveraged yet.
And, of course, I would like to say also that it has been of great importance to us the fact that in the exchanges we had and the conversations we had, we have identified issues that we can start to work pretty soon in the short term. The presidents of Guatemala and Honduras have already said this – for example, we need to accelerate our process of customs integration and mechanisms to facilitate trade within the region; issues that have to do with reducing the cost of energy so that we can reduce subsidies and so that we can provide power to all the families in the region, but also to make our industries more competitive. I think we have a great potential there as a region. And, of course, the issue of connectivity – that is key not only as far as maritime ports and airports and highways. We also have a region that can attract a lot of tourism. We have beautiful landscapes and we believe that this historic conference is opening up all of that potential without losing focus on the region’s commitment to a strengthened democracy and stronger institutions.
That means that we need to have more transparency. The citizenry needs to be better informed. They need to have better access to what the government is doing every day. So we need to strengthen those mechanisms for transparency. We all win. This is a shared vision. Central America will gain from this, but also Mexico and the U.S., because as I just said, and it had – this has been the consensus, the best antidote to undocumented migration, the best mechanism, is to open more opportunities. That’s called employment. That’s investing more on education, investing in the young, in the youth, in families. And I think that’s a – that’s good news.
I want to thank the Trump administration for this firm step. Secretary Tillerson said it very clearly as well as the Vice President with his speech today at noon. He couldn’t have been any clearer. And we believe we have had a very positive day for everybody, and tomorrow we will focus on the issue of security, and I hope we will have the same results we had today.
Thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: The first question goes to Nick Wadhams from Bloomberg.
QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, a two-part question. Your 2018 budget sets a series of cuts to all of the countries whose officials are represented on stage with you. Did you get any pushback from them on these proposed cuts, and how do you plan to implement this ambitious agenda given those cuts?
And then secondly, can you tell us whether the U.S. is considering any sort of response or retaliation to North Korea given that we now know Otto Warmbier suffered extensive damage to his brain as a result of his captivity with the North Koreans?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, I think it’s notable that, in fact, direct aid was not much in our conversation today. I mean, clearly, there’s a recognition that U.S. programs, USAID programs, and others are certainly a strong enabler to many of the changes and reforms and economic development that we are seeking to promote in Central America but also further in the region.
But interestingly, all of the countries in all of our discussions were more interested in talking about actions they can take: how do they create a business climate that is more attractive for business investment; how to strengthen institutional capacity to address reforms that are needed, whether they be fiscal reforms or regulatory reforms or human rights reforms or security reforms. And the substance of our discussion throughout the day has been how do we act, what do we do.
And I think it’s – that was the important element that seemed to run throughout every discussion. And no one came to our meetings with their hand out. No one came to our meetings with any great concern, I think, over where our budget will ultimately land when the U.S. Congress completes its own deliberations and we complete our ongoing dialogue with them.
I think having said that, this region continues to be very important to the United States. Even in the budget that was presented to the Congress, there’s substantial monies in the budget to continue our commitment to support Alliance for Prosperity, to support our joint security, strengthening of law enforcement. So I think there is in no way any indication that somehow our interest is in any way diminished in the region. If anything, I think this event – and again, thanking my co-host here – but this event, I hope, is giving people a sense of how this administration, the Trump administration, is going to engage with regions in a more collaborative way and real regionally. It’s not just us. This is the neighborhood. These are the neighbors and other neighbors that came to the conference today, and this is the approach.
We think it’s time to start dealing with a lot of these challenges in a more regional, integrated fashion instead of just trying to solve them one country at a time. And I really appreciate the strong engagement from all of my counterparts that are here on the podium with me, but also others that have participated in the parallel sessions that have gone on. I got very good feedback from those sessions as well.
So the aid is important and we will put it to good use, whatever the Congress feels is appropriate for us, but there are a lot of ways that we can help this region of the world and others through these types of mechanisms as well.
As to a response to the North Korea and the return of Otto Warmbier, we’re just – we are glad he is home rejoined with his family. We’re not commenting on any of his health circumstances. It’s a private matter that’s up to him and the family. Nor are we going to comment on the circumstances of his condition and how he might have come to be in that condition. So I have nothing further to say on that.
MODERATOR: The next question goes to Leyla Santiago from CNN Espanol.
QUESTION: Foreign Minister Videgaray, there has been a lot of talk about shared responsibility. We just heard Secretary Tillerson also talk about a more regional approach. But how do you do that? How do you move forward on an effort like this when President Trump continues to say “America first” as well as “build the wall”?
And on another note, we were just in Tapachula and we saw a lot of immigrants coming in from Guatemala just a few weeks ago. Many of them said they will not be continuing to the U.S. because of President Trump. Do you agree with that? Have you heard that? And how will Mexico handle the 150 percent increase in asylum applications that they’ve seen since Trump’s election?
FOREIGN SECRETARY VIDEGARAY: Thank you. I think one of the outstanding things about this conference is that it clearly shows that you might have a difference on a couple of things, sometimes quite important things, but you can still have common goals and work together on very important things. And that’s what we are doing here, and that’s what we are accomplishing here.
And we have a shared vision of the challenges about the region. We understand that we need to work together, of course, with our partners and neighbors to the south – Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador – but also with our neighbor to the north. And this is part – this has been part of the conversation since the very first days of the Trump administration. Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Kelly visited us in Mexico City, and this is where it all started. And it doesn’t mean that we agree on anything – on everything, but we are working and we are able to do that, and that should be a tremendously positive sign.
But how deep the relationship is between Mexico and the United States, and we will continue to do that constructively. We will continue to work through our differences, and we will continue to meet in those many – and there are many things that we agree on and where we have an opportunity to do better things by working together. And we are proud of such collaboration. We are proud of the working relationship that we’ve established with Secretary Tillerson and the rest of the Trump administration. And we’re looking forward to achieving results together.
On immigration, clearly the trends in all figures about immigration in the Central America and North America region are trending down. The number of people that are being sent back into Mexico is about 34 percent down from last year, the same months of the year. The number of people that is crossing the border from Guatemala into Mexico is also trending – is also trending down. And we don’t know yet if this is a long-term trend, but it is something that is – that is happening. And we will – we adapt to that trend by working very closely with our partners. President Pena Nieto was in Guatemala last week, and we had a fantastic – a fantastic visit. And thank you again, President Morales, for that. We were extremely happy to be there.
And one of the topics that we discussed is how do we manage the new realities, because there are even logistics, logistic challenges about the changes. And the way we’re going to deal with that is by working closely with Guatemala, with Honduras, El Salvador, in this front and in many other things. Obviously, the circumstances change; we have to adapt. But something that doesn’t change is our principle, and we continue – we believe in the region and we believe in working together.
MODERATOR: The next question goes to Lesman Morazan from Radio America Honduras.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Good afternoon to all the members of this panel. To the president of Honduras, Mr. Hernandez Alvarado, the Government of the U.S. has implemented immigration measures that affect millions of Central Americans, in particular Hondurans. The prosperity plan has been seen as a good plan with a shared responsibility of the U.S. and the Northern Triangle countries in order to face this problem of migration.
To the President of Honduras, what are the specific measures that the Government of Honduras will implement or plans to implement to prevent the massive migration of our compatriots and also to provide employment?
To Secretary Tillerson, I understand that President Juan Orlando has given you a petition, a request to expand the TPS, to expand the TPS, and since there is a justification to provide for a 14th expansion in this case – TPS – so how is your government going to respond to that petition?
PRESIDENT HERNANDEZ: (Via interpreter) Well, this strategy with Central America, the U.S., and now Mexico – first of all, we want to look at the root causes of illegal migration. This year there was a substantial decrease in migration flows, and this is not something that we see only in the border with the U.S., between Mexico and the U.S. We also see that in Mexico and the borders with our countries. We have really tried to make the Honduran people aware of the great risks that this exodus or this difficult migration creates, and I think that the message is getting through. But at the end of the day, we’re here to attack the root causes of the problem.
The advances in security in our country are significant. I am thankful for the words of Vice President Pence today and Secretaries Tillerson and Kelly. But we know that that’s not enough. We need to make more progress. The infrastructure that we’re building right now – ports, airports, highways – in order to leverage the economy, the productive base of the country – those are good efforts but not enough. That’s why we have told the private sector, we told them about the Honduras 2020 plan, which will generate employment in our country. We don’t think, though, that it’s enough to do this just in Honduras. There has to be a regional approach.
And tomorrow when we discuss security, we will talk about other things. We believe we are on the right path, but there is a lot left to be done. And what we heard from Secretaries Tillerson and Kelly today and from Vice President Pence, and now having Mexico on board now as an active member of the alliance, we don’t have any doubts that this is the road to success.
So I also must say that today both verbally and in writing we expressed our position about the Hondurans who have benefited from TPS, from a Temporary Protection Status, and it’s something that’s – we recognize that it’s a sovereign decision of the U.S., but we see also how troubled our compatriots are. We can say that actually these are people who are the best immigrants you can have in this country. These are people who are working, who are paying their taxes, and we hope that when the time comes when they follow this process in the U.S., that we will have the opportunity to have a renewal of the Temporary Protection Status or some way to have our countrymen continue to live in this country.
But we will be talking about this, and we will keep defending them because we know that these are people – it’s not only that they are Hondurans, but these are human beings who have families.
SECRETARY TILLERSON: The authority for extension of protective status rests with the Department of Homeland Security, and Secretary Kelly has that authority to make decisions. Having said that, the State Department does provide input of our own when the Secretary comes to that decision, and it is country by country. It is very specific to the circumstances for each country that Secretary Kelly has to take into consideration. So I don’t want to in any way speak for him since he has that authority.
MODERATOR: The next question goes to Amilcar Avila from Publinews, Guatemala.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) For Secretary Kelly – I’m sorry, for Secretary Tillerson. I apologize. In a document that you wrote and that was published in a local newspaper, it talks about the benefits of a strategic relationship for Colombia and how – would you contemplate the need for placing a military base in the region? And in the case of Guatemala, are there any specific plans for this?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, any decisions regarding location or placement of new military facilities or the extension of military personnel or assets would be a decision for the Department of Defense to take. The State Department, again, would have input in terms of the interagency process, where a decision might be taken ultimately, I’m sure, with some discussion with the President. So I wouldn’t want to comment, again, on behalf of the Department of Defense.
PRESIDENT MORALES: (Via interpreter) In effect, there have been no conversations of any militarization under any circumstances. In the case of Guatemala, we are participating directly with our own security forces to face the emergent threats, such as the threats from international organized crimes – criminal organizations in the region. We have undertaken planning with our own security forces for them to respond in the protection of our national security and international security as well.
MODERATOR: The final question goes to Lourdes Quintanilla from La Prensa Grafica de El Salvador.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Thank you. Good afternoon. I’d like to ask two questions, the first for Vice President Ortiz. If the Salvadoran Government has also made a similar petition as to TPS in its meetings with Vice President Pence?
And for Secretary Tillerson, in your view, what of the three countries has made the greatest progress in the fight against corruption? Thank you very much.
VICE PRESIDENT ORTIZ: (Via interpreter) The issue was not really raised in the exchanges of these days. We have already expressed what the priorities are and the shared interests that have been raised in terms of addressing these in the short, medium, and long term. We have noted points of common understanding and those aspects or areas in which we still can make progress.
However, in a meeting today with Vice President Pence, we addressed issues more broadly of interest in our agenda and our concern for our own citizens with TPS status. There are a good number of Salvadorans who fall within that program, the TPS program. What we did raise was a need to – the need to have time to act quickly. And the spirit of this meeting is in that view as well. We need to have time to work, but to be able to work quickly.
And TPSers, as they are known, are a key factor in being able to build a joint strategy that would meet our shared interests and avoid a short-term negative impact in the Northern Triangle region. No definitive approach has been reviewed in today’s meetings, but as the president of Honduras has said, as well as has been said by the president of Guatemala this morning when we spoke of this, we will continue working toward these goals because these hardworking people have been making great contributions to the United States, and we hope that they continue to enjoy that opportunity.
However, that is as far as we got. We’ve reached no conclusions, and this is an issue that we will have to continue working on. But the most important aspect is that we’ve been able to begin this dialogue, and we are very cognizant and appreciative of the agenda that we share as countries of the Northern Triangle. This was an issue that was addressed only marginally and not as specifically as the others that we have underscored as priorities of infrastructure, economic investment, and security.
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, I’m not going to give anybody a grade sitting up here today. There are, as you know, I think very rigorous and fulsome assessments made by international agencies and others to assess the level of corruption or progress towards eliminating corruption, and those are updated, I think as you know, annually. But I do think it’s important to note that the subject of corruption came up for a very fulsome and serious discussion in every one of our meetings with these three leaders, and they brought it up about the challenges that they still face in continuing to advance their fight to eliminate corruption.
And I think each of these countries, what’s important to me was the expression of not just sincerity, but commitment, and a discussion of specific actions that are being taken. And each country is a sovereign country. They have their own constitution. They have their own legal processes. They have their own attorney general processes. And they have to deal with this within their own laws and within their own legal processes.
And our encouragement is that they continue to make progress, enable the law enforcement, enable the legal process, enable the court systems, to deal with corruption as it exists and in whatever form it exists within each of their countries. And this is true not just of the three triangle countries; this is true around the world. Corruption manifests itself in many different ways depending on circumstances in the country, the legal system, but most importantly, the commitment of the leadership to do something about it.
And I think what’s important is that I heard a serious commitment and a sincere commitment by all three of these leaders to continue their efforts to eradicate corruption because they know they see it up close and personal every day. They know the detrimental effect it has on their country and their people. And I think I would give all of them high marks in terms of their commitment.
MODERATOR: Thank you to our leaders for your time today. Thank you, members of the press corps, for your patience. We look forward to seeing you tomorrow.