Remarks at the Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America
Secretary of State
I would also like to welcome President Hernandez of Honduras, President Morales of Guatemala, and Vice President Ortiz of El Salvador. Welcome all.
On a sad note, on behalf of the American people, our hearts go out to the loved ones of those killed in recent torrential rains across Central America, as well as those thousands who have been evacuated or otherwise impacted. A very serious matter. We were kidding that it’s Hurricane Miguel, but not named after either one of us. (Laughter.)
You should know, in all seriousness, the United States stands with our Central American friends during these challenging and difficult times.
I’m looking forward to our important conversations today on how we can improve security, prosperity, and governance in Central America. We must all work together to secure our borders, protect our citizens, and increase opportunities for legitimate businesses to invest in the region.
For our part, we know that if our partners in Central America are stronger, the United States will be stronger as well.
And I want to start things off this morning by inviting Vice President Pence to give remarks. Mr. Vice President, the floor is yours, sir.
(The Vice President Pence gives remarks)
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you very much, Mr. Vice President. I now invite each country to give opening remarks. We will begin with President Hernandez of Honduras.
PRESIDENT HERNANDEZ: (Via interpreter) Good morning, Vice President Pence, Secretary Pompeo. Thank you for having us here. It’s a great pleasure. Secretary Nielsen, our colleague the President Morales, Vice President Ortiz, Chancellor, Foreign Minister, everybody who’s here with us this morning.
I would like to start, Mr. Vice President, by expressing in the name of the Honduran people our sincerest expressions of solidarity because of Hurricane Michael, which is affecting several states in this country. We very much appreciate that at this time of crisis you’re giving us your time, your space, and tell you that I’m totally identified with your pain, because Honduras right now is evaluating the impact of climate change, which has been very strong. And I understand what it means to absent oneself from a national emergency for a few hours. I have to go back this very afternoon, hoping that the climate and the weather will allow me to.
But I’m a person who always carries out his word, and I said this to Secretary Pompeo: We’re friends, and we will always be with you, and that’s why we’re here. This new tragedy in Honduras has also caused – already caused the loss of nine lives, 18,000 families affected, more than 16 communities that are – have lost communication, and great impact on the infrastructure and the productive sector, especially okra, sugar, shrimp, and where losses are almost one half of a point of our production. But this will surely cause a new wave of migration, because if you recall, it was right after Hurricane Mitch in 1998 when the United States extended a friendly hand and gave temporary protected status to almost 100,000 Hondurans, changing the lives of many people. And I absolutely must thank Mexico for the support that they gave us; also it was the first country to do so, and we will always remember that.
I think it’s important to mention this today because Honduras, although it’s in a geographically privileged position, that position also makes us very vulnerable to climate. The last report from a prestigious institute reflects that in the last 20 years, Honduras has been in the entire world – and I repeat, in the entire world – the country that has been most affected by climate. And just to give you an idea, two months ago we had a drought which was an emergency, and now we have an emergency because of excessive rain.
Mr. Vice President, the conditions that I have described are very serious. They were not the same conditions when – that existed when you terminated temporary protected status, which is why now thousands of people have to go back to Honduras, and many of them have to go back to these places that are under red alert because of a national emergency. And just as I was coming to Washington, we were already seeing reports of more climate disturbance coming from Panama towards Honduras. Through you, Mr. Vice President, I request your country’s support, with a solution for these Hondurans who are in irregular migratory situations.
In the Alliance for Prosperity for the Northern Triangle, which has been our initiative since 2014 – it’s been ours, Central Americans’. We have committed to it, we have carried it out, and not just that; we have gone beyond our own expectations. Just in 2018 the three Northern Triangle countries assigned more than $3 billion – our own resources – for the objectives of the Alliance for Prosperity. This very high amount just represents our efforts in a single year. In the case of Honduras, we have been very tenacious and made a lot of sacrifices, but I believe that if our decision is to continue to progress, we need the political will and true commitment, as my commitment – as my government has had since the beginning and which I reiterate today.
We have to define those things that have not worked, and that’s what we’re working on is – too, we need to evaluate lessons learned and continue with what we’ve done well. We see that every year there is a reduction in the resources that are budgeted by the United States. This should not take us to the conclusion that you’ve lost interest in your relationship with me, but it does concern us. How does the U.S. see the future of our region? Vice President Pence has announced these increases in migration, but in past years we had – we were more successful, so we have to see what we have to do to get improved numbers.
Every year we have less and less financial assistance, and this year the proposal to the U.S. Congress was less than it was for 2018. We need to have assurances that we will have the necessary budget. Honduras’s budget for next year is increasing, which is why the vice president has said in Guatemala and has said here that we will have more presence at the border and it will be stronger because that’s what we have planned. Which also makes us wonder what can we expect in the short term from our very important relationship with Mexico. Throughout this year, we’ve had many meetings, but I believe that this moment is key, critical, and determining. We need to define the future of our plan because we, the Hondurans, cannot stop it and we won’t stop it. We’ve already made a roadmap and we will go ahead, whether it’s alone or the hope of – with the hope of working together.
When we started with the Alliance for Prosperity we committed to find solutions for the migration crisis which was occurring in our countries, with the work of several different departments working on the different pillars of the plan. I should also talk about the task force work that’s carried by our country’s first lady, what has been very important. Now, during 2017, Honduras reduced immigration in 36 – by 36 percent, which made us very optimistic. But our circumstances today are very different. The numbers are going back up. Apprehensions on the border have increased significantly. And we have to pay attention to this and act on it. That is the gangs and transnational organized crime reinvent themselves, sometimes more efficiently than governments do. Gangs have gone on to extortion. They work with parallel organized crime groups, destabilizing our communities and displacing our people and breaking up the peace in our daily lives.
In my country we have faced all these groups in a frontal way, which is something that I share with President Donald Trump. We have to create a strategy that is joint and effective against these problems. We have seen cases from the Northern Triangle countries where the gangs are sending orders to the United States, and vice versa. That is to say, it is an organized international crime group. That’s why I call to us to unite under a petition that we made at the UN to recognize that these armed groups that are non-state are violating basic human rights. I repeat, Vice President Pence, friends of Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador, let’s work together so that at the United Nations these armed non-state groups are considered as human rights violators.
I must acknowledge that in the issue of security, there has been progress on the side of our countries, but until we manage to eradicate problems completely, as we said when we started with the plan, also tackling the demand for drugs from the north, our countries will continue to be victims of the consequences of drug trafficking. This will force our people to leave to look for opportunities.
This is why I’d like to reiterate it is highly alarming for the region – and I repeat, it is highly alarming for the region – to see the increase in the production of drugs in the south of the continent. We all know, and we have said this for the last couple of years, there has been an increase in coca plantations in Colombia and in other countries in the south of the continent. There’s clear evidence of this. These drugs will move towards the north. And if this happens, this will be a wave of pain for us. This will create displacement and migration. We see the victims of that reality.
And there is no way I cannot talk about the impact this has on Central American children. We have a solution for the 119 Honduran children who have been separated from their parents here in the United States. We have a solution in mind, Secretary Nielsen. If you look at your conscience, if we all put ourself in the shoes of these parents – imagine if a child from your country found himself or herself in that situation, you could understand the rejection this has caused in my country, the huge pressure we face. It is a matter of humanity. And it is impossible to understand for some how an issue that is in the biggest interest of children and family reunification – well, this continues to be a pending matter. I cannot go back to Honduras without an answer.
Likewise, we need to candidly approach geopolitical events and humanitarian crisis that are causing instability in the region. The dictatorial regime in Venezuela has been disruptive for the region. This regime attacks fundamental democratic rights. We need to bear in mind also the situation in Nicaragua, which also has impact on the hemisphere and which needs to be approached because of the cascading effects that have an impact on neighboring countries and others.
With the United States, we share values and principles vis-a-vis democracy. We have also supported the right to decide when and how to align foreign policy, as is the case with regards to Israel, a country with which we work closely. For decades Honduras has been in close relationship with Taiwan, and we continue to do so.
At the same time, we are seeing an increase in the presence in our region by continental China and Russia. It would be desirable to see an increase in the opportunities of investment and trade with clear rules, but it would be of concern if what we are thinking about is a return to the ’80s, the time when Central America found itself as the location for geopolitical conflict. Hence, the importance of understanding the intentions of China, the intentions of Russia, and knowing more clearly what we can expect from our friend, the United States.
Threats to regional security, sovereignty, and political stability are increasingly interrelated. In the speech given a month ago at the Federalist Society, Ambassador John Bolton said the following: No commission from a different country will tell us how to govern ourselves. And I agree with that. The Honduran Government shares fully the importance of sovereignty, full respect to sovereignty, and you, Vice President Pence, have reiterated this in our conversations.
Honduras also agrees with the non-interference in the matters of other countries, and I paid attention to President Trump’s speech at the UN in this regards. We believe these principles have to always be respected. And in this neighborly alliance – and undoubtedly we have this sound friendship with the United States, and this sound friendship is part of what we believe should be our present and future for the region.
Likewise, I’d like to underscore a problem coffee-producer countries are facing. This is contributing to inequality, and in Honduras right now 90,000 families of small coffee producers are moving from being small producers to finding themselves in extreme poverty, given the unfair prices of coffee. On average, a cup of coffee could be five dollars in New York. Of those five dollars, maybe two cents reach coffee producers in Honduras. This is giving rise to migration. This is deepening poverty and creating hopelessness. Secretary Pompeo, Vice President Pence, there are – we are competing with countries that do not have the same standards we meet, looking to protect environment and labor standards.
Coffee in Honduras represents almost five percent of our GDP. This can show you the impact this can have. We need to underscore the need for equality and fairness in the coffee industry from the bean to the cup. At the same time, as consumers, we need to value the work behind the coffee we drink every day and become aware of the need for fair pay, giving our producers one more reason to remain in our countries.
To conclude, I’d like to remind everyone that the commitments we undertake at these meetings can change lives. I am certain that the biggest desire for a Honduran young person is to be able to be fulfilled in his or her own country, having a family and dream with a prosperous and safe country. Let’s not deprive future generations from those dreams. Within the framework of our responsibilities, let’s face gangs, drug traffic, and lack of opportunity and inequality.
This is the time for us to be remembered for our commitment and our tireless fight to build a stable region, a region that is safe and prosperous as well. Dear friends, you have my firm commitment and willingness to continue working in this fight. When history judges us, I want them to remember Juan Orlando Hernandez and Honduras in this conference as someone that always worked for this alliance of the Northern Triangle with the United States and Mexico. I could not allow myself to be found in a different place of history. Thank you, Mr. Vice President.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you very much. President Morales of Guatemala, we welcome your remarks.
PRESIDENT MORALES: (Via interpreter) Thank you very much. Good morning. Mr. Vice President Pence; Mr. Juan Orlando Hernandez, president of Honduras; Mr. Ortiz, vice president of El Salvador; Mr. Videgaray, foreign affairs minister of Mexico; Secretary Nielsen, Secretary for national security and the Homeland Security in the United States of America, everyone, good morning.
We echo this mention of solidarity, given the disasters caused by Hurricane Mike, and if we can be of help as friendly nation, please take us into account. It will be our privilege. We also would like to express solidarity with the countries that have suffered rains and floods in the region with these landslides. We are also at your disposal, if we can be of help to you.
With regards to the last conversation we had in Guatemala, one of our commitments had to do with carrying out awareness-raising campaigns to prevent irregular emigration of Guatemalans, who’d be endangering their lives trying to come looking for opportunities in the United States. I’d like to thank the recognition of the leadership the first lady, my wife, has assumed carrying out different activities with many institutions to raise awareness that most of Guatemalan population to that effect.
The three issues discussed at that meeting had to do with migration, prosperity and work, drug trafficking and border security. In the case of the fight against drug trafficking, DEA, the ambassador before the United Nations, Nikki Haley, and also INL and other organizations, investigation organization of the United States, say that Guatemala is the main ally in the region in the fight against drug trafficking.
I have information I will share with you, information provided by these institutions in the United States. In two years and a half, we have exceeded the seizures of drugs of 12 years in the past. This is truly unprecedented. We also have information from the Southern Command saying that the Pacific in Guatemala, over 200 nautical miles, have gone down from 45 to 15 percent with regards to the transport of drugs, and our 200 nautical miles are free. And we have been working in joint operations with Colombia, Mexico, the United States, and Guatemala so that the 400 nautical miles in the Pacific in Guatemala become an impossible place for those trying to transport drugs. We have five boats that have been donated by the United States with autonomous capacity for 200 nautical miles only. We have already covered 300 nautical miles, exceeding thus 50 percent of their autonomy level. I’d like to thank my naval forces and my police officers who have been working in an exemplary fashion.
Of course, there are many more pieces of data we will share with you, but we’d like them to be considered when we discuss our fight against drug trafficking and the issue of security. We undertook a commitment so as to become certified by the United States. Whenever we have complied with requests, the United States has changed the conditions. For us, this has been complicated with regards to the Alliance for Prosperity. We made a commitment to remove the army from the patrol duties on the street. For many years we were not able to do so, but we did that in a year and a half. We were able to remove the army from patrol duties. This does not mean our land has no protection. What we did was increase the civilian police forces: 4,000 in 2016 and 2017, 4,000 in 2018 – excuse me, 18 – 8,000 between 2016 and ’17 and 4,000 in 2018. This means that today we have over 40,000 civilian national police members protecting the country, and the army has been taken to the borders so as to be able to strengthen our binational forces in the groups – work groups we have with Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, and which will soon increase with Belize as well.
With regards to the fight against criminal organizations, in 2018 and 2017 we were able to capture 1,250 gang members from gangs Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18, thus disarticulating about 150 criminal structures that were taking part in extortion, murder, and kidnappings. All of this has been done with information we’ve been sharing in our joint work in the Northern Triangle.
In 2009 we were one of the most dangerous countries, with a murder rate of 49 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. By 2015 we were able to reduce this to 30 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. During my government, 2016, 2017, and 2018, we have been able to reduce this rate to 22.9 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, bearing in mind that in Latin America the average is 23.5 percent per 100,000 inhabitants. We were able to achieve this working on internal security, on the strengthening of our borders, and of course, the fight against drug trafficking, which we all know carries with it destruction and death.
As Foreign Affairs Minister Videgaray said, one of the problems we have faced is not only the issue of production in the south for consumption in the north, we are also seeing the same production in the center and also consumption in the center. We have eradicated 417 million plants of poppy last year. Just with this eradication, this equals $1.4 billion which would have – due to heroin production which would then be taken to the markets that consume it. This has strengthened the second issue, which has to do with the strengthening of our borders, because in our borders – that used to be and continue to be highly porous – is where we are being able to find this kind of problem.
There is another issue I’d like to mention. We have arrested almost 100 people highly linked to terrorist groups, specifically ISIS. We have not only detained them in our territory, they have also been deported to their countries of origin. All of you here have information to that effect.
With regards to prosperity, we’ve worked hard for the transparency and integrity of our administration – will allow us to make savings and appropriate investments in the country. We have been congratulated and we have increased 26 places in the Open Government Initiative, an initiative pushed by the United States itself through its own open government policy. We also worked with the Organization of American States to provide information to that effect. We also worked with the OECD based in Europe, on which deals with transparency matters. And the day before yesterday, we were accepted for accession to a study so as to become one of the countries that meets all of the necessary transparency indices and governance on accountability indices.
Always, on the issue of transparency and public administration, I do not know whether you have heard here about ISO certifications. ISO certifications are based in Mexico. They provide quality certifications. Their best-known standard is ISO-9001. Both public and private enterprises can be certified according to their level of quality. The General Secretariat, this is the secretariat of the president’s office, was certified with standard ISO-9001 and also with ISO-37001. This is the only presidential office to attain this certification. Not even the United States or any capital in Europe has it. This is the certification that has to do with the fight against bribery, certification 37001. With this, I am trying to convey that the president’s office of Guatemala can humbly tell you that if someone is leading the fight against corruption in Guatemala, it’s the president’s office.
We have some problems and we’d like to put them on the table. We’ve suffered international interference that has taken over our courts of justice. The fact that they have – had power now in courts have deprived us from the possibility of working as president’s office, and they are – that’s also affecting you. The main court in my country is the constitutional court. The constitutional court has infringed the political constitution of the republic, and it has also gone against the Vienna Convention. I said so at my speech in the UN. Judges and magistrates have been appointed who have made decisions against the government and against companies and American capital. And allow me to share an example. There’s a mine, San Rafael mine, 60 percent American – 60 percent Canadian capital, 40 percent American capital. Five hundred days with work stoppage, having invested $1 billion on the mine. This company has lost over 35 percent of the value of its shares of the stock market in the United States. This because there has been interference. This mine can also provide you information.
The information has been provided through your senators about the fact that they have stopped hiring about 2,500 individuals. They already have photographs of people who haven’t had jobs at that mine, have had to come to the United States to look for jobs. There is a survey: Out of 2,500 people, 75 are already thinking about migrating to the United States. One question: Who has interfered in our courts? I’ve already said so a year and a half. Mr. Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations, did not listen to us. He didn’t understand that interference in other courts through CICIG and other international powers, this can break down the economy of a country.
Finally, I can guarantee to you that with validated indicators, validated by American institutions, our security indicators, our indicators on the quality of our expenditure, the fight against drug trafficking, the fight against terrorism, and the fight against all of the threats that endanger our region. And as I said before, Guatemala by plane is closer than Washington than Los Angeles is to Washington, and for us this is very important, and it represents an opportunity, an opportunity of closeness, of work and cooperation.
Allow me to conclude by saying that we, the plan of the Alliance for Prosperity of our budget in the last – in the two years and a half I’ve been in office, we have invested about 15 billion quetzales. This equals $2 billion. This is what we have invested, based on the priorities set by the United States Department of State, focusing on the areas where there was the greatest migration of individuals. To do so, I had to not consider as priorities 17 departments – that is to say, almost 75 percent of my territory, so as to comply with the Alliance for Prosperity plan.
So far, we have not received a cent. We had – 50 percent has been approved and from the United States, we have heard that maybe they will not certify the remaining 50 percent. Humbly, respectfully, we’d like to make a different proposal, a simple proposal. We think we are an excellent ally of the United States and we want to be even better. We’d welcome your helping us have institutions such as the IDB or the World Bank or other financial institutions giving us $15 billion for infrastructure projects. In the next 30 years, we could pay the interest of that capital.
Having all of the transparency elements necessary for investments on roads, infrastructure, courts, to strengthen our borders as well – this is a project we have had with Mexico. Mexico was able to do so. We were not able to invest in infrastructure in our border areas, but if we had access to credit, with credits we can actually repay, and with all of the possibilities for investments to be done in a transparent fashion, we’d be the first ones to be interested in strengthening the south of the United States and the north of Central America.
So as to conclude, big projects, such as the ones we’ve done with Honduras in a customs union that has been unprecedented, joining the north of Central America, uniting it with El Salvador, and the possibility of having through that investments – this will give us jobs and allow us to strengthen our security. We are always at your disposal to provide service. We want to be your best allies in the region.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, Mr. President. Vice President Ortiz, please.
VICE PRESIDENT ORTIZ: (Via interpreter) Thank you. Allow me to convey regards to all of you. Thank you, Vice President Pence, for meeting with us today. Of course, Secretary Pompeo, Secretary Nielsen, and everyone that makes it possible for us to meet here today for the second Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America.
I’d like to also address the President of Honduras Juan Orlando Hernandez, the President of Guatemala Jimmy Morales, the teams accompanying them, of course the Foreign Affairs Minister of Mexico Mr. Videgaray, Government Minister Navarrete, and very specially on behalf of our country I’d like to acknowledge the work of Foreign Affairs Minister Videgaray has carried out, such an important player in this effort we started in 2016 and which has been strengthened during the last two years, this joint effort that we have outlined for the countries of Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, known as the Northern Triangle region.
These would not have been possible without this shared vision with strategic partners such as the United States and, of course, Mexico, which is about to embark on a historic transition, and we give our best wishes to the incoming team we hope as a country. And as the Northern Triangle, we’ll have a reinforced effort from Mexico because of the multiple interests and the multiple operations that we are carrying out and will continue to carry out in all of the goals that we have set forth in the efforts that we are making in the Northern Triangle.
We, as a country, add our voice to the solidarity, of course, of the thousands of families that have been affected by this natural phenomenon known as Michael, which is affecting many states of the United States, but also affecting Central America especially, and our brother people of Honduras. We continue to be affected by that tropical depression. There are people who are being taken care of by our civil services, and we think that the most important thing is to save lives, to prevent the loss of human life, and also of goods and services in the communities. Logically, this is something that must be at the center of our agenda for the future in the Northern Triangle, which as to do with the environment and the negative impact that the climate can have in our next few years that will affect our goals and objectives.
I bring the best wishes of our President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, who could not be here at this important second conference, and it’s because this is a historic week in our country. The president is going to Rome, because as of Friday we begin the transcendental events where there will be – they are going to canonize Oscar Arnulfo Romero, which is going to be a historic event. He will be the first saint from our country, and this is important not just for El Salvador but for Latin America and the world. So I send the apologies.
With this shared vision, as partners that we are, the shared vision which was built in 1996, which is being strengthened over the years, and that has the very fundamental goal of how to generate prosperity, how to generate greater security, and especially greater democracy in our countries. And within all of those efforts, which were brought together in this agenda, there is an issue that all of us agree on. If our countries are stable, prosperous, and create more opportunities, it’s very clear that the first thing we are going to have in the next few years will be a reduction of irregular migration to other borders, especially Mexico, which is a passing point, but particularly the United States. We have been working in a very organized and planned and structured fashion with the commitments that we took on as Northern Triangle.
As one example, just this year El Salvador has reduced by 60 percent the irregular migration to the southern border of the United States. In our case I would say this is historic, because very few times have we had such an important decrease in irregular migration. Of course, this is not a final point, this is not a solution. This issue that affects Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras has to be sustainable. And for it to be sustainable, what we have to create in all three countries is more investment, and make the economy the central point of our countries, and dignified employment for – especially for our young people. And when I say “dignified,” that’s the only thing that allows us to invest in families and communities, and when we invest in families and communities, obviously we reinforce the hope and the dreams of those people being able to better their lives and their futures within their countries.
That is the whole point of the Alliance for Prosperity. If we don’t have greater investment in our countries – El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras – we can’t talk about sustainability at the short, medium, and long term. And it’s here that we have the central issue of the exchange that we’re having here. How are we going to mobilize with our strategic partners in the next five to 10 years greater investment, not just from the U.S. Government, but from important businesses in the United States? How do we open new markets for our markets into the United States, and how do we generate a greater presence of Mexico, which 10 years ago was the second-greatest investor after the United States, and today it’s the third because Colombia got ahead of it? So after the United States it’s Colombia that invests more in El Salvador, and we would like Mexico to champion us again, to be a greater investor, because Mexico is good for us because we are the great Mesoamerican corridor, and we’re connected not just by language, we’re connected by tradition. We have more things in common than differences. So it’s important to talk very concretely here about the short term.
How can Mexico take on this shared vision with the United States as a historic presence, and it will always be that way because that’s the way we want it to be? I don’t think anybody is going to displace the United States as the great partner for the Northern Triangle, but Mexico can be the factor of increasing added value in addition to the wonderful work that’s been done as a cohost and dynamo for the Northern Triangle. And of course, as a country we’re going to ask the new president of Mexico to be more present in the region. And it’s a win-win situation because as we ensure the Mesoamerican corridor, we are ensuring the future stability of all of us. And we’ve done our work in the Northern Triangle. It’s a process. We can’t believe that these issues of prosperity and employment will be solved in the short term. These are processes that require time.
And I’d like to say that of the commitments that we took on last year at the first conference we had in Miami, where we committed – and I can tell you that one of the first commitments, as I just told you, is reducing by 60 percent the irregular migration out of El Salvador. But we have to consolidate this. We’re doing our part on the economic part. You know that in the last three years, just in public investment, we have put in more than 2 billion program – dollars into these programs that we continue to work on. Just in the budget for 2019 that we just presented to parliament, which we hope will be approved, there’s a – there are $10 billion more. So if we add up 2017, 2018, 2019, there’s more than $3 billion that have been spent on this purpose.
And what happened this year in the 2017/18, we’re about to close the customs union between the three countries. And President Orlando has been a champion here. We have to recognize that. I was with him when they launched this program in Honduras and Guatemala. And then El Salvador decided to enter into that union with all of our good will. And we can say today that, starting in November, Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala are in a customs union. That is to say we practically – more than 60 percent of our trade – there’s more than 68 percent of the trade in the area is between the three of us. More than 30,000 people are involved. And this what the Northern Triangle represents. This customs union is a key step, because we are not going to be exporting more than 60 percent of our products. We’re just going to be moving them very — quicker. That’s going to make the economy of the triangle grow. It’s going to open up new employment opportunities as well as investment, increasing investment.
One of the issues we’ve also talked about is energy. The electric interconnection in Central America has advanced. You know that Guatemala has the greatest offer, and we want them to integrate with Mexico so that they can keep prices down, because as we have lower energy prices it allows us to have other opportunities in competitiveness. But we’re also mobilizing strong investment. In our case, just for the next two years, we have committed to more than a billion dollars just into energy. We’re using wind power, solar power. We’re going to have an investment of more than $800 million. This is what Guatemala is doing, Honduras is doing. We’re going to advance. We already have advanced, and we will continue to do so.
And of course, there’s another issue with El Salvador. We believe it’s key to maintain our fiscal discipline. We approved a fiscal responsibility law that’s very important and also a reform to our pension system. And in addition, we have worked to broaden and make more investments in the social sector. El Salvador is being consolidated as one of the most solid economic systems in Central America. This is key, because you need to be able to trust the economic system in order to get investment. And in our fight against transnational crime, El Salvador advanced in 22 points in business. It’s the highest points that we’ve had in Latin America.
And despite what we’ve done here, logically we believe that on the issue that we’re talking about, one of the issues that’s on the agenda – and I agree with President Hernandez – is the issue of coffee. Coffee is a new possibility for the countries of the Northern Triangle. We’re all betting on national agreements to bring back the coffee industry in the Northern Triangle, which will also bring a great deal of employment, which is very important. And this is an aspect I think that we need to talk about. We need to incorporate it.
And I want to say also that we would like to bring up the issue of security. We’ve been doing our work. Just this year we’ve gone down in 23 percent in homicides. We come from 22 per day to 9.2 homicides per day. And this is – our database is very important. El Salvador is committed to this alliance and has taken very, very important measures, having improved coordination with all of the prosecutors and law enforcement personnel in the Northern Triangle and the United States, and we have seized more drugs than ever. Just a couple of days ago, we just seized drugs from a small submarine that was carrying an enormous cargo to the United States. I think we’re doing it well. I think we need to keep strengthening these programs.
And of course, in this area we have a profound reform of the prison system, as never before seen in our country. In – we have improved from 247 to 170 percent of overcrowding in the prisons, which seemed an issue that was impossible to solve, but we have invested in a great deal to modernize our prison system, because the issue of security is multifaceted. It’s not just one point; it’s the whole structure. And our El Salvador Seguro plan has given us clear references on the issue, and we’ve been putting the greatest of efforts into this to work with young people, with girls, with boys, with communities, with families, and to move community leadership. This is very important. But on the issue of security, basically we cannot center everything around repression, but we are doing and acting very willfully and strongly.
We have a mechanism. We’re trying to look for the most dangerous of the heads of the gangs. Parts of them are highly criminal and in this program of the 200 most looked for, most wanted, we’ve already taken 123 out of circulation. Many of them are already in maximum security prisons, and we’ve also invested a great deal in that. But also, the level of coordination in the Northern Triangle has also gone up in exchange of information and systems and databases that allow us to coordinate and work hand-in-hand and exchange information among the police forces of the Northern Triangle, and also the armies, which the constitution allows to have limited activity within the borders of our country.
We’ve had very defined and focalized and concrete activities, and this even led us to a discussion that we had with our counterparts in the United States, and we’ve been progressing. And there’s no doubt that we believe that in the area of security, we need to keep investing resources for three things. Prevention, first of all, because there’s no successful, sustained strategy without opportunities in the communities. Secondly, to reinforce our police forces to be more modern, effective, and that they have the best of the equipment. And we made a jump here in our commitment to create a fund, a special contribution, for equipment. And it’s been very good to give sustainability to the investments that we’re making in this area. And of course the third issue we’ve always said is in the area of security. We have to have a very clear strategy of international cooperation against transnational organized crime. That’s very hard to do by yourself, and there’s no doubt that our cooperation has been very positive and can continue to grow.
I would like to say that we have found that this process that we have ongoing, we are the primary protagonists, the countries in the Northern Triangle. It’s very difficult for anybody else to do what we can’t do for ourselves, and as President Morales and President Hernandez said – and I completely agree – we are profoundly committed to success. It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible either if we continue to work together, and within the framework of law, which is what we’ve committed to, and respecting one another’s sovereignty, and respecting our constitutions, and respecting our own judicial frameworks. We – going – because of the frankness that we’ve talked about, I want to say clearly that there is no threat to the excellent relationship with our partner, the United States.
We think it’s normal – we’ve just closed a partial agreement with South Korea with a free trade agreement. We think that’s important because El Salvador is one of the most open countries to the rest of the world, and so a hundred and – more than 170 countries have trade relationships with the – with El Salvador. So China is not out of the picture. It’s a constitutional decision and I believe that we have to find opportunities with everybody in the world that we have a relationship where our respect is mutual.
And I would like to close by saying three things we will probably have to incorporate to either this agenda, but we cannot leave aside. That is – that has to do with the migration issue, and I’m not going to repeat myself because President Morales and President Hernandez have already said it categorically. We are very concerned about family reunification, especially about the young children that have remained here in the United States. The issue of TPS – we need time in the Northern Triangle, and I hope on this issue we can have a shared vision and agreement on how to face this in the short term. Because the rest of this is going to take time, it’s taking time, and that’s normal. But we think that here, we could advance towards where we are allowed – after announcement of TPS, we think we can open a new window to be able to talk about this issue again, as has been done at different levels.
I think, secondly, it’s important to incorporate the issue – when we talk about productive issues, we need to talk about coffee, where all of us are – is interested in how to create more and better employment. And as a country, we’d like to reaffirm that we are completely convinced that this is the way forward, that in the measure to which we can share strategies, we will be opening more and better opportunities for our communities. And again, personally as representative of El Salvador – and of course, I’ve talked to the president about this – I want to say that we are completely in agreement that our relationship with the United States has to be strong and deeper all the time. Thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’ll invite remarks from Foreign Secretary Videgaray.
FOREIGN SECRETARY VIDEGARAY: (Via interpreter) Thank you, Mr. Secretary. In the name of the president of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto, I want to affectionately greet all of you, first of all, our host, Secretary Pompeo, who has invited us to his house here at the Department of State, and Vice President Mike Pence.
I want to take the opportunity to publicly recognize the support which has always been present and always been clear from Vice President Pence in our – his relationship with Mexico in all of its aspects. In our recent successful negotiation of the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement as another example of what the relationship between our countries can be, the presence and the leadership of the Vice President was an important factor to actually achieve a true success in our new North American trade agreement.
I would like to say hello to Secretary Nielsen and I really thank you for your efforts to bring this meeting together.
Great respect and appreciation to the president of Guatemala, Jimmy Morales; the president of Honduras, Mr. Hernandez; and the vice president of El Salvador, Oscar Ortiz; and of course for me, it’s delightful to be able to give my greetings to Alfonso Navarrete of Mexico.
I want to express our solidarity, as everybody else has, to the people of Honduras and El Salvador because of the torrential rains and flooding. And I express our solidarity with the United States, particularly the states of the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico because of the effects of Hurricane Michael.
More than a year ago, in February of 2017 when the Trump administration began, we had a conversation in Mexico City in which we found very clear agreement with respect to – in order to face the challenges of security in the region, in our countries, we have to work together. We have to work together, not just the United States and Mexico, but also primarily with the brethren countries of the Northern Triangle, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. And secondly, we agreed at that time, as we do now, that the focus on development must be preeminent to attack the causes of migration and the illegal drug trafficking.
That’s how we began the initiative of Mexico and the United States to begin the first instance of the conference in Miami in June of last year. And today, that we have the privilege of being here for this second instance, we have to recognize that we have progressed, that we have achieved positive progress.
Specifically, I would like to refer to the fact that we have identified priority areas for cooperation and development in the region, and we’ve worked on several projects throughout this year and four months since the first edition of this conference. The areas that were identified as priority were first, facilitate customs and trade; secondly, regional integration and energy; and third, social development with an emphasis on health, education, and agriculture. To date, we have already carried out four projects around these axes of prosperity, especially two in energy and two in trade facilitation. We continue to work with the IDB and other regional institutions to carry out concrete projects.
For Mexico, the cooperation with the Northern Triangle has been a priority. In addition to the efforts of this conference, I would like to say that through our Yucatan fund, we have invested – in the Pena Nieto administration, we’ve invested $53 million in projects in Honduras and El Salvador, and we are preparing additional projects in Guatemala.
The truth is, Mr. Vice President, that most of the money that we’ve invested in the Northern Triangle is in El Salvador. So through the Mesoamerica project, we continue to make efforts, and 72 percent of the financing in Mesoamerica is with the participation of Mexico. That is 348 kilometers of the grid. I also would like to say the interconnection of the electric grid in – with integrating Central America with Mexico, plus the Mesoamerica Without Hunger project with the United Nations, where we work successfully on projects for food security in all three countries.
Looking forward, we believe that there’s a great opportunity for energy integration not only with electricity but also with natural gas, and Mexico has projects that are in process. And secondly, we believe that it is fundamental to cooperate in projects for – to promote resilience for climate problems like volcanos and earthquakes, and of course, more participation of communities in the projects. That is to say, not just huge projects but also projects that can have practical results in communities.
In Mexico we’ve had an election in – on July 1st of this year and, as everyone knows, we will have a new president starting on December 1st, that is Andres Lopez Obrador. And I want to thank Marcelo Ebrard, who has sent a collaborator of his to assist this conference, and I celebrate as a Mexican citizen the emphasis that Lopez Obrador and his transition team have placed on the issue of shared development with the Northern Triangle as a central strategy to fight organized crime and to make migratory flows more regular.
Mexico is no longer the principal point of origin of migrants to the United States. It’s become a transit country, which means that Mexico has new challenges which it assumes, and one of the principal ones is human rights. That is, to treat migrants from the Northern Triangle with all of the dignity and the human rights that they deserve. We also work with the Northern Triangle through the mechanism of Tricamex to defend the dignity and human rights of those countries. And I just have to add my voice to what President Hernandez said about the reunification of the children who were left at the border by their parents.
In addition, I’d like to echo the concern in the region about migratory flows, result of the deep crisis in Venezuela. We also see with concern the situation in Nicaragua. The challenge of security at the end of the day is a challenge that only working in a coordinated fashion we’ll be able to overcome. If we work in a – if we work in a fragmented way, we will be giving a strategic advantage to organized crime.
I’d like to recognize the work of the United States and for its – also for its willingness to cooperate, and their commitment with the countries of the Northern Triangle. Working for orderly and regular migration at the same time with security in the region will require that we continue to work as we’ve done before, working as a team.
Thank you so much for being part of this conference, three countries of the Northern Triangle, and thank you, the United States, for being our hosts.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you. Thank you, Foreign Secretary Videgaray, and thank you very much, everyone, for your remarks. I’d like to ask everyone to take five minutes to allow the press to depart and then we’ll prepare the room for the next session. Thank you, everyone, very much.