Moderator: Greetings to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Media Hub of the Americas in Miami, Florida. I would like to welcome our participants who have dialed in from the United States and across the region. This is an on-the-record press briefing with Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Julie Chung, and Special Envoy for the Northern Triangle, Ricardo Zuniga. The officials will discuss Secretary Blinken’s recent visit to Costa Rica and his meetings with leaders from Mexico and Central America.
Acting Assistant Secretary Chung will give opening remarks, and then both speakers will take questions from participating journalists. We are pleased to offer simultaneous interpretation in Spanish for this briefing. I request everyone to keep that in mind and please speak slowly.
And with that, I’ll turn it over to Acting Assistant Secretary Julie Chung.
Ms. Chung: Thank you. Good afternoon.
Secretary Blinken was in Costa Rica on June 1st and 2nd, where he enjoyed productive meetings with counterparts from across the Central American region, advancing our efforts to create a more democratic, prosperous, and secure Central American region. This visit also served to deepen the region’s collaborative approach to the shared challenge of irregular migration.
On June 1st, the Secretary attended a meeting with foreign ministers and vice ministers from all seven Central American countries, as well as Mexico and the Dominican Republic. They discussed issues essential to the well-being of the people of this region, including strategies for addressing the root causes of irregular migration and managing migration flows in and through the region, combating corruption and strengthening democratic institutions, promoting human rights, generating inclusive economic growth, recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, and healthy environmental stewardship.
Besides this multilateral session, Secretary Blinken also engaged directly with several of our key partners in the region. This included meetings with President Alvarado and Foreign Minister Solano of Costa Rica in which they discussed the strong partnership between our countries on migration, climate change, security, and illegal fishing. In addition, he met with Mexican Foreign Secretary Ebrard to continue cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico on addressing the root causes of irregular migration and progress towards COVID-19 cooperation and economic recovery, as well as issues related to regional development, democracy, governance, and security.
He also had an important meeting with the foreign ministers of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, in which he affirmed our commitment to partner with them to address migration challenges, while also underscoring the importance we place on good governance and respect for democratic institutions.
Beyond leadership meetings, Secretary Blinken visited a pair of joint U.S.-Costa Rican initiatives that show how the U.S. can effectively partner with the region to help build a better future. He visited a neighborhood that benefits from Sembremos Seguridad, an innovative citizen security program for at-risk youth. He also visited an environmental stewardship initiative that sets a model for efforts to reduce deforestation and fight climate change.
He also sat down with a Costa Rican media outlet to communicate with local audiences and demonstrate support for media independence in Central America.
This trip is part of the administration’s strong focus on Central America. Vice President Harris will be headed to the region next week to further advance efforts to improve conditions for the people of Central America, which also advances the interests of the people of the United States. Thank you.
Moderator: Thank you. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. For those on the English line asking questions, please limit yourself to one question related to the topics of today’s briefing. If you submitted your question in advance, I have incorporated it into the question queue. Our first question will go to Alina Dieste from AFP. The question is: “How has this trip contributed to the U.S. strategy of addressing the root causes of migration from the Northern Triangle, and what concrete compromises did you hear from the U.S. partners in the region in that respect?”
Mr. Zuniga: So this is Ricardo. I will take this one. The most important thing that we wanted to convey through the Secretary’s travel was that this is a shared challenge for all countries, that what we’re trying to contend with is irregular migration. We understand that there will be normal migration flows in and within Central America and Mexico into the United States. The concern that the President – the Secretary conveyed was that irregular migration is – poses a humanitarian, security, and longer-term economic challenge to all of the countries in the region.
And we were able to hear from other countries about their own experience with transiting migrants, not just from Central America and Mexico but from well outside the region. So it was a good opportunity to share our – both our understanding of the current situation and ways that we can have safe, orderly humanitarian migration with protection concerns being addressed by governments throughout the migration chain, but also continuing to enforce our borders, as is required of any government.
The important thing was also that this was an opportunity to share potential solutions to these root causes. And that includes paying attention not only to the acute drivers of migration, like humanitarian concerns related to the pandemic and to hurricanes that struck Central America last year, but to longer-term issues related to governance, related to economic development, and related to climate change. And there was an enormous amount of, I think, very valuable discussion about ways that we can organize ourselves to deal with all of these challenges.
Moderator: Thank you. The next question will go to Jesus Esquivel.
Question: Thank you for doing this. For anyone who can answer, with regard of the meeting – the foreign minister of Mexico, Marcelo Ebrard. I have a fairly quick question. I just wondered if the foreign minister of Mexico talked to Secretary Blinken about the diplomatic note that the Government of Mexico delivered to the American Embassy in Mexico City a few days ago asking to stop the funding for one of the ONGs in Mexico, Mexicanos Contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad. Because the Government of Mexico says it has political ambition, nothing to do with a regular [inaudible] by civil organizations.
Mr. Zuniga: So —
Ms. Chung: Well, I can certainly say that – oh, sorry. Let me just start and hand it to Ricardo as well. We believe that a strong civil society with robust organizations, nongovernment organizations, it’s important to hear their voices and their programs throughout the region, including in Mexico and the United States. So we have a full range of assistance through USAID, but other outlets that we continue to advocate for and make sure that the civil society is robust and all their voices do contribute to solutions towards whether it’s migration or good governance or corruption issues in any country.
Mr. Zuniga: No. I was just going to say that the conversation really focused on our collaboration related to migration and to addressing root causes in Central America. That was the topic of the – the main topic of the discussion between us, as well as the upcoming visit by the Vice President to Mexico.
Moderator: Thank you. Our following question will go to Carmen Rodriguez.
Question: Hello. Hi.
Moderator: Yes. Please go ahead.
Question: Yeah. Good afternoon and thank you for this conference. I would like to know if there was any representation from the Salvadoran Government at the meeting. And considering what happened yesterday, El Salvador continues to move away from the plans proposed by the Biden administration to fight for the root causes of migration. Yesterday we saw the assembly of Nuevas Ideas from President Bukele’s party to controls other state institutions. Is there any concrete actions that will – the Biden administration will take? And when can we have some details about the sanctions that will exist from the list of corrupt officials that was published recently?
Mr. Zuniga: So the Government of El Salvador was represented by Foreign Minister Alexandra Hill, who participated in both the smaller meeting with foreign ministers of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala with the Secretary, as well as in the larger session hosted by the Government of Costa Rica with SICA foreign ministers. And as in the case of all the governments in Central America, our – the United States is looking for partners that are committed to creating the conditions for economic growth, security, and good governance, the conditions where people will decide that they have a better future at home, and where if they migrate it’s migration that’s able to take place through legal channels and because people want to go and not because they need to go. It’s the – as the Vice President has said many times, the view of the United States, the understanding is that most people in Central America would prefer to live at home and be with their families rather than feel forced to depart. So that was an important part of the discussion. And indeed, we saw a lot of concurrence by the governments represented there on that issue.
In the case of governance concerns regarding El Salvador, it really is a matter that the United States has made very clear that our view is that the best way to secure those conditions that I was just mentioning is through greater democracy, greater transparency, and by dealing with matters related to corruption and weak governance, and the best way to accomplish that is for governments to operate within constitutional norms and to not allow impunity for officials involved in acts of corruption in order to reinforce public confidence that their governments are working for them.
And so this really is not about the United States taking a position, it’s about the United States joining other members of the international community in calling for compliance with local constitutional requirements and with the need to establish the enabling conditions for growth and wellbeing for their population.
So with respect to the congressionally mandated list that you’re referring to, the U.S. legislation requires that the State Department deliver a list of people involved in or allegedly involved in acts of corruption or in interfering with the democratic process or in intimidation of people involved in combating corruption and impunity in June, later in June. So that is the timing on that list would be for later in the month of June.
Moderator: Thank you. The next question was submitted in advance by David Adams from Univision. The question is: “How bit a problem is it not including Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador on the itinerary? By not including those countries, are they being left out in the cold deliberately? And how can the U.S. hope to achieve anything on the corruption front?”
Mr. Zuniga: I’ll assume that this is referring to the Vice President’s trip. The Secretary of State in Costa Rica met with foreign ministers of all those countries, and we met in Costa Rica because that is the – Costa Rica has the pro tempore leadership of SICA and called the meeting and invited Foreign Minister Ebrard and Secretary Blinken. So we have engaged all of those governments and we have traveled and met with all of those governments in the context of the Biden administration’s effort to address both the acute and root causes of irregular migration and to work collaboratively to manage migration.
And with regard to the Vice President’s travel, she has since taking over this account and being asked by the President to assume leadership in addressing root causes, she has engaged with both the Government of Guatemala and Mexico and this trip is to take advantage of those early conversations. The United States Government is deeply engaged with governments across the region on this.
And with regard to, again, governance and corruption, I think it’s important to point out that it’s not that the United States is only interested in this matter as it affects the United States, but it does affect the United States. Corruption is a major driver of mass migration from Central America because it undermines the conditions that promote broad-based growth. However, we also understand that there is very strong popular demand for accountability, transparency, and efforts to combat impunity on the part of the Central American public. So what we see is that we are standing with those public demands for accountability because publics understand that that – that good governance is intimately linked to their own wellbeing, and their own wellbeing is precisely what we seek to support through all of these activities. It’s not just working through governments but also working with private sectors and also with civil society that we hope to make progress in Central America on matters related to governance, transparency, and anticorruption.
Ms. Chung: And in terms of engaging a number of those countries, even beyond the SICA meeting that we just returned from, just next week in Costa Rica they will be hosting what’s called a MIRPS event, and that’s to discuss also a comprehensive regional protection and solutions framework that many of these countries will also be attending. That includes Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, and Panama. So that is yet another opportunity for us to discuss in that regional context displacement and migration issues.
Moderator: Thank you very much. We will go to Roman Gressier for the next question.
Operator: The line is open.
Moderator: Roman, please go ahead.
Moderator: Yes. Please go ahead, Roman.
Question: Sorry, it appears I was speaking on mute. My question is this: The Salvadoran attorney general announced today that he plans to ask the foreign minister to discontinue all cooperation with CICIES, and I wanted to know what the State Department’s reaction is to that and if they will continue their support to the commission and on what terms. Thank you.
Mr. Zuniga: So as our embassy has noted, we regret the decision of the attorney general’s office to end its cooperation or suspend its cooperation with CICIES. The fight against corruption is really an essential part of creating the conditions for population – for citizens to thrive at home. We’re going to continue to work and look for ways to combat corruption and impunity across Central America, including in El Salvador, and as you noted, the United States has been a very strong supporter of El Salvador’s establishment of CICIES along with the OAS. So we will examine this decision and determine how best we can use our resources and our support to support efforts to address and improve governance in El Salvador. Thank you.
Moderator: Thank you. The next question was submitted by Dulcie Leimbach from Passblue. The question is: “How much aid is the United States going to provide Costa Rica and what will be – what will it be used for?”
Ms. Chung: Well, we have a wide range of partnerships and aid and assistance that we have provided to Costa Rica, and including for migrants through our Population, Refugees, and Migration Bureau. We have about $28 million dollars there, recognizing that there are half a million Nicaraguans and 38,000 Venezuelans in Costa Rica. In addition, we really highlighted the strong cooperation with our security cooperation and through interdiction of drugs because Costa Rica has been such a growing transshipment point for drugs bound for the United States. And we were very proud to talk about the record number of metric tons – 71 metric tons – of interdictions just accomplished in the past year.
So we’ll continue to cooperate on several of those fronts, and of course we assisted COVID – through COVID assistance early on to Costa Rica through various PPE and other equipment.
Moderator: Thank you. We have time for one last question. The last question goes to Marcos Medina from Canal 12, Channel 12. “My question is directed to Ms. Julie Chung. Recently the Nicaraguan Government has increased their repressive escalation against the opposition. Additionally, one of the leaders with the greatest popular support, Cristiana Chamorro, has been imprisoned. What does the United States think of the situation? How much can this social instability in Nicaragua affect the United States efforts to stop migration?”
Ms. Chung: We’re very concerned about the grave situation in Nicaragua and we have called on the Nicaraguan Government to immediately release opposition leader Cristiana Chamorro as well as her two colleagues, and we believe that these are trumped up charges and abuse of their rights, and it really is an assault on democratic values and really a way to thwart any kind of free and fair elections later this year.
I think it’s important for Nicaragua to serve their people in the best way through democratic and human rights and all those things that the people demand of their government. And in addition to that, as members of the Organization of American States, following the Inter-American Democratic Charter, all the conditions that are needed so that they can have credible elections later this year.
Moderator: Thank you. That concludes today’s call. I want to thank our officials for joining us and thank all of our callers for participating. If you have any questions about today’s call, you may contact the Miami Media Hub at MiamiHub@state.gov. Thank you and have a good day.