Jun 7, 2021
Kamala Harris & Guatemala President Alejandro Giammattei Press Conference Transcript June 7
Vice President Kamala Harris and President of Guatemala Alejandro Giammattei gave a joint press conference on June 7, 2021. Read the transcript of their briefing speeches here.
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Speaker 1: (00:00)
[foreign language 00:00:00].
President Alejandro Giammattei, the President of the Republic Guatemala. We receive them with honors. And her excellency, Mrs. Kamala Harris, Vice President of the United States of America. We give the floor to President Alejandro Giammattei of Guatemala. Thank you very much. You may take your seats, please. Truth be said, for the government and people of Guatemala, the visit by Madam Vice President of the United States presents to be able to work on a joint agenda with lines of action that we have defined, that our teams have defined prior to this meeting and seeks to accomplish prosperity in our country to ensure that we can create more employment so that we can do go and look into the inner cities of our country with a program of rural development where we will have the support of the United States.
But in relation to that, we discussed several topics, topics to do with the concerns that the United States has concerning the evolution of this country. We shared our points of view and the ways in which we have thought of tackling the different issues and search for openness of their market to give us greater access to the United States to generate prosperity in our countries by introducing necessary changes for migration to become orderly migration. Through H2-A visas and H2-B visas, we believe that we can start a very simple process to alow people to migrate regularly to the United States. We also spoke about the need to support the United States with a returnee center that will be located in the Western part of the country and for which we will join efforts to implement. And in that manner, help to ensure that the flow of persons in the Southern border of the United States be controlled.
We are also working strongly on a family reunification program, legally however, legally so that persons who wish to reunify their families can do so by filling out the paperwork in the consulate and the United States embassy that will have a special section for this. And in that case, we can start regular controlled migration, but particularly whereby we can give to generate opportunities in the historically neglected departments that are at the border with Mexico and that keeps expelling our fellow citizens, for which Madam Vice President has begun contacts of with members of the private sector in the United States that through their companies can establish businesses in our country to create more employment and thus stop migration. I just wish to say to you, Madam Vice President, that is was an honor to have you with us today.
I take your word that you’re going to come back and we will vow together to visit those areas where we need the development. And with your cooperation, starting on ground zero, we can begin to further strengthen the relationship between Guatemala and the United States and we can move forward mile after mile until we can turn this country into a country of opportunities where people which to stay. But particularly, where the hope of staying is realistic because they can find a better future and that will be the foundation for them not to need to migrate. Thank you very much for being with us, Madam Vice President.
Speaker 1: (05:54)
[foreign language 00:05:54].
And now we will listen to her excellency, Mrs. Kamala Harris, Vice President of the United States of America.
Kamala Harris : (05:57)
Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you for warmly welcoming me and our delegation to Guatemala. We had a robust, candid, and a thorough conversation about the many issues that are priorities for each of our countries. The President and I discussed a fundamental belief that most people don’t want to leave home. They don’t want to leave the place where they grew up, where the language they know is spoken, where their culture that they know is present and has been, in this case, for centuries. Most people don’t want to leave where their grandmother lives and when they do it is usually for one of two reasons, because they are fleeing some type of harm or because to stay means that they cannot provide for their essential needs and the needs of their family. The President and I share a firm belief that our responsibility and our capacity is to give people a sense of hope.
Kamala Harris : (07:06)
We talked extensively about this through the many conversations we’ve had, including today. The power of hope, the ability that each of our governments has to give people a sense that help is on the way to let them know that they are seen, that they are heard, that we see their capacity, but we also understand their challenges and their need for support and the resources that any human being needs to be able to survive much less thrive. So that was fundamentally the spirit behind the conversation that we had. And as I mentioned, Mr. President, I believe that our world is interconnected and interdependent and certainly the most recent issues that have plagued our globe, including the pandemic, have made that point clear. Our world is interconnected and interdependent, and therefore what happens abroad is of priority to the United States of America.
Kamala Harris : (08:14)
And that is why I am in Guatemala today and that is why President Joe Biden will travel to Europe later this week. We are renewing our relationships around the globe and our presence around the world. In fact, just last week I shared with the President that the United States will provide as a first donation, 500,000 vaccines to Guatemala. Again, understanding the interdependence, the connection between us, and the importance of looking out for and prioritizing the needs of one’s neighbor. I am proud to report that the agreements between President Giammattei and I have made today will strengthen the security and the prosperity for both the people of Guatemala and the people of the United States. And before we get to the questions, I just want to highlight several of those agreements. First, on the issue of security, it is probably one of the highest priorities for each of our nations. The President and I agreed to continue our work to manage migration at Guatemala’s Northern and Southern borders.
Kamala Harris : (09:29)
We also discussed illicit drugs that are being smuggled and humans who are being trafficked across those borders, undermining the security of both the people of Guatemala and the people of the United States. Our nations have collaborated on these issues and we will create a smuggling and human trafficking task force which will work with local law enforcement to stop these crimes. And I have personally worked on these cases in my career and can say that when we see some of the most vulnerable in our communities being taken advantage of, being sold for profit, being abused, it should be a priority for all of us who care about the human condition and humanity. Second, on economic development, the President and I also discussed the root causes of migration, in particular the lack of economic opportunity for many people here in Guatemala.
Kamala Harris : (10:33)
The United States recognizes that it is both in our interest and reflective of our values to help create that opportunity and to share in economic prosperity. We will launch a young women’s empowerment initiative to increase education and economic opportunities for girls and women. Understanding here in Guatemala, there is a rich tradition of girls and women being a part of the culture and the economy.
Kamala Harris : (11:03)
Girls and women being a part of the culture and the economy with extraordinary skills, and therefore the ability to thrive when seen as someone who can be the source of investment for the economic growth of the entire community.
Kamala Harris : (11:22)
We will also invest in agribusiness and affordable housing and supporting entrepreneurs. President Giammattei has mentioned to me many times today and in previous conversations about his priority around what can happen in terms of the planting of trees and what that can mean in terms of ecology and our environment. Well, recently there’s been a lot of talk about ecopreneurs, entrepreneurs who are focused on climate, who are focused on what might happen, which is to protect our environment, but also see the capacity for jobs and economic development as a connection with that pursuit.
Kamala Harris : (12:02)
I will also continue to work with CEOs around the world to encourage investment in Guatemala. And Mr. President, I look forward to working with you on that. As I shared with you, in Washington, D.C., I recently convened some of our biggest CEOs who have a profound interest for many reasons on supporting the work that happens here and the work that can happen here in Guatemala to, again, uplift folks who may have been overlooked or neglected, but also uplift the natural capacity and resources of this beautiful country.
Kamala Harris : (12:39)
Which brings me to our third area of discussion and agreement. The President and I discussed the importance of anti-corruption and the importance of an independent judiciary. The United States will create an anti-corruption task force, the first of its kind. Our Justice Department, our Treasury Department and our State Department will work together to conduct investigations and train local law enforcement to conduct their own. Our task force will support Guatemalan prosecutors, including [inaudible 00:13:15], and listen. No corruption. Corruption does not no borders, and we want to make sure that this is about transnational crime and we have to follow the money and we have to stop it. And that’s what we intend to do. I can tell you from my work on this issue years ago, follow the money. The underlying reason for so much of what we are seeing in terms of this level and type of corruption is about profit. It is about profit without concern for the damage it creates to real human life, to families, to children, to communities.
Kamala Harris : (13:56)
And I want to emphasize that the goal of our work is to help Guatemalans find hope at home. At the same time, I want to be clear to folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States-Mexico border, do not come. Do not come. The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our border. There are legal methods by which migration can and should occur, but we, as one of our priorities, will discourage illegal migration. And I believe if you come to our border, you will be turned back.
Kamala Harris : (14:49)
So let’s discourage our friends, our neighbors, our family members from embarking on what is otherwise an extremely dangerous journey, where in large part, the only people who benefit are coyotes.
Kamala Harris : (15:07)
And let us do our work together, Mr. President, again, with our mutual commitment of knowing that hope is on the way. And I believe the actions we take together will improve the lives of Guatemalans. And as I meet with Guatemalan community members and leaders throughout this day, I will speak with them on what more can be done.
Kamala Harris : (15:29)
Again, Mr. President, I want to thank you for such a productive conversation, for your role of leadership, and for the work we have yet to do together. Thank you.
Speaker 3: (15:40)
[foreign language 00:15:40]
And now we leave room for questions and answer. Miss Hillary Sanders and the Secretary of Social Communication of the Guatemalan President, [inaudible 00:15:57], will give the floor to the media who are with us.
Speaker 2: (16:11)
Thank you. Our first question will come from Alex Jaffe from The Associated Press.
Alex Jaffe: (16:17)
Sure. Thank you both for taking questions. Madam Vice President, you just spoke about this, you’ve spoken about this in the past, the need to combat corruption to address the root causes of migration, but given President Giammattei’s record on the issue, his criticism and objections to and resistance to anti-corruption reformers in the nation, has he given you any commitments that he will not try to interfere in anti-corruption efforts in the nation? And what makes you believe that you can trust him as a partner on that issue?
Alex Jaffe: (16:49)
And then President Giammattei, what do you say to critics who say that you are in fact part of the problem of corruption in your nation and that you don’t take combating seriously?
Alex Jaffe: (16:58)
And then one more, just because we’re going to Mexico tomorrow, Madam Vice President, there are been questions about why you and President Biden have yet to visit the border, the US Southern border, and I’m wondering if you can answer some of those. Republicans have charged that you’re not taking the situation there seriously. So how do you respond to that criticism and when will that visit come?
Kamala Harris : (17:20)
So on the issue of corruption, as you know, the President of the United States recently issued a very clear statement about where we as the United States stand on this issue. It was unambiguous that we will look to root out corruption wherever it exists because we know it is not in the best interest of a democracy.
Kamala Harris : (17:41)
The President speaks, the United States President, Joe Biden, speaks a lot about this, and actually President Giammattei and I spoke about that today. If we are truly to have and fight for democracies, especially in a world where increasingly they are under attack, one essential ingredient of our priorities must be to fight corruption. It erodes the confidence that people have in their government and its leaders. It compromises the ability of any country to maximize its natural resources, to help and support its citizenry.
Kamala Harris : (18:16)
On the issue of any corruption and on the issue of Guatemala, that has been one of our highest priorities in terms of the focus that we have placed here after the President asked me to take on this issue of focusing on this region of the world. And the work we are doing in furtherance then of that priority is the work of, again, creating an anti-corruption task force, bringing a renewed effort on behalf of the United States Department of Justice, the United States Treasury Department, the United States State Department to work collaboratively to identify, to support investigations, and ultimately, to support prosecutions and consequences for those who would endeavor to engage in corrupt behaviors.
Kamala Harris : (19:04)
Furthermore, in bringing together the CEOs that we have been doing in the United States, and convening them, they’ve made very clear that when it comes to the private sector, be it there or I might venture to say here or anywhere around the world, they want to know if they’re going to put their hard-earned resources into any issue or initiative, that it will go to its intended beneficiary, and that means going to the people who need that support and not corrupt hands.
Kamala Harris : (19:41)
There are many reasons why this is one of our highest priorities, which I think the people of Guatemala know well and the people of the United States understand well. If we are to be effective, if we are to be true to our principles, we must root out corruption wherever it exists, and that is one of our highest priorities for that reason.
Kamala Harris : (20:01)
On the issue of Republican’s political attacks or criticism, or even concerns. The reason I am here in Guatemala as my first trip as Vice President of the United States is because this is one of our highest priorities and I came here to be here on the ground to speak with the leader of this nation, around what we can do in a way that is significant, is tangible and has real results. And I will continue to be focused on that kind of work as opposed to grand gestures.
Speaker 2: (20:43)
[foreign language 00:20:43]
Fredy Morales of [inaudible 00:21:00].
Fredy Morales: (21:00)
[foreign language 00:21:00]
Madam Vice President, Mr. President, we know that several topics, important topics have been addressed in your bilateral meeting, however we would like to know what has been the most important progress obtained as a result of this bilateral meeting.
President Alejandro Giammattei: (21:10)
[foreign language 00:21:10]
Thank you. Well, for us, I think that we have addressed a number of topics that are of concern to both countries. Well, one is to accomplish the economic development of the country, starting with the areas that have normally been neglected [inaudible 00:21:28] far departed from development that are very much the areas that expel our people, the departments of [foreign language 00:21:30].
We made a presentation to Madam Vice President about the causes that lead to migration, and it has been determined that the number of people who are leaving our country arguing security problems is a very small number. People leave due to lack of-
… is a very small number. People leaved you to lack of opportunities that are in municipalities and areas of greater migration coincide with areas where poverty is greater. So we need to fight poverty.
We also spoke strongly on how to combat corruption. A topic that is a matter of concern to both governments that is something that structurally has faced with many barriers to control in the country. Our commitment is to improve the capability by providing financial support to the public prosecution, as we have already done, to ensure that we have public prosecution offices in all the departments, in all the municipalities of the country. The Attorney General of this country has received these resources and today we have covered in all 340 municipalities, which is a first step to ensure that the judicial process is strengthened and included identifying the greater needs and that is why we have prosecution offices in all 340 municipalities.
We spoke at length about the topic of corruption that comes from drug trafficking and how important it is for us to continue to work together in the fight against the drug trafficking because one of the main causes for corruption in this country has historically been drug trafficking. And if we want to view it that way, this corruption has reached many sectors, including society that many times are the cover to prevent us reaching places where an aircraft landed where there are drugs and there is also response to the needs of these persons who are protecting drug traffickers, which should not happen but rather they should have a way to survive, but to have a surplus of production that they can sell.
Today what we need to do is fight corruption in every sense, not only in the executive branch where we already have the office to fight corruption and is independent, but also fight in the entire government apparatus from city halls and up, so that through social control we ensure that the works have cost what they say they have cost and that the works have been constructed. Actually we have spoken at large with this with Madam Vice President and we celebrate that proposal that we made as we were elected with our first visit to Washington DC.
Before President Biden and Madam Harris government took office we asked the Secretary of Justice of the United States that we create an office that to help us to follow the money, and particularly ask the United States that the assets which are seized in the United States which are the product corruption, drug trafficking, and illegal actions in which are in the United States of persons who have committed these crimes in Guatemala, have the visa officers send them back to Guatemala to be used to strengthen further criminal prosecution in our justice system.
Speaker 4: (25:46)
Our next question will come from Ed O’Keefe from CBS.
Speaker 5: (25:50)
Madam Vice President, good to see you. I know corruption has been a big focus of your work on this issue. In recent months, you talked a little bit about it. I’m curious more specifically, do you consider the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, or any other in this region to be corrupt? And you just told people in this region, “Do not come. Do not come.” Would it be fair to perceive the Biden administration’s work on stemming illegal immigration to be a failure? If because they’re so desperate, they still keep coming.
Speaker 5: (26:24)
And I’m curious, as you stand here in this room, throw one more at you, if you could reflect on the history that you’re making today. You’re the first American female vice-president to represent the country outside the country, in a region of the world where there aren’t many senior female leaders.
Speaker 5: (26:46)
[foreign language 00:26:46]
My colleague asked, what you are saying. They say that you, President of Guatemala, are part of problem of corruption in this region. What do you think about that President Giammattei?
Kamala Harris : (27:03)
Thank you Ed.
Kamala Harris : (27:06)
So on the issue of corruption, the conversation that I had with President Giammattei today was very frank, and very candid, and I think that this is a quality that he and I appreciate in each other. We don’t have time for glossing over concerns that we have. And so we did have a very frank conversation about the importance of an independent judiciary. We had a conversation about the importance of a strong civil society. I expressed concerns about those issues, including what is the potential here for tax reform, something like tax reform, which is very much connected with a lot of the concerns that we have.
Kamala Harris : (27:57)
And so we had a candid conversation as it relates to those concerns. And I do believe that with the work that we are doing, some of it which is new, there’ve been many attempts at collaboration between the United States and this region of the world over many years, as you know. Some have worked some have not. There are aspects of what we are doing now that are new, and also are based on this new era, again where there’s, I think, a greater appreciation for the interdependence and the interconnection.
Kamala Harris : (28:28)
And so we are creating this task force to address corruption. We are working on a taskforce that is about human smuggling. We are doing the work of requiring certain progress be made if we are going to attract US investment, private investment in this region. And that is also a new approach, a relatively new approach, which is to bring together the private sector, understanding that the United States government cannot alone do the kind of work that we believe we have collectively the capacity to do. So we have good reason to believe that we can have an impact.
Kamala Harris : (29:09)
And in addition, there was a question about what’s happening in terms of immigration as a general matter. Ale Mayorkas, of course is the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security is going to be working on, through CVP, a relationship with Guatemalan border authorities on what we have named the Mobile Tactical Interdiction Unit. Again, focused on what needs to happen to put law enforcement resources as appropriate onto the issue of what is going on in terms of really abusive and criminal behaviors among people who are predatory in nature, and are preying on vulnerable people.
Kamala Harris : (29:55)
Your final point, I’m honored to represent my country here in Guatemala. I am honored to be here in a nation that has a history that goes back thousands of years. As I was walking through this building and appreciating the Mayan art that adorns the walls knowing of the work that women and girls are doing, and have yet the capacity to do in Guatemala. And to the extent that I can have any impact based on my gender, and the fact that I am the first, I welcome that. I welcome showing anyone, whatever your race or gender, that you may be the first to do anything, make sure you’re not the last, and in that way, let’s pave a path where we create an opportunity for others to become the first in their family, or their community to do those things that perhaps others didn’t think they were capable of, but God has given them that capacity to achieve. And with a little help, they will.
More than information, the social network carry misinformation. I would like to turn this question back to you. How many cases of corruption have I been accused? I can give you the answer to that. Zero. We are in an honest fight against corruption, but corruption understood as an action which is multidimensional. Corruption is not only of politicians, corruption also involves individuals who obtain money from other countries to come do things here and we do not know who sent it to them and what it is being used for.
Corruption is also in those persons who when they are stopped by a police agent they offer a bribe. And we have been analyzing ways to face all of this before we came to government, and we are now analyzing it with presidential permission where there is accountability, wherefore the first time in this country, in the web pages of the Ministry of Finance we have pages that outline transparency and where you can see any loan, any kind of money.
And it’s use, we did away with the secret trusts. It had been for years a secret how they were managed. Now all the information is public to be able to respond to people who speak without evidence. Well, I would spend my whole day speaking about that…
Well, I will spend my whole day speaking about that, because there are people who make affirmations without evidence. And there are others who speak negatively about evidence. We know what we’re doing and I believe that, having reached the understandings that we’ve reached with Madam Vice President, show that we have no interest or desire to hide anything. Quite the contrary.
The more international certification there is that we are doing the right thing, well we will continue to get rid of that narrative, that very different narrative in the united States from the narrative here. And we have to fight that. And we are going to fight by doing. We’re doing. We’re not going say. We’re going to do. Building, not building ideological trenches because hunger has no ideology. Because human hunger and development needs more than ideology. You need facts. We have told the United States government that the Guatemalan government is not interested in getting one single penny for us. But we are interested in working in public policies that transfer those resources effectively, significantly, and without the cost of an intermediary to ensure that these funds get to the communities where we can bring about changes in the way of living and the way of producing and help them with our own agencies set to seek markets to help them move ahead.
Regarding the prosecution, which is what your predecessor asked, as I understand, correct, there’s a trend in this country. There is a Judicial independence. We have not meddled in the way the public ministry and the attorney general manage their business. That is her matter. How the Supreme Court of Justice manages the court system is up to them. How the executive branch manages our resources, our matter. And we are doing that with accountability and by opening our doors to ensure people can see what we’re spending the money on.
There’s a page called [inaudible 00:35:35]. Go there and you will find more than 3, 500 works that are in construction at this time that tells you who was awarded the work so what is the degree of financial progress, the degree of physical progress, and anyone can go and look at the pictures to see that they actually belong to that work. And we can, through social audit, get rid of the mindset that the politicians have to be corrupt just because they are politicians. That’s not necessarily so. And proof of that is that we are working very hard to take cases that we detect and execute the very branch to the court system for prosecution. One last question by Juan Pablo Garrido from [foreign language 00:36:25].
Juan Pablo Garrido: (36:25)
Thank you. Good afternoon President Giammattei, I would like to know whether, in the framework of this bilateral meeting, you took advantage of the opportunity to request TPS from the U.S. and Vice President Harris? I would like to hear what might be the position of your government today?
Very well. We’ll get into TPS. We elevated a request to Madam Vice President, particularly in view of the affects [inaudible 00:36:56] and volcano eruptions last year. And we need them to help us to stop deportation for some time. And, yes. We asked the U.S. government for TPS so that we can begin to focus on development, but also by helping our migrants in the United States not only to make money and send it, but also to give them the financial literacy so that they can establish and grow companies and enterprises here in Guatemala so that they can come back to this country to create opportunities with what they have learned abroad. Madam.
Kamala Harris : (37:44)
One of the areas of focus for us is the issue of hunger, hurricanes, pandemic, and what these acute factors have caused in terms of the reason for the migration that we are seeing. And, when we look at then the capacity that we have to give support for people to be able to stay, we look at, as an example, what I mentioned earlier, the Young Women’s Empowerment Initiative. In fact, Samantha Power, who is the new head of USAID is putting a lot of attention into the capacity we have to support the indigenous community here. It’s a big area of focus for me, given the fact, and I’ve talked about this with the president, that we see that there are a lot of people from those regions of Guatemala that are leaving, not because they want to, but because they have no resources.
Kamala Harris : (38:38)
So, this is the predominant approach that we are taking, which is to look at the root causes and the acute causes and deal with those in a productive way. And many of our initiatives, as I said earlier, are new initiatives. These are efforts that have not been tried in the past, which we believe will be quite productive, again, when we approach it in a collaborative way, not only from the U.S. government’s perspective of an olive government approach, but bringing in the private sector, bringing in philanthropy, bringing in civil society, both here and Guatemala and around the world, and internationalizing our effort. For example, I have talked with the Prime Minister of Japan, the leader of South Korea who have all agreed to join us in our focus on Guatemala. And that is the way that we are approaching our work.
Speaker 6: (39:43)
Honor as President of Guatemala, Alejandro Giammattei, leaves and madam Kamala Harris, Vice President of the United States of America.