August 11, 2022

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Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Panamanian Foreign Minister Erika Mouynes, and Panamanian Public Security Minister Juan Manuel Pino Forero at a Joint Press Availability

18 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Panama City, Panama

Westin Playa Bonita Panama

MR VASQUEZ:  (Via interpreter) A very good morning to you all, and welcome to the press conference called by Erika Mouynes, Minister of Foreign Affairs, after the ministerial on migration where the national government talks about joint actions to deal with the growing phenomenon of irregular migration at the highest level.  It is my honor to leave you with Minister Erika Mouynes, Minister of Foreign Affairs.

FOREIGN MINISTER MOUYNES:  (Via interpreter) Good morning, everyone.  Thank you very much for your interest.  Before getting to the questions, I would like to establish what I think is a vital agreement or vital achievement of the ministerial meeting held in Panama, the great welcome at which this has been received at the highest level – ministers of foreign affairs, defense, development banks, international organizations – 31 delegations were here.  Their very presence is a show of support, and the involvement of the United States, the declared destination of most migrants who cross through our country, has been fundamental.

Over a year ago, when we made a call to attention about the unprecedented increase regarding migrants crossing our borders, we were facing a regional migration crisis.  The cooperation between countries of origin, of transit, and destination countries for transcontinental migration was shown to be an efficient alternative to combat this unstoppable phenomenon, but we cannot relax.  Reality is what it is, and we need a regional strategy that is ongoing when facing these issues.  We must continue with the work that we have started.

Mr. Secretary.

MR VASQUEZ:  (Via interpreter)  We will now hear from His Excellency Secretary Blinken, Secretary of State from the United States of America.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you very much.  It is a pleasure to be in Panama, the bridge of the world and the heart of the universe, with Foreign Minister Mouynes, Minister of Security Pino, and my friend and colleague Secretary Mayorkas.  I also want to start by thanking our outstanding embassy team here in Panama City, including our chargé d’affaires, Stewart Tuttle, for their great work in sustaining and strengthening our friendship with Panama.   So we have just concluded a set of ministerial meetings to discuss a challenge that affects all 22 countries represented here: managing migration in our hemisphere.  Precisely because it affects all of us, this is a challenge that we have to solve together, and that was at the heart of our discussions today.

Here in Panama we talked about some of the most urgent aspects of this issue, including helping stabilize and strengthen communities that are hosting migrants and refugees; creating more legal pathways to reinforce safe, orderly, and humane migration; dealing with the root causes of irregular migration by growing economic opportunity, fighting corruption, increasing citizen security, combating the climate crisis, improving democratic governance that’s responsive to people’s needs.

Yesterday Panama and the United States signed an arrangement to increase our bilateral cooperation across all of these issues.  This is the second one we’ve made.  The first was with Costa Rica.  We hope to announce more in the coming weeks and months.  This is how we deepen our coordination and this is how we make more progress in helping vulnerable people, support communities, and protect the security of our borders.  Our work together is going to continue at the Summit of the Americas in June, where we hope that leaders from across the region will be able to lay out shared principles for a shared response to regional migration and forced displacement.

I also want to mention the international organizations that joined us here in Panama.  They are critical partners in everything that we’re working to do – the International Organization for Migration, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNICEF, the World Bank – and also equally important partners, multilateral development banks, they joined us here as well, including the Andean Development Corporation, the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.  This is the kind of cross-cutting coordination that the challenges of irregular migration demand.  We’re grateful for everyone’s participation and everyone’s contributions.

I want to thank the Government of Panama for being a leader, a partner on this issue, and for bringing all of us together for two days of what were productive talks, productive planning, and action.  As President Cortizo and I discussed yesterday, the partnership between Panama and the United States is one of the strongest that we have in the Americas.  Our countries work together every single day on the issues that matter most to our people.  Our economic relationship is strong, with more than $13 billion in bilateral trade between us that’s supporting thousands of jobs in both our countries, and 72 percent of all goods that travel through the Panama Canal are either going to or coming from the United States.

We’re proud to be the largest humanitarian donor to international organizations in Panama, and their work complements Panama’s own assistance to migrants and refugees.  We’re working closely on counterterrorism and counternarcotics through our security cooperation and combating organized crime and money laundering through law enforcement cooperation.

We’re also fighting COVID-19 together.  More than 70 percent of Panama’s population is fully vaccinated, a remarkable achievement that that the United States was proud to support with a donation of more than 500,000 Pfizer vaccine doses.

We applaud Panama’s leadership on climate, including the work that you’ve done on reforestation and decreasing energy emissions.

And our countries stand together to support shared values here at home and around the world.  We value Panama’s strong voice in the region on democracy.  We stand with Panama’s voice to strengthen its own democratic governance, fighting corruption.  And we appreciate how Panama stood firmly against Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine and affirmed the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity that lie at the heart of the United Nations Charter.

Yesterday, Secretary Mayorkas and I visited the Panama Canal, something that I’ve – like so many millions of people – read about, studied.  But when you see it, as I did for the first time, it really gives you a – gives you pause at the extraordinary feat of human engineering, human ingenuity, but also the powerful symbol of the historical partnership between our countries, a reminder that Panama is at the center of so much global economic activity and connection – a gateway between the continents and oceans, a leader in the region and beyond, a true friend and partner to the United States.  And for that, we’re very thankful.  Thank you.

MR VASQUEZ:  (Via interpreter) His Excellency Pino, Minister of Public Safety.

SECURITY MINISTER PINO:  (Via interpreter) Good morning, everyone.  First of all, I would like to thank you for this time that we have spent together while working out in the field and working bilateral meetings and in multilateral meetings as well.  We have tackled this issue from many angles.  I thank Secretary Mayorkas for going with us to (inaudible), which is (inaudible) as has been said, because it is a way of understanding what happens to migrants as they travel through Panama.

First of all, Panama, in order to strengthen the willingness to work on this issue of global concern, migration, signed a letter of intent where it reaffirms its willingness to continue to deal with this issue on the – at the bilateral level with the United States, where we’d have an historic relationship in the area of security, which must be supported increasingly every day because these issues must be dealt with in a timely manner quickly, because these are issues that affect the future.  Migration is here due to changes that are happening at the global level, so I appreciate this visit.  And Panama here reaffirms its willingness to continue to work on this via the signing of the letter of intent.

Finally, I led issue number two, the working group for security, with ministers and vice ministers of security as well as delegations of (inaudible) countries who are with us here.  It is clearly reflected – we saw the good intentions – and for the first time, I was able to see how at the multilateral level we tackle this scourge.  We saw examples of how different countries deal with the issue.  And now we must bring our efforts together and act quickly because migratory flows will continue and will increase.

We saw the need to promote stabilization, control measures, awareness campaigns, and preventing irregular migration.  And the risks that are linked to this phenomenon – transit routes must be safer.  We must harmonize migratory policies.  We must preserve the environment.  We need to look at new schemes and more work-related migration schemes – traceability – we need technology and tools; we need to exchange information in a timely fashion.  And we must improve our cooperation in order to improve security in the region.

During my time as minister of security and during my career in security agencies, I’ve never seen a meeting that was as aligned around one single issue – a common issue – where countries have come to an agreement.  We have set forth a route, but this route and the destination – we must travel this route quickly.  And I can say and affirm that there is a great deal of willingness on behalf of the countries who participated, and I appreciate that.  I appreciate that call that was made through the Panamanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, because this is a golden opportunity, and we must continue to build on this issue for a better future for our countries.  Thank you all very much.

MR VASQUEZ:  (Via interpreter) Words now from Secretary of DHS Alejandro Mayorkas from the U.S.

SECRETARY MAYORKAS:  Good morning.  Our gratitude to President Cortizo, Ministers Mouynes and Pino for convening, hosting, and welcoming us here in beautiful Panama.  By bringing us together from across this region, we are demonstrating the commitment shared by each one of us and our nations to resolve, to address our joint hemispheric challenge of irregular migration, its impacts, its complexities, and the factors causing it.

These issues have tested our governments and our citizens in the United States, Panama, and throughout the Americas.  And this task has been made more difficult and more urgent in the face of an ongoing pandemic, natural disasters worsened by climate change, threats to public safety and economic security, and much more.

None of these matters exists in isolation.  Each requires creative and unified solutions.  All of them demand our cooperation and our partnership.  The presence of leaders from so many countries at this ministerial demonstrates the urgency of this issue for our entire hemisphere and reinforces our shared determination to engage in this kind of collaboration.

For the Department of Homeland Security that I am proud to represent, our immediate goals are crystal-clear: think regionally about stemming migration flows through enhanced prevention and enforcement; create viable legal pathways in the spirit of regional responsibility-sharing; address root causes by investing in the stabilization of communities that need it most; foster and grow legitimate trade and travel between our countries that will help our communities prosper; and attack the shared dangers of transnational crime.

To meet these objectives throughout this week’s meetings, ongoing consultations, and building on bilateral and regional arrangements and agreements, we will do what we can to strengthen access to stronger protections and legal pathways for refugees and vulnerable migrants.  We will focus on ways to help prevent these individuals and families from experiencing the desperation that drives people to embark on these dangerous journeys in the first place.

We will seize the opportunity presented by this ministerial to identify the support and resources that will help stabilize communities affected by migration and strengthen humane border management across the region. We will build on the growing momentum in our hemisphere and toward a regional responsibility-sharing and a recognition that each country must do its part to address irregular migration in our region, which involves so much human suffering.  This is one step in a larger effort.

One of our next opportunities, as my friend and colleague Secretary Blinken stated, will come at the Summit of the Americas in my hometown of Los Angeles, California, where we will focus on the theme of building a resilient, sustainable, and equitable future in our hemisphere.  But before then, now, we will act.  We will tackle the shared challenges, seize the opportunities, and begin to realize our shared goals and underlying values.

Thank you once again for your welcome and partnership.

MR VASQUEZ:  (Via interpreter) Thank you.  Now (inaudible) we will open our Q&A session for different media outlets.  First, we will (inaudible) Isaías Cedeño from TVN.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) Hello, good morning.  I would like to know specifically what the promises are that will be undertaken by the U.S. (inaudible) in order to talk on migration as countries of origin where this problem originates (inaudible).  We haven’t had – Venezuela, Cuba, and Haiti, for example, have not been present at this meeting.

SECRETARY MAYORKAS:  So our plans have a number of different components to them.  One critical first step is reflected in the ministerial that we have convened today that has brought together so many different nations.  And that is to address the root causes of why individuals flee their homes, leave their countries of origin for lands that are unfamiliar to them – the process of stabilization.

Secondly, to build legal, orderly, and humane pathways so individuals do not need to place their lives, their well-beings, the well-beings of their loved ones, in the hands of smugglers and traffickers who only seek to exploit them for profit.

Third is to develop humanitarian programs for individuals already resident in the countries other than those of their origin so that we can settle them in a stable and prosperous manner, address their needs, present them with the opportunities of a stable life in their new homes.

Lastly, of course, in the United States, we have significant humanitarian programs, the asylum program.  But we also take pride in being not only a nation of immigrants but a nation of laws.  Those who qualify for relief under our nation’s laws will be provided a home in the United States and an ability to resettle in the States.  Those who do not qualify will be repatriated to their countries of origin, and so to give integrity to our system and to stand as a nation of laws as well as a nation of relief.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  And I really have very little to add because Secretary Mayorkas covered it so well.  I would only emphasize one point because it’s really what brought us together here today, and that is this sense of shared responsibility.  What is very powerful in the meeting today, in work that was done in the lead-up to this meeting including by Panama and Foreign Minister Mouynes, is building on that shared – sense of shared responsibility.

We know that virtually every aspect of this problem demands coordination, cooperation, consultation, and not only among governments but among international organizations, international financial institutions, civil society, and so on.  That’s very much the spirit of what took place today.  It’s the spirit that will animate the Summit of the Americas and its own focus on migration.

And it is, I think, the difference-maker because to underscore Secretary Mayorkas’s points, we have two challenges.  One is dealing with this effectively in a sustainable way, and that involves going at the root causes.  What is it that is driving people to make the decision to leave their homes, to leave their families, to leave their countries, to leave everything they know to make an incredibly hazardous journey with all the dangers that go along with that?  What is it that drives them to do that?  How do we address those challenges so that people feel the confidence that their future can be in the country that they come from?

But we know that that takes time.  It takes sustained effort.  It’s not like flipping a light switch.  But in the meantime, we have to be able to address the problem as it presents to us right now, and that goes with some of the practical cooperation that we’re taking, including through the work that we did today, including through the bilateral work that we’ve done with Panama on a new arrangement that we have for enhancing our coordination and cooperation on dealing with migration.

So we have to be able to deal with the short-term challenge even as we address the long-term drivers, which is the only sustainable way to get at this.  And all of that comes together in enhanced coordination, cooperation, shared responsibility.

MR PRICE:  Our first question goes to Alfonso Fernandez Sanchez of EFE.

QUESTION:  Hello, Secretary Blinken.  The U.S. Government has underscored the need to tackle the root causes of migration in the Northern Triangle.  Do you think these countries are making enough efforts?  And particularly, are you worried about the decisions against freedom of speech and press in El Salvador by President Bukele?  Do you think he’s going down the authoritarian slope?

(Via interpreter) (Inaudible) and do you think that the U.S. is complying with all that they are supposed to comply with these migratory things?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Right.  First, what we are experiencing in our own hemisphere is multifaceted, and of course, there are challenges that are clear in the so-called Northern Triangle countries, in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, but also Nicaragua, Venezuela, Haiti, Cuba, and then people now coming into our hemisphere from beyond who are also on a migratory path, including coming to the United States.  So we’re looking at this comprehensively and looking at what we can do together to meet the challenge, wherever it comes from.

With regard to the Northern Triangle countries, we’re working with each of them in different ways to address both short-term challenges but also these long-term drivers.  I would note that Vice President Harris, among other things, led a very significant call to action from the private sector to make new investments in the Northern Triangle countries.  And since that call to action, I think we’ve seen something like $1.2 billion in additional investment that, over time, as it takes root, will create new opportunities for people and help take away some of what’s driving them to leave, which is the lack of economic opportunity.  But it has to be comprehensive.  Economic opportunity, governance, combating corruption, dealing with insecurity – all of these things are vital.

But I think it’s also fair to say that none of the countries in question, of course, can do this alone.  The demands are extraordinary, so this is where all of us come into play, but it’s also where the international financial institutions, as well as international organizations, come into play.  And bringing all of that together with the goodwill and intentions of the governments in question, I think we can make a real difference.

When it comes to El Salvador more exclusively, look, we have a strong partnership with the people of El Salvador.  El Salvador has experienced setbacks in democratic governance, in the separation of powers, the rule of law.  And we look to President Bukele to make progress in addressing some of those setbacks.

We also urge El Salvador to implement the state of emergency in a manner that is consistent with human rights.  We can tackle violence and crime while also protecting civil rights and fundamental freedoms.  These two things are not in opposition to each other.  I would note, for our part, that the United States has provided tens of millions of dollars recently in funding to deal with the problem posed by gangs.  We continue to cooperate and coordinate closely, including also with a number of pending extradition requests of gang leaders, to help address the problems posed by criminality and gangs.

FOREIGN MINISTER MOUYNES:  (Via interpreter)  Regarding the participation of the U.S., I believe first of all I would say that their participation, as I said before, because the U.S. is the destination of most of the migrants, their participation here is fundamental, but also not only from the work that we have been doing – I started working and talking about this about a year ago when I called an alarm because of the increase of migrants that we were seeing, and the ally that has helped us all the way has been the U.S.  And what we are doing now is to show the result of that working together with all the countries in the region, but the U.S. is a leader in this.

I think that the fact that we are here together, we have security, foreign policy on both sides of the country, because these are the priorities.  For us, migration and – are issues for us and for the U.S., and it’s also a priority for the security issue for Panama and for the U.S.

MR VASQUEZ:  (Via interpreter)  Adames from SerTV.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter)  Good afternoon.  We are here live, and this is for the foreign minister.  This is the third meeting held in this country to deal with irregular migration.  However, how does financing work together with multilateral support in the area of migration?  And what is the agreement that will be arrived at as a result of this meeting?

FOREIGN MINISTER MOUYNES:  (Via interpreter)  (In progress) meeting, because when you were talking specifically about the root causes and how to settle populations, infrastructure – infrastructure creates prosperity.  It’s – it creates development, and that is what we need to strive for.  And in order to do that, we need to get them involved, to get their commitment so they hear reality, so they hear what is going on in each country to have specific proposals drafted, to involve the private sector.

So they need to be a part of this exercise.  We have three of the most important banks represented here, as well as international organizations.  This is the way to work together and to create regional projects little by little to create the development that we need.

MR PRICE:  Priscilla Alvarez of CNN.

QUESTION:  Secretary Mayorkas, in light of the increase of Cubans at the U.S.-Mexico border, what does the U.S. hope to accomplish in migration talks with Cuba this week?  And is there consideration within the administration to delay the end of Title 42?

And for Secretary Blinken, on Ukraine.  Russia and Ukraine say a humanitarian corridor has been established for Ukrainians who are women, children, and elderly to leave Mariupol.  Does the U.S. urge Ukrainians to depart the city that way?  Is there reason to believe it is a safe exit and is the U.S. helping in those efforts?  Thank you.

SECRETARY MAYORKAS:  Thank you very much.  I don’t want to get ahead of the dialogue between the United States and Cuba, but as everyone knows, we have had migration accords with the country of Cuba for many, many years.  Those were discontinued, and we will explore the possibility of resuming that.  And that is a reflection of our commitment to legal, orderly, and humane pathways so individuals, including Cubans, do not take, for example, to the seas, which is an extraordinarily perilous journey.

Title 42 – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a while ago now that the use of Title 42, which is a public health authority and not an immigration policy, will discontinue as of May 23rd, and we are in the Department of Homeland Security and throughout the government planning accordingly.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  With regard to Ukraine and the situation in Mariupol and humanitarian corridors, a few things.  First, what the world witnessed just a couple of weeks ago when the receding Russian tide from Bucha revealed what was left in its wake in terms of death, destruction, atrocities – we can only anticipate that when this tide also, at some point, recedes from Mariupol we’re going to see far worse, if that’s possible to imagine.

So the conditions there, the situation there as a result of this Russian aggression are truly horrific.  And of course, we want to see people who are in harm’s way, if they’re able to, leave it safely and securely.  The judgment on whether the humanitarian corridor established to do that from Mariupol is safe and secure is one ultimately that the Ukrainian Government is going to make.  We will – we’re certainly assisting in that process, giving our own evaluations and assessments.  And ultimately the decision to leave is going to be a burden on the people themselves to make that very difficult decision.

What gives pause is the fact that there have been agreements on humanitarian corridors established before that have fallen apart very, very quickly, if not immediately, principally because the security has been violated by Russian forces.  And so people leaving, believing that they can do so safely and securely, were fired upon.

So this is a very, very difficult decision to make, to evaluate not only whether what’s been agreed to, if something’s been agreed to, is safe and secure, but whether Russia will actually live up to whatever obligations it’s undertaken to make sure that people can leave safely and securely.  Again, this is for the Government of Ukraine to decide.  We’ll do anything we can to try to inform that decision.

MR VASQUEZ:  (Via interpreter) Colleagues, with that question, then, we bring to a close today’s press conference after the ministerial conference on migration.  Once again, we would like to thank you very much, thank you for your professional coverage of this event.  I wish you all a great day.

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