Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
Mexico City, Mexico
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for this interview for El Financiero/Bloomberg.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It’s good to be with you. Thank you.
QUESTION: Especially today where we have heard both from the Mexican Government, from Secretary Marcelo Ebrard and from you trying to outline what this new relationship between Mexico and the United States is going to look like, and it’s been interesting to listen to the statements being made and reading the document that was published today, this new agreement that is supposed to replace the Iniciativa Mérida. So I guess my first question is: There’s so many areas that it appears that President Biden and President Andrés Manuel López Obrador may have different visions of what this relationship should look like. Could you just kind of explain to us or just outline what are the areas where we absolutely know that they’re in agreement, particularly when it has to do with border issues?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I actually think there’s a tremendous amount of shared vision between the two presidents. But let me say this: We’ve been working closely together between our governments for the last nine months, almost ever since our administration took office, and we have built up a tremendous amount of trust and also very practical cooperation. Of course, we’ve been dealing with migration —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: — and the challenges that it poses together. But very important, we – the two presidents agreed very early on that we would do two things to reflect the incredible breadth and depth of the relationship. We would renew our economic dialogue and look at ways to increase economic cooperation, trade, investment, especially focusing on underserved communities and also looking, for example, at how we can build a strong supply chain that connects our countries.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We’ve done a lot of work there, very productive. And the second piece was security, and ultimately this is about protecting citizens in both of our countries. And what we focused on is taking a different approach. Mérida had been in existence for 13 years.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It produced some good things, but every strategy needs to change, to evolve to account for different challenges. And this approach that we’ve taken together is much more comprehensive. Yes, law enforcement is very important and we’re going to modernize it. But we also have to be and we are investing in our people, in giving them greater opportunities so that they don’t look to crime, look to drugs. The United States has obligations when it comes to trying to reduce the demand for drugs, which feeds insecurity. We have to do more when it comes to weapons that are crossing the border from north to south. We’re working on that. But we’re also looking at new ways to get at the cartels, including disrupting their finances, working on that together.
So all of this taken together is a much more, as we would say, holistic approach, and the two presidents very much share that vision.
QUESTION: Because the president, President Manuel López Obrador, has taken a position ever since he was a candidate that his strategy for – his law enforcement strategy is abrazos y no balazos, which is “hugs and not bullets.” And it seems to translate in not going after these criminal organizations that are trafficking particularly fentanyl into the United States. So when I look at the agreement that was presented today, acuerdo bicentenario, I guess the question is: How much of Mérida is still in that agreement and how important is law enforcement when trying to establish where the resources are going to go?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Law enforcement is a fundamental pillar of the – of the agreement, but, as I said, there are other pillars which are also vitally important that recognize that we have to approach this comprehensively. But, for example, you talked about fentanyl.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We met with President López Obrador this morning. We had a really, I think, significant and important exchange. And one of the things that he said was that the drug problem, while there’s a demand problem on the U.S. side, increasingly there is a problem in Mexico itself, including with fentanyl. It’s something that he talked about, and he talked about the ravages that fentanyl is having in Mexico as well as in the United States, and a very specific plan to try to deal with that together.
QUESTION: So when I look at this plan, I guess the big question mark I have, and I’m trying to understand: How much of this plan is going to have short-term results in those areas that are politically very sensitive in the United States, which includes this uncontrolled migration crossing through Mexico, trying to reach the United States? And what – and how is that cooperation going to take place when you look at this, the agreement?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So I think there are two things here. First, when it comes to security broadly, what we’ve agreed to do – we now have this strategy and the approach. Between now and December, we’re going to be working on putting together the specific steps to actually implement the strategy, and we’re also going to have metrics so that we can measure whether we’re making progress. So between now and December we have a lot of work to do, then we’ll begin actually implementing the things that we’ve agreed on. It will take time to show concrete results, but there is a clear roadmap going forward with agreement on what we need to do.
Second, with regard to migration, there’s been I think more cooperation and coordination than I’ve ever experienced these last months between Mexico and the United States because we’re dealing with an immediate challenge that is actually unlike anything we’ve seen. We have pressure in terms of irregular migration, obviously, coming from the Northern Triangle countries – El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras. We have pressure coming from Venezuela, we have pressure coming from Haiti – both Haiti itself and also Haitian communities that have been living in Chile and Brazil – a lot of this fueled by the economic crisis that came out of COVID-19.
And so there are two things that are happening. One, there’s been very intense and day-in, day-out cooperation between the United States and Mexico to deal with the immediate challenge. But, equally important, there’s a recognition by the two of us that we have to do two other things. We have to deal more effectively with the drivers of irregular migration. That takes time, but we’re working together on doing that so that people actually have opportunity at home and don’t feel that the only choice they have is to take an incredibly hazardous journey, put their lives on the line, and then not get into the United States in any event.
The other thing, though, that we also recognize and that we’re going to do together is there has to be greater regional coordination and cooperation, a greater sense of shared responsibility among all of the countries in the region.
QUESTION: Talking about Central America and Latin America. Right.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Beyond Central America, but it goes to Costa Rica, to Panama; it goes to Brazil, to Chile. And together we are working on building that kind of cooperation and coordination.
QUESTION: Let me ask you this, then: When you look at this agreement, do we have any sense of how much resources we’re talking about? I know you have to go and negotiate this in Congress. And what we hear from the Republicans – some legislators are just going to be very focused on how does this agreement resolve fentanyl and the immigration concerns. Do we have any sense how this is going to finally work out and how much money we’re talking about?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, what President Biden has talked about and what will be reflected in the budgets that he puts forward is when – just when it comes to the Northern Triangle countries, making investments of about $4 billion over four years, which is very significant; working through different institutions, not just the governments, because in some cases it’s very challenging given corruption and other problems. But making the kinds of investments, especially in economic opportunity – jobs – so that, again, people have – one of our colleagues in Central America says there should be a right to remain. That is —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: And that’s very important, but we have to make that real, and these kinds of investments, especially creating opportunity, much of it has to be done through the private sector. Creating the conditions for private sector investment – that produces jobs, that creates opportunity, that creates confidence in people that they can stay and make their lives in their homes.
QUESTION: One last question: What’s the biggest challenge that you see in the bilateral issues? I mean, what would produce sleepless nights in Washington? What worries you the most?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: In a funny way, what worries me the most is that we lose sight of the fact that our relationship – as important as irregular migration is as a challenge, as important as the transnational crime is, that we lose sight of the fact that our relationship is so much more than that, that we are connected as profoundly as any two countries in the world by our history, by our geography, by our cultures, by our people, by our economies, and that we make the most of those connections.
And what gives me a sense of confidence is that over the last nine months, I think on both – in both governments there’s been a recognition of that, that we have to have a bigger and broader horizon for what this relationship is all about. Yes, work on these real challenges that are – that we have to deal with, but also look at the broader picture and what’s possible.
I had the amazing opportunity this morning in coming to the Palacio Nacional to be greeted by President López Obrador and then to spend 40 minutes with him with the Diego Rivera murals, the entire history of Mexico.
QUESTION: It’s incredible. It’s extraordinary, yeah.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It’s extraordinary, but it reinforces so much that actually brings us together. Countries – both of our countries have had to be melting pots in different ways for different communities, different cultures. We have a history of a tremendous amount of back and forth between our countries that has actually enriched both. So what I really hope is that our governments in a way can paint a new mural, a new panel that captures the incredible possibilities of the relationship as well as dealing with the challenges.
QUESTION: That’s a great metaphor. That’s a great metaphor. Thank you. Thank you so much, Secretary Blinken.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Great to be with you.
QUESTION: Thank you so much.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.