Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
San Jose, Costa Rica
Chief of Mission Residence
QUESTION: (Speaks in Spanish.)
(In English) So, Secretary, thank you for joining us. It’s your first visit to the region. You’ve come to Costa Rica, a very important ally. What did you hear? What are you taking? What are you taking to Vice President Harris, who will come to the region next week?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first of all, it’s no accident that we’ve come to Costa Rica on this first trip to Latin America and Central America more specifically. Costa Rica’s such a strong partner for the United States when it comes to standing up for democracy, when it comes to working together on security, when it comes to leading on dealing with climate change. And coming here was an opportunity in the first instance to reinforce what is already an incredibly strong partnership.
But beyond that, we had a very important opportunity to meet with all of our counterparts and colleagues from across the region, from across Central America, and to talk about what I think we all hope, which is that we can build a future for people in Central America that has genuine hope and genuine opportunity. Our lives are so intertwined – the United States, the countries of Central America. We’re so interconnected that I think what I take away is we have an obligation but also an opportunity to work on these things together and offer people in all of our countries a greater sense of opportunity, a greater sense of hope. And that’s certainly what I’ll share with Vice President Harris, who’s very much looking forward to her visit in a few days.
QUESTION: One of the concerns in the region, as in the rest of the world, is the pandemic, the access to vaccines. China and Russia have a big advantage on the U.S. on distributing their vaccines. Did the U.S. miss an opportunity to help these countries (inaudible) to bring down the pandemic by not distributing the vaccines before? And when will the vaccines be in the region?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first, as you know, one of the first things that we did – that President Biden did upon taking office – was to re-engage with the World Health Organization, and then we very quickly made a very significant contribution to COVAX, this international facility to make sure that vaccines are accessible and are distributed on an equitable basis – $2 billion, with another 2 billion to be contributed between now and the end of next year as other countries contribute more. We’re by far the leading contributor to COVAX.
Having said that, President Biden also announced a few weeks ago that we will begin to make available around the world, including in this hemisphere, 80 million vaccines that we now have access to that we will, as I said, begin to make available. But here’s what’s important: We’ll distribute those vaccines working in coordination with COVAX, doing some of the work directly ourselves. We’ll do it on the basis of equity. We’ll do it on the basis of science and need. And we will do it without political strings attached, which has not been the case for some other countries that have been engaged in providing vaccines.
QUESTION: You met with the foreign ministers and you talked about American values – democracy, sustainability. After you met them, Government of Nicaragua started a legal process against Cristiana Chamorro, a journalist who’s considered a candidate who hadn’t announced her candidacy to the elections. This morning they raided her home; this afternoon they issued an arrest warrant against her. What is your reaction to that? You come to the region, you meet with the foreign minister, and this is how they react.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We’ve been very disturbed by the steps that Nicaragua has taken – backward, not forward in terms of putting in place what is necessary for free and fair elections. And this is not only something that is of concern to the United States. It’s of concern to virtually every country in the region, as reflected in the work of the Organization of American States that made very clear requests of Nicaragua to put in place the processes and mechanisms necessary for free and fair elections. Nicaragua has moved in exactly the wrong direction. So this is something that we’re concerned about that all of our – virtually all of our partners in the region are.
And I would just say that the events also of the last 24 hours, as we see the opposition being denied the ability to compete in elections as we see the space squeezed for different voices. It is – I think the sign of a total lack of confidence because when I hear our Nicaraguan counterparts talking about all of the positive things the government has done for the people – given all of that, I would think that they would welcome the judgement of the people in free and fair elections. Apparently they don’t.
QUESTION: You’re not new to the region. The region isn’t new to President Biden, but you have an issue of people going to the border.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And people even after they’re told that they’re not going to be allowed in, they say they have nothing to lose. $4 billion of investment were announced, but how are you going to do it? How are you going to convince people not to go? And how are you going to solve this issue that needs a prompt and quick solution when the problems that generate it take many years to solve?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, it needs two things. You’re right. It needs a prompt and quick solution, but it also needs a long-term sustainable solution. The prompt and quick solution involves doing what we’re doing now in close partnership with Mexico but also in different ways with Guatemala, with Honduras, and El Salvador and that is, first of all, making it clear that the border is not open, that people should not come, that they’re putting their lives in tremendous jeopardy to try to make it to the border, and they will not be able to enter the United States.
Even as we’re doing the very important work of reforming our asylum system so that those in the future who come seeking asylum can have their cases adjudicated effectively and humanely, making sure that there are protections in place for migrants, looking to increase legal pathways to come to the United States, to work in the United States, including the increase in temporary worker visas. All of these things we’re putting in place as we are securing the border, but even if that’s a short-term response, it doesn’t answer the long-term problem. This is why I think your question is so important.
Here’s what we need to do, and this is what the President is focused on. We know that there are drivers to irregular migration. There are things in people’s lives that are causing them to say their only solution is to leave everything they know behind, their family, their language, their culture, their friends, their communities to make this incredibly dangerous journey and now not to be able to come into the United States. And it is a lack of effective governance. It’s the corruption that they’re dealing with in their lives. It’s profound insecurity because of violence and gangs. And maybe most fundamentally of all, it’s a lack of opportunity. It’s a lack of the ability to know that you’re going to have a job, a paycheck, the ability to put food on the table for yourself, for your family, and to build a better life.
So we are working in a very focused way, led by Vice President Harris on dealing with the root causes of irregular migration. We’re doing this as well in partnership with Mexico. And we know that there are answers to these problems. The Vice President, for example, recently had a call to action with our private sector to look at what it would take to make more investment in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador so that there is more opportunity. We know what needs to happen in terms of creating a better environment for investment.
As you mentioned, President Biden is committed to providing $4 billion over four years to work on improving the conditions. One of my colleagues last night in the meeting with SICA said that – and I thought it was very powerful – said there should be a right to remain. We have to give that meaning. We have to give meaning to the right to remain for people who – whether they’re in El Salvador or in Guatemala or Honduras or Mexico – want to make their lives and their futures at home. But the conditions make that very, very difficult. We can do something about that. It’s going to take time. It’s going to take effort. It’s going to take partnership, but we’re determined to do that.
QUESTION: How are you going to work with Guatemala where there is an onslaught on the independence of the judiciary by Congress – against those who fight against corruption? Honduras where the president hasn’t been accused in the U.S. but is mentioned by Department of Justice processes. His brother was convicted and sentenced for drug dealing and weapons dealing. And he, according to those documents, is part of that organization of drug dealers. And then you have El Salvador where there is also an initiative to take away independence from institutions of control. So how can you work with them if they don’t share the values that you’ve come to present?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We will work with governments wherever we can, but we will also work with partners wherever we can. And we’ve done this before. We’ve worked directly with civil society, with NGOs, with the private sector, and all of these actors can be the effective partners that we need to actually make the assistance we’re providing meaningful, translating that into something concrete for people. And so again, for example, when it comes to building opportunity, creating investment and the jobs that flow from that, we can and we will work directly with companies. When it comes to strengthening education, we can work directly with civil society, we can work directly with communities and other individual actors.
So we would like to be in a position where we can work as much as possible as well directly with governments, but sometimes that’s very difficult by the choices they make. Ultimately, I believe that many leaders will come to the conclusion that what they can best offer their people is to act in a way that actually facilitates investment, partnership, engagement, and that that’s also the path to political success as well.
So we’re certainly going to continue to make that case. It’s something, again, that we’re also working on very closely with our partners in Mexico. We have, I think, a shared vision for building up the environment in which people really can feel secure and know that they’ll have opportunity at home. And I hope that governments in the region will do the right thing, the necessary thing in order to partner closely with us and to attract the investment that they say that they want and that they need.
QUESTION: An unrelated question: Have you spoken to Foreign Minister Lavrov on this new cyber attack apparently from Russia on the meat producer that operates in the U.S., JBL, the Brazilian?
And does the U.S. foresee a relation with Israel without Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, on the latter question, the Israelis, of course, will make their own decisions about their government as any democracy would, and we will work with any Israeli government going forward as we have in the past. President Biden has worked with every Israeli government of all parties going back to Prime Minister Golda Meir in the early 1970s. So in democracies, governments change. We’ll work with whatever government emerges, whether it’s Prime Minister Netanyahu or anyone else. So that’s (inaudible).
As regards Mr. Lavrov, I have not spoken to him since we saw each other a few weeks ago. Having said that, we are seeing, unfortunately, a new front in cyber threats, and that is criminal organizations using what’s called ransomware to hold hostage companies, to hold hostage critical infrastructure for financial gain. And these attacks are usually perpetrated by criminal enterprises, organizations, but they often have some physical connection, because their leaders live someplace, they’re working from someplace, and I think it’s the obligation of any country to do whatever it can to find these enterprises and to bring them to justice, including in the case of the attack on the Colonial Pipeline. The enterprise that was responsible for that attack, its leaders were in Russia, are in Russia. So I think there’s an obligation on Russia’s part to make sure that that doesn’t continue.
We need two things. We need to make sure that our defenses, whether it’s governments or whether it’s the private sector, are much stronger and much more effective when it comes to cyber attacks in general and so-called ransomware in particular. But we also need countries around the world to make commitments and then make good on those commitments not to harbor criminal enterprises that engage in these attacks, and on the contrary, to seek them out and to stop them and to bring them to justice.
QUESTION: (Speaks in Spanish.)
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. It was very good to be with you.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.