Remarks by Vice President Joe Biden and Guatemala President-Elect Jimmy Morales at a Bilateral Meeting
Intercontinental Real Guatemala
Guatemala City, Guatemala
PRESIDENT-ELECT MORALES: (As interpreted.) For us it’s a privilege to have you here and to have you having an interest in the nation. We have a lot of projects together, and that we have initiated in the past, and we want to continue. And there is a saying that you don't have what you haven’t done.
I will not ask anything for myself, but I will ask something for the Guatemalans. There is a petition -- it’s a very difficult position -- but I want to give you this petition. It comes from 10 senators and 139 legislators (inaudible).
For the rest, we are (inaudible) responsibility, we want to work together. We want to work for Latin America. And excuse me for my bluntness, and for being so direct on this occasion, but this is something that we need to do for our (inaudible).
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Well, Mr. President, let me begin by saying congratulations -- President-elect, let me say congratulations. And I’m not going to present my list. (Laughter.) Because I don't want him to miss his inauguration.
The first time I visited your country several years ago to meet with your colleagues from El Salvador and Honduras, they made a request: Could I find a billion dollars? This is modest comparatively speaking.
Mr. President, I’ve engaged in the business of foreign policy for a long time. And I truly believe that the next great success story in this hemisphere can be the Northern Triangle -- Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
As I told your colleagues for the last three years, the single biggest impediment for that success is corruption. And on behalf of the President and myself, I want to compliment you on your head-on commitment to take on corruption in your country and the region. It was not lost on the American people that thousands upon thousands of Guatemalans demanded change -- elected you and insist that you finish the job, which I’m sure you will.
We want to be your partner. I always say, Mr. President, to a foreign leader that I’m not going to presume to tell you what’s in your interest. That's for you to decide. But I know what’s in our interest. And I hope we can find our interest to be the same. We have to deal with corruption. We have to deal with the desperate need for more reliable energy in the region. We have to deal with the notion of providing a much better environment to conduct business and attract foreign capital. We have to deal with a whole range of things. But I believe they are within our power to do so.
At the President’s request, he commissioned me to come up with a plan for the region. And with your predecessors, we spent a lot of time eye-to-eye, person-to-person agreeing on how we would proceed. And we set specific benchmarks that would have to be met. That allowed me to go to the United States Congress and say, ladies and gentlemen, give us the total of $750 million to help Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador meet the needs that they have identified that are holding their countries back. And so we are in this with you. As long as you continue to meet your commitments -- and you have thus far -- we are all in.
I’ll conclude by reminding you how we got to be involved. When I was a senator, and Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, I wrote Plan Columbia. And the region has been asking the United States for another Plan Columbia for the region. I was in the Middle East and I got a phone call from the President in 2014. He said, would I fly to Guatemala to meet with the regional Presidents because we have a rising crisis of -- referred to as unaccompanied children on the U.S. border and families?
We sat down and we worked out the way to deal with that issue. And as a consequence of that, it freed up my ability to go to the Congress and get approaching a billion dollars. It’s a very difficult time around the world relating to migration overall, as well as specific issues that have existed for a long time in Central America.
And we want to continue to work with you in a humane and decent way to deal with this issue. And the way to do that is to build your economy, build your security, build your country so p have no desire to take a dangerous journey with an organized gang in a difficult circumstance risking the lives of children and others.
And with regard to your new request, which is not new -- your request, let me say I promise we’ll take it under consideration. It’s a matter of discussion as I speak in the United States of America. And we’ll try our best to figure out a resolution with you.
You and I are public servants. We're elected officials. And we know public opinion matters a lot. The situation in our border deteriorates to what it was in 2014, there will be no possibility of this happening. You have a genuine case. Reality is real. It may get worse in 2016. I personally promise you I will work again on it, see where we can go. And I spend so much time in matters relating to this area, my constituents are beginning to think that maybe I should run for office here. (Laughter.) But I’m here to support you. And again, congratulations.