Remarks by Vice President Harris at a Community Leaders Event | Guatemala City, Guatemala

Universidad del Valle de Guatemala
Guatemala City, Guatemala

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, Mr.  Ambassador.  Good afternoon to all of you.  It is so good to be with you in person.  The last conversation that we had virtually through Zoom was very helpful to me. 

As you know, it was relatively early in my process of working on this initiative, and the insight, the perspective, the stories that you shared — many of which are personal stories — were very helpful to me and continue to be helpful to me. 

And as I mentioned to you then, that was the first of what I intend to be many conversations, and this, of course, being the second and, thankfully, in person. 

So, I’m looking forward to our conversation today.  I’m looking forward to approaching it with the same spirit we did our last conversation, which is to have a candid conversation so that you can share with me your experiences, your perspective, so that I and on behalf of (inaudible) can have a full perspective on the needs, on the challenges, on the desires and the hopes of the people of Guatemala. 

As you all know, since I last met with you, we have — the United States has made a commitment to help Guatemala with vaccines.  Among the issues that we discussed last time, of course, the effects of hunger, the effects of the hurricane, and the effects of the pandemic have had a huge impact on the lives of the families and the people of Guatemala. 

So, just last week, we announced that as a first gift — if you will — as a first donation, we will give Guatemala 500,000 vaccines, which we know will make a dent.  It will not cure the entire issue, but it will make a dent.  But we expect more to follow. 

And that is on top of the $26 million that we have contributed thus far to Guatemala in terms of assistance with the associated issues of the pandemic.  So, for example, things like refrigerators, the apparatus, and the technology that are needed to actually address the virus. 

When we met last time, I was so moved to hear about the work that you have been doing, the work that has been about helping women and children, Indigenous, LGBTQ, Afro-descendants, people who have long been overlooked or neglected. 

I was very inspired to hear about the work that you have been doing, supporting the self-determination of the people of Guatemala, what you have been doing to fight for their voice and for their dignity, including the work that you have done helping children, the work that’s been about education, the work that has been about farmers, the work that has been about agriculture, the work that has been about addressing the climate crisis, and all with the focus, I believe, and a spirit of understanding not only the challenges, but the leadership that exists here in Guatemala, including yourselves, and how we should be aware of that and tap into that leadership as we think about the involvement that the United States has with partnership in this country

To help foster economic opportunity, in particular with the Indigenous community, I’m pleased to announce — and I met earlier with President Giammattei — that we are going to announce and launch what we are calling the Young Women’s Empowerment Initiative.  And we will be investing up to $40 million to increase the education and economic opportunities available to Indigenous Guatemalan women and children, and girls in particular. 

And we’re also going to be making available $48 million for agricultural business and affordable housing and supporting entrepreneurs.  And one of the components of supporting entrepreneurs is what we’ve been calling “equal entrepreneurs” — right? — so those who are involved in understanding not only the importance of addressing the causes of the climate crisis, but seeing how there are jobs.  And there are — there’s industry that is available to wrap around the skills that are necessary to confront the challenges of the climate crisis. 

So that is some of the work that we have been doing and will continue to do.  I know a large part of our conversation today is going to involve corruption.  This is something that we talked about last time.  And the candid conversation that we had last time helped inform a priority for me and our government around what we must do to speak the truth of it and to address it in all of its forms. 

And I know this is personal for the people in this room.  I know that there are leaders in this room who have lost loved ones and — and lost them to the conflict and lost them to violence.  And I want you to know that the commitments that we are making to Guatemala at this point, and as of today, are the first step in what — it is our intention to be a real commitment, understanding that any impact that we have will not be achieved in the short term.  Most of the impact that we can potentially have is going to take a while to build up. 

After I met with many of you, I met with several leaders who have worked in Guatemala’s justice sector, and you may know of that meeting.  I invited them to come in and visit with me in my office in Washington, D.C.  And they made clear the impact that a lack of judicial independence has had and can have on civil society, especially with regard to the highest courts in the land. 

I will tell you, as an aside, whenever I go to a new country — and this is my first visit to Guatemala — I like to see its highest court.  There’s something about seeing a country’s highest court that gives you a sense of the significance of the rule of law.  So, as I was driving to the Palace, I sto- — I drove by the highest court and was able to see it with my own eyes. 

But the conversation that I had with these leaders in Washington was a conversation where they stressed how impunity works in favor of those who have power and against those who do not have power.  And the United States will continue then to raise concerns about the threats to the independence of the judiciary, of the press, and civil society in Guatemala, and neighboring nations around the world. 

In fact, President Biden, just last week, issued a statement that was very unambiguous about our country’s intention to prioritize this and our relationships with any of our friends around the globe. 

I have asked you what would bring the people of Guatemala hope.  That has been part of the conversation we’ve had.  I’m going to ask that of you again today. 

I’m going to ask of you to share with me how we can address barriers that stand in the way of allowing people to have the future that they dream for their children and themselves. 

I’m going to ask you to help me craft an approach that addresses those barriers and speaks truly to the needs and the desires of the people. 

Because if this has any meaning, it will be based on how it impacts the people — how it impacts families, how it impacts children.  And many of you have been doing this work your entire lives at great personal sacrifice and risk. 

And so I will end my comments for now by saying thank you for your leadership, for your courage, and for being here today so we can have this conversation. 

And, Ambassador, why don’t we begin our conversation.

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