Well, good morning, and it’s certainly a pleasure to be here for the 12th Regional Security Conference. I’d like to extend a special gratitude to Secretary of Security Pacheco and the Government of Honduras for your warm welcome back to the country and for hosting this important conference. Thank you.
Mr. Minister, your Government has been a strong advocate for the Honduran people and a faithful partner to the United States. On behalf of the Department of Homeland Security, I’m grateful for your continued partnership.
I look forward to hearing…It’s good to see Minister Rivas again…I look forward to hearing today about the work, impressive work that he and his colleagues have been doing on decreasing crime in El Salvador.
I’m also pleased to welcome Vice Minister Castaneda to the group. Guatemala has been a leader in our discussions, and I’m sure that will continue as we move forward.
These conferences began as meetings of the Northern Triangle countries, but it soon became clear that security issues span the region. That is why we are glad to welcome Vice Minister Pitti from Panama and Minister Soto from Costa Rica. Glad that you’re here today and will continue in these discussions.
Our efforts to improve security across the region continue to yield results. And these security partnerships have laid the groundwork, as we heard earlier, for broader cooperation on economic prosperity.
For our first meeting of 2020, I think it’s appropriate by kicking off and highlighting some of what we’ve achieved over the past 16 months. Then we can look ahead and preview what we hope to accomplish moving forward in this year.
In the fall of 2018, we saw activists persuading thousands of Salvadoran, Honduran, and Guatemalan citizens to travel north in dangerous caravans. This was in addition to the criminal organizations going door to door and defrauding people of their life savings to take them on a deadly, dangerous, and illegal journey north.
Minister Pacheco — your government stood up checkpoints to monitor for unaccompanied children traveling in the January caravan, and protecting dozens and dozens of these children from taking dangerous journeys without their families. You also intercepted individuals with active warrants and a known human smuggler.
Vice Minister Castaneda – when the caravan arrived in Guatemala, Guatemalan border units identified and repatriated more than 700 individuals attempting to illegally cross into your country without the appropriate documentation.
We are pleased with these results. These results would not have been achievable 16, 17, 18 months ago. So thank you for all that you’re doing.
We’re also pleased to be completing the final stages of our Asylum Cooperation Agreement with Honduras which will begin very imminently. The Government of Honduras, and particularly Immigration Director Carolina Menjivar and Secretary of Human Rights Karla Cueva, have proven that Honduras is committed to providing protection to individuals in need, closer to home.
As a result of our collective efforts, human smugglers and traffickers are finding it harder and harder to operate and profit off our vulnerable populations.
As importantly, our efforts are also helping to decrease violence in the region. The policies of your governments that have enacted have led to steep declines in homicide rates in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras — it’s a key indicator that our joint focus on security is leading to positive and tangible results.
Back in the United States, our efforts have contributed to an eighth straight month of declines in illegal crossings at our Southwest border. And that is a historic push.
Since the peak of the crisis in May of 2019, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has seen a reduction of irregular migration flows by over 75 percent, again to our Southwest border.
This is a tremendous achievement. And it’s one that we should all be very proud of.
However, there is more work to be done. As the transnational criminal organizations and smugglers adapt and change their tactics, so must we.
And so moving forward into 2020, I’d like to emphasize several key lines of effort that we’ve talked about here already.
First, we need to focus attention and hit criminal organizations where it hurts most – and that’s in their money supply.
So today, I hope we can expand on discussions that we had in December about coordinating financial crimes investigations together. And I think that we’re doing that individually, individually countries again with the U.S., but looking at how we can do that collectively and as a regional focus.
Second, we’d like to expand upon investigations into the transnational criminal organizations themselves. We expect to see, or to hear, several briefings from our experts that are underway, and hope that we can identify opportunities to expand this work across our individual borders in a more regional approach.
Finally, I would like to chart a course for continued progress on the three agreements that we have signed: biometrics data sharing, information sharing, and managing regional migration.
There’s a lot of work that we did last year, and there’s more work this year to implement those.
So as we’ve discussed quite frequently — regional security is a catalyst for growth, investment, and opportunities for all our countries. Security is a necessary underpinning for prosperity – and continued partnership with the United States on these issues will create jobs and opportunity, and more investment in critical infrastructure.
The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, or the DFC, is committed to supporting economic growth in the region and leveraging government seed money to encourage private investment in necessary and worthwhile projects. We look forward to working with each of you on ways in which we can continue to create prosperity that your citizens deserve.
Thank you, again, to each of the ministers for all that you do and for participation in this conference and for future conferences. Your attendance here is a testament to your commitment to regional security and as well as regional prosperity.
Thank you again, and I look forward to a productive day of discussions.