English Transcript of Press Engagement with Administrator Power -June 13, 2021, San Pedro Sula, Honduras

Administrator Power: … I would summarize that day for you. I visited the Rivera Hernández Outreach [Center], in one of the city’s toughest neighborhoods, where I met with young people who have been taken in by that great anchor institution.

In an area where the center’s director, Pastor Arnold Linares, said that as many as 15 people might once have been killed on a given day, he has created a wonderful space, with USAID’s support that has welcomed young people in, given in fact 1,000 young people each year a safe place to study and to play.

The center has offered them training in skills like computer science and management and created a pathway of hope and opportunity that the young people we spoke with said had helped keep them here in Honduras.

Thanks to the staff’s tireless work, they were able to recover a public space across the street as well, and turn it into a recreation center, and the wake of these programs, there has been a reported decline in violence and people killed in the area. It’s a really important program.

I also met with survivors of the recent hurricanes. One woman who had suffered devastating damage to her home after Hurricanes Eta and Iota fell just within two weeks of one another. This young woman we met was a mother of three children. She fled, the water was waist high, and she ended up actually sleeping at the local gas station for five days. Her brother was up on a wall for two days with no place to go because the flooding was so terrible. Thanks to the support from USAID’s Disaster Assistance Recovery Teams, the lovely woman had been able to rebuild and support their neighbors, and so we were able to visit with this mother’s home, which now is almost habitable, she’s almost ready to move back in with her family.

And finally, I visited an economic trade fair, where I met entrepreneurs who have received seed loans, small business owners who received loans to move from selling raw materials into higher-value processed products.

And I met with recipients of H2 visas and these visas, as many of you know, allow individuals to work temporarily in the United States, you apply here, and it creates a pathway for lawful migration. These workers were able to earn good wages in the United States and return home to be with their families and their communities, and to invest in those communities. So, this is a very important program, and President Biden as many of you know has only recently announced 6,000 additional H2B visas for workers in this region, in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, and so that deadline is rapidly approaching, so it was very interesting and important to hear about how those programs are working.

Today, I’m so glad to be with you, to be able to announce this. We are announcing that we are investing 24 million dollars to increase employment opportunities for youth at-risk of irregular migration. And our hope is to reach at least 500,000 young people and to integrate those young people into the Honduran economy over the next five years. These resources will also be used to strengthen the country’s agricultural markets, to become more competitive in order to reduce poverty, which we know is a major source of pain and lost livelihoods here, and also of course a major source of migration.

We know though that strong institutions and governance, and the lack of corruption, the strength of civil society, that all of those are key to ensuring that an economy works for its people. It’s also the key to attract foreign direct investment of the kind that the Honduran people so deserve. So this money that I just announced will also help support trust in the electoral process, anticorruption programming, and to basically work on strengthening citizen confidence in the life and the future that people can have here in Honduras.

With that, I’m very grateful to take your questions.

Moderator: Thank you very much Administrator Power for that introduction. Welcome to Honduras, and good evening to all the journalists who are here with us. Now, we are going to start with a round of questions, and we will begin with Marlen Perdomo from Proceso Digital. Go ahead.

Q: (Marlen Perdomo – Proceso Digital)  Thank you very much, and welcome Administrator Power. Central America, as you have seen today in your first visit to Honduras, is undergoing a crisis aggravated by several pandemics which you have talked about today. The United States has been a traditional partner to the region, but we know that there are other international actors who are already working and occupying spaces in Central America, as it is the case of Russia and China, to name just a couple. Has the USAID agenda considered these circumstances and how important is it for you this reality that the region is currently undergoing? Thank you.

Administrator Power: Well, as I saw today, I believe the Honduran people know the contributions that the American people have made to this partnership through USAID and other actors. We feel also that we are laying a foundation now to do even more together over these next four years, I think President Biden and Vice president Harris have made that very clear.

I saw today the good that our programming is doing and remember that U.S. programming here in Honduras is designed to try to work USAID out of business, right. We want employment to come because of the incredible talents of your young people. We want companies from outside like Nike, which I gather is coming, to be building their factories here and hiring your workers. We want the next time a storm comes for your communities to be more resilient to those storms.

The U.S. is seeking to invest in your self-reliance, in your innovation, in your prosperity, and I think that’s a really important distinguishing feature of U.S. assistance. We are not trying to create any dependance, we’re not asking for anything in return, really, we are simply looking to partner with you.

The spirit with which USAID engages the Honduran people is the spirit of partnership. So, I think if that spirit pervades and if we can expand our investments in young people, expand our civil society work in advance, for example, of the coming elections, given the importance of combatting corruption, given the importance of giving young people a place to go after school, given the importance of getting kids back to school.

Some of our programming funds, you know, and efforts to get kids back into school after such a difficult year.

I think if we stay focused on the dignity of the Honduran people and unleashing, unlocking what the Honduran people have to offer their communities and offer the world, I feel really good about the future of the U.S. – Honduran partnership.

Q: (Javier Flores – Diario El Heraldo) Good evening, Administrator Power. It’s a pleasure to greet you. A Honduran looks to the U.S. fundamentally for one specific cause – after that there is security, but above all, the lack of jobs. How will USAID create those jobs in the country, and what types of jobs that match the skills of Hondurans that want to migrate to the U.S. – how will those jobs be created in the country to keep Hondurans from migrating to the United States? 

Administrator Power: I’m not sure I heard the question perfectly but let me offer two responses. The first, which you alluded to, was economic opportunity here in Honduras, and this is where what I mentioned what I saw today is so inspiring. Small seed loans or cash assistance, for example, in some of the areas that were hurt by the hurricane. Giving people just that little investment in their dream, in their vision, can make a huge difference, and so I met so many entrepreneurs today – people in the agricultural sector, or a young woman who is selling pastries, but after the hurricane everything was destroyed and the woman who was selling pastries just needed a little bit of support to get back on her feet. Now back on her feet, she is able to provide for her community or an income for herself and her family.

So, I think we are looking across the country at where those areas of opportunity exist and partnering with Honduran foundations, with the private sector, the government’s programs, of course, are going to be critical here, especially by fighting corruption because we will get more foreign direct investment and we will attract more people to Honduras if foreign investors have confidence in the rule of law and in an independent judiciary.

So, part of my answer is about the investments that we make here. Additionally, though, as I mentioned, the Biden Administration has announced, for example, the H2B program with a special allotment for Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, and I think this is an important example of lawful migration pathways that can be really important because these are a source of revenue for families, and again, I met with individuals who had gone and worked in Philadelphia for six months and then come home. I met with one person who’d worked in the cruise industry who used the money that he earned through a lawful migration path to put his two sons through university here. And now because they are university educated, they have been offered employment for after graduation.

So, I think there are different kinds of jobs and the most important jobs are the ones here that allow every young person to believe that their future is in this country, that there are economic opportunities that allow them to thrive where they are, but additionally, part of our partnership is lawful migration pathways, and so you have heard a little bit about that, but I think this is something that we are going to be pursuing over the years of the Biden Administration.

Q:(Francisco Sanchez – Diario La Tribuna) Good evening, Administrator Power. I’ve heard you mention strengthening democracy and you are right – thousands of young people are practically disenchanted because their popular are not respected in the ballot boxes. So, what to do to get youth to trust leaders and democratic institutions that are very discredited in the country? And the other question is – will USAID’s cooperation be directed through government institutions or through civil society organizations? 

Administrator Power: Well, I think, first of all, it is extremely important that governments earn the confidence and the trust of their people, and that is why anti-corruption efforts are so important, it’s why the CNA here in Honduras is, for example, so important, why civil society and an independent media are so important in holding governments accountable. And I should say this is true in the United States as well. Civil society is absolutely critical, independent media are critical in holding governments accountable and seeking to ensure that governments are serving their people. So, this is really important, and USAID invests here in Honduras in this anti-corruption work.

When it comes to working with governments, our form of assistance is generally technical assistance. For example, advising on government regulations, or tax collection, or, for example, you undertook a reform of your police force in order to try to root out corruption, several years ago. Those kinds of consultations, that kind of technical advice, technical support is something USAID does, and when we invest in the community, as we did at the center that I mentioned that I visited today – the Rivera Hernandez Youth Outreach Center – I think encouraging government to step up as well to be partners in efforts like that, which in that instance the government has done, that’s an incredibly important perspective for the community to have – that this is the kind of thing that the government is prepared to support.

So additionally, I would say, just because you mentioned democracy specifically and people’s questions about the democratic process, with elections coming up we also are supporting, we USAID are supporting election monitoring to try to ensure that the elections are free and fair, and that candidates can campaign freely, and that there are no serious irregularities so that people’s votes are counted, and that’s very, very important. So, USAID’s assistance is really a mix of all of these things but, again, when it comes to, for example, combatting gender-based violence or reaching at-risk youth, or doing reconstruction after the hurricanes, for example, we are working through non-governmental partners, working with the private sector, and often, depending on the issue, having technical consultations, sometimes technical assistance with government, but our primary partners are non-governmental.

Q: (Danilo David – Diario La Prensa) Good evening Administrator Power, my question is based in our context, Honduras is one of the countries in the world that is most affected by the effects of climate change, in November you could observe the impact of the two hurricanes and this generates an economic and social setback that also becomes a cause of migration in the future. Is there something on USAID’s agenda on this issue of climate change, on how to prevent or mitigate these effects so that the losses and the economic impact in the country isn’t that big? Thank you very much. 

Administrator Power: This is a question very much on my mind, having visited a community that was devastated by hurricanes, I mean…devasted, and one of the individuals that I spoke with who’s house had been destroyed, one of the things she said was so hard was that every time it rains, she and her children are afraid that the same devastation is going to come again, you know, just to hear ‘rain’ you can imagine the trauma that her children had gone through and having to flee their home and everything destroyed by the hurricane. So, this is a very sad fact, which is that even though her house has been rebuilt, that fear as you said of something happening again looms very large in her psyche and in her small family.

So, I’d offer a few thoughts, first of all if you look at the damage and the number of casualties from Hurricane Mitch, which was I gather as deadly storm or as I should say as fierce a storm as the two hurricanes in November, you will see that actually even though there was horrific damage here in November and the consequences are still being felt in terms of lost life, communities were more resilient. The investments that USAID and other partners made in the wake of the last hurricane, in some ways mitigated the harms, at least the life and death harms caused by these hurricanes. So, that kind of risk reduction, Disaster Resilience Programming they call it, which is everything in, it ranges from how buildings are built, to the kind of crops that people are planting, if you know that extreme weather events are more likely you do things differently, and so, USAID partners are out there engaging on irrigation questions, on infrastructure and how to build infrastructure in a way that makes it work for the changing climate. Those programs we are affording. I think then that’s where our dialogue with the government comes in as well, the government is intending it says to make big investments in dams and levees and infrastructure, that those are incredibly important investments, that was the main concern I heard from these communities, it can happen again because the levees haven’t been addressed or haven’t been fixed. So that’s where again the work out in communities to support individuals affected by past disasters (audio stopped).

Q: (Mario Morazán – Radio HRN) Good evening Ambassador Power, welcome to Honduras. You stated that 24 million dollars will be destined for youth employment programs as well as for agricultural projects. In Central America, we are the country that is behind with the vaccination program against Covid 19, is there any possibility that a donation could be channeled to be able to have access to the vaccine against Covid 19 through USAID to continue with the vaccination process and therefore reactivate the economy? Thank you 

Administrator Power: Thank you, first let me say that my heart goes out to all the families that have been affected by COVID, it is such an unusual world event in that every country has this in common with every other country, it just maybe it hits at different times, and I know all Americans know the pain and devastation it has caused and so I extend my condolences to all the families affected. Also, for COVID and the hurricanes taking place, it’s just too much for so many communities to bear, and so that brings me to your question, which is so important.

President Biden announced nearly two weeks ago now, 25 million doses to leave the United States and be distributed including here in Central America, I do not yet have a specific number to provide you with as to what share will come here but Honduras is very much a priority for President Biden, for Vice President Harris, we know how important it is to get your vaccination numbers up, I gather that only close to 6% of the population here has had 1 dose and only around 1% has had two doses and are fully vaccinated, obviously that means that so many communities are facing great risk. The other development that I want to draw your attention to, which is going to benefit Honduras very soon, is the announcement that President Biden made as part of the G7, which is that the United States has purchased 500 million doses from Pfizer. Those doses will start being manufactured in August, starting with 25 million and fifty million in the months thereafter and that too, a share of that number is also going to come to this region.

So, I think very very soon, and I can’t put a precise timetable, and I know that every minute that passes when you are vulnerable to this disease is very hard to endure, but both again a share of the 25,000,000 just announced and then as these doses come out of the manufacturing plants every month starting later this summer, making sure that Honduras is receiving its share of those doses as well. I think we are going to be working through COVAX. COVAX, I know, is your partner here, you have several partners, but it’s a main partner. COVAX has not had the vaccine supply that it expected and so what President Biden is doing is ensuring that the United States provides supply so that COVAX can fulfill its commitments to Honduras and to other countries, and so, we will get back to you as soon as we have a precise timetable and we know full well how urgent it is and really look forward to increasing the number of people, supporting your efforts to increase the number of people vaccinated as soon as possible.

Moderator: Thank you all very much, thank you very much to Administrator Power for being with us, thank you for joining us.