Press Conference: USAID Administrator Samantha Power and Ambassador Popp

06 June, 2021

Moderator: good evening. On behalf of the United States Embassy in Guatemala and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), I warmly welcome you to this press conference which aims to summarize Administrator Samantha Power’s visit to Guatemala.

To begin with, I give the floor to the Ambassador of the United States to Guatemala, William Popp, who will give a few introductory words and who will also introduce Administrator Power.

Ambassador Popp: well, thank you very much, Ally, good evening to all, thank you very much for your attendance. Tonight, I have the honor to introduce Administrator Samantha Power who is visiting Guatemala as part of her first international visit as the USAID Administrator and this is a visit that is coming to Guatemala only a few days after the Vice President’s visit Harris just over a week ago.

And this visit by the Administrator and mainly after the visit of Vice President Harris is a reflect of the relevance of the bilateral relationship between the two countries, between Guatemala and the United States and our current reality. A time when there are many opportunities to seek and develop solutions, opportunities to generate employment, opportunities to foster alternatives to migration, opportunities to strengthen institutions important to the rule of law, and as Vice President Harris mentioned last week, to generate hope.

At this time, Power, comes with, obviously a lot of experience working on diplomatic issues, has worked in the Academy, in journalism and has always been a very hard-working person in advocating human rights, women’s rights and in finding solutions to major challenges that we face in the world.

In the last two days she has had a quite intense agenda. Several meetings starting with President Giammattei, but also with many other members of the Government of Guatemala and many actors. It has been a rather valuable visit, with many good conversations and I know that you are highly eager to do your questions and get answers. So, without more to add, I want to take this moment to thank you all once again for your attendance and now it is my pleasure and honor to introduce USAID Administrator Samantha Power.

Power: thank you so much Mr. Ambassador and thanks to all of you who play such a critical role in Guatemala’s democracy.

My two-day visit to Guatemala has been a wonderful opportunity for me to listen to the concerns of people throughout the country, that includes entrepreneurs, activists, civil society and business leaders. In Guatemala City and in the Western Highlands, which I had the chance to visit today, I had the chance to hear from Guatemalans how the US can be a better partner to support the dignity and prosperity of the Guatemalan people, I also, as a new administrator to USAID wanted and had the chance to see up close how USAID programming achieves these goals.

Here in Guatemala City, I have had candid conversations with President Giammattei and the Attorney General, Consuelo Porras about the need to prioritize anti-corruption and to ensure the independence and unimpeded work of FECI, the Special Prosecutor’s Office on Impunity. I also

convey the concerns that we are hearing from USAID partners about the recently passed NGO law, and the worry that these partners had conveyed that this law could be used to silence or even cancel non-governmental and civil society organizations. In our conversations, I am pleased to report, President Giammattei did commit to renew the UN Office of Human Rights present here in Guatemala.

Informed by the experience of this trip, I am also pleased to announce more than USD19 million to strengthen anti-corruption efforts and promote entrepreneurship, employment, and inclusion, particularly for young people, women, and Indigenous Peoples.

This USD19 million sum includes:

  • More than USD12 million in technical assistance to enhance Guatemala’s financial management system and support Guatemalan Civil Society to increase fiscal transparency and public oversight at the national level.

It also includes USD5 million to enable Latin American colleges and universities themselves to foster youth employment, entrepreneurship, and innovation.

  • And an additional USD2 million of this figure will strengthen the participation of youth and Indigenous Peoples in decision-making at the community, municipal, regional, and national levels.

I was also honored to have the opportunity to launch two new USAID initiatives during this trip, and this means again actually witnessing the launch, but these initiatives that were announced by Vice President Harris when she was here not long ago.

  • The Guatemalan Entrepreneurship Development Innovation initiative will support entrepreneurs and innovators creating technology-driven, market-led solutions to the conditions forcing people from their communities in Guatemala.
  • And here let me stress, this is an example of USAID making a contribution for this program of around USD7 million and using that contribution to get the private sector to contribute far more, in this case more than USD33 million. The other initiative that I had the privilege of launching was very moving it was a professional midwife program. And this is part of USAID’s new Young Women’s Empowerment Initiative, and we got to meet with young women, many indigenous women who are now being trained to provide health services in their communities. And I should add that Guatemala has the highest maternal mortality rate in Central America and the community in which this initiative has been launched, unfortunately has the highest maternal mortality rate in Guatemala. So it’s really important that we support mothers in this country and that is what these midwives are seeking to do.

The United States remains committed to working with the people and the government of Guatemala to address governance, security, and economic challenges that are driving people from their home communities. USAID supports stronger, safer, and more prosperous communities and we seek to provide opportunities to Guatemalans to build their lives at home.

Thank you so much and happy to take your questions.

Moderator: thank you Mr. Ambassador and Mrs. Administrator for your words. This opens the space for questions and answers.

We are grateful for these to be concise, and that the journalists previously selected to come close to the microphone.

The first question is by Jessica Gramajo of Soy502.

Gramajo: thank you very much and good evening. I would like to know whether within all the support that has been discussed at the moment if there is any specific investment for the FECI; for example, it is one of the instances that has even been pointed out by President Alejandro Giammattei as an entity that handles cases ideologically and what you think about what he said on this matter.

I would also like to know about the announcement that was made about vaccines, whether, when they could come, what brand would be the ones being provided, the support, and whether in addition to the 500,000 vaccines that were promised, if we could expect some other lot or how many more lots could be received.

And finally, if there have been, there are many complaints about delays in the issuance of US visas, and many people are having appointments for the next three years and whether if any steps have already been taken to reduce the time to get the visas in this regard. Thank you, very much, and good evening.

Power: Thank you so much. Those are three very important questions. First, I had the chance to meet with Mr. Sandoval, who runs FECI. I had the chance to comment him for his work and to comment the independence of the office. As every democracy knows it is extremely important that the rule of law be independent and not be influenced by politics and/or political figures. And FECI seeks to perform that function here in Guatemala and it is very valuable institution that we support.

I think that what it is very very clear is that the rule of law and strengthening the rule of law fighting corruption and impunity would make it a lot easier for me, for the Ambassador, for Vice President Harris, for President Biden himself to attract private investors to this country.

It is truly important for us to be able to point to independent prosecutors to people who are capable of carrying out their work and letting the facts take the work where they made, in other words, let the facts and the evidence dictate how the legal system proceeds and not any kind of interference. So, this is extremely important, I am glad you raised it and these are points that I know the Ambassador not only agrees with, but spent these days conveying and articulating and working of behalf on the vaccines, I am very pleased that Vice President Harris made this announcement I want to take this occasion to say how sorry I am that the pandemic continues to cause such heartbreak for so many families here, as you know we in the United States has been there. These are very very dark days. And these vaccines are important, but they don’t take away the pain and all losses that so many families have experienced.

You asked a couple of questions about the vaccines. Let me say that I know that the Government is now working through the details of implementation. We at USAID of course support your health system and we are working with other actors to ensure that when the vaccines arrive that the conditions are in place for they can be used effectively working with the Ministry of Health, which is of course leading that effort, and I had the chance to meet with the Minister of Health, this morning in fact, to talk to her about the urgency of getting vaccines here, but in terms of the specifics of which company, because that those conversations and negotiations are on their way and the timing of when finally these vaccines will begin to be off loaded from plane here in Guatemala city, I have to refer you to the Guatemalan Government as they are carrying out the negotiations.

Again, the US is providing the vaccines, but the negotiations to ensure safety for the people of Guatemala and to ensure that the pharmaceutical companies can make deliveries of the vaccine, those negotiations are with your authorities, the Guatemalan authorities.

Your second question was about whether more would follow, I think It’s really important to make use of these 500,000, but also I think your question is very important for it not to end there; and you heard at these last weeks, the G7, that President Biden announced 500 million doses to be bought by the United States for low income countries, developing countries and that will be something that will be distributed not only in the Western Hemisphere but also around the world.

I think that it is also not the end of the United States’ commitment, I think we are looking to do even more, but again the announcements made should get hope that the 500,000 doses are certainly not the end of the US commitment to your people and to you ending this pandemic which I know is what all of you want.

I am going to let the Ambassador answers the question about visas but let me just take the occasion to say that on this visit to Guatemala, the Ambassador and I had the chance to meet with Guatemalans virtually who are actually working in Alaska using the H2B visa and we had the chance to talk to Guatemalans to come back to Guatemala having themselves H2B visas to do temporarily seasonal work in the United States. It’s all, I just want to, before turning back to the Ambassador, to stress how important these lawful pathways for migration are.

When people are looking to have economic opportunity, we want to be in a position to ensure that there are more lawful pathways. Where you can apply right here, in your home country, and be in a position to work for some period of time – four months, six months, and then come back to your homes, to your family, to your communities.

So, USAID, the Ambassador, your Ministry of Labor, we want to ensure that this program is something that protects worker rights, protects the rights of Guatemalans, so that the conditions they work in are the right conditions, but we also, you know, have this week, news out of Washington, which is that now those who are fleeing gang violence and domestic violence are eligible to seek asylum. And so, one of the things that we are doing is trying to ensure that within the region, without having to take a dangerous trip, without having to trust the coyote with your life or that of your child that there are ways in order to have your asylum claims heard.

So, I think these lawful pathways are important and the Ambassador can speak about conflict capacity.

Ambassador Popp: Thank you, Mrs. ah, we quickly understand that obviously we have these difficulties in the waiting time to issue visas or to do the necessary interviews to issue visa renewals. It is, unfortunately, a challenge that exists in almost all American embassies around the world because of the pandemic situation. More than a year ago, most embassies and consular sections had to close, for reasons, well, health protocols, etc. and we have gradually begun to reopen public services. It is still quite limited to people who are applying for study visas in the United States, for emergencies, medical cases, etc. We are dealing with people quickly; but for people who are applying for visas for tourism and business it is more complicated, because there is a lower capacity to serve the public safely according to health protocols. We are increasing the capacity of the consular section in the ways we can, we hope that in the coming months it will be possible to assist more people from the public but that is unfortunately a situation that will take some time because there has been a lot of demand in the last 14, 15 months during the pandemic, not only in Guatemala but in all the countries in the world and we will continue to work with, well, efforts where we can reduce this waiting time but also taking into account health protocols where there are limits on the number of people we can assist for on a daily basis.

Then it is a situation, unfortunately, difficult for the reasons I mentioned but our commitment is to reduce the waiting time as soon as possible. Thank you.

Moderator: the next question is from Michelle Mendoza, a CNN in Spanish correspondent in Guatemala.

Mendoza: good evening, I would like to know what the implications would be, because as of next Monday this new reform of the NGO law would come into force. The parties have already been served. That is to say, after the visit of Vice President Kamala Harris, the court, the new Constitutional Court, it serves the parties, which also shows what is message that they are sending. This is effective as of next Monday. What are the implications that USAID is going to have?, in respect of what impacts the different programs, what is the level of commitment that President Alejandro Giammattei made to you few hours ago on that and also on, I insist, with regard to the Special Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity, because there are two unconstitutionality filings, and the Constitutional Court even used an official space to respond to web users that attack human rights advocates.

So, what the reality is or what the position is going to exist on the FECI issue and the NGO topic. Thank you.

Power: thank you. I think I’ve spoken about FECI, and it’s important, this is something that I also stressed with the President. We had the chance, the Ambassador and I to meet with, not only with Mr. Sandoval, of FECI, but also the Attorney General, and to convey and I should take to the other prosecutors working as part of the Public Ministry, and to convey the importance of each of these lines of attorney.

You know, on extortion, on smuggling, on narcotics, and on impunity and corruption. So, we have delivered that message. We are aware of, of course, the vulnerabilities that many believe FECI is experiencing, and you know, again it is so critically important, that the independence of that institution be respected, and that the facts and the evidence lead where they met, as in any independent judicial process.

On the NGO law, as you noted, we did have the chance to raise not only our concerns about the NGO law and its effects, but in fact exactly as your question poses it, we had the chance to convey the fears of our partners. And part of the issue is that we just, none of us know how this law is going to be implemented. And so, in that void you have NGO partners that we have worked with for very long time who ask themselves, well, what if I in my watch dog role say something critical of something that some government agency did, or what if I uncover corruption that harm the Guatemalan people.

What if someone in the Executive Branch says that I am a threat of the public order. They are worried that there is no check and balance. No appeals process necessarily. They are worried of how the law is going to be implemented, and of course the language is quite broad and very discretionary.

So, this is exactly the conversation that we had the chance to have with the President, to say that this is what we were hearing from our partners. These partners are great friends to the Guatemalan people. Because we are using American taxes of our money to support these partners. These partners are accountable to us in terms of how they are spending their money. And so, you know, is not as if these are partners that are wasting this money, or you know, committing crimes or anything like that. It wouldn’t be funding that were through. And they are worried. And so, I think the message back to us was, you know, we haven’t implemented this law yet, give it a chance.

And what we stressed was the importance not only of all the social service partners that we have in health and education, and youth, and you know we have so many civil society partners in those kinds of areas but also those NGOs that work on impunity; that work on supporting independent media, that you know that whose role may not be as implementing partner with the Government, but maybe in more of a role of rolling up the Government accountable.

So, we stress that this group need to be allowed to do their work. And again, as you said, this law will come into effect on Monday, and we would see whether the appeal process will be, you know, offered in the implementing regulation. Whether the process of assessing NGOs is fair and transparent. But certainly, this is a very detailed discussion that we had the chance to have with the President.

Moderator: the next question is from Grecia Ortiz from Diario La Hora.

Ortiz: what are the views of some prosecutors in the Public Prosecutor’s Office who are seeking for more independence in carrying out their investigations?

Power: I will just say that prosecutors need their independence to carry out the investigation and I would reiterate what I have said, which is that there should not be interference in what need to be independent investigation.

There are many private sector actors who are very intrigued by the prospect of coming to Guatemala to invest or to enter into trade relationships. And one of the things that the Ambassador and I and Vice President Harris want to be able to convey is that the rule of law is getting stronger here.

That prosecutors have the independence that they need to do their work and so that is the message that we would continue to push.

Moderator: the next question is from Rubén Lacán from TV Azteca.

Lacán: good evening my question is about the entrepreneurs or companies that will come to invest in the Northern Triangle and specifically in Guatemala. What kind of companies are these? And how many will be installed in Guatemala?

Power: thank you. I think that you heard Vice President Harris in her meetings with some very important CEOs. Not only announced a set of commitments of those specific companies made but also to call on other CEOs and other private sector actors to come check out Guatemala. To come check out other opportunities in Central America.

And so, I think that this call to action is one that many people in the United States are going to be following up on. We have heard from CEOs who are very interested that having a follow-up conversation or maybe organizing a visit here or maybe expanding work they are already doing here.

One of the messages that we have the chance to convey to the President is that there is a big conversation on their way in the United States about supply chains. And whether a supply chain that now start in other part of the world, whether some of those supply chains more beneficially, beneficially should extend to this region, and to this country.

So, I think this is an ongoing conversation and we hope again provided we are in a position to offer those companies or CEOs the assurances that they seek about democratic governance and about rule of law, we really hope that the numbers of companies that are going to go steadily up in the coming months and years.

Moderator: thank you, Mrs. Administrator. The last question is from Walter Morales of Radio Punto.

Morales: good evening, thank you very much. Coming back to the subject matter of vaccines that the United States would be donating to our nation. Are you aware if Guatemala must meet with specific procedures in order to be a beneficiary of this donation, such as liability for side effects associated to the vaccines or any compensation decree, what it is known?

Power: every time one of the major pharmaceutical companies organizes the delivery to a country bilaterally. Shall we say, not through COVAX, but in a direct way an agreement needs to be negotiated between the receiving country and the pharmaceutical company and that is on issues related to liability and other matters.

So, again we have made the announcement. We know that the Government as the Minister of Health convey to me today is a very close touch with the companies to try to understand which doses are more suited to Guatemala’s specific circumstances and then to get the paperwork completed as soon as possible.

I mean, the one thing I would say is everybody recognizes the urgency of this. But because this would the first time that Guatemala takes lots of doses from companies which it hasn’t worked before, there is always this, shall we say, startup cost at the beginning where this agreement gets negotiated.

But we really hope these vaccines would be flowing into the country soon and that you all get the relief that you have looked for, for so long and that you deserve.

Moderator: thank you very much with this answer we conclude the press conference to the media, thank you for your attendance and I remind you to return the translation receivers at the table at the entrance. Thank you and good evening.

 

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