Remarks by Vice President Harris at a Virtual Roundtable with Guatemalan community-based organizations

April 27, 2021

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Mucho gusto.  Thank you, Mr. Ambassador.

And thank you all for being here.  I’m looking at a big screen and looking at all of you there.  I — only what would be better is to be with you in person, but I plan on doing that soon.  But I’m looking at you and very thankful for all of you taking the time to join us for this meeting.  And, Mr. Ambassador, thank you for bringing everyone together.

I have been looking forward to this meeting for quite some time.  I think the Ambassador has shared that President Joe Biden has asked me to take the lead on our nation’s diplomatic efforts with Guatemala and throughout your region.  You know, the word “diplomacy” generally suggests a relationship between government leaders, but I believe it has to be broader than that.  It has to be more than that.

And that’s why we are building a comprehensive strategy that includes business leaders, foundation leaders, and community leaders like you.  You, I believe, are the vital voices of this region.

And that is why the day after I met with your President, which was yesterday, I am meeting with you today.  I believe you know exactly what is happening on the ground, exactly how much people are suffering, and exactly why people are leaving their homes.

And I know that there are acute factors.  The acute factors that I think of are the catastrophes that are causing people to leave right now: the hurricanes, the pandemic, the drought, extreme food insecurity.

And then I believe there are the longstanding issues, what we call the “root causes”: corruption, violence, and poverty, and, of course, the lack of economic opportunity and the lack of not only climate mitigation, but climate adaptation and the lack of good governance.

When we talk about these acute factors and the root causes, we often hear the statistics.  The policy people will talk about statistics — they’ll talk about the number of people living in poverty; they’ll talk about the number of people who are food insecure, the number of people who have experienced violence.

But the reason I wanted to be with you and to hear from you is: You know the people behind these numbers — that these are not just statistics.  You know their stories.  You know their struggles.  And I believe that you can help me identify which communities are most in need of support.

And so, when I think about it — and I mentioned this to the President yesterday, to your President — when I think about this, I think about some of the people who are most in need of support are women and youth, Afro-descendants, LGBTQ people, and, of course, the Indigenous People of Guatemala.  And I believe we must defend the human rights of all people.

So you can also help us understand which geographic areas are most in need of relief.  My focus is such that I recognize it is not just going to be a broad, sweeping approach; that there are regions that are more need than others.  And I’d like you to give me some perspective on where those regions are, because we are going to take a — what we call a “place-based approach” — so that the kind of information you give us can be incorporated into our focus on specific places that are most in need.

Finally, I’d like you to tell me what has been working and what has not been working.  You have been doing this work for so long.  I have read about each one of you.  I’ve read about your longstanding commitment.  And — and so I want to learn from you what has worked from your perspective and what has not, and what might work, what has not been tried that could work.

And I’d love to get your thoughts on — on policies and, in particular, which U.S. policies — which policies from the United States have and have not worked in the past.  And also, on what conditions community organizations in Guatemala need in order to thrive.  Your insight and your experience — both of those together are invaluable, and so is your partnership.

So, today, I want to hear from you.  I want to hear about your work.  I want to hear about what would give the people of your country hope.  What are their dreams?  What are their dreams for their children?  When they pray, whether it is a silent or a spoken prayer, what are the people praying for?

And so, this is part of what I’d like to learn from you today.  It is also my intention to travel there in June and to meet with you in person.

But before you — before you begin to share with me your thoughts and perspective, let me say again, thank you.  I know how hard you work.  I know how hard the work is.  I know that the work we do together is going to take time, and that anything we do together will not become visible overnight, but I know it will be important work.  And I know this is work that must happen.

So the meeting we are having today is one of several that I intend to have — leading up to some that I’ve had already here in the United States — to lead up to my visit to Guatemala in June.  And between now and then, and after, I look forward to continuing the conversation and the work we can do together.

And I do believe we are in this together.  Part of my approach to this is recognizing that we are all neighbors within the Western Hemisphere, and we have a responsibility then to think about our role in the context of our neighbors.

So, again, thank you and I look forward to our conversation.