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Background Press Call by a Senior Administration Official on the Vice President's Engagements Regarding Root Causes of Migration

June 06, 2022

Via Teleconference

5:19 P.M. EDT

MODERATOR: Thanks, everyone, for joining us. This briefing is to preview the Vice President's engagements tomorrow -- Tuesday, June 7th -- in Los Angeles related to her work addressing the root causes of migration.

I would just note, as many of you are aware, there is another background briefing at 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time, which will cover other issues related to the Summit of the Americas, which I know many are interested in. But again, this briefing is about the Vice President's engagements regarding root causes.

This briefing is on background, attributed to "senior administration officials." The contents will be embargoed until Tuesday, June 7th, 5:00 a.m. Eastern Time, 2:00 p.m. [a.m.] Pacific Time. And by joining this call, you're agreeing to these ground rules.

Following the call, we'll also be sending you some factsheets to support the announcements that the Vice President will be making. They are also embargoed until Tuesday, June 7th at 5:00 a.m. Eastern, 2:00 a.m. Pacific Time.

And for your awareness today, our speaker is [senior administration official], who will hereinafter be referred to as "senior administration official."

And before I hand it over to him, I would just like to preview what we already put out publicly, but to recap the Vice President's schedule for tomorrow, Tuesday, in Los Angeles.

First, she'll deliver remarks at a women's economic empowerment event hosted by the Chamber of Commerce and the Partnership for Central America.

She will host a roundtable with women leaders, including women business executives, entrepreneurs, and civil society.

And third, she will host a roundtable with business executives as part of her call to action in partnership with the private sector.

With that, I will turn it over to senior administration official number one. Thanks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you, [moderator]. And thanks, everybody, for joining.

Before I dive into some of the specific announcements of this week, let me just take a step back and give you some context for the Vice President's approach to this set of issues.

As you all know, the Vice President leads our administration's implementation of the strategy to address root causes of migration from Central America -- a strategy that we launched last summer. And this week is a real opportunity for her to continue to drive this process under her leadership.

The focus of that strategy is addressing endemic issues in the countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras -- issues such as poverty and corruption and gender-based violence, which are the causes of migration.

The Vice President's theory of the case in approaching this and at the center of this strategy is that people don't want to leave their homes. And if you can help provide them hope and opportunity, particularly economic opportunity, there's a greater chance that they will remain there.

We've acknowledged all along that the drivers of migration from Central America and elsewhere are long-term issues that can't be resolved quickly. But we think that we have been tackling them and are seeing real progress in our efforts.

When the Vice President began her work on this issue, she recognized that governments were important, but we also had to engage the private sector and civil society. And she believes that governments can't solve these problems alone.

So as part of that process, she launched the call to action in May 2021, in which she challenged and encouraged companies to invest in the region and help provide those economic opportunities and support the sort of long-term development in the region that would provide opportunity and hope for people to stay home.

That's the context in which the call-to-action work she's doing in Los Angeles this week takes place. And let me roll out some of what she is able to announce this week.

You'll remember last December, when the Vice President held a roundtable with some business executives, she announced that we had galvanized $1.2 billion of commitments for the region.

Tomorrow, we will announce -- and you'll get this factsheet -- that the Vice President has galvanized a total of more than $3.2 billion of investments for the region from 40 different companies and organizations.

So, this total includes more than $1.9 billion in new investments that we're going to announce tomorrow from 10 new companies. And I just underscore: These, we think, are pretty sizable direct investments in economies the size of the three countries in question, and they will be responsible for creating tens of thousands of jobs.

Again, we'll get you a factsheet and all of the details, but just to give you a sense of what I'm talking about, it includes $150 million from the Gap to increase its sourcing from Central America. Another apparel company, SanMar, will invest $500 million in the region, generating 4,000 additional jobs. There's $700 million from Millicom, a telecommunications company that's going to expand its mobile and broadband networks in the region, and $270 million from Visa to expand financial inclusion and digital infrastructure.

And I particularly stress in the context of these announcements -- you know, the last two, which expand broadband and financial inclusion and banking opportunities for people, really help make this project part of creating an ecosystem of opportunity. It's not just the direct jobs that are created by these investments, but jobs in areas that help people thrive and succeed economically.

The Vice President believes that we need to not just offer an individual a job but address the full spectrum of needs and support individuals in the different facets of their lives. And that's what this project is all about: trying to help individuals move up the economic ladder and not just have a job but also have access to information technology, banking system, and infrastructure that creates that positive ecosystem.

So we feel like, in the call to action, we've created an innovative public partner -- public-private partnership model where companies and organizations and governments can work together and build off of each other's work. And that's what the Vice President will be discussing in a number of roundtables with business executives and others throughout the week.

She's also going to be discussing other elements of our strategy, which we think make the investment climate even more attractive to these companies. I'm talking about combating corruption, promoting rule of law, reducing violence, and, in particular, empowering women, about which I can say a little bit more now.

But I just want to underscore that we believe, and the strategy last summer articulates this comprehensively, that you need all of these pillars -- better governance, anti-corruption, rule of law, reducing violence, empowering women -- going hand-in-hand with the job creation to have the long-term effect that we're looking for.

So, I mentioned some specific initiatives in the space of empowering women, which the Vice President feels strongly about. And tomorrow, she'll announce further initiatives in this area. Again, we'll send you a factsheet.

But she'll be announcing new commitments from the United States government and the private sector to support women's economic empowerment and reduce gender-based violence in the region.

Some of the companies involved in the call to action, who have all stressed the importance of women's empowerment for economic reasons, among others, are coming together for a new initiative called "In Her Hands," where companies and organizations are making commitments to empower, train, and protect women.

Taken together, these private sector commitments will connect more than 1.4 million women and their communities to the financial system and digital economy, accelerate women's participation in the agro industry, train more than 500,000 women and girls in core job skills, promote gender parity, and elevate women within the companies across the region.

Additionally, she'll be announcing some U.S. government initiatives and funding, including efforts to address gender-based violence, which goes hand-in-hand with their economic empowerment.

So, tomorrow, the Vice President will speak to these initiatives and their importance. She will make clear the case that when a woman has access to economic opportunities and is safe and secure, it's not just good for the individual, it's good for her children, her family, her community, and our entire hemisphere.

Her central message in all this is that when women succeed, all of society benefits. That's what she has told the companies that we -- and organizations we've been working with, and that's what she's heard from them as well.

She's prioritized this work as part of the Root Causes Strategy, and we are really pleased to see so many organizations and companies join us in lifting up women in Central America.

Lastly, let me just mention that the Vice President will also launch an initiative called the Central American Service Corps.

This is a $50 million initiative that will be administered by USAID. We will provide young people in northern Central America with paid community service opportunities. They will engage on local priorities, such as education and tutoring, climate action, food security, health services, and violence prevention. This will help them with life and job skills and, we believe, further help address the root causes of migration.

This initiative began as a pilot project in response to the call to action by our private sector and philanthropic -- philanthropic partners. And we are pleased that we are now able to dedicate U.S. government resources to scale it up.

It really is -- and I'll end with this -- a good example of how the public and private sectors can go hand-in-hand and work together and create the sort of synergies we think we need to be successful in this area.

So thanks for listening to that, sort of, summary. And I think we'll be happy to take a couple of questions.

MODERATOR: Yeah, if our operator could re-up the instructions to get in the queue that would be great.

Q: Hi, everybody. Given that the Vice President is focused on the Northern Triangle, I wanted to see if any Northern Triangle leaders are going to be going to the summit, and if not, what that says about her efforts to engage with them.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks. What we can confirm is that the countries of what you're calling the Northern Triangle, northern Central America -- Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador -- will be represented at the summit and will fully participate in the summit. They are sending delegations.

You've heard from the leaders of those countries. And we'll leave them to speak for themselves about whether their leaders themselves are going to come. That's a call for them to make. Some of them have said that they aren't going to come, but they also have confirmed that they will be sending delegations.

So we consider them the participants in the summit. Each of them had a different reason for the leader -- him or herself -- potentially not coming. But it doesn't undermine any of what I wrote out in terms of our approach to the region.

Obviously, we do work with and need to work with governments, and we do so where we can. But at the same time, we're consistent with our principles.

I mentioned earlier how central anti-corruption and good governance was to making this effort work, and we're not going to shy away from standing firm on those principles. And indeed, you know, he was standing firm on principles, such as inviting just democratic countries to participate in the summit and pursuing anti-corruption efforts, that may be the reason that particular leaders choose not to come. And we have nothing to apologize for in standing for those principles.

But going back to what I laid out in terms of our efforts to create economic opportunity (inaudible) hope, you'll see that (inaudible) we've been, I think, remarkably successful in generating public-private partnership and private sector interest in these countries, and it's having real results.

Q: Hey, guys. Thanks for doing this call. I want to piggyback off of that last question for a second, because -- so I know the President of Honduras, Castro -- they announced on Saturday that they would be sending the Foreign Minister, but whether or not she's attending, it's still (inaudible).

I wonder if the Vice President is at all disappointed that you guys don't know whether the President, Castro -- who, you know, she obviously talked to in late May -- is coming; whether you guys expect a phone call to happen in the next few days with either her or the Guatemalan President, since those are the two countries, out of the three, that Harris has talked to the most.

And as the President of Mexico is not coming, but we know that he's going to be headed to the White House next month, can we expect any type of travel either on the Vice President's side or on either of those two leaders' sides to the U.S. in, kind of, the same fashion if they don't make it?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure. Thanks for all of that. Just on the last thing: I don't have any travel to announce, but I'm happy to address the three countries that you mentioned.

And I'm glad you started with Honduras. And I think the President of Honduras herself has said that she didn't plan to come, and the reason that she -- it was that she believes all countries in the region should be invited. And, you know, mainly that's a reference to Cuba, which was not included.

The Vice President has a good relationship with the new President -- I say "new"; it's been over 100 days now -- of Honduras. She went to her inauguration. She supports her efforts to support democracy and, indeed, fight anti-corruption -- the issue I mentioned a minute ago.

But like I said, President Biden took a decision not to invite Cuban participation. This is a longstanding principle, in fact, of the Summit of the Americas which -- and I think the third summit in 2001, in Canada, all of the countries participating made clear that democracy should be a core principle for this summit.

So we're consistent with that collective decision, not just the U.S. one. And if that was the reason that -- you know, as the President of Honduras, we respect her decision. If she wants to make a stand on that issue and feels differently, that's obviously her sovereign right.

But my point on that is that it doesn't interfere with our relationship with Honduras, with the Vice President's personal relationship with President Castro, with Honduras's participation in the summit -- which you mentioned; they do plan to participate. The Foreign Minister will be here, and we look forward to fulsome engagement and follow-up. And we'll continue to do all the private sector work that I described.

Guatemala is a different question. Again, I -- you know, you can refer you to -- I'll refer you to the government of Guatemala for the reasons President Giammattei may not come.

I can only say on that: We've been consistent on the issue of principle as well. We've said that corruption is a core part of the Root Causes Strategy that President Biden put out an executive order on fighting corruption around the world, and we've been following up on that. We've been following up in terms of Guatemala.

I'm sure you saw last month we sanctioned and designated the newly re-appointed attorney general over issues of corruption. We set up an anti-corruption task force.

So, we're just going to continue to be consistent and principled on the issues we think are important.

So, once again, it hasn't prevented our work with the government of Guatemala or even the President of the Guatemala, for that matter, with whom we have engaged extensively. And it hasn't stood in the way of the economic development that we're trying to -- and succeeding in delivering, or uplifting women and providing opportunity and empowering women in Guatemala and elsewhere. So, that's how I see the situation there.

Q: Hi, how are you? I wanted to ask you regarding this last question: How confident are you that these issues about root causes of migration can be addressed without talking to the government delegations? Because, you know, like -- there is, like, civil society and other representatives, as you've said, that it will be interesting to talk about the bilaterals -- if there are going to be any in which the Vice President is going to take part.

And another question is: Is the Vice President going to meet with the Spanish delegation with -- regarding an announcement that was circulated last week about possibly both Spain and Canada -- this was published by Axios -- taking Central American refugees from the United States, from the border? Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, first of all, on the first part, let me be clear: We are talking to and the Vice President is talking to the countries in question. I mentioned their representation will be here. Our government-to-government work goes on. We have diplomats in the field. There are lots of phone calls.

So, when you say, you know, "Can the root causes be addressed without dealing directly with the governments?" -- no, we don't think so. It's very helpful to deal with the governments as we do and we will continue to do, even as we also engage civil society and the private sector.

And again, I want to be clear: All of the governments we've talked about will be represented here in Los Angeles and will have interactions with their American counterparts.

On the issue of Spain and Canada, let me just say: We'll have further announcements in the course of the week about migration. It is one of the issues that this summit is tackling, and there's been an in-depth conversation going on with all of the countries of the hemisphere but then also some external partners like Spain, which has been really helpful including, frankly, on the root causes in Central America issue, but also potentially on migration. So, we'll have more to say on that in the course of the week. But there's definitely in-depth conversations going on about a regional approach to those issues. And the two countries you mentioned are a core part of that.

Maybe we'll take one last question.

Q: Thank you. Thank you for having this. Since my colleagues beat me to the attendance questions, I'll ask about the investment. In terms of keeping the governments of the region up to date with your actions and your announcements, are these governments -- are the governments of Giammattei and Castro, and I suppose Bukele not so much, part of these announcements? Are they informed ahead of time of these announcements like the Gap, Visa, and so on that you mentioned? Or are they just going to find out tomorrow when the embargo breaks?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The initiative that I've described is based in the Partnership for Central America, which is a non-governmental entity that was set up in the context of the Vice President's call to action. And most of this private sector work and these discussions have been in that -- in that context.

I think it goes without saying that major investments of the scale that I've been talking to also entail and involve contact with the government by the companies in question. So, it's not part of our process necessarily to engage the government as we discuss and encourage and work on these investments, but it's also not in any way going on behind their backs.

They -- in fact, they welcome it. I know President Giammattei has underscored his personal interest in making foreign direct investment a priority for his country. President Castro, the same thing.

So, in terms of driving this process, I think it's fair to say, you know, we're doing it transparently, we're on the same page, and we have a common interest in increasing jobs and foreign direct investment.

MODERATOR: All right. Thank you very much to our speaker and thank you, everyone, for joining us.

As a reminder, that was on background to a "senior administration official" and the contents are embargoed until Tuesday, June 7, 5:00 a.m. Eastern Time and 2:00 a.m. Pacific Time.

We will follow up with all of you on some supporting materials, and we look forward to tomorrow's announcements. Thank you very much.

END 5:42 P.M. EDT

Kamala Harris, Background Press Call by a Senior Administration Official on the Vice President's Engagements Regarding Root Causes of Migration Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/356349

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