Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
Mexico City, Mexico
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
FOREIGN SECRETARY EBRARD: (Via interpreter) Thank you. We are here today wrapping up a process that has gone on for several months and that allows us to first affirm that we are leaving the Merida Initiative behind, and that starting today, we start with the Bicentennial Agreement. Why bicentennial? Because we will be celebrating 200 years of relations between Mexico and the United States. As you know, they were the first country that recognized us, so that is why we have given it this name.
What is this agreement based on? You will have a declaration with the details; however, it is based on the incorporation of the visions of President Biden as well as President Lopez Obrador’s and having a more comprehensive approach regarding security, health, and safe communities.
This morning, the President Lopez Obrador was saying that we are inspired and that we coincide in terms of the concepts of freedoms and liberties of President Roosevelt. So there is an ideological and political affinity between both our presidents, Biden and Lopez Obrador. What you will see in this document is the translation in terms of security, public health, and safe communities of those points that we agree on, which are crucial.
The second thing I need to say is that we have found from the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and from the Secretary on all representatives of the U.S. Government that we have a relation in which Mexico’s priorities are the same – have the same level of priority as the ones from the United States. Today is something – this is something that we can say, something that we did not have before.
For Mexico, we must prioritize violence, homicides, providing opportunity for development for young people. We are addressing the root causes of all of the issues that we are facing, and these priorities have been taken into account. In this document, we see a translation of a system, an institutional system, to follow up on this agreement. This agreement is not a declaration; it’s a path to be taken that is verifiable and that will provide results.
We have to present on December 1st our yearly plan – what are we going to do from December 1st, 2021 to December 1st, 2022. At the end of January by next year, we have to lay down on paper – write down on paper what we’re going to do in the next three years, so verifiable, transparent towards our citizens.
To summarize, this is not a limited cooperation; this is a partnership that is superior, qualitatively speaking, a partnership with people that you trust and respect. Partnerships cannot be done otherwise. So respect, co-responsibility, and reciprocity – these are the basis for this partnership between Mexico and the United States in matters of security, public health, and safe communities.
You will see that there are three broad objectives to protect our people, to prevent crime in the border region, to dismantle criminal organizations, to create immediate memorandums, MOUs to reduce addiction to drugs and the harm related to them. This is the first time that we do something like this in our history. An MOU to launch the program for control for control of port containers, a binational working group on chemical precursors, joint work in terms of supporting what Mexico is doing in forensics to locate people who have disappeared.
So this is an agreement that will be memorable due to its content and due to the fact that it translates for our peoples, for our societies, the coincidences that both administrations, both governments have. Thank you so much to the U.S. delegation, and especially the Secretary of State, Mr. Anthony Blinken, who will now have the floor.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Gracias, Marcelo, y buenas tardes a todas y a todos. It’s a pleasure to be here with you and with your entire delegation and ours. I think the spirit of collaboration, of teamwork and partnership was as strong as I’ve ever felt it in working with the United States and Mexico. And it’s wonderful for me to be back in Mexico. My last visit was actually a virtual one – one of the first visits I did when we first took office. But I think even a brief time here is a demonstration that there is no substitute for being together in person.
Our two countries, Mexico and the United States, share so much more than a border. We share a history, parts of which I had the opportunity to see this morning in the incredibly evocative murals of Diego Rivera at the Palacio Nacional. And I had something I will never forget, which was a personal commentary on the murals and on the history of Mexico by President López Obrador. It was for me a truly extraordinary moment. I am so grateful to him for taking the time and sharing so much about his knowledge of Mexico’s history and the history that unites our countries – cultural, economic ties, deep bonds, of course, between our communities and families.
The relationship between our governments is wide-ranging and complex. Every single day, we are working together on an incredibly broad range of issues, from Congress to climate, from public health to public education, tourism, to regional diplomacy; maintaining that relationship, and strengthening it demands constant, candid dialogue at every level. It requires seizing opportunities and adapting to new challenges, and that’s exactly what we did today with high-level dialogue.
And I am tempted to say I agree with everything Marcelo said, because I do. It was a very accurate and important description of what we – of the work we did today. And I have to say the relationship that we demonstrated today, the trust that is there between us, I’d like to say if I can, Marcelo, I think that’s the kind of relationship we have been able to build these past nine months and for which I am really, really grateful.
So as you all know, this morning, together with Attorney General Garland, Secretary of Homeland Security Mayorkas, Deputy Treasury Secretary Adeyemo, and other senior officials from our administration, we started the day with the chance to meet with President López Obrador. We touched on, again, a very broad range of issues that are so crucial to our relationship, including security, including migration, the economy, COVID-19, the climate crisis. And after that, with Foreign Secretary Ebrard and our colleagues, we had a very productive first meeting at the High-Level Security Dialogue, where we launched the U.S.-Mexico Bicentennial Framework on Security, Public Health, and Communities.
Now, that might sound like a mouthful, and it is, but it is rooted in the idea that we have a shared responsibility, as neighbors and as partners, to improve security for the people of our nations. That is what it boils down to. And it marks the beginning of a new chapter in Mexico-U.S. security cooperation, one that will see us working as equal partners in defining and tackling shared priorities, one that seeks to address the root causes of the security challenges that we face, including inequity, corruption, impunity, and one that does that not only by modernizing law enforcement, but also strengthening public health, the rule of law, and broader-based economic opportunity.
There are three pillars to this framework which I just want to very briefly describe. The first is protecting the health and safety of the people of our nations. Often in the past, we tried to do this by relying too much on security forces and too little on other tools in our kit. Of course, law enforcement has a critical role to play in reducing homicides and other serious crimes. But its efforts have to be matched by investments in growing economic opportunity, particularly for underserved communities and regions. That happens to be a central focus of the high-level economic dialogue that we launched a few weeks ago in Washington, and it is crucial to giving Mexican and American workers the tools they need to compete in the 21st century economy.
Our efforts also have to include substance abuse prevention, treatment, recovery support to help those struggling with addiction, to reduce the profound harm that illicit drugs inflict on our communities, and to reduce demand. And our governments agreed that protecting our people means protecting human rights.
And that means establishing effective mechanisms to ensure that abusers are held accountable, which is critical to earning the trust of communities, shoring up again the rule of law, and giving victims the justice they deserve. As Marcelo noted, we are expanding through our partnership efforts for resolving tens of thousands of cases of disappearances and missing persons in Mexico. That is one example of how we can work toward this broader goal together. It could help bring closure to families as they search for their loved ones and end impunity for offenders.
The second pillar is on preventing trafficking across borders. We know that reducing arms trafficking is a priority for Mexico, as many of the illicit weapons in this country come from the United States. And we’re committed to deepening our collaboration on arms tracing, on investigations, on prosecutions to disrupt the supply. We’re also collaborating on fighting human smuggling and trafficking organizations as well as drug trafficking organizations, which perpetuate cycles of violence and human suffering.
Finally, the third pillar of the framework focuses on pursuing transnational criminal networks. We will deepen our collaboration to combat money laundering and other forms of corruption. Particularly as these illicit organizations are growing more nimble in exploiting financial systems, we’ll be making our justice systems more effective at investigating and prosecuting organized crime and increasing cooperation on extraditions.
We agreed to build better metrics as well so that we can track all of these goals and hold ourselves accountable to them. The delegation that represented the United States Government in today’s High-Level Dialogue, including the Attorney General, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, in and of itself reflects how seriously we take our shared responsibility to deliver security for our people and the comprehensive tools that we are bringing to bear to do that.
But crucial as this new framework is, we want the Mexico-U.S. relationship to be about more, much more, than migration and security. Instead, it has to reflect the full range of issues where we share interests and we share values, including the environment, agriculture, technology, energy, trade, supply chains, and the innovative ideas that we came up with at the first High-Level Economic Dialogue.
The next months and years could be transformational in realizing the full potential of the Mexico-U.S. relationship and delivering in concrete ways for our people. We’re committed to working with our Mexican partners to make that happen.
Thank you very, very much.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) We have time for two questions from members of the Mexican press and two from the U.S. press.
Sarahí Méndez from Televisa.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Secretary Blinken, as a part of this bicentennial understanding, I wanted to know if border security will be reinforced on behalf of the United States, if it will be harder for migrants and criminal organizations to cross over. Will more resources be sent to Central America to apply in programs such as Jóvenes Construyendo el Futuro, Youth Building the Future, from a program of López Obrador? And will the MPP program be applied in Mexico?
For Secretary Ebrard, we know that for Mexico arms trafficking is very important. Secretary Blinken has talked about this issue. Have you foreseen this topic on tracing weapons in Mexico that came from the United States?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you, I’m happy to start. We are determined to have a border that is vibrant, that is a connector between our countries, between our people, commerce – a truly living thing – because these connections are so important to both of us. But it also has to be safe, orderly, humane in terms of the way we deal with illegal migration.
We’re doing a lot of things together and also on our part to move more effectively in that direction, including working to strengthen our own asylum system so that we can deal much more effectively, rapidly, and humanely with those who have – are putting forward asylum claims. We’re also working to expand legal pathways which are so critical to migration, and of course, we will uphold the rule of law.
So much of what we’ve been doing as well has been in collaboration and cooperation with Mexico, and I have to tell you how grateful we are for that, because we face a challenge that in many ways is, I think, unique with tremendous pressure from illegal migratory flows coming in different ways, different parts of the hemisphere, irregular migration, again, for very – for understandable reasons, which I’ll come to in a minute. We see not only in the Northern Triangle but also, of course, recently Haiti, countries in the region that have had large Haitian-origin populations, Venezuela, and potentially other challenges to come, so much of this driven by economic challenges which have been exacerbated by COVID-19 as well as security challenges and other challenges.
I think as we’ve been working so closely together on this, one of the understandings that we have that we share – two things. Even as we’re making sure that we have an approach that ensures that it’s safe, it’s orderly, it’s humane, that we uphold the law, we have to do two things. And this is what the United States and Mexico are working on together.
One, we have to tackle the root causes of irregular migration. Even as we’re dealing with the immediate challenges, ultimately the only solution is to deal with the root causes, because, again, it is not as if most people from wherever they are wake up one morning and say, “Wouldn’t it be a great thing to leave everything I know behind – my family, my community, my culture, my language, everything – and make this incredibly hazardous journey and come to – try to come to the United States, and also, by the way, not be able to get there.” There are very powerful drivers that give people a sense that they have no choice. We have to be able to address that.
I think fundamentally it’s about economic opportunity and demonstrating to people that they can have a livelihood, that they can have the possibility of providing for themselves, for their families, for their futures at home. And we are working on that together.
The second thing I’ll say is that I think Mexico and the United States also believe strongly that we have to have a stronger regional approach to this challenge, that there has to be a greater sense and a greater practical application of the notion of shared responsibility. And there too, our countries are working together to do that.
FOREIGN SECRETARY EBRARD: (Via interpreter) As we have commented, President Lopez Obrador during our breakfast mentioned the importance of launching an immediate employment program in Central America that has the shape of Sowing Lives or Youth Building the Future. The president mentioned that part of this was done by President Roosevelt with the so-called New Deal.
And so there is a great impact that the pandemic has had in Central America and in countries and in other regions, and as Secretary Blinken pointed out, there are critical situations going on around the world, such as in Haiti, for example. And we believe that short-term we could carry out joint action, especially in Central America, inspired on employment opportunities. That could be the most relevant kind of response.
Mexico is doing so to the best of our abilities. We could have possibly in these three countries 40,000 people working by the month of January. And we think it’s a good path to take, and we hope to do so with the United States as well. They have been very receptive to this proposal, and hopefully we would soon be stating what steps we will be taking and how far they range.
Regarding arms trafficking, tracking – when you talk about these weapons – means that you can know the serial number, know where that weapon was sold, know the manufacturer. It doesn’t refer to us tracking physically these weapons on behalf of the United States. It means that among both countries we decide to track where it was sold, how it was transported into Mexico, et cetera, and how it was used. That is what we’re going to do, and that is what we’re going to work on as a priority because, for us, reducing the number of weapons in Mexico implies reducing the level of violence. You cannot reduce one without reducing the other. It’s like a rule of thumb.
So we have found that they have been receptive. There is interest within the delegation. Today the Attorney General was here, CBP, and representatives from several authorities in DHS that have to do with these matters. And on December 1st when we present the plan, you will see clearly the actions that will be taken. Because there is a common denominator here: to reduce the arms trafficking as much as possible and as soon as possible.
INTERPRETER: The interpreter apologizes; that microphone was not used.
FOREIGN SECRETARY EBRARD: (Via interpreter) Today we did not deal with this topic, or we have not fixed a date for that. We will inform on that as soon as we can.
MODERATOR: The next question comes from Courtney McBride of The Wall Street Journal.
QUESTION: Thank you. A question for each secretary.
To Secretary Ebrard, what is your government seeking from the United States in exchange for the resumption of the MPP or the “Remain in Mexico” policy? And you described this agreement, the bicentennial agreement, as a path to be taken, and you said it shared visions for the future of the relationship. What specifically is Mexico seeking from the United States as part of this framework?
And to Secretary Blinken, how does the Biden administration expect migrants to remain in Mexico when the Mexican Government is issuing fewer visas to migrants, leaving a mass of people with nowhere to go? And if you could also share what the U.S. Government’s key asks are of Mexico as part of the framework, I would appreciate it.
FOREIGN SECRETARY EBRARD: (Via interpreter) Today we did not discuss the MPP or Title 42. It was not a meeting about the border. It was a meeting about a common vision that implies many topics. We do have direct contact with CBP, DHS, et cetera with regards to – I’ll repeat so that you can hear the interpretation. Is it working?
Once again, I was saying that today’s meeting did not include a session on Title 42 or the MPP. It was not done this way. We have direct contact with DHS on this issue. When it comes to migration, let’s say that this has its own space for discussions with the United States. And border security includes, of course, people smuggling, but today we did not meet to that end. The U.S. will communicate what they’re going to propose in their own time. We work every day because when it comes to Title 42, we have thousands of people repatriated, and we have been able to work jointly along these last few months. So whenever we have something to inform, I’ll be able to comment on that specific question regarding MPP.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you, Marcelo. And I don’t have much to add because, as Marcelo said, this is not something that came up today. I would just simply say that U.S. immigration law, of course, remains in effect. We continue to work very closely with Mexico to promote a safe, orderly, and humane process along the shared border and to address the myriad challenges of irregular migration. DHS will have more on the specifics, but as I said earlier, just broadly speaking, I think the collaboration we have on working this incredibly challenging issue together – at least in my experience – has never been stronger.
But we both recognize that even as we’re dealing with the immediate challenge and pressures, which we’re in almost daily contact across our governments to do that, we also have to focus on some of the – again, the long-term drivers and – more to come on this – fostering greater regional collaboration and cooperation. And that’s what – that is what we talked a little bit about today.
MODERATOR: Gracias. (Via interpreter) Arturo Páramo from Grupo Imagen.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Thank you, and good afternoon, everyone. Secretary Ebrard, I would like to ask if there is already a set date or a schedule for this investment project for development in Central America and southern Mexico. You talk about measuring, things being able to be quantifiable. Does this project have a chronogram that has been established? And has some investment been made, given the fact that during the Trump administration an amount had been offered but nothing became concrete? For this time around, do we have the commitment of the Government of the United States for that kind of investment?
And on the other hand, what differences are there? We’re talking about ending the Merida Initiative and a new era in our bilateral relations. In this sense, how can we see the difference between both agreements, meaning on behalf of the U.S. Government, will there no longer be ease of access to weapons, or will there be further exchange between agencies, between our countries to work in one country or another? Is this modified? Is this going to continue? Are there going to be new rules? How has the situation changed?
And you said that you did not talk about reopening the border or dates for anything about – regarding reopening the borders between Mexico and the United States.
FOREIGN SECRETARY EBRARD: (Via interpreter) I would say the following: The border is an everyday topic. I – when I gave the floor to Secretary Mayorkas, I called him Alejandro because he has been here twice or thrice already, and I think that we speak every day about this. Secretary Blinken and I only speak on Sundays. (Laughter.)
And so I think it’s very clear that for Mexico, it is a priority to reopen activities at the border. We had the health issue regarding the Delta variant at some point in the United States and in Mexico as well, and that’s why it was delayed. As soon as the United States makes its decision, they will communicate that to us. They know it’s a priority. It was already mentioned this morning. However, it was not the objective of today’s meeting.
What would be the difference with the Merida Initiative? Now, let me explain: The first substantial difference would be that the Merida Initiative was based, from the Mexican perspective, on the fact that we had to capture drug lords and with that it would be enough. That was the essence of it saying, “Please, the United States, send helicopters, send equipment. Please, provide assistance so that I can detain these drug lords and solve these issue.” In the essence, that’s what Mexico thought at that time.
Today, what we have on our hands is a joint strategy which is much more complex. We know that it’s not going to be enough to just detain or capture some drug lords. We have to be concerned with addiction, with providing youths with employment opportunities, because if not they resort to crime activities. We want to avoid the proliferation of consumption of cheaper drugs that is on the rise in both our nations.
So we have agreed on a joint strategy with the three components that we have already explained in which Mexico’s and the U.S.’s priorities are established. It’s much more complex. It’s broader. It’s not only about just one straightforward action. The success of this agreement is not going to be measured by how many drug lords we put in jail and how many press conferences we hold. It will be seen through the reduction of the homicide rates in Mexico and the reduction of drug consumption. And there is also reciprocity and co-responsibility, so it’s more egalitarian, it’s more balanced. That is, in essence, what we mean. It’s not little. It’s very much – it’s a lot, because we had not had something like this.
Regarding investments in Central America, you might ask, “Why don’t we have that yet?” Because the U.S. is going through their budgetary process. I think I’m answering something that – maybe I am stealing that answer. But that question that you made, we posed that same question to our colleagues from the United States, and they said, “We’re in the middle of decision-making processes when it comes to our budgets.” So the United States cannot but wait until that process is over to determine what they can invest so that we can achieve the objectives that we are proposing.
And we are also going through budgetary processes, but we were talking about the U.S.’s participation. So when they are done with that, we will know. Remember that it’s different, because on that occasion we talked about private sector investment, and here we’re talking about a more – an investment of a more social nature with government resources.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: And just to add very, very quickly, first, Marcelo is right. I know that when the phone rings in his house on a Sunday, he thinks, “Oh, it must be Tony,” because we have a track record for some reason of speaking on Sundays.
And yes, to your – to your point or question, Marcel is exactly right: We’re in our budgetary process. But just to be very clear, President Biden has made a commitment to budget significant assistance for Central America, and in particular for Honduras and El Salvador and Guatemala, in order to address the drivers of irregular migration and to hopefully have an impact on people’s lives so that they feel that they can remain in their own countries. And we have talked about investing $4 billion over the four years of our administration, and the budget proposals that we are making reflect that commitment.
MODERATOR: The last question from Nike Ching of Voice of America.
QUESTION: Good afternoon. Secretary Blinken. Several U.S. senators today wrote you a letter to express disappointment over the inhumane treatment of Haitian migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. If I may, a question for you: Is the U.S. providing Mexico assistance to fly those migrants back to their homeland? What specific assurances has the Government of Mexico has given you that they are treating those Haitian migrants humanely, as you have asked? And – or have they – will they help to facilitate Haiti’s long-term stability?
Good afternoon, Mr. Foreign Secretary. What assurances are you giving the Haitian migrants in Mexico that they are – they will be treated humanely? And how is Mexico working with the U.S. to discourage people from heading to the border? And if they do make it to the border, should they expect the same treatment that sparked criticism worldwide? Thank you very much, both gentlemen.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. We are determined that as we enforce our laws, we do so fully respecting the human rights and the dignity of all people, including those who may be seeking to enter the United States as irregular migrants. That is the fundamental basis upon which we’re proceeding, and we are determined to do that. We’re in very close daily contact with our colleagues in Mexico on the question of the irregular Haitian migration, some of which is coming from Haiti itself, some of which is coming from other countries in our hemisphere where Haitians have resided for some time and now seek to come to the United States.
We also are trying to be very clear that if they seek to make that journey in an irregular manner, they put themselves at tremendous risk along the entire route, and they will not be able to enter the United States. So we’re working to make sure that we’re communicating that effectively. Unfortunately, one of the things that’s happened is various groups are spreading false information about what possibilities exist for those coming to the United States irregularly, and trying to misinform people that they will be able to enter the United States. The danger – the journey is profoundly dangerous and it will not succeed, and we are working to make sure that people understand that.
But we’re also working closely together and working ourselves to make sure that people are treated with dignity, with decency, and that their rights are fully protected.
FOREIGN SECRETARY EBRARD: (Via interpreter) Yes, thank you. I can tell you that we have not transported people coming in this case not from Haiti but from Brazil and Chile who started migrating up north. We have not provided transportation of those people or origins that go to the United States back to Haiti. That has not happened.
What are we doing? What is Mexico doing? First, those who – for those who it applies, we have offered refuge. Why? Because approximately 90 percent of those people already have that in other countries, in Brazil or in Chile. However, those who do not, we can provide them with it. Not all of them ask for it for many reasons.
How many people coming from Brazil, Chile, Colombia, or other countries are in Mexico right now? Approximately 14,000. What are we doing with these people? Most of them even speak Spanish. And we are trying to provide them with employment opportunities with the help of the private sector. We have already started that; it has not been easy either.
And what have we realized? That many people lie to them. Usually they’re told that if they get to the U.S. in time, they can apply for TPS, which is a program designed for Haitians who live in the United States, not for people living outside the United States. So starting August 3rd with an announcement of broadening the dates – the date limit for that program, they thought that they needed to get to the United States faster and they thought that they would be able to remain there. That is what – the information we have gotten from those people that we have made contact with. Obviously right now we’re getting information that we did not have before. The National Migration Institute has now hired people who speak not only French but also Creole so that they can communicate better.
So what are we doing? In half a year, we have received that number of people. We estimate that there are another 14,000 at least out there in different situations within our country that have not requested refugee status. So what is Mexico’s position? Those are the facts.
What I find reproachable is that they are lied to. That is a really serious situation because those people have already suffered so much. Can you imagine coming from Brazil and Chile, and going through the entire continent, and getting to the United States thinking that you are going to get a residency just by getting there? And that’s why this movement was generated recently.
So thank you for that question, because it allows us to clarify these things. This doesn’t happen that easily. The people who come to Mexico invariably will be offered the same status. We have the – that capability. We are a country of over 120 million people. If 15,000 people from Haiti come to Mexico and want to work and want to remain here, it’s not a problem for Mexico. What is a problem is to tell these people that if they get to the United States, they’re going to get a residency. So we’re working very hard for them to get trustworthy information.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Thank you very much. That will be all. Thank you, Secretary Ebrard, Secretary Blinken.
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