Pompeo Says El Salvador's New President 'Gets It' on Migration, Government Reform

By Susan Jones | July 22, 2019 | 9:44am EDT
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shakes hands with Salvadorean President Nayib Bukele (R) after signing bilateral agreements at the presidential residence in San Salvador on July 21, 2019. (Photo by Marvin Recinos/AFP/Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday he sees a "sea change" and a "big shift" in El Salvador under its new president, Nayib Bukele, who was inaugurated on June 1.

"This is a big shift from where that government was before," Pompeo told "Fox & Friends."

"It was a Chavista government that didn't take care of its own people, let alone have the capacity to work to reduce migration. The reason the people were leaving was because you had a completely dysfunctional government, and so we've asked very clear things from President Bukele.

"We want him to control those who are leaving his country. You know, he owned up yesterday in our press conference, he said look, migration is because of the things we've not done -- the things the government has failed to do for its own people. That's a sea change," Pompeo said. And by the way, he took responsibility, he said this is El Salvador's responsibility.

“And that's a good first step, which shows their deep political will to work alongside the United States."

Pompeo said the commitments are important, but "we need to see real, tangible progress."

"He gets it in ways the previous government down there didn't, and I'm hopeful we can work together to achieve America's goal along our southern border."

At a joint news conference on Sunday in San Salvador, Bukele described his talks with Pompeo as "fruitful" and said he believes a "new chapter" has opened in El Salvador's relationship with the United States.

In the United States we have a huge chunk of our population. The majority of our exports go to the United States, the majority of our imports come from the United States; our economy is dollarized. We are so close to the United States.

Really, our relationship with the United States is the most important one we have in the world, and before it was eroded by the previous administration, but right now I think it’s quite clear that the new administration of El Salvador is willing to work 100 percent with the United States government and with the United States people.

Bukele said the two men talked about fighting crime, gangs, and drugs together -- and "reducing immigration together."

"Remember, MS-13 is here, but it’s also in the United States, and we’ll fight them," Bukele said. "Immigration is a problem that we have, but it’s a problem that ends at the southern border of the United States, so we have to solve the immigration problem together. And the United States sees El Salvador as a partner and as an ally even though we’re a very small country."

Bukele said he also wants to reduce migration by improving living conditions in El Salvador "so that people don't have to migrate, so that people have a decent job, security, and they want -- they will prefer to stay at their home with their families in their land, and not crossing three borders, desert, rivers, and...go into a dangerous path to try to cross into a country...that is not their country, is not their own country.

"For us, we want people to stay here," Bukele said. "That should be our goal. And they like that goal, and they want to help us in that goal."

Bukele admitted that "the problem starts with us because we are sending the migrants. People flee El Salvador because we do not have good-paying jobs, because we don’t have security. So if you live in fear with no jobs, not being able to sustain your – feed your family, of course you may want to try to migrate to another country that you think you’re going to get those things over there.

"But our (aim) as a government is to get our people to have those things here, to have security. That is why we’re working so hard on security. That’s why we’re working so hard on getting jobs for our people."

Bukele said his country doesn't want "free money" from the United States -- he wants investment from U.S. companies.

And Pompeo indicated that it may happen: "What we call the Overseas Private Investment Corporation -- it’s a government entity -- committed over $350 million for a liquefied natural gas facility and power plant here in El Salvador as part of the largest foreign investment in your country’s history," Pompeo said. "It’s a vote of confidence in your potential, and it happened because of fantastic leadership here in your country."

Bukele said the fact that a U.S. government entity is investing in El Salvador might encourage U.S. companies to do the same: "And I rather prefer that than the U.S. government sending us a check of a hundred million dollars. I mean, what can we do with a hundred million dollars?" he asked.

"The United States have sent us in the last 20 or 30 years, they have sent us over $4 billion in aid, and what did we do with it? We’re done with it. I mean, is the country better now?

"So the problem is that rather (than) looking for handouts, we should be looking for partnership. And I think that we had a long conversation and a very, very nice conversation, and I am sure that it’s going to translate into results, and we’re committed to translate that into results. So I think that will improve more the life of our people than getting some check with free money.

"And also, it’s tacky to ask for money when it’s their money. But I’m sure that all the things we’re going to do together in fighting crime, in fighting corruption, in strengthening our institutions, in countering narcotics, in reducing immigration with – by embettering the conditions of the people here, that’s huge..."

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