Secretary Michael R. Pompeo and Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado at a Press Availability

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter)  Good afternoon.  We would like to welcome to the president’s house in Costa Rica His Excellency the Secretary of State of the United States of America Mr. Pompeo and his delegation.  We will also extend our greetings to the president, Mr. Carlos Alvarado Quesada, the ministers, ambassadors, the media in both countries.  Welcome to Costa Rica.

We will hear the message of the president, Mr. Carlos Alvarado Quesada, who will give us a summary of the issues discussed in the bilateral meeting with the Secretary of State Mr. Michael Pompeo.

PRESIDENT ALVARADO:  (Via interpreter)  Good afternoon.  Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary.  Welcome.  Welcome to Costa Rica, Ambassador Kozak as well, Ambassador Day, the members of the delegation, distinguished friends.  We had a very positive conversation.  We are countries that are close to each other.  We work together in many issues.  We are consolidated democracies, and we have a dialogue in – that has to do with values and respect we have too for each other as one of the two most solid democracies in the Americas.

We discussed several issues in our bilateral agenda between the two countries.  One which I think is a very great concern for Costa Ricans has got to do with the recommendations issued by the State Departments to the tourists in Costa Rica.  We were downgraded from number one to number two, and we have discussed this with Secretary Pompeo, and I would like to thank him for being so open to discuss this.  And he told us that he is ready to go back into this issue, which is the ranking, which is essential for us in Costa Rica.  And I would really like to express our deep gratitude for that.

Also, Costa Rica’s ranking at the FAA, the Federal Aviation Administration – we’ve had four visits with the U.S. embassy and the Costa Rican authorities.  We’ve corrected the issues that were mentioned, and we’re ready to receive the audit to recover our ranking.  We also requested that this audit takes place as soon as possible so that we can recover our position in the area of aviation.

We have looked at our joint security program, and we’ve seen the results.  They’re very positive.  Between 2018 and 2019 we saw an important increase, thanks to our joint cooperation, in the seizing of cocaine and marijuana.  And this is something the Secretary will be looking into during his visit, and we want to continue our efforts in the areas of security and joint work.  The results have been successful, and we would like to thank him for the cooperation in this joint effort.

Both countries have underscored their commitment to democracy and democratic institutions, and especially given the situation of the Nicaraguan regime that has violated not only human rights but also freedom of press, freedom of meeting of Nicaraguan citizens.  Many of them had to escape to our country.  And in the case of Nicaragua and in the case of Venezuela, we’ve shown our commitment to find democratic solutions for those countries, countries where they do not enjoy democracy but rather have an oppressive regime that hurt the citizens of those nations.

We also would like to express our deep gratitude for our conversation vis-a-vis the OCDE joining of Costa Rica.  We know that we are in the last phases of a process that we have to continue working on to conclude it, but any support we can give is really very – we can get is very important.  We also underscore the work done by the ambassador, Sharon Day, a very strong ally of Costa Rica.  We thank her for her work.

And Mr. Secretary, we would like to thank you for the trust and the openness in our dialogue and your openness to cooperate with Costa Rica.  You are always welcome.  You will always be safe in our country, in our land that is receiving you today.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter)  Thank you, Mr. President Carlos Alvarado Quesada.  We will now hear the words of the Secretary of State of the United States of America, Mr. Michael Pompeo.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Thank you.  Buenas tardes.  Mr. President, thank you so much for hosting me here today.  You and your team have been incredibly gracious.  It’s a pleasure to come to Costa Rica on my first trip in calendar year 2020.  Our administration has made a real priority of reaching out to our friends in the Western Hemisphere, and there has indeed been no better friend than Costa Rica to the United States of America.  Your country has done great work in supporting human rights, the rule of law, democracy.  It grounds our relationship.  You’re an incredible supporter of freedom in our region.

We began our conversation by talking about AC/DC and great music, shared freedoms and values that our two countries have.  It’s getting stronger too – this friendship.  It was clear from my discussion today with President Alvarado.  At the very center of our talks was Costa Rica’s leadership in standing up to the Maduro regime, which has sunk Venezuela into repression and poverty.  Costa Rica is a founding member of the Lima Group and a huge supporter of the Rio Treaty, both important elements of what will ultimately, hopefully, deliver the Venezuelan people the democracy they so richly deserve.  You were, in fact, the first country to recognize Juan Guaido in January of 2019.

Costa Rica, too, has been a model part of the OAS, an institution that’s done so much for prosperity and security and freedom under President Almagro’s leadership.  President Alvarado and I agree that he deserves to be re-elected.  Thank you, Mr. President, for your efforts in this regard.  As I said in Washington to the entire OAS Assembly on Friday, multilateralism that works gives us a likelihood of getting to the shared vision that we all have for this hemisphere of freedom.

Look, there’s only a few authoritarian outliers left in this region.  Nicaragua is one of them.  Today, the United States urges the Ortega regime in Nicaragua to cease its repression, restore basic civil liberties, and support free and fair elections.  The United States is backing up its words by acting with partners to pressure the regime.  We’re holding those who violate basic human rights accountable, as we did last year when we sanctioned many of Ortega’s top officials and their family members.

We’re also providing humanitarian assistance for Nicaraguans and Venezuelans that are fleeing this tyranny.  And today, I’ll hear firsthand from just a few of the tens of thousands of Nicaraguans who have found safety here in Costa Rica.

Thank you, Mr. President.  Thank you for so generously hosting them.  We’ve been proud to help you in that.  We’ve provided $13 million since 2017 to assist you and to assist asylum seekers and other vulnerable people who have traveled here.  We will continue to work with freedom-loving people around the world to obtain a diplomatic resolution of the crisis across your border.  The regime in Nicaragua cannot be permitted to continue its gross humanitarian violations.

We also talked about important economic ties.  The United States approaches our economic relationship in the spirit of partnership.  That’s a stark contrast to the flashy promises from the Chinese Government that have often produced only debt, dependency, and even the erosion of sovereignty from some nations.  We were talking about all the companies – IBM and Microsoft and Pfizer, medical devices that are built here.  Costa Rica has done good work and is being rewarded for that with good jobs for the Costa Rican people, and we will continue to support American business providing foreign direct investment into your country to help you grow and create prosperity for Costa Rica.

Finally, I want to commend Costa Rica for the work that it has done in its fight against drugs.  President Trump is committed to defending America against poison peddled by transnational criminal organizations.  Both our countries are more secure as a result of the great work being done by Costa Rican law enforcement and your country.

President Alvarado, thank you again for hosting me here today.  We applaud your government’s efforts and look forward to continuing our great partnership and friendship in the future.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) Now, questions by the media.  We begin with a first question from the Costa Rican press.  Alan Arroyo representing colleagues from Costa Rica will ask the first question.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) Good afternoon, Mr. President, Mr. Secretary of State.

For President Alvarado, have you discussed the Venezuelan crisis and the role that Costa Rica could have?  Because I know it’s one of the objectives of Mr. Pompeo in this meeting.  We know that yesterday he met with Juan Guaido as part of the meetings held in Colombia.  And we would like you to tell us about this effort to – and also to look at the promise by Mr. Pompeo to review the ranking.  Can he do that?  Or does he have to talk to other agencies in the U.S. so that these rankings in tourism and also with the FAA can be reverted, Mr. President.

PRESIDENT ALVARADO (Via interpreter):  Thank you for the question.  We discussed both issues, both Nicaragua as well as Venezuela, within the context of our vision in terms of democracy, respect for human rights.  It has been an effort we’ve been undertaking since the beginning of our administration, and we’ve indicated violations to the rights of Nicaraguans and Venezuelan citizens and will continue to point our finger to that.

We respect that we have to find solutions found by Nicaraguans and Venezuelans themselves.  We also – when we see that there are violations against the press or against the people, we denounce them.  And both the U.S. and Costa Rica have been working on that.  We will continue making efforts to try to ensure that there are free and fair elections with international observers and – so that the citizens of those countries are the ones that can go back to a constitutional, democratic regime, which is what we want for the region.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter)  Another question by the U.S. media, the spokesperson of the U.S. State Department.

MS ORTAGUS:  (Inaudible) Kevin Cirilli, Bloomberg.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter)  Thank you both.

(In English.) The first question (inaudible) about trafficking.  Both of you have mentioned how the Organization of American States is crucial in order to combatting drug trafficking.  I’m wondering about how the upcoming election could impact that goal.  And then secondly, from an economic and a financial perspective, how has the designation as it relates to tourism impacted your economy here in Costa Rica?  Thank you.

PRESIDENT ALVARADO:  The second question?  What was it please?

QUESTION:  The travel – the travel tourism designation, how has that impacted Costa Rica’s economy?  Thank you.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Should I go first?  Go ahead.

PRESIDENT ALVARADO:  En espanol, si?  (Laughter.)

(Via interpreter.) The issue of the ranking, the classification for us is not so much a direct economic impact.  It’s got to do with reputation, and we’ve talked about that because a country has made great effort reducing its crime rates.  It’s reduced the homicide rates in the last two years in a consistent fashion and has offered more security of the three million visitors we have had.  The crime rate that they suffered is zero, zero two – 0.02. Small crimes.  It’s not attempts to their life.  So this has got to do with reputations.

We do not face terrorist threats, and we – now that the ranking has gone down, we share that classification with countries that have over 50 death over a hundred thousand, when ours is 11 every hundred thousand.  So it has got to do with reputation, and that is what we made a request very respectfully for that to be revisited by the Secretary and his team, given it’s so important for us in terms of alliance, cooperation, and partnership between our two countries.

The relationship between Costa Rica and the U.S. is a relationship based on mutual respect, friendship, and it is not just a relationship between governments but between countries, between states, and it’s a historical relationship.  It started in 1851 in areas such as security, which has so many points in common.  In others, whether we may not have the same vision, but we understand how to relate.  The issue in security is a strong relationship for some time, and it will continue to be strong in future years, because it’s a relationship among states, and it’s a win-win situation for both countries.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So we’re going to take a look at this.  There’s a process inside the State Department.  There was a question about – on how this decision’s made.  It’s inside the State Department with respect to our travel advisories.  We’ll take a look at it.  We want to make sure we get it right.  We’ll also communicate with them and say, hey, here’s the things that – if we can change, if we can make better, here’s how we get to the right place.

My second point on that is we had a million and a half-plus Americans come travel to Costa Rica last year.  I am confident that we will have a million and a half-plus Americans come travel again.  I hope there’ll be more.  I know you hope there’ll be more as well.  I’m very confident that people who are coming here – people who are coming here for travel and leisure, people who are coming here to do business – will continue to do so.

What we try to do with our travel advisory is just make sure that we’re sharing with the American people things that we identify as concerns.  We always want to make sure we get it right.  It’s something we constantly evaluate and review.  He asked – the president asked if we would do that again, and we will certainly do so here as quickly as we can.

The second thing you asked about was the OAS.  That election is really important.  You asked its connection to our capacity to reduce narcotics and drug flows in the region.  For those of you who have reviewed the history of the OAS, you know it has not always been the case that that organization was functional, successful, productive, driven towards the values that Costa Rica is an amazing example of – the rule of law, respect for human dignity of its people.

We need to make sure that he OAS continues to be that.  We’re supporting the re-election of president Almagro because we believe he has put the OAS in a position where this can be a successful – demonstrated successful multilateral organization that leads to the outcomes that matter to the people of Costa Rica and the United States and all of the OAS members.  So yes, this election’s very important, and we want to make sure that the OAS continues to be a force for good and a force that can permit us to continue to do this important work to counter trafficking in narcotics in the region.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter)  Thank you.  The next question is for the Costa Rican media.  Laura Avelar.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter)  Good afternoon, Mr. President, Mr. Secretary.  President Trump has been very strong vis-a-vis Venezuela, and the U.S. has adopted very strong sanctions.  Will economic sanctions will be imposed in Nicaragua?  There are sanctions against specific people, but will there be sanctions against Nicaragua itself?  The caravans from Honduras are a proof that the migration policy in the U.S. is failing, because it’s not going to the causes of migration.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Sure.  So I never get out in front of particular sanctions about what we plan to do, so your question about sanctions in Nicaragua is something we constantly evaluate.  It’s important to know:  We don’t impose sanctions for the purpose of imposing sanctions.  We do this when we believe that it can create the right incentive system so that regimes that are fueled by the money that comes from those illicit activities are denied those resources, giving the people of that country the capacity to have the elections and the democracy that I know the Nicaraguan people – and I’m going to hear from some of them who’ve had to flee here just in a minute – to help them get to the right place.

As for our migration policy, there remains an awful lot of work to do, to be sure.  But if you look at the data set, you look at the work that’s been done over these past three years, I’m very confident that the efforts we have made with great partners in the region like Costa Rica, like the Mexican Government – we’ve made real progress on that.  I think we have it precisely right.  We have an obligation to secure our southern border.  We’re going to continue our efforts to do that.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) Now the last question by the U.S. media by the State Department spokesperson.

MS ORTAGUS:  Jessica Donati, Wall Street Journal.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Mr. President, I wanted to know if you agree with the U.S. policy of having asylum seekers wait in third countries on the way to the U.S., and is Costa Rica interested in joining these programs as one of the few countries – Panama has been mentioned; other northern countries are involved – so I was wondering what your take is on that.

And for Mr. Secretary, Maduro in The Washington Post offered direct talks with the U.S., and the Trump administration has been open to talks with Iran, is talking with the Taliban.  So are you considering the offer made by Maduro?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Go ahead, Mr. President.

MODERATOR:  Senor President Alvarado.

PRESIDENT ALVARADO:  (Inaudible) different because mainly we are a country that receive migrants, not a country that has migrants leaving Costa Rica from – to another country.  So our situation is completely different on that.  Actually, that was something that not necessarily was discussed on what we had as part of our meeting, but our current situation – actually, it’s trying to have enough funds and to work together, too, because we’re hosting more than half a million people, particularly from Nicaragua.  That’s 10 percent of people being in Costa Rica, and also more than 80,000 refugees, so our situation is what’s happening actually inside Costa Rica and not what we are sending elsewhere.

MODERATOR:  (In Spanish.)

QUESTION:  I asked that question because there are, in fact, more Nicaraguan refugees currently in Costa Rica than in the U.S.  Are you interested in signing one of the same agreements to keep asylum seekers here while they wait for a decision, and do you agree with the policy?

PRESIDENT ALVARADO:  It’s not a core – it’s not being part of our core policy currently.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Your question about the statement that was reported to have been made by Nicolas Maduro in the press the other day – there have been lots of conversations with Nicolas Maduro over these past months.  There’s been no demonstration that he is prepared to permit free and open presidential elections.  We constantly evaluate our policy; our end state goal has been very, very clear.

We will continue to tweak our policy to get the strategy just right, but we’ve seen no evidence that Maduro is remotely interested in having free and fair elections.  He knows that he would lose.  He knows that if there are free and fair elections, that what the Venezuelan people have done by putting Juan Guaido as the duly elected leader in Venezuela would be repeated in a free and fair election.

The people don’t want Maduro to be a tyrant.  He has destroyed their economy, he has created one of the greatest humanitarian crises in the history of Central and South America, all of this without a war.  The devastation that has been wrought on the people of Venezuela is enormous, and it is the responsibility of Nicolas Maduro.  And so as for our strategy, the tack we’ll take, I’m sure that will change over time.  But our mission and our strategy and our objective for the Venezuelan people will never vary.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) Thank you very much.  We would like to thank the Secretary of State and his delegation for their visit to the office of the president.  I would like to thank you all, as well as the Costa Rican delegation.  Now the president is saying goodbye to the Secretary, as well as of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.