To demonstrate that I am serious about fighting corruption, I first moved to end nepotism and government waste by removing highly-paid but unqualified officials — who also happened to be relatives of the former president and members of Congress of the ruling party that just left office. These were popular decisions, but they were also the right decisions in terms of accountability to our taxpayers.
To tackle the lack of safety in our cities and towns, our government launched a major plan to attack the criminal gangs known as “maras.” Our strategy includes targeting the funding sources for criminal gangs, ending the money-laundering and extortion networks they use, taking back the downtown districts of our main cities that are overrun by gangs, and dismantling the communications networks that link gang members in our jails with those on the outside, including those who live abroad.
Developing a safe El Salvador is a first step toward ending the exodus of Salvadorans to the United States. The main reason cited by our compatriots who flee our country is the lack of safety and security they face in their own neighborhoods.
Our plan is already producing positive results. We are seeing a decline in homicides and have arrested more than 2,000 people suspected of crimes; we also overhauled our prisons, where we have conducted thorough searches to confiscate telephones and weapons — and even routers and laptops — used by gang bosses to conduct criminal activity.
Only by tackling organized crime head-on will we be able to have a more secure and safe El Salvador. At the same time, our plan is giving thousands of young men and women an alternative to joining gangs by creating centers for technical training. By providing training opportunities, we are doing right by our youth — including young gang members whose average life expectancy is a mere 25 years.
The most challenging work ahead is to create the right economic conditions so that our people do not leave our country in search of opportunities elsewhere. Our people don’t flee their homes because they want to — they flee because they feel as though they have to. Our top priority is to give all Salvadorans an opportunity to chase their dreams right here at home.
To achieve this, El Salvador will need more foreign direct investment and we are working hard to attract investors. We recently announced the construction of a power plant that will receive more than $350 million in Overseas Private Investment Corporation funding from the U.S. government. This project alone will create more than 1,500 jobs. We want more of these types of partnerships with the United States and its business community.
My government is trying to reverse decades of slow economic growth and rising levels of poverty and unemployment. These problems are of our own making. For years, the policies of past governments completely failed the people of El Salvador. I believe we are doing things right and the people of El Salvador appear to agree. My administration has a very high approval rating — the people are fully backing our programs and our government. We can’t fail them.
My hope now is that the people of the United States and their leadership in Washington recognize and support our efforts. We have bipartisan support in Congress and friends in Washington who understand our predicament and have pledged to work with us. We are not looking for handouts but, rather, investments and great relations. We want to become a leading model on how to stop the flow of illegal migration north, and we want to do this through a close partnership with the United States.
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to discuss these issues directly with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during his visit to El Salvador. It was a great meeting that made clear that we’re eager to strengthen our bilateral relations. Our intention is to have a solid partnership with the United States, to tackle the many issues we have in common, and to bringt security and prosperity to both of our nations.
The people of El Salvador want to work hard and, believe me, they would much rather do it at home than to make the treacherous journey north, away from their families. My pledge is to restore dignity for my people and to create opportunities here at home, so no Salvadoran will feel that he or she must leave our homeland.