Press Release

Welch Discusses Democracy, Migration, and Economic Stability on Bicameral Congressional Delegation to Guatemala and Honduras

Dec 12, 2023

Congressional Visit to Guatemala Came Amidst Brazen Attacks on Guatemalan Democracy

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Peter Welch (D-Vt.) Sunday evening concluded a bicameral congressional delegation visit to Guatemala and Honduras to meet with elected officials, civil society leaders, and representatives of the business community. The delegation included U.S. Senators Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Laphonza Butler (D-Calif.), and U.S. Representatives Delia Ramirez (D-Ill.-3) and Norma Torres (D-Calif.-35).   

While the delegation was in Guatemala, the country’s Attorney General attempted to nullify the results of the country’s free and fair elections – prompting strong condemnation from the delegation before members of the Guatemalan and international press.  

Strengthening democratic institutions and expanding economic opportunities in Central America is critical to reducing migration of families fleeing hunger, injustice, poverty, and gang violence.  During the visit, the delegation expressed strong support for cooperation in addressing these challenges, as well as in countering the increasing influence of the Chinese government.    

“This weekend, our delegation had the unique experience of seeing democracy and diplomacy in action while abroad. And, we were reminded of how fragile democracy can be at times and the essential role of civil society—with alarming events unfolding in Guatemala during our visit and with warnings of democratic backsliding in Honduras,” said Senator Welch. “Strengthening the rule of law and supporting transparent, democratic governance is the best hope for these countries’ development. Every month, thousands of desperate Guatemalan and Honduran families are fleeing hunger, poverty, injustice, and gang violence in search of safety and a better life. Our countries have a common, urgent interest in addressing the complex root causes of migration. This trip was an opportunity to listen and to share more about a path forward to real progress in the months and years ahead.”  

“Our national and economic security depend in part on our ability to address issues like drug trafficking, transnational crime, and the root causes of migration—all of which impact Virginia,” said Senator Kaine, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women’s issues. “Democratic backsliding, including the attempt to overturn a free and fair election in Guatemala that occurred while we were there, further drives irregular migration and poses a serious danger to our ability to work together to tackle those problems. I’m glad our delegation was on the ground to vigorously condemn that attack on Guatemala’s democracy, and to pressure outgoing President Giammattei to denounce it. As Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, I will keep doing all that I can to support strategies for prosperity and security in Guatemala, Honduras, and the entire region.”  

“Our bicameral trip to Guatemala occurred at a critical moment for the country’s democracy amid ongoing protests following provocative actions by the Public Ministry to undermine a decisive election,” said Senator Durbin.  “I have raised concerns for months about democratic backsliding in Guatemala and neighboring Honduras, with cowardly attacks on the free press and efforts to expose government corruption. This trip included productive conversations about a better democracy for the people of Guatemala and Honduras, and I look forward to working with soon to be inaugurated Guatemalan President-Elect Arévalo.”  

“Our trip was an opportunity to reaffirm America’s support for the will of the Guatemalan people, who resoundingly elected Bernardo Arévalo as their new president. As the country prepares for President-elect Arévalo‘s transition in January, the United States remains unwavering in its support for a peaceful and orderly transfer of power,” said Senator Merkley, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “U.S. support for the rule of law and democracy was also a key theme for our time in Honduras. Our two peoples share an important commitment to democratic ideals, as well strong cultural and economic ties. In Guatemala and Honduras, the delegation saw firsthand how critical it is we bolster our relationship with both nations.  

“Stability in Central America is critical for our national security and necessary for easing migration bottlenecks at our border,” said Senator Butler. “I was inspired by the women and girls who are fighting for a fair future, who deserve a chance to play a role in the decisions that shape their lives. At a time when faith and confidence in the electoral process is under threat around the world, we have a moral obligation to counter efforts to undermine democracy in every corner of the globe.”  

“Democratic backsliding and the blatant disregard for the rule of law are existential threats to Guatemala’s future. The ruling regime is attempting to cancel the votes of the most oppressed populations, harming the future of all young Guatemalans. The United States must use every tool at its disposal to uphold democracy in the region and ensure aid helps the people most in need, not corrupt, selfish leaders. If these corrupt actors won’t stop their efforts to undermine democracy, we stand ready to support those fighting for a democratic future and are prepared to take further action,” said Congresswoman Torres, the only Guatemalan-born Member of Congress.  

“The well-being and prosperity of our communities across the globe, including those in IL-03, are interconnected. As the proud daughter of brave Guatemalans, I recognize how important it is to strengthen our diplomatic and humanitarian efforts to address the challenges that motivate families like mine to depart their countries of origin,” said Congresswoman Ramirez, Vice Ranking Member of the Homeland Security Committee. “I am honored to have joined this bicameral delegation to Guatemala and Honduras to listen, learn and further our resolve to protect democracy, support economic growth, defend human rights, deter corruption, and address the root causes of migration. I look forward to continuing to work on our shared mission to create safer, thriving communities in Guatemala, Honduras, and our nation.”  

In Guatemala, the lawmakers first met with officials of the outgoing administration of President Giammattei to urge them to guarantee the peaceful transition of power and respect the voice of the people in electing President-elect Bernardo Arévalo. Shortly after that meeting, the Guatemalan Attorney General’s declared that Guatemala’s national election results were ‘null and void.’ In response, Senators Kaine, Durbin, Merkley, Welch, and Butler and Representatives Torres and Ramirez immediately denounced that move.   

The delegation also met with Guatemalan President-elect Arévalo to share their concerns regarding provocative actions by the Public Ministry (Guatemala’s justice department), including the raiding of facilities holding electoral materials, opening of ballot boxes, and intimidation of peaceful protestors, among other brazen attempts to nullify the results of Guatemala’s recent elections. The delegation met with staff at the U.S. Embassy to discuss the status of bilateral engagement with the Guatemalan government. Then, they met with civil society and indigenous leaders to talk about how corruption in Guatemala causes irregular migration to the United States and how the U.S. and Guatemala can work together to tackle the root causes of migration. They also talked about how impunity for violence committed against Guatemalan citizens inhibits economic development and diverts scarce resources away from government agencies. Next, they met with members of the business community to talk about how a peaceful democratic transition is crucial to Guatemala’s ability to further attract private investment.  In November, Senators Kaine, Durbin, Merkley, and Welch condemned attacks on democracy in Guatemala, and underscored how those actions are destabilizing for the entire region.   

Next, the delegation traveled to Honduras, where they met with staff at the U.S. Embassy to underscore the importance of bilateral engagement with the Honduran government. The delegation met with representatives of the business community and civil society, who discussed the investment climate and raised concerns over deteriorating rule of law and Honduras’ democratic institutions. Then, they held meetings with the Honduran President of Congress Luis Redondo, President Xiomara Castro, and Foreign Minister Enrique Reina to reinforce democratic principles, reinvigorate stalled anti-corruption reforms, and foster the political and economic stability necessary to reducing migration. They discussed opportunities to strengthen ties between the United States and Honduras, including by expanding joint efforts to address the root causes of migration, combat narcotics trafficking, and protect the rule of law.   

Photos Courtesy of the U.S. Embassy Tegucigalpa