Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele declared over the weekend that his administration is not interested in “blank checks” from the United States, saying he wants to ensure both countries benefit from U.S. taxpayer-funded investments to solve mutual problems with narcotics, violent street gangs, and reduce migration.
“We want people to stay here. That should be our goal. And [the Trump administration likes] that goal, and they want to help us in that goal,” Bukele said during a joint press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday, adding:
We have to acknowledge every penny the United States government has is their money, not ours. We have our own money. We may be a poor country, but we have our own money, and they have their own money. Whatever aid or program the United States Government wants to do in El Salvador will be, of course, welcomed … But we cannot force them to give us free money.
Bukele blamed El Salvador for the exodus of its people to the United States, noting:
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. … But our work as a government is to get our people to have those things here.
The comments from the new Salvadoran president, inaugurated on June 1, came after his U.S. counterpart, Donald Trump, froze tens of millions in aid to El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, together known as the Northern Triangle, over their inaction to prevent migrants from making the harrowing journey to the United States.
On Sunday, Bukele stressed that he is willing to refuse U.S. foreign aid “handouts” in favor of jumpstarting private commerce between the United States and El Salvador and improve conditions to prevent people from migrating to the United States.
The Salvadoran leader proclaimed:
What do we really want to do in El Salvador? We want to get more free money? We want to get more blank checks? No. What we really want is to improve the conditions Salvadorans live [in] here and abroad.
We want to work together with them in solving the problems that we both have. For example … it’s of common interest to fight MS-13 [Mara Salvatrucha] and the other gangs. … We already have the United States’ help in that, but of course, they might be able to increase that help because we’re sharing a common interest and want to work together because we’re partners, we’re friends.
[What the U.S. and El Salvador] want is people not to die in the deserts or being kidnapped for selling their organs or little girls being kidnapped to be sold as sex slaves. I mean, we want to end this. And the United States is willing to help us to end this, and we want to counter narcotics, and the United States is willing to help us, and the United States wants us to combat narcotics, and we are willing to help them in that. We want to combat illegal smuggling of people and contraband, and we’re working that together.
During his visit to El Salvador, Pompeo announced that the U.S. would pay $350 million of a billion-dollar liquefied natural gas facility and power plant that will improve living conditions in the Central American country and create jobs.
Bukele said the U.S. aid amount marks “the biggest investment, foreign investment, our country has had in our history, and that will create a lot of jobs and a lot of growth in the economy, and that’s not the only project.”
“It’s a vote of confidence in your potential, and it happened because of fantastic leadership here in your country,” Pompeo said of the investment, adding, “You’re leading the way here in El Salvador, creating literally hundreds of thousands of jobs. The United States is proud to be a partner of choice in your effort to do this.”
“El Salvador and its new leadership has made a clear choice to fight corruption, promote justice, and partner with the United States, and together both of our peoples will reap these benefits,” the U.S. secretary also said.