Remarks by Ambassador Jean Manes at the “Orden al Mérito 5 de Noviembre de 1911: Próceres de la Independencia Patria” Decoration Ceremony
## This translation is provided as a courtesy and only the original Spanish source should be considered authoritative ##
May 16, 2019
Thank you very much for the invitation to be here today with this distinguished group to mark my last weeks in El Salvador. It is an honor to receive this great distinction.
I would like to begin by thanking my family. We made this commitment as a family. My husband Hector, who, without a doubt, is the best part of our couple. I also thank our two daughters, Constanza and Candela. We all knew this position came with a great responsibility to represent the United States in a dignified and committed manner and to do the best for our two nations. Serving as an Ambassador for the United States is an immense privilege and I am very grateful for the work we have done together.
I would also like to take a moment to thank our team at the Embassy of the United States — Americans and Salvadorans — who work together with you every day to build our bilateral relationship and see our two countries move forward.
While I have the privilege and honor of receiving this recognition today, I do it on behalf of each member of our team. I have never found a more committed and dedicated group than the one that works at our Embassy. We are in every corner of the country working side-by-side with you in the key areas of security, education, and employment.
I arrived three years ago, when the government of the United States had just approved the Central American Strategy, which included additional support for Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. It was determined that this support was the best approach to confront the problem of mass migration of unaccompanied minors to the United States. Debate and discussion on the issue led to an comprehensive agreement to support a plan developed by the leadership of the three Northern Triangle countries, known as: The Alliance for Prosperity.
With the commitment of the three countries, the United States decided to partner with the region to address the root causes of illegal migration. We immediately set out to redirect U.S. assistance to align with the pillars of the Alliance for Prosperity:
— to improve security
— to increase economic opportunities
— to strengthen institutions
— to invest in and develop a modern workforce
At the local level, the consultative group Alliance for Prosperity was formed by representatives of the private sector and civil society, and led by the United States and El Salvador. Th Presidents of the three countries and the United States help high-level meetings launching regional cooperation. Meetings were also held between the three general prosecutors, security ministers, police chiefs, and customs officials. It was clear that we were all in this together and that no country could face these challenges alone. These are regional problems with regional solutions. Each country started from a different situation, but they shared a common purpose.
Progress and momentum were also different in the three countries. Some advanced more in security, others in economic growth. We encouraged the sharing of best practices and lessons learned.
In El Salvador, the National Council on Citizen Security and Coexistence was formed as part of Plan El Salvador Seguro, which focused on the most complicated municipalities in the country. That support has continued. Even as I address you today we have an important visitor here in El Salvador. The United States Attorney General is here leading a meeting with his Northern Triangle counterparts This is his first visit outside of the United States as the Attorney General, and he chose El Salvador as his first destination.
Other priorities saw limited progress as there was a lack of political will to take the necessary steps to increase economic growth. In the midst of all this, citizens were beginning to perceive the level of corruption that everyone knew about, but nobody spoke about. It was hidden from everyone’s sight, or as we say in English, “hidden in plain sight”.
The major corruption cases continued moving forward, including those of the former Presidents and others in the private sector who believed impunity would continue to be the norm. The public standard began to change with citizens insisting on higher standards and accountability — particularly for their public officials.
In addressing these shared challenges our role continues to be to support El Salvador’s efforts as you move your country forward.
Last week, we visited a USAID project, a small farm in Guacamayera in La Union, where a tiny group is making advances in sustainable agriculture, building up a community, investing in reforestation, using less harmful chemicals, and reducing the use of plastic. In the process, they are increasing revenue and they are determined to continue advancing. They serve as a beacon for other communities.
We also visited Isla Perico to observe the benefits of solar panels installed by USAID. It is impressive to see the positive impact on families that have gotten access to electricity for the first time.
Our work also makes me proud when I look at the Supérate program, showcasing what is possible with a good, quality education system and highly motivated public school students receiving additional education not only in core values, but also English and computer programming. Seeing the enormous potential of the kids in this program makes me wonder: Can we make the entire public education system rise to these same standards?
We can do it! We can do it if we have one guiding principle.
Many of you have visited my office in the Embassy and you know there is a phrase written on the white board. It says, “Do the Right Thing.”
That phrase can mean so many things:
It can mean, pick the right priorities. Focus on the right thing. Focus on the thing that is a game-changer.
It can mean, make the right investment.
It can mean, make the morally right decision.
The right thing is rarely the easy thing. It’s the one that takes most time and involves most commitment. In some cases it means taking a leadership role on a major issue and investing more time to achieve a good outcome. Other times, it means putting your own personal needs aside and making the right decision for another person, a group, a country — your country.
So many decisions at the end of the day can come back to that one phrase, “Do the Right Thing.”
I look at the tourism development in El Zonte which has become a model for sustainable development. Development done with the surrounding community and with the local public school system to to prepare young people for the good jobs that the development will bring. I see how FOMILENIO collaborates with this development to install a sanitation system that benefits business development and the entire community, while protecting the natural resources of the coast. I see the police putting an additional security detail. I see local NGO’s like Glasswing helping to work with the local community. Development well done. All done together.
This takes planning, effort, focus and a deep commitment to “do the right thing.”
There are other examples. The community of El Piche stands out as an example of the positive power of the diaspora. Salvadorans in the United States working with local partners to give back to their home communities – never forgetting their roots. They are building roads, a community center and now designing a new education complex. When I was in the community last week, one of the mother’s grabbed my arm and said: “Please help bring economic growth and jobs to this area so I don’t lose my kids to migration.” If that doesn’t inspire us all to push harder, to do more, I don’t know what does.
In the last three years I have placed special emphasis on education and employment for young people. Encouraging them to get up and move forward, to take the initiative. The use their voices. There is no more important investment than in young people. They are the future, but they are also the present.
I have had the privilege to meet talented young people from every background. Kids in Ciudad Arce — a Plan El Salvador Seguro location — participating in robotics classes provided via Glasswing with USAID funding. Those kids won the robotics competition in El Salvador and went on to represent El Salvador in a global competition in Thailand this year.
I have met young entrepreneurs who are energetic and talented and who are making their way. I see their excitement as they develop their products and services. Then I also see the frustration when they encounter bureaucratic procedures seemingly all stacked against them, wearing them down.
Hanging on the wall in my office I have two items which serve as a reminder and which I have brought with me today.
A key chain from Lula Mena made with recycled copper and a sock from Unifi. I have the key ring because it reminds me of Lula Mena and women from all over the country who are trying to start businesses and promote other women. It reminds me that the constant struggle to improve customs is worth it! Because, if the customs system does not improve, companies like Lula Mena or Vaiza or BioArte, and hundreds of others will not have an opportunity, because their products can not compete on the global stage. They can absolutely compete in terms of quality. But, they can not compete in terms of the time and money it takes to take their products to their global destination.
Throughout these three years, I have made it a priority to promote women entrepreneurs in El Salvador. We know that when we invest in women, we do not just change that woman. That woman will change the life of her family and her community and together they will change the country. I saw this happen in Ahuachapan, where women are financially independent for the first time. The pride and confidence in their eyes as they told me about the house they are building and how they can now pay for their children to go to school. For me, this keychain is a symbol that reminds me of each of these women: their hopes and dreams, and knowing that if we do not do everything possible to improve business processes, those opportunities, that pride, and that trust will disappear. That’s why it matters to improve customs for businesses to import and export – particularly for small and medium companies mostly run by women.
And yes, I also have a sock hanging on my wall. Many people ask me if I lost the other one. No, I did not lose the other one.
The sock is the product of an American company, Unifi, that takes recycled plastic water bottles and turns them into thread. That thread is used in high end sportswear for major companies like Patagonia and Haggar and it is made right here in El Salvador. For me this sock represents the future. It represents that it is possible to modernize a traditional industry. It represents what is possible when technology is used to face one of the greatest challenges of our generation – plastic. However, that industry is at risk if the electricity grid does not stabilize. A nano-second interruption is enough to disconnect the high-tech equipment that will then take 12 hours to restart. This sock reminds me how important it is to advance in energy sources and quality transmission lines and also support American and local companies like Termoencogibles that are leading this change.
I see American companies like League – showing what it means to be lead by example in the business community and that you can make a profit and do the right thing in the form of night school, career ladders, investing in their people, hiring those that others turn away – former gang members, people with disabilities.
All around I see hope. Hope in the people I meet. That’s what has energized me and my team the last three years. Every day I carry their stories with me. I carry their hopes, their dreams. That is why we support 349 educational centers through FOMILENIO, which will benefit from the creation of vocational technical baccalaureates, teacher training, improvements in study plans, equipment and teaching materials. In fact, 46 of these educational centers will be completely rebuilt, benefiting more than 80,000 Salvadoran children.
That’s why it matters to pass Civil Service Reform to have a public service based on meritocracy, providing the highest quality services to citizens across the country.
That’s why it matters to strengthen democratic institutions, like the Office of the Attorney General, Court of Accounts, Police and others to provide security and fight corruption. To ensure that every public dollar is used to serve the public.
That’s why it matters to take back public spaces and create parks with theaters and sports fields, like what is happening in historic downtown San Salvador and Parque Cuscatlan.
That’s why it matters to build the new forensic lab with the support of the United States government and the Howard Buffett Foundation carry out justice and reduce impunity.
That’s why it matters to fight every day for a more just society.
It’s for every person that I have had the enormous privilege to meet around the country – Alma, Miguel, Mario, and Isabel. Each one of them is watching, and depending on the decisions that we make every day.
El Salvador is in a historic moment. Will we make the right decisions? Will we put their interests first? Will they matter?
El Salvador has all the elements they need to succeed. I say this because I have had the privilege to see it every day – from the artists featured in El Mercadito, to the computer programmers in La Union, to the airplane mechanics at Aeroman. This country is full of talent – at every level.
That brings us to the well-known 80-20 rule. I have a request for each of you: a call to action. The 80-20 rule is the estimate that, although we have many differences, deep down we can find common goals in approximately 80 percent of societal problems. The challenge is to focus on the 80 percent of the problems we we do agree on and make significant advances on those. We know the 20 percent exists.But, if I can issue a challenge each of you — and to all those listening via television and social media — it would be this: for the next nine months lets focus or efforts on the 80 percent. If we do, this country can make enormous advances in the next nine months.
I see a country with confidence, with optimism, with both local and international investment on the rise. I see a country taking bold steps to improve education and health. Where communities are coming back together and taking back their neighborhoods. I see a country where sustainable tourism is increasing, showcasing the stunning beauty of their beaches, lakes, volcanoes and — most importantly — the beauty of the Salvadoran people.
It is possible. I believe in you. I believe in El Salvador. I believe in your ability to join forces. Every person can contribute and focus on the 80 percent. In tackling that 80 percent, the United States stands with you as a trusted partner and friend. We share your democratic values. These values transcend politics; these values transcend party. We share your goals for sustainable development and a limitless future for Salvadorans. Each one of us has the opportunity and the responsibility to be a bridge builder; someone who searches for common ground and take action.
In a few weeks, on June 15th, we will celebrate United States and El Salvador Friendship Day. This is a day designated by this legislative assembly three years ago that recognizes the closeness of our relationship. But, the truth is, the depth of our relationship is visible every day – through our commercial ties, our shared culture, and most importantly, our families.
I am so appreciative of this honor and I again express my gratitude for allowing me and my family to be part of your great country for the past three years. I want to thank Salvadorans around the country for opening your hearts and your homes to us. You have left an indelible mark that I will not forget. That my family will not forget.
The other night I hosted a dinner with President-elect Bukele and leading American companies in El Salvador. During our conversation about what concrete actions could be taken to re-activate the economy in the short and medium term, I learned a new word – “apechugar”.
At first that word sounded very strange to me, like it might have to some of you just now. However, it seemed appropriate when I understood the meaning: to face the moment completely. To put your best foot forward and take charge of a situation.
Now is your time: apechúguenlo (face challenges bravely). It is time to join forces and make this country what you have always imagined it could be.
I appreciate this recognition from the bottom of my heart, but the best recognition will be to see what you achieve in the next 9 months.
I leave you with a quote by Ernest Hemingway from his book “For Whom the Bell Tolls. ”
“Today is only one day in all the days that will ever be. But, what will happen in all the other days that ever come can depend on what you do today.”
The future of this country is in your hands.
Do the Right Thing.
Do the 80%.
May God Bless the Republic of El Salvador and may God Bless the United States of America.
## This translation is provided as a courtesy and only the original Spanish source should be considered authoritative ##