Reception of the “Orden Nacional José Matías Delgado, Gran Cruz Placa de Plata” and “Gran Orden Francisco Morazán”

Remarks by Ambassador Ronald Johnson on the reception of the “Orden Nacional José Matías Delgado, Gran Cruz Placa de Plata” and “Gran Orden Francisco Morazán” Award


January 18, 2021

## This is a courtesy translation. Only the original Spanish version should be considered authoritative. ##

First, thank you very much to all of you for coming here tonight. After almost 50 years of service to the government, I can say that this has been the greatest honor of my professional life. It pains me to say this, but my time as Ambassador of the United States in El Salvador is coming to an end. Miracles happen and being the Ambassador here in El Salvador is beyond anything I ever imagined, and I thank God that he used me here for good during this time.

I thank my wife Alina, not only for being by my side, but for doing her own things to help the country and therefore extend my reach and capacity, thank you. I want to thank President Trump, Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and my team here at the embassy, ​​and everyone who worked so hard to help me and make my work successful here. I want to thank President Bukele and the first lady of El Salvador Gabriela, for their very special friendships. I have to mention Layla too. She learned to trust me, she held my hand when she was learning to walk and we played the piano together. I want to thank Chancellor Hill for a relationship that was productive from day one and a friendship that will last long after I leave. I thank the Minister of Defense Merino for his friendship and honesty. El Salvador is really lucky to have a Minister who works so hard and sacrifices so much to help people. I want to thank all the ministers and officials who have been so receptive and helpful and I want to thank all the people of El Salvador who have been so loving and kind and attentive, who have helped make this a special moment. We will never forget you.

I have always had a lot of respect for Salvadorans. I find them brave, tough, hardworking, and kind. Alina didn’t know it before but now she understands why I feel that this country and the Salvadoran people are so special and let me tell you that this relationship has never been stronger than it is now. This has not been slow or easy work, but the first day I met President Bukele I knew we would have a productive and mutually beneficial relationship. He told me that but I don’t think any of us knew how many challenges we would have.

We worked on important issues such as collaborating on reducing irregular immigration, reducing violent crime, and working to cut red tape and helping create business opportunities. Together we achieve more. We were able to extend TPS for two years. Nobody thought it was possible but we did it. Due in large part to the generosity of a US citizen, Howard Buffet, Cuscatlán Park was inaugurated, something that began when President Bukele was the Mayor of San Salvador and continued with Mayor Neto Muyshondt. Under FOMILENO II, we carry out large infrastructure projects such as the Santa Ana bypass and the expansion of the highway to the airport, as well as the construction and renovation of 46 schools. These schools will have 80,000 students per year and will build a better future for students, their families and the country. And during all this time the homicide rate has been constantly reporting record lows about 61% lower this year than last year and 85% lower than in 2015, when El Salvador was the murder capital of the world. Extortion is down to almost half what it was last year. Our anti-gang operation has led to the arrest of thousands of gang members and as we did it together, our cooperation led to arrests both here in El Salvador and in the United States.

A pandemic hit us all. It came out of China and quickly spread around the world. It has killed almost two million people and there have been more than 90 million cases. Economies around the world have been ruined and must be rebuilt, but the United States supported El Salvador even during its own crisis. We provided millions of dollars in protective equipment, sanitizer, food, and more. We started right away and never stopped. El Salvador was one of the first countries in the world to receive respirators and we managed to get 600 of them. Together we save lives. I am proud of what the government here has done. Tropical storms hit and we were here again to help. I am proud of the efforts of the Embassy community, contributing clothing, food and others to help. The private organization run by the United States, People Helping People, collected more than 64,000 pounds of food and assistance, and the United States military plane brought it here for free. Another organization, Convoy of Hope, helped distribute the packages to Salvadoran families in need. And the United States government continues to provide millions more in assistance. It was during this time that the UN’s world food program, funded largely by the United States, gave millions of dollars of aid to El Salvador. It was during that time that the world food program won the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize.

But I can’t talk about this time without talking about what the government did for El Salvador. The government took on a massive mission to help thousands of citizens and bring help and hope to those most in need. The Salvadoran armed forces went to some of the most remote areas of the country and delivered food packages to thousands of people in need. And at the same time President Bukele was working to improve the hospital system, working with our contacts in the United States and elsewhere as well but he is working to obtain coronavirus tests and develop treatments, drugs and supplements to help citizens fight the coronavirus.

His handling of the coronavirus has been widely recognized as one of the best in the world, and despite all that, President Bukele’s popularity has remained strong. Let me remind you that no caravan has left El Salvador during all this time.

Upon leaving my post, El Salvador is ready to achieve its best dreams. Some will say that we need a miracle but there are miracles here, I just mentioned several of them and a place that shares so much with the United States, with such an intertwined culture, with such a willing partner and ally and such a deep friendship, there is a opportunity for a better future for El Salvador. We have always been by your side. We are with you and will continue to do so in the future. So look towards that future, continue to develop personal and professional relationships and dream of what can be and then go to work to make it happen.

Alina and I are leaving, but we will always have a part of our hearts here in El Salvador and we will never forget you.

God bless the United States, God bless El Salvador and God bless each one of you.

Thank you.

## This is a courtesy translation. Only the original Spanish version should be considered authoritative. ##