GUATEMALA CITY (AP) – Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday emphasized the need to give hope to residents of warring Central American nations to cope with the increase in migration from the region when she pleaded with them not to undertake the dangerous migration in the first major Examination of her diplomatic skills on a three-day trip abroad.
Her comments came after her meeting with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei, where she addressed everything from vaccine exchanges to corruption in the region. In her opening speech, however, she stressed the need for both leaders to act to improve the situation of the local Guatemalans, who do not want to leave their homeland but are forced to do so by poor living conditions.
“Hope doesn’t exist in and of itself, it has to be linked to relationships and trust, it needs to be linked to tangible results in relation to what we do as leaders in order to convince people that there is a reason in relation To be hopeful of their future and the future of their children, ”she said.
In a press conference following their meeting, Harris encouraged potential migrants to stay home and avoid the dangerous journey, and promised that the US would continue to enforce its immigration laws. “Don’t come,” she said clearly. “The only people who benefit from it are mostly coyotes.”
Harris also said that the fact that she had chosen Guatemala and Mexico for her first overseas trip “was a reflection of the priority President Biden placed in that region”. She said the two nations are “connected and interdependent” and that it is in “our common interest that we work together.”
Shortly after Harris’ bilateral meeting with Giammattei, the Justice Department announced the establishment of a law enforcement task force to tackle human trafficking and smuggling groups in Mexico and the countries of the northern triangle of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The ministry announced that it would also step up its efforts to fight corruption in Central America.
“We are creating this task force to fight corruption and people smuggling and to ensure that certain progress is made when we attract investment,” said Harris.
Harris is visiting Guatemala and Mexico as part of her role in the diplomatic handling of irregular migration to the US and will meet with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Tuesday.
In Guatemala, the country’s widespread corruption will dominate discussions, even as Harris seeks new agreements with Giammattei to curb the surge in migration.
“We have to eradicate corruption wherever it exists,” said Harris, making it one of the top priorities. “It undermines people’s confidence in their government and their leaders.”
In the press conference, Giammattei blamed drug traffickers for corruption.
Giammattei said the US and Guatemala agreed to work together in a “very simple process” on visas to allow regular migration to the US and that the two countries would work to prioritize family reunification.
Prior to Harris’ visit, non-governmental organizations put widespread corruption in Guatemala high on their list of concerns. Last month, two lawyers who criticize the Giammattei government were arrested on allegedly trumped-up charges aimed at silencing them.
The selection of judges for the highest constitutional court in Guatemala was marked by influence and allegations of corruption. Giammattei chose his chief of staff to fill one of the five posts. When Gloria Porras, a respected anti-corruption force, was elected for a second term, the Giammattei’s party-controlled Congress refused to place her.
“Corruption really undermines the wealth of any country and in Central America it has a high percentage of the region’s GDP,” said Special Envoy Ricardo Zúñiga, who joined Harris when meeting Giammattei. “We see corruption as one of the most important root causes that need to be combated.”
Harris said she had a “very frank and very frank” conversation with Giammattei “about the importance of an independent judiciary” and the importance of a strong civil society.
In addition to her meeting with Giammattei, Harris will participate in a round table with representatives from the Guatemalan community and civil society and meet with young innovators and entrepreneurs, including a number of women entrepreneurs.
In addressing the root causes of migration, Harris has developed an approach that aims to create better opportunities and living conditions in the region through humanitarian and economic aid. She has focused many of her public events and listening sessions prior to this visit on working with civil society organizations and international corporations, which her staff believes is a recognition that the work to improve the situation in the region is not being done by their governments alone can.
Harris announced plans to send $ 310 million to help refugees and address food shortages, and it recently received pledges from a dozen companies and organizations to invest in Northern Triangle countries for economic opportunity and professional training promote.
Washington has gained quite a bit of goodwill over the past week through its vaccine diplomacy. Giammattei and López Obrador both received calls from Harris on Thursday informing them that the US would send 500,000 doses and 1 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, respectively.
However, Harris’ advisors say corruption will continue to be a central focus of their bilateral meetings with Giammattei and López Obrador.
In Latin America, Harris will also have to steer immigration policy. Republicans in Congress have criticized both President Joe Biden and Harris for not visiting the US-Mexico border, claiming the government is ignoring what they call a crisis there. April was the second busiest month on record for unaccompanied children encountered at the border, following the all-time high in March. The total number of border patrol encounters in April rose by 3% compared to March, marking the highest level since April 2000.
Conservatives will watch Harris closely for missteps in hopes of engaging her in further controversy on what they see as a political winner.
Associated press writers Christopher Sherman in Mexico City, Sonia Pérez D. in Guatemala City, and Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report.