World Guatemala is Kamala Harris' first stop on her trip to talk migration. Why is that nation an important player?
Harris tackles migration in high-profile visit to Guatemala and Mexico. Here’s what’s on the agenda.
Vice President Kamala Harris hopes to address the root causes of migration, a politically fraught issue that's vexed several administrations.It's a tall order for Harris, whose portfolio expanded earlier this week when President Joe Biden tapped her to lead the administration's efforts to protect voting rights as several Republican-led states move to restrict access to the ballot.
GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala – Vice President Kamala Harris will meet with Guatemalan leaders, community organizers and entrepreneurs during the first leg of a foreign trip Monday, showcasing the nation as a key player in the United States' effort to stem the flow of migrants showing up at the southern border.
The Biden administration is set to unveil migrant smuggling and human trafficking actions with the aim of announcing additional anti-corruption measures, a senior administration official who briefed reporters traveling with Harris on the condition of anonymity.
Harris keeps goals modest for first foreign trip
The vice president is focused on in-person engagement when she visits Guatemala and Mexico, her first trip abroad since being inaugurated.The goal for her two-day visit to Guatemala and Mexico isn’t to roll out a massive plan to solve the problems driving thousands to flee the region, according to administration officials, people close to the White House and experts, but simply to show that the U.S. cares and isn’t just looking for quick fixes.
"Governance is absolutely key to success on anything else we’re trying to do on development. If you zero in on what is really making people leave, it’s that they don’t have a job, they don’t have an opportunity, they don’t have a future," another official said. "A large part of that is directly related to how governments operate and what kind of services they’re able to deliver to their population."
Over the past several months, Harris and her team have worked closely with Guatemala and Mexico as she's taken the lead in finding solutions to the root causes of migrants coming from Central America. This is her first trip to the region in that effort.
Last month, Harris secured the commitment of 12 U.S. companies and organizations — including MasterCard, Microsoft and Chobani — to invest in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, the Northern Triangle counties that are the focus of the U.S. when it comes to slowing the pace of migrants. Harris in May also announced the United States is investing $310 million in new funds for humanitarian relief in Guatemala, in addition to El Salvador and Honduras.
Harris targets corruption, immigration on Latin America trip
GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — With Kamala Harris visiting Guatemala and Mexico on her first foreign trip as vice president, the Biden administration is expected to announce new measures to fight smuggling and trafficking, and hopes to announce additional anti-corruption efforts as well on Monday, a senior administration official said. The official, who briefed reporters traveling with Harris on Sunday, spoke on condition of anonymity to preview announcements before they have been made public. No further details were provided. Harris has been tasked by President Joe Biden with addressing the root causes of the spike in migration to the U.S.
Why Guatemala is key
Paul Angelo, a fellow for Latin America Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said there are two top reasons why the U.S. is focusing on working with Guatemala: its geographical location and because it’s the only country in the Northern Triangle the U.S. can work with.
Protesters in Guatemala Meet Kamala Harris With 'Trump Won' Signs
Vice President Kamala Harris was met with pro-Trump protesters on a trip to meet with the Guatemalan president.The posters were visible from Harris' motorcade on her way to meet with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei. Some of the signs were posted on Twitter, including one that reads, "Kamala, mind your own business.
Guatemala borders Mexico to the south, and it is north of El Salvador and Honduras. Individuals from the latter two countries would have to pass through Guatemala before reaching Mexico and eventually the U.S. border.
“Guatemala is the link between Central America and Mexico,” Angelo said. “It's geographically situated in such a way that it provides a geostrategic advantage for slowing migration.”
In April, Guatemala deployed more than 1,000 police and military officials to its southern border to help mitigate migration from Honduras and El Salvador.
But Guatemala is also one of the main countries the United States is negotiating with due to its government.
“Our relationship with Guatemala is a more positive relationship than the kinds of diplomatic relations that the U.S. currently enjoys between El Salvador and Honduras,” Angelo said.
For example, in Honduras, President Juan Orlando Hernández has been alleged as a co-conspirator in drug trafficking and is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. He's also faced criticisms of corruption in his reelection campaign. In El Salvador, President Nayib Bukele has most recently been criticized for firing the attorney general and multiple supreme court judges.
Harris turns focus to Mexico on trip to address migration
MEXICO CITY (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris is closing out her first foreign trip Tuesday with a visit to Mexico and a meeting with President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a key but complicated ally in the Biden administration’s efforts to curb the spike in migration at the U.S. border. While Lopez Obrador committed in a previous virtual meeting with Harris that the U.S. can “count on us” to help address the issue of irregular migration, the Mexican president has in the past blamed President Joe Biden for the increase in migration at the border. And he was chummy with his predecessor, President Donald Trump, despite Trump’s hardline polcies towards migrants.
“Against that backdrop, Guatemala looks like a pretty good contender for our partnership,” Angelo said, adding that Guatemala President Alejandro Giammattei “is a bit more amenable to working with United States on any number of issues of bilateral concern, and is less compromised, than his counterparts in the other Northern Triangle countries.”
Corruption in Guatemala is an issue
However, Guatemala also faces its own issues with corruption, particularly in the court system, said Adriana Beltrán, director for Citizen Security at WOLA, a research and human rights advocacy group.
The country recently confirmed judges who are under investigation to the Constitutional Court, and Giammattei recently criticized members of Guatemala’s special prosecutor, who oversees corruption cases.
Beltrán said that corruption will likely be at the center of conversations between Harris and Guatemalan officials. She noted Harris will be fighting long-term, systemic challenges, but they will need to be addressed to make lasting change in the region. She said one of the key aspects needed to address the corruption issues facing Guatemala and other Northern Triangle countries is to make clear “the rule of law and governance is indeed going to be the center of their strategy.”
“It means showing our political and financial support to those entities that are working to tackle corruption, like a special unit,” Beltrán said. “It means being very clear about the need to ensure independent courts.”
“More so now what we need is very clear diplomatic efforts,” she added, “because a lot of the reforms that are needed in the region are not necessarily due to lack of technical capacity, but more lack of political will.”
Reach Rebecca Morin at Twitter @RebeccaMorin_
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY:
Blunt message, search for answers mark VP's 1st foreign trip .
MEXICO CITY (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris came to Latin America to deliver a message rather than clinch some kind of concrete deal. She bluntly told migrants not to travel to the United States. She spoke of the evils of government corruption that lead to dislocation. She urged nations to increase enforcement at their borders. She completed the journey without securing any commitments to increase immigration enforcement or expand pathways to legal migration. But she also did so without a significant mistake.