Harris visits Latin America to fight migration and corruption | New policies



WASHINGTON (AP) – Kamala Harris, on her first trip abroad as Vice President, seeks to deepen diplomatic relations with Guatemala and Mexico, two Latin American countries critical to the administration’s efforts Biden to stem the surge in migration at the US border.

Harris, who is due to leave Washington later on Sunday, is seeking commitments for greater cooperation on border security and economic investment, but corruption in the region – a much more intractable challenge – will complicate his efforts.

This has already had a significant impact on his work in the region. Harris has yet to engage substantially with the leaders of Honduras and El Salvador, both of whom are embroiled in corruption scandals. And it’s an issue that experts in the region say will need to be addressed in order to bring about lasting change.

“Corruption is a cancer in the region,” said Jason Marczak, director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council. “Fighting corruption is fundamental to creating hope and creating the potential for opportunities. “

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Marczak noted that corruption in the region affects the protection of human rights, employment opportunities, the cost of goods and more. Jobs, he said, will come “with the investment, and the investment comes where there is certainty in the rule of law.” Without it, efforts to improve living conditions cannot go further.

In the months following President Joe Biden’s mission to address the root causes of migration to the US-Mexico border, Harris defined an approach centered on creating better opportunities and living conditions in the region through humanitarian and economic aid.

Harris announced plans to send $ 310 million to support refugees and tackle food shortages, and recently secured pledges from a dozen companies and organizations to invest in Northern Triangle countries to promote economic opportunities and vocational training.

Washington gained goodwill through its vaccine diplomacy last week. Guatemala’s President Alejandro Giammattei and Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador both received calls from Harris on Thursday telling them that the United States would send 500,000 doses and 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine, respectively.

While in Guatemala, Harris plans to meet community leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs. In Mexico, Harris will participate in a conversation with women entrepreneurs and hold a panel discussion with workers. This is in addition to bilateral meetings with the leaders of the two countries.

Harris said in a meeting in May with Guatemalan justice officials that corruption is a “significant deterrent” to economic investment there.

She stressed the need to fight corruption in public remarks and events. When meeting with a number of prominent voices on the Guatemalan justice system, she highlighted her work as a prosecutor and said that “injustice is a root cause of migration”.

“Part of giving people hope is a very concrete commitment to eradicate corruption in the region,” she said.

Harris also raised the issue in virtual meetings with leaders of both countries and aides said she would do it again in meetings on her trip.

“There are the acute factors – natural disasters, food insecurity, the climate crisis, and then there are the root causes – poverty, violence, corruption,” Harris chief spokesperson said. , Symone Sanders. “From the vice president’s perspective, it’s about helping to create hope in the region, and that a better life is actually possible at home.”

While in Latin America, Harris will also have to navigate immigration policy. Republicans in Congress have criticized Biden and Harris for deciding not to visit the border, and argue that the administration is ignoring what they say is a crisis there. April was the second busiest month on record for unaccompanied children encountered at the US-Mexico border, following March’s record. The total number of Border Patrol encounters in April increased 3% from March, marking the highest level since April 2000.

The Conservatives will be watching Harris closely for any missteps, hoping to embroil him in further controversy over an issue they see as a political winner.

In his effort to secure commitments on corruption from leaders in the region, Harris can point to a number of actions taken by the Biden administration last week.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken highlighted the problem during his recent trip to Central America. The White House issued a memo that identified foreign corruption as a major national security problem and called on all federal agencies to prioritize it and modernize their tools to fight foreign corruption.

Eric Olson, director of policy at the Seattle International Foundation, which works to promote good governance in Central America, said tackling corruption will require special diplomatic skills. Harris will need to hold the leaders of Guatemala and Mexico to account while deepening trust and cooperation with the two countries.

“The challenge she faces is how, on the one hand, have a conversation, keep the door open – while not seeming to ignore the elephant evident in the room, which is this incredible penetration of the state by corrupt actors, ”he said. mentionned.

In Mexico, López Obrador continues to face a complicated security situation in many parts of the country. Nearly three dozen candidates or pre-candidates were killed ahead of this weekend’s midterm elections as drug cartels sought to protect their interests. The government’s inability to provide security in parts of the country is of concern to the United States in an immigration context, both for those displaced by violence and the impact it has on a severely weakened economy trying to emerge from the pandemic.

The number of Mexicans encountered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection increased steadily from December through April. Mexico remains a key ally of the United States in trying to slow immigration, not only of its own citizens, but also of those who pass through its territory. Successive US administrations have indeed attempted to push their immigration enforcement objectives south of Mexico and Guatemala.

Non-governmental organizations put widespread corruption in Guatemala at the top of their concerns ahead of Harris’ visit. Last month, two lawyers who openly criticize Giammattei’s administration were arrested on what they say are trumped up charges aimed at silencing them.

The selection of judges for Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, its highest, was mired in influence peddling and alleged corruption. Giammattei chose his chief of staff to fill one of the five vacant posts. When Gloria Porras, a respected force against corruption, was elected for a second term, the party-controlled congress of Giammattei refused to sit on it.

Harris’ visit raises high expectations, but organizations concerned about the rule of law and corruption in Guatemala doubt what the United States can do to stop the deterioration or co-opting of government institutions.

Tiziano Breda, Central America analyst at Crisis Group, said the challenge for Harris “is not to play the game of the Guatemalan government, where on the one hand he expresses his willingness to collaborate with the United States while on the other, it takes measures that weaken the rule of law, accountability and the fight against corruption.

Breda said the risk of any public display of support for the government could embolden him.

While experts say they are watching for potential announcements of additional food or economic aid in the wake of the trip, clear progress on corruption may be more elusive, and all efforts will take much longer to bear fruit. .

“These are societies built on corruption,” Olson said. “You won’t have an impact in six months.”

Sherman reported from Mexico City. Associated Press writer Sonia Pérez D. in Guatemala City contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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