Vice President Kamala Harris arrives in Guatemala to tackle migration causes

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and Guatemala’s Foreign Minister Pedro Brolo wave upon her arrival at Guatemalan Air Force Central Command in Guatemala City June 7, 2021 Photo: Reuters /Carlos Barria

GUATEMALA CITY – Vice President Kamala Harris is taking her first step onto the global stage Monday as she meets with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei in an effort to revive U.S. relations with the country and tackle a daunting corruption problem.

Harris is traveling to Guatemala, followed by a visit to Mexico on Tuesday, as part of her mission to tackle the root causes of migration from Northern Triangle countries by addressing the dire conditions that cause people to flee.

Biden asked Harris in March to spearhead the administration’s efforts to address the conditions driving immigration to the United States from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – in addition to other politically volatile issues in her portfolio, such as voting rights.

But the problems Harris is being asked to address are difficult and long-standing.

Administration officials say they recognize that any government or private investment may take years or even decades to bear fruit in a region where crippling poverty, cartel-linked crime and government corruption have long nudged people toward making a perilous 2,000-mile journey to the U.S. border.

The Biden administration has pledged $310 million in humanitarian aid to the region, and has a $4 billion plan to boost development there. Administration officials have also said that Harris will likely discuss more stringent anti-corruption measures with Giammattei.

But the United States has crafted aid programs in Guatemala for years with the goal of deterring migration. There were efforts to help coffee farmers improve their yields and the forestry management programs. There were vocational schools pointedly called the Stay Here Centers.

Through it all, the flow of migrants continued unabated.

Since 2019, about 400,000 Guatemalans have been apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border – more than 2 percent of the country’s population.

After meeting with Giammettei, Harris was scheduled to take part Monday in a roundtable with Guatemalan community leaders about the root causes of migration. Then she will visit a local university to see projects created by young female engineers and to probe the women about the problems faced by female business owners.

Democrats widely see Harris, 56, as heir apparent to Biden, and the first female and minority vice president is a symbol of the diverse consortium that they hope will power the party in the 21st century. But Harris, who struggled to define herself during her failed presidential bid, has relatively little foreign policy experience, and this week’s trip could be a first step to addressing that.

Republicans have sought to hammer Harris’s immigration portfolio as a weak point in the Biden administration. Prominent Republicans – some with presidential aspirations of their own – have dubbed Harris Biden’s “border czar” – a title she rejects – in an effort to ding the current administration and hobble a potential future opponent.

 

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