US Vice President Kamala Harris is on a three-day trip to Central America, aiming to stem the flow of migrants to the US.
United States Vice President Kamala Harris has kicked off a three-day diplomatic trip to the Northern Triangle on Monday focused on stemming migration to the US.
During a joint news conference with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei, Harris emphasised the need to restore hope for residents of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras – the three countries where the majority of migrants hail from – in order to address the rise in numbers.
“Hope does not exist by itself, it must be coupled with relationships and trust,” Harris said during a joint news conference with Giammattei. “It must be coupled with tangible outcomes in terms of what we do as leaders to convince people that there is a reason to be hopeful about their future and the future of their children,” she said.
The administration of US President Joe Biden, which took office in January, is under pressure to stem a surge in migrant arrivals from Central America fleeing poverty and corruption.
During the trip, officials are expected to announce steps to combat human trafficking, smuggling and corruption in Guatemala. Harris is also scheduled to meet civil society leaders and entrepreneurs and then fly on to Mexico where she will meet President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Tuesday.
Non-governmental organisations placed Guatemala’s widespread corruption at the top of their list of concerns before Harris’s visit. Last month, two lawyers who are outspoken critics of Giammattei’s administration were arrested on what they say were trumped-up charges aimed at silencing them.
William Lawrence, professor of international relations at the American University in Washington, DC said the US is hoping to find ways to stem migration in the short term as well as address the structural issues that have led to people seeking to migrate to the US.
“You have to simultaneously both deal with the border issues – where there have been some improvements despite the surge – and the systemic issues that send so many migrants heading for the border,” Lawrence told Al Jazeera television.
In an effort to tackle the “root causes” of migration, the Biden administration has pledged a $4bn plan to boost development in the region and $310m in humanitarian aid.
Al Jazeera’s Manuel Rapalo, reporting from Tecun Uman on Guatemala’s border with Mexico, said the US aid and funding to programmes in the region and Guatemala in particular, are not new. And making meaningful advances on corruption is going to be the nation’s responsibility.
“Ultimately it is up to the government of Guatemala that foreign aid isn’t lost to corruption,” Rapalo said, adding that without making structural changes “no amount of foreign aid will prevent people from fleeing north”.
Harris is also expected to discuss sharing COVID-19 vaccines with Guatemala, as part of a batch of 25 million surplus vaccines with other countries.
Last week, Giammattei said the US would supply half a million COVID-19 doses to Guatemala.
Shortly before meeting Giammattei Harris said her trip to the country demonstrated the Biden’s administration focus on re-establishing ties with allies around the world and was “a reflection of the priority President Biden placed on this region”.
“It is in our collective interest that we work together,” Harris said.