GUATEMALA CITY — 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, a senior administration official said Sunday.
Harris has been tasked by President Joe Biden with addressing the root causes of the spike in migration to the U.S.-Mexico border. Corruption, which the administration sees as directly related to the increased migration, is expected to be a central focus of her meetings with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei on Monday and Mexico’s Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Tuesday.
The official, who briefed reporters traveling with Harris on Sunday, spoke on condition of anonymity to preview announcements before they have been made public.
Harris is seeking to secure commitments from Guatemala and Mexico for greater cooperation on border security and economic investment, but the corruption in the region — a far more intractable challenge — will complicate her efforts.
It’s already had a significant impact on her work in the region. Harris has yet to engage substantively with the leaders of Honduras and El Salvador, who are both embroiled in corruption scandals. And it’s an issue that experts in the region say will need to be addressed to make any lasting changes.
“Corruption is a cancer in the region,” said Jason Marczak, director of the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center. “Addressing corruption is fundamental to creating hope and creating the potential for opportunity.”
Marczak noted that corruption in the region affects human rights protections, employment opportunities, the cost of goods and much more. Jobs, he said, will come “with investment, and investment comes where there is certainty in the rule of law.” Without that, efforts to improve living conditions can only go so far.
Harris has laid out an approach centered on creating better opportunities and living conditions in the region through humanitarian and economic aid. She announced plans to send $310 million to provide support for refugees and address food shortages, and recently secured commitments from a dozen companies and organizations to invest in the Northern Triangle countries to promote economic opportunity and job training.
Washington won some goodwill through its vaccine diplomacy this past week. Giammattei and López Obrador both received calls from Harris on Thursday telling them the U.S. would be sending 500,000 doses and 1 million doses, respectively, of COVID-19 vaccine.
While in Guatemala, Harris plans to meet community leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs. In Mexico, Harris will participate in a conversation with female entrepreneurs and hold a roundtable with labor workers. That’s in addition to bilateral meetings with the leaders of both countries.
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