Harris Pledges US Support for Guatemala in First Trip as VP

During her first trip abroad in her new job, Vice President Kamala Harris said American investment in Guatemala will be focused on combatting economic hardship and corruption.

Vice President Kamala Harris and Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei pose for an official photograph Monday at the National Palace in Guatemala City. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

(CN) — Vice President Kamala Harris said Monday after a bilateral meeting with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei that the United States will help the Central American country root out corruption, boost national security and improve economic outlook.

In her first international visit as vice president, Harris also said task forces will be created with American aid to combat human trafficking and the smuggling of people and drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border and to dissect corruption in the Guatemalan government.

U.S. federal officials will train local law enforcement in conducting corruption investigations, Harris said. The task force aims to help support Guatemalan prosecutors track financial improprieties and will also focus on transnational crime.

She also said economic development in Guatemala includes launching a young women’s empowerment initiative “to increase education and economic opportunities for girls and women.”

“Here in Guatemala, there is a rich tradition of girls and women being a part of the culture and economy with extraordinary skills, and therefore [having] the ability to thrive when seen as someone who can be the source of investment for the economic growth of the entire community,” she said.

Agricultural businesses and affordable housing also will be areas of U.S. investment, Harris said, noting Giammattei’s concern with climate change and the ability to curb those effects through the planting of trees and other ecological projects. The overarching goal of all these policy shifts and investment is to “help Guatemalans find help at home,” the vice president said.

Republican lawmakers have decried what they claim is an increase in migrants crossing the southern U.S. border, calling the situation a crisis due to a perceived welcoming of immigration under President Joe Biden.

But during his first formal press conference in March, Biden countered that the increase in migrants coming into the country was higher under Donald Trump’s administration than his own: in 2019, there was a 31% increase in immigrants seeking refuge in the U.S., while that total had dropped to a 28% increase during Biden’s first months in office. 

Giammattei, along with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, have also blamed the surge in border crossings squarely at Biden’s feet, accusing him of “confusing” messaging on the issue. But Harris was clear on the president’s position when speaking Monday in Guatemala City.

“I want to be clear to folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States-Mexico border: do not come,” she said. “Do not come.”

She added, “There are legal methods by which migration can and should occur, but we, as one of our priorities, will discourage illegal migration.”

Harris also used the U.S.-Guatemalan relationship to emphasize global interconnectivity and interdependence, saying the coronavirus pandemic brought that reliance to light.

She said the U.S. will provide an initial donation of 500,000 Covid-19 vaccines to Guatemala, adding the agreement would help strengthen prosperity for both countries. She said it was part of “understanding the interdependence, the connection between us and the importance of looking out for and prioritizing the needs of one’s neighbors.”

Giammattei spoke briefly before Harris, saying her visit presented an opportunity for the two countries to work on issues defined in previous conversations, like economic conditions and migration. The Guatemalan president said he will work with the Biden administration to develop a family legal program for reunification efforts in the U.S.

Harris set out on her historic international trip as the first woman vice president on Sunday, but her plane was briefly diverted back to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland after a technical issue.

She is also scheduled to visit with Mexican officials, including the country’s president, on Tuesday after leaving Guatemala for Mexico later Monday afternoon.

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