Page A2 | E-edition |


Vice President Kamala Harris, center, gestures after exiting Air Force Two when the aircraft due to a technical problem headed for Andrews Air Force Base, Md.

GUATEMALA CITY – With Kamala Harris visiting Guatemala and Mexico on her first overseas trip as Vice President, the Biden government is expected to announce new measures to combat smuggling and human trafficking, and hopes to announce additional anti-corruption efforts as well, a senior administration official said Sunday.

Harris was appointed by President Joe Biden to address the causes of the surge in migration to the US-Mexico border. Corruption, which the government believes is directly related to increased migration, is expected to be the focus of their meetings with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei on Monday and Mexican Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Tuesday.

The official, who briefed reporters traveling with Harris on Sunday, spoke on condition of anonymity. No further information was given.

The trip got off to a bumpy start when Harris’ plane returned to Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, about 30 minutes after takeoff, because their spokesman said there was a problem with the landing gear. About an hour and a half later, she took off on another plane.

Harris seeks pledges from Guatemala and Mexico to work together on border security and economic investment, but corruption in the region – a far more persistent challenge – will hamper their efforts.

It has already had a major impact on their work in Central America. Harris has yet to deal substantially with the leaders of Honduras and El Salvador, both of whom have been implicated in corruption scandals. And it’s an issue that experts say needs to be addressed in order to make permanent changes.

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

Marczak found that corruption undermines the protection of human rights, employment opportunities, the cost of goods and much more. Jobs, he said, will “come with investment, and investment comes where the rule of law prevails”. Without this, efforts to improve living conditions can only go so far.

Harris has developed an approach that aims to create better opportunities and living conditions in the region through humanitarian and economic aid. It announced plans to allocate $ 310 million to aid refugees and tackle food shortages, and recently secured pledges from a dozen companies and organizations to invest in the Northern Triangle countries for economic opportunity and professional education promote.

Washington has gained quite a bit of goodwill over the past week through its vaccine diplomacy. Giammattei and López Obrador both received calls from Harris on Thursday informing them that the US would send 500,000 doses and 1 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, respectively.

While in Guatemala, Harris also plans to meet community leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs. In Mexico she will speak to women entrepreneurs and hold a round table with workers.

She emphasized the need to address corruption in public statements and events. At a meeting in May with a number of leading voices on the Guatemalan justice system, she highlighted her work as a prosecutor, saying that “injustice is a root cause of migration”.

“Part of the hope of giving hope to the people is to work very specifically to fight corruption in the region,” she said.

Harris has also raised the issue at virtual meetings with leaders of both countries, and Aides say she will repeat it at meetings along the way. In their past conversations, they have discussed areas of common interest – improving port security, combating smuggling networks, tracking down corrupt actors – and the goal of this trip is to make that conversation a reality, say aides.

While the vice president will announce new collaborative efforts and new programs, she is unlikely to announce any new assistance during her trip.

In Latin America, Harris will also face immigration policies. Republicans in Congress have criticized both Biden and Harris for choosing not to visit the border, claiming the government is ignoring what they call the crisis there. April was the second busiest month on record for unaccompanied children encountered on the U.S.-Mexico border, after the all-time high in March. The total number of border patrol encounters in April rose by 3% compared to March, marking the highest level since April 2000.

Conservatives will watch Harris closely for missteps in hopes of engaging her in further controversy on an issue they see as a political winner.

Harris can point to a number of steps taken by the Biden administration over the past week in an effort to win pledges on corruption from the leaders of the region.

Foreign Minister Antony Blinken highlighted the problem during his own trip to Central America. The White House issued a memo making foreign corruption a major national security concern and instructing all federal agencies to prioritize it and modernize their anti-corruption tools abroad.

Eric Olson, director of politics at the Seattle International Foundation, which works to promote good governance in Central America, said that fighting corruption requires special diplomatic skills. Harris must hold the leaders of Guatemala and Mexico accountable while building trust and cooperation with the two nations.

“The challenge she faces is, on the one hand, having a conversation, keeping the door open – and not ignoring the obvious elephant in the room, namely this incredible penetration of the state by corrupt actors,” he said.

Comments are closed.