US VP Harris meets Guatemalan leader, steps seen to tackle human smuggling, graft

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The Biden administration is expected to announce steps to combat human smuggling and corruption in Guatemala as U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris visited for talks with President Alejandro Giammattei on Monday.

The visit is Harris’ first overseas trip as vice president and is part of her mission of tackling root causes of migration from Central America to the United States.

Speaking briefly at the start of the meeting with Giammattei, Harris said her presence in Guatemala reflected Biden’s focus on re-establishing ties with allies around the world.

The decision to visit Guatemala was “a reflection of the priority President Biden placed on this region,” she said.

Guatemala is seen as Washington’s most stable ally in the “Northern Triangle” that also includes neighboring Honduras and El Salvador.

“It is in our collective interest that we work together,” Harris said.

However, disagreement is likely over the best way to tackle corruption, with the United States giving recognition to anti-graft fighters the conservative government and its allies see as politically biased.

The Biden administration push to strengthen the rule of law in all three countries has already suffered setbacks, with a series of moves against independent judges and prosecutors.

The visit will emphasize cooperation with non-government organizations, advisers and experts said. That focus could ruffle feathers in Guatemala, where the top court has cleared the way for a law that increases political oversight of civil society groups.

In Mexico too, the subject of U.S. funding for NGOs is a sore spot, after the government complained in a diplomatic note to Washington that USAID was financing a group it considers close to the opposition.

There has been criticism from some officials in Guatemala and Mexico over the timing and thrust of Harris’ mission to curb migration to the United States from the region, with the Mexico leg following mid-term elections at the weekend.

Harris will also discuss sharing COVID-19 vaccines with Guatemala during the meeting, chief spokesperson and senior adviser Symone Sanders said last Wednesday.

Last week Giammattei said the United States would supply half a million COVID-19 doses to Guatemala.

Photo – Guatemalan Foreign Minister Pedro Brolo (C-R) walks with US Vice President Kamala Harris (C-L) as she arrives in Guatemala City, Guatemala, 06 June 2021. Harris arrived for her first official visit to Guatemala to hold a series of meetings focusing on the migration crisis and the fight against corruption. EPA-EFE/Esteban Biba