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Harris Visits Guatemala, Mexico in First Foreign Trip as US Vice President


U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and Guatemala's President Alejandro Giammattei wave as they pose for a photo on a balcony at the Palacio Nacional de la Cultura, in Guatemala City, Guatemala, June 7, 2021.
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and Guatemala's President Alejandro Giammattei wave as they pose for a photo on a balcony at the Palacio Nacional de la Cultura, in Guatemala City, Guatemala, June 7, 2021.

The United States is set to announce Monday new measures to fight drug smuggling and trafficking as Vice President Kamala Harris meets with leaders in Guatemala to discuss migration and security issues.

A senior administration official told reporters they also hope to announce additional measures to address corruption, but that there are no plans to unveil additional aid money at this time.

U.S. President Joe Biden has tasked Harris with leading the effort to address the causes behind a rise in migrants traveling to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Administration officials highlighted corruption as a major factor both in that migration and in private companies avoiding expanding their investments in Central America.

“For us it’s a direct correlation between corruption and people arriving on our southwest border,” one official said.

In addition to talks with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei, Harris is also meeting Monday with community leaders and entrepreneurs.

“What she wants to do is hear from all of the individuals that she’s going to meet with, so that she can advance a very comprehensive agenda, a strategy that the vice president has elaborated, that takes into account the need to grow the Guatemalan economy, to deal with the climate crisis and the food insecurity that has resulted, to work to combat poverty, violence and corruption,” said Nancy McEldowney, national security adviser to the vice president.

Harris continues similar discussions Tuesday in Mexico City with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, entrepreneurs and labor figures.

Ahead of her trip, Harris emphasized the need for increased employment opportunities and better living conditions. She announced $310 million in U.S. aid to support refugees and deal with food shortages. She also recently won commitments from U.S. companies and organizations to invest in Central American countries to promote economic opportunity and job training.

The U.S. also last week said it would send a combined 1.5 million doses of coronavirus vaccines to Guatemala and Mexico.

WATCH: Harris to focus on migration issues during Latin America trip

VP Harris Heads South to Focus on Root Causes of Migration to US
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Harris’s diplomatic outreach has touched off political mockery at home from opposition Republicans because she has yet to visit the U.S.-Mexico border even though she said she would at some point.

At a news conference, some Republicans displayed a milk carton showing Harris with the headline: “MISSING AT THE BORDER.”

In recent years, the United States has sent billions of dollars in assistance to Central American countries in hopes of curbing the motivation for residents there to migrate north to the United States. But so far, the aid has not stemmed the tide of migration as people look to escape crime and poverty in search of a better life in the U.S.

Former President Donald Trump adopted get-tough policies at the border to turn back migrants. Biden also is turning back migrants but unlike Trump has allowed unaccompanied children to enter the United States.

The policy shift combined with a predictable rise in spring migration and the easing of pandemic restrictions at the border contributed to the arrival of thousands of migrants in recent months, increasing pressure on the Biden administration to resolve the issue.

“We have to give people a sense of hope, a sense of hope that help is on the way, a sense of hope that if they stay, things will get better,” Harris said after Biden named her to lead diplomatic efforts in Latin America.

The Harris trip got off to a tentative start when her plane leaving Washington was forced to return after 30 minutes by what was described as a “technical issue.” She boarded another plane and left about an hour and a half later.

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