An asylum deal with the United States would "necessarily" depend on economic benefits to its country, Guatemala president-elect Alejandro Giammattei told Jorge Agobian of VOA's Latin America Division on Monday.
After weeks of intense, and at times turbulent, U.S.-Guatemala negotiations on a "safe third country" asylum deal, the Trump Administration signed such an agreement with Guatemala's outgoing government on July 26, two weeks before a second and final round of presidential elections in that country.
The deal, already facing legal barriers from Guatemala's Constitutional Court, would bar migrants who pass through Guatemala from applying for asylum in the United States if they did not apply in Guatemala first, a measure that would largely affect Honduran and Salvadoran migrants, among others.
But since the country's elections in August, the incoming president of Guatemala has voiced concerns and doubts about both the language and feasibility of such a deal, given the structural challenges of housing and employing thousands of asylees, in a country that faces extreme poverty of its own.
The following is a partial transcript of VOA Noticias' interview with Giammattei. It has been edited for clarity. Read more here from the interview by VOA Spanish Service reporters Jorge Agobian and Rosa Tania Valdés.
On why Guatemala cannot be a "safe third country"
"How would Guatemala provide housing to thousands of asylees? How would it provide employment to thousands of asylees? It is not that simple. A safe third country is able to give those things. We are not in economic conditions to provide those things."
Under international law, a "safe third country" must provide for the basic needs of migrants such as security, health, education, food and housing.
"We cannot guarantee [these requirements]. We cannot guarantee it for our own people, much less for foreigners."
A migration agreement with the U.S. is contingent on job creation and more robust trade with Guatemala for foods like berries, avocado and beef.
"What we are asking is that [the U.S.] help us generate jobs, cutting three or four regulations in the United States that would generate some 400,000 jobs in one year in Guatemala … With that we stop emigration from the Guatemalan side."
Giammattei also wants U.S. cooperation in developing Guatemala's own border areas.
"We are going to ask the U.S. for cooperation in developing the border area between Mexico and Guatemala."
Developing the border, however, doesn't mean building a wall, Giammattei said.
"Walls of weapons or physical walls don't stop human beings. Do you know what stops them? The walls of prosperity. We have to generate a great wall of prosperity in Guatemala."