Harris offers US$310m to Central America

2021-04-27 15:20:16 GMT2021-04-27 23:20:16(Beijing Time) Sina English


US Vice President Kamala Harris

US Vice President Kamala Harris unveiled an additional US$310 million in aid to Central America after a virtual meeting with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei on Monday, as the two countries agreed to work together to control migration.

President Joe Biden gave Harris the job of leading US efforts with Mexico and Central America’s Northern Triangle countries — Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala — to stop a growing number of migrants from crossing into the United States.

“We want to work with you ... in a way that will bring hope to the people of Guatemala, that there will be an opportunity for them if they stay at home,” Harris said.

In a statement, her office said the funds would come from USAID, along with the Departments of State, Defense and Agriculture.

For example, the humanitarian aid includes US$125 million to deal with repeated droughts, food shortages and the COVID-19 pandemic, along with US$104 million from the State Department to help with the safety and protection of refugees and asylum seekers.

The Defense Department will provide US$26 million to increase partnership activities in the region aimed at health, education and disaster relief services, according to the vice president’s office.

Back-to-back hurricanes and the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 have increased the number of people facing hunger this year in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to 7.8 million, according to the World Food Program.

Following the Harris-Giammattei meeting, Guatemalan Foreign Minister Pedro Brolo told a news conference that Guatemala and the US agreed “to establish a new joint border protection task force,” including a small number of officials from the US Department of Homeland Security.

He said that about 16 DHS officials would initially travel to Guatemala to train local officials in strengthening infrastructure at borders.

Under former US president Donald Trump, a small group of DHS officials also operated in Guatemala for a time.

Brolo said Harris also spoke of helping build centers for deportees and beefing up security at Guatemala’s ports. Guatemala will send a team to the US to help reunify unaccompanied Guatemalan minors with their parents.

In March, Mexico said over 18,000 unaccompanied Central American children crossed its territory en route to the US.

Brolo laid some of the blame for increased migration on Biden, saying people smugglers used expectations of “greater benefits” for migrants that emerged with the arrival of the new US administration to persuade more people to travel.

Monday’s meeting was Harris’ second conversation with Guatemala’s leader in less than a month — a sign of the best opportunity she has to build a partnership in the region. The vice president has yet to speak with the leaders of Honduras and El Salvador.

Giammattei said Guatemala was looking forward to her visit but wants to reach an agreement on issues before she travels:

“I believe that we should build a road map between governments ... so that we can reach an agreement ... (and) can work on this very hard road that we have ahead of us.”

Challenges surfaced during their first call, when Giammattei asked Harris about the possibility of purchasing COVID-19 vaccines, officials said. The question was not included in the US readout of the call.

On April 5, Guatemala said it was purchasing 16 million Russian Sputnik V vaccines to inoculate about half its population.

Harris’ office did not comment on the issue, but an administration official said it was not politically tenable to assure vaccine supplies to other countries before inoculating every American.