USA TODAY International Edition

Harris: Mexico, US enter ‘ new era’

VP seeking to bolster cooperatio­n on border

- Courtney Subramania­n and Rebecca Morin

MEXICO CITY – Vice President Kamala Harris’ first foreign trip drew to a close Tuesday after her first face- toface meeting with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in which she sought to bolster cooperatio­n on border security, Central American migration and COVID- 19 vaccine sharing.

After a morning of meetings with López Obrador – known by his initials AMLO – at Palacio Nacional, or the National Palace, Harris said she had “very direct and candid conversati­ons” about her aim to tackle the underlying causes of migration from the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. She later met with female entreprene­urs and labor leaders.

Harris reiterated the administra­tion’s message to undocument­ed migrants considerin­g making the dangerous journey to the USA: “Do not come.”

During the two- day jaunt, the vice president responded to criticism over not making a trip to the U. S. southern border.

“The work that we are doing by being in Guatemala yesterday and in Mexico today is the work of reinforcin­g the point that we have to look at not only what is actually happening at the border but what is causing that to happen,” she said Tuesday afternoon. “We cannot be simplistic and assume that there is only one element or way of approachin­g the overall problem. If this were easy, it would have been handled a long time ago, and there is no question that it is complex.”

Harris said she and López Obrador discussed Mexico’s enhanced port security initiative­s, economic developmen­t and cracking down on drug smuggling and human trafficking. The two spent nearly two hours together at the National Palace, where they toured the historic building’s murals. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas will travel to Mexico next week to expand on talks, Harris said.

Harris announced the United States will invest $ 130 million in technical assistance and cooperatio­n over the next three years to Mexico as it implements labor legislatio­n to fund programs that will support workers, improve working conditions and address child and forced labor. The United States agreed to invest $ 250 million in economic developmen­t in southern Mexico.

The two countries will exchange informatio­n and take action to try to stop human trafficking and smuggling organizati­ons, in addition to working together to expand forensic capacity in an effort to solve more than 82,000 cases of missing persons and disappeara­nces in Mexico.

Harris told López Obrador that she’s “enjoyed our many conversati­ons, but I have most enjoyed being able to see you and talk with you in person.” She said the United States and Mexico “have a long- standing relationsh­ip” that is “based on families,” “shared borders” and “a shared history.”

“I strongly believe that we are embarking on a new era,” she said.

Earlier, Harris and López Obrador witnessed the signing of a memorandum that establishe­s a strategic partnershi­p between their countries to cooperate on developmen­t programs in the Northern Triangle.

In recent weeks, Harris has spoken with López Obrador several times and held a virtual meeting with him in early May as she sought commitment­s on stemming the flow of migrants at the U. S.- Mexican border. Symone Sanders, Harris’ chief spokespers­on, said the vice president would use the bilateral meeting to “build on that progress.”

Greater cooperatio­n

Ricardo Zuniga, the State Department’s special envoy to the Northern Triangle, said the memorandum signed Tuesday was an important step as the USA and Mexico are “both destinatio­n countries” and share some of the same issues around migration.

“It’s very important to show that the United States and Mexico are collaborat­ing and trying to improve conditions on the ground among our neighbors, because of the importance that other countries in Central America have for both of us,” he said.

Harris traveled to Mexico City after the country held midterm elections Sunday, in which López Obrador’s Morena party, along with two smaller allied parties, won the majority in Mexico’s lower chamber of Congress, according to early results.

López Obrador and President Joe Biden got off to a rocky start. The Mexican president, who developed a friendship with President Donald Trump, was one of the last foreign leaders to congratula­te Biden for winning the 2020 election and blamed Biden for the increase in migrants coming to the border. López Obrador accused the United States of interventi­onism for giving money to an anti- corruption group critical of his government – just before a call with Harris.

Monday, Harris visited Guatemala, where she met with President Alejandro Giammattei to discuss ways to improve living conditions to “give people a sense of hope” for a better future. Harris issued a stark warning to those looking to illegally migrate to the USA: “Do not come. Do not come,” she said. “I believe If you come to our border, you will be turned back.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez, DN. Y., condemned the comments as “disappoint­ing to see.”

The Biden administra­tion announced initiative­s to tackle corruption, drug smuggling and human trafficking. The vice president announced a program to promote economic opportunit­ies for Guatemalan women and girls.

Anti- corruption message

Harris emphasized the administra­tion’s commitment to battle corruption during a news conference Monday with Giammattei, who bristled when asked about allegation­s that he’s cracked down on critics and meddled in the selection of judges on the country’s Constituti­onal Court. He denied the allegation­s.

The vice president said corruption was “the No. 1 issue aside from vaccines and the pandemic” in her discussion­s in Guatemala.

In Mexico, at least 91 politician­s – including 36 candidates and aspiring candidates – were killed before the elections Sunday, underscori­ng violent conditions that drive migrants from their homes.

Sen. Clemente Castañeda, national coordinato­r for Mexico’s Movimiento Ciudadano political party, told USA TODAY Harris faces a “big challenge” in trying to persuade López Obrador to commit to U. S. priorities such as fighting corruption, protecting human rights and empowering women.

“These are not priorities of the current government,” Castañeda told USA TODAY from Guanajuato a day after his party’s candidate for mayor of Moroleón was killed May 25.

Castañeda said the militariza­tion of Mexico’s northern and southern borders has led to poor treatment of Central American migrants. As part of a regional strategy to curb migration, Mexico agreed to deploy 10,000 troops to its southern border in April.

“We believe that migration is a human right, particular­ly when people are facing violence and economic stagnation,” Castañeda said. “What we would like is to support a regional approach and alliance to design economic and developmen­t policies that will encourage vulnerable people to stay in their homelands.”

The United States has faced a historic increase of migrants, many from Central America and Mexico, showing up at the southern border. In April, Border Patrol officials encountere­d 178,622 migrants, a slight increase from March that notched the highest level of apprehensi­ons since April 2000.

Duncan Wood, senior adviser to the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute, said one of the main goals of Harris’ trip to Mexico was to “build a positive, constructi­ve relationsh­ip” with López Obrador and his government.

Wood said the United States and Mexico will need to address trade conflicts, Mexico’s energy sector, corruption, organized crime and drugs. This year, the State Department released its annual human rights report, which warned of Mexico’s gang violence and limits on media freedoms. It criticized conditions in the country’s prison and detention centers.

“They’re very much right now in that phase of a relationsh­ip of getting to know each other and building trust,” Wood said. “Further down the road, we’ll get to the point where Harris and other folks from the U. S. government can apply more pressure on Mexico on different themes.”

 ?? OMAR ORNELAS/ USA TODAY NETWORK ?? Vice President Kamala Harris met with Mexico’s president and a group of women entreprene­urs on the last leg of her first official trip abroad.
OMAR ORNELAS/ USA TODAY NETWORK Vice President Kamala Harris met with Mexico’s president and a group of women entreprene­urs on the last leg of her first official trip abroad.
 ?? HECTOR VIVAS, GETTY IMAGES ?? Vice President Kamala Harris visits Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador for the signing of a memorandum of understand­ing focused on immigratio­n issues Tuesday in Mexico City.
HECTOR VIVAS, GETTY IMAGES Vice President Kamala Harris visits Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador for the signing of a memorandum of understand­ing focused on immigratio­n issues Tuesday in Mexico City.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA