USA TODAY International Edition
Harris: Mexico, US enter ‘ new era’
VP seeking to bolster cooperation on border
MEXICO CITY – Vice President Kamala Harris’ first foreign trip drew to a close Tuesday after her first 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 trafficking. 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 trafficking and smuggling organizations, in addition to working together to expand forensic capacity in an effort 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 flow 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.”
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 trafficking. 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 fighting 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 officials 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 conflicts, 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 different themes.”