Tackling migration, Harris backs investment in Latin America | National Policy


LOS ANGELES (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris said Tuesday that the Biden administration’s work to attract investment to Central America, as part of the U.S. effort to reduce migration, has generated $3.2 billion. of private sector commitments.

“We know the American people will benefit from stable and prosperous neighbors,” she said during her remarks on the second day of the Summit of the Americas, which brings together countries from across the hemisphere. “And when we provide economic opportunity to people in Central America, we are addressing a major driver of migration.

President Joe Biden, who arrives at the summit on Wednesday, tasked Harris last year with tackling the root causes of migration, which regularly strains US resources on the border with Mexico. Progress has been slow, a reflection of the region’s intractable problems and what some critics call American neglect.

Harris said she would focus on empowering women facing poverty and violence in their home countries. The effort is known as “In Her Hands” and aims to connect more women to the banking system, help them participate in farming, and provide them with training in coding and cybersecurity.

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“When you improve the economic status of women, you improve the economic status of families, of her community, and of our entire hemisphere,” Harris said.

Her speech followed a panel discussion with women leaders, including entrepreneurs, from Central America.

This week’s summit, which is hosted by the United States for the first time since the inaugural event in 1994, is an opportunity for Harris to connect with leaders from Latin America and the Caribbean as she hosts in his State of origin.

By focusing on the region, Harris is following in the footsteps of Biden himself, who worked on migration issues when he was President Barack Obama’s vice president. However, Harris has only made two trips to the region since taking office.

For the past few days, she and the president have been working the phones for increase attendance among left-wing leaders who criticized the US decision to exclude the authoritarian governments of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela from the Los Angeles summit.

But the effort yielded few results. Among those staying home are the presidents of Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras — the only three leaders Harris has met on his two quick trips to the region.

Brian Winter, vice president of the Council of the Americas, said Harris got off on the wrong foot as Biden’s point person tasked with addressing the root social and economic causes that drive migrants to the United States. In a May 2021 policy speech to Washington’s Winter’s International Business Group, Harris, a former California prosecutor, mentioned corruption no less than 10 times, stoking resentment in a region where leaders are sensitive to lessons from American decision-makers.

“Corruption is a huge problem, but there are clearly trickier ways to deal with it,” Winter said. “A lot of doors closed before she was even on the ground.”

Harris reiterated his anti-corruption goals – “we need to promote the rule of law” – in his remarks on Tuesday. The announcement that private sector commitments reached $3.2 billion includes $1.2 billion announced in December and an additional $1.9 billion detailed this week.

New initiatives announced include a $700 million expansion of cellular networks in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador by Miami-based Millicom; a $270 million commitment from Visa to promote digital payments; and a $150 million investment in Gap Inc. nearshoring that could create up to 5,000 jobs closer to the United States

But the Biden administration’s biggest policy proposal in the region — a $4 billion aid package for Central America — is stalled in Congress with little apparent effort to revive it. Meanwhile, the number of migrants at the US border with Mexico has risen to its highest level in decades, even as the Biden administration has little to show for the Democratic president’s pledge as candidate to introduce a “humane” asylum system that would break with Trump-era restrictions.

One of the challenges is finding partners in a region where institutions are weak, gang violence is prolific and corruption is endemic.

None of the countries Harris is to work with will be represented at the summit by their president, according to the list of delegations released Tuesday by the White House. The three nations send their foreign ministers instead. And in recent months, the United States has taken a strident tone against Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele, whom it accuses of using his popularity to amass power and flout democratic checks and balances.

Meanwhile, Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammettei said last month he would not participate after the United States criticized his decision to reappoint an attorney general it said was involved in corruption.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment was Honduran President Xiomara Castro, who received praise from US officials for her decision to extradite her predecessor, Juan Orlando Hernández, to the United States to face federal charges. drug. Harris, who attended Castro’s inauguration in January, has spoken to Honduras’ first female president in recent days in a last-ditch effort to persuade her to travel to Los Angeles.

But in the end, Castro sided with his fellow leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico to boycott the summit. The swift recognition by the United States of a new government after the Honduran military removed her husband, President Manuel Zelaya, from office in 2009 certainly weighed on her decision.

“It’s a much tougher set of players that the United States has to deal with, even compared to what the Obama administration has faced,” said Rebecca Bill Chavez, chair of the Inter-American Dialogue.

Chavez, who advised Harris on foreign policy during her brief presidential run, praised the vice president’s focus on gender-based violence and migrant women, which previous administrations lacked. She also hopes Harris’ family ties to Jamaica – the birthplace of her immigrant father – could help connect her to Caribbean leaders who are overlooked even in Latin American political circles.

But Biden’s record is hard to beat. As Vice President, he has made 16 trips to Latin America and his presence in the region has been strong since his time as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, when he helped develop of Plan Colombia, by far the largest US military and economic assistance program in the region.

Chavez said that on the issues of climate change, migration and inclusive economic growth, the Biden administration has the opportunity to present a vision with a call to all countries, regardless of their ideological leanings or their bilateral agenda with the United States.

“To be successful, she and the Biden administration have to really expand their reach,” Chavez said. “Los Angeles is the perfect opportunity for them to show they are. But it can’t be a one-time event. It needs follow-up to become a reality.

Goodman reported from Miami and Megerian from Washington. Associated Press writers Christopher Sherman in Mexico City and Elliot Spagat in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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