Harris faces first major diplomatic test

Speaking in Guatemala City, Harris said his visit and President Joe Biden’s first overseas visit this weekend reflect his administration’s intention to rebuild ties with allies. Biden will travel to Europe with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday for a Group of 7 meeting, a NATO summit and his first one-on-one meeting as president.

“I am in Guatemala today to discuss and advance our shared priorities. The most important of them, as you mentioned, is specifically addressing migration from the region,” Harris said. “I know, as you do, that Guatemala is a country with incredible resources – historical and present – ​​but there are things we can do together to increase the potential of those resources and reach people.”

Harris’ national security adviser, Ambassador Nancy McEldney, told CNN that Harris chose Guatemala as the destination for his first foreign trip because Central America is one of his top agenda items.

“This reflects the priority that it places on our strategy on cooperation between our two countries,” McEldney said. “We value this space, and we want to be helpful.”

A senior official also said Harris had built a “real rapport” with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei, which she hopes to build with clear policy agreements.

The Biden administration is facing ongoing political pressure to stem the tide of migrants at the US southern border, which hit a two-decade high for a month in April, according to the latest data from US Customs and Border Protection. reached at.

Nearly half of the 178,622 migrants found at the US-Mexico border That month came from the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

Harris and her team are also countering the advance of the notion by Republicans that she is the frontline czar of the Biden administration. The Vice President’s portfolio is focused on preventing the root causes of migration, not the situation on the southern border, although the two are closely linked.

“Obviously there’s a lot of work to do, but there’s really a lot of reason to know that there is hope in this area,” Harris told reporters about his visit to Guatemala on Monday.

The root cause of migration, she said, “is my top priority in terms of addressing this issue and what we need to tackle, both in terms of the poverty we are seeing, the hunger we are seeing, the impact of the storm. We need to deal with this and extreme climate conditions.”

Harris said, “So I am very clear about what our role and responsibility are. We also need to address the root causes, also the serious ones, which are recent but long-standing like corruption.” The emerging issues also need to be addressed.”

Beyond the confluence of migration factors Harris aims to tackle – from poverty and hunger to climate change and crime – Harris will need to engage in shrewd diplomacy as he tackles the issue of rampant corruption in Guatemala and the Northern Triangle. wants. .

Harris’ arrival comes after several attempts by the Guatemalan government to undermine anti-corruption efforts in the country. Asked why Harris would go to Guatemala amid efforts that have included the arrest of several anti-corruption figures, senior officials argued that talks are the most productive way.

“The best way to deal with these matters, where you have a very complicated relationship … is to talk clearly and clearly as partners. OK? As countries that have to get along,” for Northern US Special Envoy Ricardo Zuniga Triangle said. “We talk about the easy things, but we mostly talk about the hard things.”

Amidst those disagreements and the continuing corruption in Guatemala, Vice President officials are emphasizing the dual nature of Harris’s visit: not only meeting with Guatemala’s president, but separately with civil society leaders and entrepreneurs.

This story has been updated with additional details on Monday.

CNN’s Jasmine Wright contributed to this report.


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