Harris makes first overseas trip as US VP

·3-min read

With Kamala Harris visiting Guatemala and Mexico on her first foreign trip as vice president, the Biden administration is expected to announce new measures to fight smuggling and trafficking, and hopes to announce additional anti-corruption efforts.

Harris has been tasked by US President Joe Biden with addressing the root causes of the spike in migration to the US-Mexico border. Corruption, which the administration sees as directly related to the increased migration, is expected to be a central focus of her meetings with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei on Monday and Mexico's Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Tuesday.

The official, who briefed reporters travelling with Harris on Sunday, spoke on condition of anonymity to preview announcements before they have been made public.

Harris is seeking to secure commitments from Guatemala and Mexico for greater cooperation on border security and economic investment, but the corruption in the region - a far more intractable challenge - will complicate her efforts.

It's already had a significant impact on her work in the region. Harris has yet to engage substantively with the leaders of Honduras and El Salvador, who are both embroiled in corruption scandals. And it's an issue that experts in the region say will need to be addressed to make any lasting changes.

Harris has laid out an approach centred on creating better opportunities and living conditions in the region through humanitarian and economic aid. She announced plans to send $310 million to provide support for refugees and address food shortages, and recently secured commitments from a dozen companies and organisations to invest in the Northern Triangle countries to promote economic opportunity and job training.

Washington won some goodwill through its vaccine diplomacy this past week. Giammattei and Lopez Obrador both received calls from Harris on Thursday telling them the US would be sending 500,000 doses and one million doses, respectively, of COVID-19 vaccine.

While in Guatemala, Harris plans to meet community leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs. In Mexico, Harris will participate in a conversation with female entrepreneurs and hold a roundtable with labour workers. That's in addition to bilateral meetings with the leaders of both countries.

Harris said during a May meeting with Guatemalan justice leaders that corruption is a "significant deterrent" to economic investment there.

She's underscored the need to address corruption in public remarks and events. In her meeting with a number of leading voices on Guatemala's justice system, she noted her work as a prosecutor and said that "injustice is a root cause of migration".

"Part of giving people hope is having a very specific commitment to rooting out corruption in the region," she said.

Harris has also raised the issue during virtual meetings with the leaders of both countries and aides say she will do it again during meetings on her trip.

Harris' trip was delayed earlier as her aircraft experienced a technical issue.

Less than half an hour after taking off from a military airfield near Washington on Sunday, the government plane had to return to the airport in order to be changed out, according to spokeswoman Symone Sanders.

"It is a technical issue. There are no major safety concerns," she said.

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