GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala (ChurchMilitant.com) - Vice President Kamala Harris' swing through Central America and Mexico, a trip ostensibly focused on the causes of emigration from the region, was met with local protests, cynicism and a milieu of disillusionment with the Biden administration.
At Guatemala’s international airport, Harris and her motorcade were greeted last week by vocal protesters bearing signs reading “Kamala, mind your own business,” “Guatemala is pro-life,” “Stop funding criminals” and “Trump won.”
And even before meeting her, Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei told CBS News that they were “not on the same side of the coin” regarding migration.
“We asked the United States government to send more of a clear message to prevent more people from leaving,” Giammattei said. He averred that when President Joe Biden took office, “The message changed too: ‘We’re going to reunite families, we’re going to reunite children.’”
Giammattei underscored, “The very next day, the [human traffickers] were here organizing groups of children to take them to the United States.”
In contrast to Biden, President Donald Trump got Mexico and the Central American republics to stem migration to the U.S. border. Mexico established camps along its border with Guatemala to process migrants and asylum-seekers while also deporting others. Trump pressured Central America by cutting foreign aid at one point as part of his “Remain in Mexico” policy. Asylum-seekers, for instance, had to remain in Mexico while waiting for U.S. immigration courts to process their claims.
With the promise of easing border restrictions in advance of the November 2020 election, migrants began to surge toward the United States. The number of arrests along the U.S.-Mexico border rose to 150,000 in March and a 21-year monthly high of more than 178,000 in April, the most recent month for which statistics are available. Detainees are coming not only from Mexico and Central America but also South America, Bangladesh, China and India.
When Biden called on the Democrat-controlled Congress to establish a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, Republicans cried that Biden had added factors attracting migrants to the United States: free education and health care, free food, free money, free marijuana, free childcare and free million-dollar lottery tickets in exchange for COVID vaccination.
Appearing at the Guatemalan presidential palace with Giammattei, Harris tried to present a tough message to the Guatemalan people, who continue to endure systemic injustice, economic uncertainty and the fruit of decades of fratricidal war that preceded the emergence of murderous narcotrafficking gangs, which have corrupted the police and armed forces. To potential migrants to the United States, Harris said, “Do not come. Do not come. The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our border.”
“We will look to root out corruption wherever it exists,” Harris proclaimed, adding that the Biden administration will support the Guatemalan anti-corruption efforts. “That has been one of our highest priorities in terms of the focus we have put here after the president asked me to take on this issue of focusing on this region.”
The Biden administration is offering to create a “task force” to address corruption and human trafficking, as well as an investment of $48 million in affordable housing, agro-business and entrepreneurship programs as part of a $4 billion regional investment plan that has commitments from private corporations such as Microsoft and Mastercard to develop Central America’s economy.
The pushback Harris experienced on her junket was noticed. According to a CNN report, there are murmurings within the Biden administration that Harris’ performance was a disappointment.
“There was certainly progress, but there are now concerns that some of that progress may have been overshadowed by her answers to some of these questions that her team knew that she would be facing,” CNN's Jeremy Diamond noted. “It’s left some of the administration officials perplexed and the vice president’s team frustrated.”
Critics in Guatemala have questioned whether the Biden administration is serious about addressing corruption or migration. For example, Harris met last month with Thelma Aldana, Guatemala’s former attorney general, who is wanted in Guatemalan on charges of corruption. At that meeting was Gloria Porras, a former Guatemalan judge who is facing complaints for failing to obey the constitution that she was sworn to uphold. Both women claim to be the victims of political intrigue.
Equally troubling is Biden’s nomination of Todd Robinson, former U.S. ambassador to Guatemala, to head the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. He shocked the socially conservative country by flying the gay flag at the embassy. His reputation for meddling in Guatemalan domestic affairs grew during his tenure. Robinson called members of the Congress “idiots,” prompting calls for his expulsion.
Robinson threatened to cancel Guatemalan lawmakers' U.S. visas if they did not support Porras’ appointment. Papal nuncio Abp. Nicolas Thévenin commented, “No country can permit such interference because, far from helping a country in need, it increases tensions.” Robinson responded that his only concern was for Guatemala’s poor and that Thévenin’s words did not matter. Robinson said, “The challenges, the problems in Guatemala are evident to the world. ... In the list of priorities, sovereignty to me is last.”
Robinson was a fervent advocate not only of Thelma Aldana, but also of the United Nations' International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). CICIG was a supranational body that grew out of a United Nations–Guatemala agreement to address corruption in law enforcement, courts, government and political campaigns. Critics have charged that CICIG became a tool for leftists to prosecute political foes and that it scared off international investors. CICIG, for example, used imprisonment without trial or “preventive detention” against presumed criminals before it was eventually abolished (despite opposition from the United States and United Nations) by erstwhile President Jimmy Morales in 2019.
In a conversation with Church Militant, columnist Luis Figueroa of Guatemala’s El Periodico newspaper observed that Harris’ visit failed to offer fresh ideas.
“During this visit, migration, narcotrafficking and corruption were the biggest issues, so there was nothing new. The idea of government training and funding and a task force on corruption closely resembles CICIG,” Figueroa said.
He explained the corruption of policy and military:
While the consequences may be addressed, the root of it is not addressed. The principal source of corruption is statism: government officials who make arbitrary decisions in areas where they should not. For example, they can decide arbitrarily whether cargo can or cannot enter the country based on whether bribes are offered. The other source of corruption is narcotrafficking, which is a problem because the United States is engaged in a losing war against the traffickers.
He added that by ignoring the root causes of corruption, "resources, money and lives are wasted by merely attacking the consequences of corruption. If you eliminate one corrupt official, another takes his place."
To address the exodus of his fellow Guatemalans, Figueroa said:
No magic wand is needed. People will stay if there are good jobs. They leave when there are no jobs. Good jobs come from productive investments, not donations from supposedly friendly countries. Productive investments come from savings. This is not a mystery. For this to happen, there must be confidence in the institutions, as well as security in law enforcement and judiciary.
Figueroa affirmed that Guatemalans by and large are pro-American and hold no grudges.
Investors will come, he said, if they are confident in government transparency and ethics. Figueroa said that Guatemala must address issues such as the theft of electric power by the leftist Committee for Rural Development (CODECA), roadblocks and squatter camps, which have long been linked to Marxist insurgents who battled the military for decades before the peace accord of 1996.
At El Siglo, Guatemalan editorial writer Luis Enrique Perez denounced Harris’ visit to his country. “I repudiate you,” he wrote, “not because you are an ominous personification of corruption with impunity in your own country.” He continued, noting that he repudiates Harris “because you cooperate or are willing to cooperate with Guatemalans who, in my own country, intend to institute socialism, not through peaceful and legal voting by the people, but through violent criminal imposition, animalistic destruction of private and public property, and terrorism.”
For Perez, Harris is emblematic of socialism. He remarked of the vice president: "You are criminal violence. You are terrorism. You are the source of national disgrace. And your presence on our soil is a dagger that kills our hope for legality, law, justice, peace and prosperity. And each of your footprints is a tomb of our dignity."
He suggested that the ruling class, “with miserable servitude,” preferred to please the Biden administration rather than preserve “the dignity of the country.”
Gloria Alvarez, a Guatemalan author and analyst, tweeted after the U.S. vice president's junket, “Kamala Harris comes to Guatemala with that old stupid socialist s***: give US tax payers’ money to our corrupted government, so it steals it, and more Guatemalans leave for USA.”
In 2018, Alvarez told the European Parliament socialism will not work in Latin America, Europe or the Soviet Union and suggested ways Europe can help.
“What we need from Europe is that speech that socialism doesn’t work,” she said, after identifying “artificial trade barriers, cronyism, artificial oligopolies and insane labor laws” as the hallmarks of socialism.
By promoting equality under the law, she said, Europe can prevent the kind of economic and human disaster facing Venezuela, for example.