US VP Harris announces migration funds as Mexico snubs Americas summit

LOS ANGELES, June 8 — US Vice President Kamala Harris yesterday announced a fresh US$1.9 billion in private sector funding to boost jobs in hopes of reducing migration from Central America, at a Latin America summit in Los Angeles snubbed by the leaders of Mexico and other affected countries.

Harris has been given the unenviable task of tackling the root causes of rising migration into the United States, an issue seized upon by the rival Republican Party that has turned into a top priority for President Joe Biden at a week-long Summit of the Americas.

A day before Biden’s arrival, Harris was unveiling another US$1.9 billion in business commitments — in addition to US$1.2 billion announced last year — with the aim of creating economic opportunity in the impoverished so-called Northern Triangle of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

Harris also announced the creation of the “Central American Service Corps” funded through US aid to mentor young people.

The investments aim “to provide hope for people in the region to build safe and prosperous lives at home,” a White House statement said.

On the visit to her home state, Harris met regional business leaders and Central American civil society and female entrepreneurs as she promoted women’s empowerment.

But none of the Northern Triangle leaders are attending the summit, nor is President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of Mexico, the crucial US partner on migration policy due to the 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) shared border.

But Prime Minister Ariel Henry of Haiti — another rising source of migrants as the country further descends into violence — will attend.

Seeking ‘unity’

Lopez Obrador, a leftist populist, had insisted that Biden invite all governments including Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela — which the United States is excluding on the grounds that the summit is only for democracies.

Argentina’s centre-left president, Alberto Fernandez, who confirmed his attendance after a phone call and invitation to Washington from Biden, said he would try to “give a voice” to the absent countries.

“We enormously regret the non-presence of the countries that weren’t invited,” he told reporters before heading to Los Angeles.

“Unity is not spoken, it is exercised, and the best way to exercise it is by not segregating anyone,” he said.

Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard, attending instead of Lopez Obrador, said his president would visit Washington next month and insisted that ties were not at risk.

The relationship between the neighbours “is positive and will remain so and we don’t expect any change in that,” he said.

But Lopez Obrador’s absence set a sour tone after the Mexican leader’s surprisingly close partnership with Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump, who had threatened Mexico with sanctions unless it cracked down on Central American migrants.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken sought until the last minute to woo Lopez Obrador, including by seeking lower-level participation by Cuba and easing some restrictions including on US flights to the communist island.

But US officials said they saw no reciprocation from Cuban authorities, who recently went ahead with the trial of two dissident artists.

No Venezuela

Issuing a long-awaited list of participants, the White House also did not invite any government representative of Venezuela.

The United States does not recognise President Nicolas Maduro, whose 2018 re-election was clouded by widespread reports of irregularities, but Biden also did not invite opposition leader Juan Guaido, whom the United States still considers interim president despite what some Latin American officials privately see as his dwindling chances.

Biden is separately expected to meet President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Latin America’s most populous nation, despite rising fears that the Trump ally will not accept the legitimacy of upcoming elections.

Ebrard hoped that the summit would address the needs for “massive investment” in Latin America and the Caribbean in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The new funding announced by Harris included a commitment by credit card giant Visa to invest more than US$270 million over five years with an aim of bringing another 6.5 million people into a formal financial system in a region rife with corruption.

The North America branch of Yazaki, the Japanese autoparts maker, will invest US$110 million, hiring more than 14,000 new employees in Guatemala and El Salvador, the White House said.

Other companies making commitments include clothing maker Gap and Millicon, a telecommunications company that plans to invest US$700 million to expand mobile and broadband networks across the three countries. — AFP

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