LOS ANGELES ( Associated Press) – Vice President Kamala Harris will have the opportunity to engage with leaders from Latin America and the Caribbean as she welcomes them to her home state for the Summit of Americas this week., But whether it can demonstrate its dominance in the hemisphere’s major gathering – being held on American soil for the first time since 1994 – remains an open question.
Ever since Joe Biden crossed over to Latin America as vice president, leaders in the region have come to expect direct access to powerful negotiators inside the White House. However, apart from Harris doing a thankless job of addressing the root causes of migrationFor what has been slow progress, the region has seen little of it – a symptom, experts say, of the region’s greater US neglect.
In recent days, he and the president have been working on the phone to increase attendance. Among the left-wing leaders who have been critical of the US decision to kick the authoritarian governments of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela out of the Los Angeles summit.
But this effort has yielded few results. Among those staying at home are the presidents of Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras – the only three leaders Harris has met in his two quick visits to the region.
Brian Winter, the Vice President of America’s Council, said Harris got off on the wrong foot because Biden’s point was assigned to address the core social and economic causes that were driving migrants to the US, Winter’s in May 2021. In a policy speech given to an international trade group from Washington, Harris, a former California prosecutor, mentioned corruption at least 10 times, sparking outrage in an area where leaders are sensitive to lectures from American policymakers.
“Corruption is a big problem, but there are clearly more delicate ways to handle it,” Winter said. “Too many doors closed before they even hit the ground.”
Harris’ biggest achievement to date in this area is helping secure commitments from US companies for a $1.2 billion investment In Central America, from where hundreds of thousands of young adults every year flee mass violence and crushing poverty.
At the summit, he is expected to announce $1.9 billion in commitments, according to a senior Biden administration official, who declined to be identified before the announcements. The commitments reflect Harris’s belief in the private sector’s potential to create jobs that fuel economic growth and discourage young adults from leaving their homes.
New initiatives being announced include a $700 million expansion of cellular networks by Miami-based Milicom in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador; Visa commits $270 million to promote digital payments; and a $150 million nearshoring investment by Gap. Inc. Which can create about 5,000 jobs in America
But the Biden administration’s biggest policy proposal in the region – a $4 billion aid package for Central America – has stalled with little apparent effort in Congress 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 holds the Democratic presidential nomination as a candidate to introduce a “humanitarian” asylum system. There is little to show for who will break the Trump-era ban.
One challenge is finding partners in an area where institutions are weak, mass violence is rampant and corruption is rampant.
It is possible that none of the countries Harris is tasked with working with will be represented at the summit by its president. In recent months, the US has taken a tough stand against El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele, who he accuses of using his popularity to gain power and riding vulgarity over democratic checks and balances.
Meanwhile, Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei said last month that he would not attend after the US criticized his decision to reappoint an attorney general who was accused of involvement in corruption.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment came to Honduras President Xiomara Castro, who has drawn praise from US officials for his decision to extradite his predecessor, Juan Orlando Hernández, to the US to face federal drug charges. Harris, who attended Castro’s inauguration in January, spoke with 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 joined fellow leftist Andres Manuel López Obrador of Mexico. boycotting the summit. Certainly weighing on her decision was America’s quick recognition of a new government after the Honduras military removed her husband, President Manuel Zelaya, in 2009.
“America has a very difficult group of actors to deal with compared to what the Obama administration has faced,” said Rebecca Bill Chavez, president of the Inter-American Dialogue.
Chavez, who advised Harris on foreign policy during his brief presidency, welcomed the vice president’s focus on gender-based violence and female migrants, something that was missing from the previous administration. She is also hopeful that Harris’ family ties to Jamaica – the birthplace of her immigrant father – could help her connect with leaders in the Caribbean who are overlooked even in policy circles in Latin America.
But topping Biden’s record is difficult. As Vice President, he made 16 trips to Latin America, and his presence in the region has grown since his days as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, when he planned America’s largest military and economic aid package to Colombia. helped create. region.
Chavez said that on issues of climate change, migration and inclusive economic growth, the Biden administration has an opportunity to take a stand with appeal to all countries, regardless of their ideological leanings or bilateral agenda with the US
“He and the Biden administration really need to broaden their horizons to be successful,” Chavez said. “Los Angeles is the perfect opportunity for them to show that they are. But it cannot be a one-time event. It needs a follow through to become a reality.”
Goodman reported from Miami and Megarian from Washington. Associated Press writers Christopher Sherman in Mexico City and Elliot Spagett in Los Angeles contributed to this report.