Harris seeks allies in Honduras as she returns to Central America

WASHINGTON – Vice President Kamala Harris visited Honduras on Thursday to attend the presidential inauguration of Xiomara Castro, the country’s first female head of state, whom the White House hopes will become a key ally. in tackling the corruption and migration that are challenging Central America.

Harris’ trip to Central America, her second as vice president, is not only an endorsement, but a sign of the Biden administration’s desire to pursue a fresh start in the fight. Addressing the poverty that has pushed thousands of vulnerable families to the southern border of the United States in recent years.

Top officials in other countries, including Guatemala, where Ms. Harris pressed for an independent judiciary on her first foreign trip last year, have continued to undermine civic institutions. host and challenge Washington’s influence.

“We must root out the corruption of the last 12 years of the dictatorship, after noting Harris’s presence among the dignitaries in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras,” Ms. Castro said. “We have the right to assert ourselves based on the values ​​of our citizens, not on usury.”

After the two met a few hours later, Ms. Harris told reporters she was optimistic the partnership would help the government improve conditions in the area and stem migration north.

“I was impressed with the passion with which she spoke about her priorities in tackling and fighting corruption,” Ms. Harris said.

But the Biden administration’s aggressive pursuit of a new partnership with Honduras also highlights the complexity of Ms. Harris’s mission. Days before Ms. Castro took office, her own left-wing Libre party revolted because of her outreach to centrist allies. The uprising threatens her agenda to tackle the rampant crime and corruption that has fueled massive emigration from Honduras in recent years.

Cris Ramón, an immigration analyst who has consulted with members of Congress in Washington, said: “This complicates things significantly because what you think is going to happen to the board of directors. This new leader has now been completely removed.” “If the administration is currently dealing with a country facing a major political crisis, a country that is at the center of migration management, then this is a major obstacle for the administration to pursue its goals. your spending.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection recorded more than 300,000 border crossings by Hondurans in the last fiscal year, making the country the second-largest source of migrants after Mexico.

Harris’ team is monitoring the situation in Honduras but believes it is inappropriate to intervene, according to senior administration officials. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the objective of the vice president’s trip, cited Castro’s invitation to the United Nations to set up an anti-corruption council in Honduras as evidence of his election. she will lead to a fruitful partnership.

Harris’ office said in a statement on Thursday that the United States would provide “several hundred thousand additional doses” of a coronavirus vaccine to Honduras over the next two months, as well as 500,000 syringes for children and 1, $35 million to refurbish educational and medical facilities to fight the pandemic.

During the meeting, the two leaders also discussed expanding educational and economic opportunities as well as combating gender-based violence and corruption, according to the statement. Mrs. Castro’s predecessor, Juan Orlando Hernandez, was charged by a US court with maintaining a close relationship with drug traffickers and facilitating cocaine shipments.

When Ms Harris’s arrival was announced, the inaugural crowd chanted in Spanish, “take JOH”, a reference to Mr. Hernández.

The Biden administration maintained Castro’s election enthusiasm even after she alarmed some in Washington during her campaign by suggesting to move ties with China away from Taiwan. democratic island that China considers its territory. President Biden has sought to make competing with the rise of China’s economy central to his foreign policy strategy. During Ms. Harris’ second overseas trip to Southeast Asia, she accused China of threatening “the sovereignty of nations”.

According to a report by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, China has strengthened its economic and political ties over the past decade, becoming a leading trading and lending partner for many countries. in the region. Those investments have given China geopolitical influence on the doorstep of the United States.

In private discussions with Ms. Castro’s team, Ms. Harris’ aides have emphasized that Taiwan can provide economic benefits to Honduras, both through civil society organizations and development projects. development, according to a US official. William Tai, Taiwan’s vice president, also attended Ms. Castro’s inauguration on Thursday. (US officials said Wednesday that Ms. Harris has no plans to meet with Mr. Tai.)

Ariel G. Ruiz Soto, an analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington-based research group, said Ms. Harris’s trip was not only an opportunity to forge new partnerships, but also to send message to leaders in the region.

Nicaragua has slide toward authoritarianism In recent years. President Nayib Bukele of El Salvador publicly criticized American officials and accused weaken democratic institutions. In Guatemala, where Ms. Harris met with President Alejandro Giammattei last year, the attorney general has continued to bring down prosecutors and judges who have sought to expose corruption.

“This is an opportunity for the United States and Vice President Harris to provide and more effectively contextualize what the United States tends to do in the region for the second year,” said Ruiz Soto.

Before returning to Washington, Ms. Harris told reporters she appreciated that the countries in the region did not want to be seen as “a monolith”.

“There are commonalities about the concerns we have about corruption, commonalities about irregular migration, including human trafficking and human trafficking,” Ms. Harris said. “But there are different levels of each.”

The trip also provides an opportunity for Ms Harris, whose allies increasingly fear she is shouldering politically dubious duties and has struggled against criticism that she is faltering. , to reassert myself. On her first trip to Central America, Ms. Harris was criticized by progressives for having warns US-bound migrants “don’t come.” Republicans have sought to make her the face of the administration’s struggle to stamp out U.S. border crossings.

Aides to Ms Harris say the vice president has successfully brought together states and private companies that have committed to invest $1.2 billion in Central America. Previous US investments in the region, including those administered by then Vice President Biden, have failed to adequately improve conditions and prevent northward migration.

Anderson Warlick, chief executive officer of Parkdale Mills, which makes yarn used by companies such as Hanes, Fruit of the Loom, Levi’s and Abercrombie, met Ms. Harris on December 13 to discuss the effort. her investment in the area. He said his company is targeting land near Choloma, Honduras, for a yarn factory that will directly employ about 500 people.

“You have to create something that people want to stay there,” said Mr. Warlick, praising the administration’s efforts to expand the textile supply chain in the Western Hemisphere. “And don’t want to immigrate to the United States.”

Zolan Kanno-Youngs reported from Washington, and Natalie Kitroeff from Mexico City. Oscar Lopez contributed reporting from Mexico City, Joan Suazo from Tegucigalpa, Honduras and Ana Swanson from Washington. Harris seeks allies in Honduras as she returns to Central America

Fry Electronics Team

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