April 27 (UPI) — U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris pledged to address the “root causes” of migration in a virtual bilateral meeting with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei on Monday.
Harris spoke with the Guatemalan president over Zoom on Monday as she prepares to meet with Guatemalan community-based organizations on Tuesday before traveling to Guatemala and Mexico in June.
During the meeting, Harris identified poverty, extreme weather conditions, corruption and violence against women, Indigenous people, LGBTQ people and Afro-descendants as factors driving people to flee Guatemala, saying the United States would increase relief and strengthen cooperation to “manage migration in an effective, secure and humane manner.”
“We want to work with you to address both the acute causes as well as the root causes in a way that will bring hope to the people of Guatemala that there will be an opportunity for them if they stay at home,” she said.
Monday’s meeting came as the U.S. Department of State announced sanctions against Gustavo Alejos, who served as chief of staff for former Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom from 2008 to 2012, and current elected delegate to the Congress of the Republic of Guatemala Felipe Alejos.
The two reportedly facilitated payments to congressional representatives and judges in efforts to influence the selection process for magistrates to Guatemala’s courts to secure favorable rulings protecting Gustavo Alejos from corruption charges.
“These sanctions support efforts by the people of Guatemala to end the scourge of corruption, as part of the U.S. government’s commitment to support improvements in governance in Guatemala,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
Neither Harris nor Giammattei referenced the sanctions during the opening statements before the meeting.
Giammattei called for the United States and Guatemala to develop a “roadmap” between their governments to “ensure peace, progress and development,” adding that the Guatemalan government wishes to be partners to “eradicate not only poverty, but the causes of so many evils that afflict us.”
“When I hear you speak of placing human beings at the center of things, I can only congratulate myself and you for adopting such a position,” he said. “Because we seem to have forgotten that we need to fight to preserve the life of all members of our society — all members.”
President Joe Biden last month appointed Harris to lead the administration’s efforts to stem immigration at the southern U.S. border, tasking her to meet with the leaders of Mexico and the northern triangle of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, amid an influx of unaccompanied minors at U.S. Customs and Border Protection facilities.