United States Vice President Kamala Harris has announced the latest effort to stem migration from Central America – $1.9bn in private-sector funding to boost job opportunities – hours before the first meetings of the US-hosted Summit of the Americas were set to get under way.
The funding announced on Tuesday from 10 companies adds to $1.2bn Harris had secured last year from the private sector in her role as the lead in the administration of President Joe Biden in addressing the root causes of migration from Central America.
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As point person on the politically fraught issue, Harris is set to take an outsized role at the Summit of the Americas, which is being held in Los Angeles this week in her home state of California, as part of a wider US push to foster what officials call a more cooperative approach with Latin American countries.
However, progress is likely to be threatened by the announced boycott by Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador over the exclusion of Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, which the US left off the summit’s guest list, citing human rights abuses and a lack of democracy.
Beyond Mexico, none of the leaders of the so-called Northern Triangle, a region of high poverty that includes El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, were set to attend the gathering, with leader-level meetings scheduled to begin on Wednesday.
In a statement, Harris’s office said the new commitments will help to create tens of thousands of jobs in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The vice president also unveiled efforts to combat gender-based violence, as well as plans to support youth through the so-called “Central American Service Corps” which will be funded through US aid.
The investments aim “to provide hope for people in the region to build safe and prosperous lives at home”, a White House statement said.
‘We do not believe that dictators should be invited’
The White House has largely brushed off the boycott by Lopez Obrador, whose country shares a 3,200km (2,000-mile) border with the US, making it arguably Washington’s most crucial partner on migration policy.
On Monday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that the president stood by the decision to exclude Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, and said Lopez Obrador, who is set to meet with Biden later in the year, had notified the administration of his plan prior to his public announcement.
“We do not believe that dictators should be invited,” Jean-Pierre told reporters of the countries that were not asked to attend.
She added that Biden, who will travel to the summit on Wednesday, will announce numerous “deliverables” amid general criticism that the gathering had lost its relevance and would lack concrete action.
The agenda on Wednesday is set to focus on regional economic and health issues. A senior administration official, speaking on background, has told reporters that Biden will announce an economic partnership for the western hemisphere during the summit, which will seek to rebuild and rejuvenate existing trade agreements.
Climate change is set to dominate Thursday, with migration taking up the agenda for Friday.
The US saw a two-decade high record of people attempting to cross the southern border in 2021. The issue is considered an area of vulnerability for Biden’s Democratic party going into legislative elections in November.
On Monday, a caravan of thousands of people set off from the border of Mexico and Guatemala in hopes of reaching the US border.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday that the absence of Lopez Obrador would not hinder further efforts to foster cooperation, noting that Mexico was sending Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard in the president’s stead.
“We will have a number of opportunities to engage with our Mexican counterparts in the context of the summit this week and we look forward to those engagements,” Price said.
Twenty-three leaders to attend
The White House has said that 23 heads of state would attend the summit, including the leaders of key players such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Colombia. That’s an increase from the 17 leaders who attended the 2018 event, which former US President Donald Trump had skipped.
The US last hosted the summit in 1994, its inaugural year.
Among the funding announced by Harris on Tuesday was a commitment by credit card giant Visa to invest more than $270m over five years with an aim of bringing one million more businesses and 6.5 million people into a formal financial system in a region rife with corruption.
The North America branch of Yazaki, the Japanese auto parts maker, will invest $110m, 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 Millicom, a telecommunications company that plans to invest $700m to expand mobile and broadband networks across the three countries.