With Kamala Harris visiting Guatemala and Mexico on her first foreign trip as vice president, the Biden administration is expected to announce new measures to fight smuggling and trafficking, and hopes to announce additional anti-corruption efforts as well on Monday, a senior administration official said.
The official, who briefed reporters traveling with Harris on Sunday, spoke on condition of anonymity to preview announcements before they have been made public. No further details were provided.
Harris has been tasked by President Joe Biden with addressing the root causes of the spike in migration to the U.S.-Mexico border, and her aides say corruption will be a central focus of her meetings with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei on Monday and Mexico’s Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Tuesday.
“Corruption really does sap the the wealth of any country, and in Central America is at a scale where it is a large percentage of GDP across the region,” said special envoy Ricardo Zuniga.
“We see corruption as one of the most important root causes to be dealt with,” Zuniga added.
The trip got off to a rocky start when Harris’ plane returned to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland about 30 minutes after takeoff because of what her spokesperson said was a problem with the landing gear. She departed on another plane and landed late Sunday in in Guatemala City, where she was met by Foreign Minister Pedro Brolo.
Harris is seeking to secure commitments from Guatemala and Mexico for greater cooperation on border security and economic investment, and aides say she will also discuss vaccine sharing during her meetings. But corruption in the region — a far more intractable challenge — will complicate her efforts.
It’s already had a significant impact on her work in Central America. Harris has yet to engage substantively with the leaders of Honduras and El Salvador, who are both embroiled in corruption scandals.