‘We are not on the same side of the coin’: Guatemala president attacks Kamala Harris day before landmark meeting

Giammettei says he and Harris disagree on how to address migration

John Bowden
Monday 07 June 2021 18:13 BST
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Guatemala’s president said on Sunday that his government and the Biden administration remain at odds over the US’ approach to stemming Central American migration, while adding that he valued Vice President Kamala Harris as a negotiating partner.

In an interview with CBS News as Ms Harris visits his country following her appointment to lead the Biden administration’s response to the surge of migration at the US’ southern border, Alejandro Giammattei stressed that the two sides differ over how to address the problem, but not in their beliefs regarding its causes.

"We are not on the same side of the coin. It is obvious," Mr Giammattei told CBS, adding of the crisis’s causes and how to address them: "We are in agreement on the ‘what,’ which is something. We are in not agreement on the ‘how.’"

The Guatemalan president pointed to the Biden administration’s pledges not to deport unaccompanied children, and the Democratic president’s efforts to end some of what many saw as inhumane practices carried out as part of the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement efforts, as factors contributing to the surge of northern-bound migration.

“The message [under the Biden administration] changed to, ‘We are going to reunite families and we are going to reunite children,’” Mr Giammettei explained. "The very next day the coyotes here were organizing groups of children to take them to the United States."

The Biden administration’s repeated statements urging families against migrating to the US, he added, were the result of his government and potentially others pushing back against what they saw as a muddled message that was continuing to drive some to leave their home countries.

The White House has been under increasing pressure from conservatives over the border issue, which reemerged as a top issue in recent weeks as reports indicated that some of the highest numbers of migrants seen in decades were attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in March that the US was “on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years”.

Harris departed the White House on Sunday for a trip to Guatemala and Mexico, and in both countries is expected to discuss with top officials the Biden administration’s economic and anti-corruption efforts in the region which are aimed at addressing the root causes of migration.

Guatemala is one of three countries referred to as the “Northern Triangle”, with neighbors El Salvador and Honduras making up the other two, which are seen as the primary source of migrants headed north to safety in the US.

The three countries remain embroiled in struggles against organized crime and drug cartels; though the president of Honduras himself in the past was the target of a major US drug trafficking investigation, while allies of El Salvador’s president are reportedly on a State Department list of corrupt Central American officials with potential ties to organized crime.

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