US Vice President Kamala Harris on Tuesday announced $1.9 billion in new private sector funding to create jobs at a Latin America summit in Los Angeles that was snubbed by leaders in Mexico and other affected countries , hoping to reduce migration from Central America.
Harris has been given the unenviable task of tackling the root causes of increasing migration to the United States, an issue taken up by the rival Republican Party and which has become a top priority for President Joe Biden at a week-long Summit of the Americas.
A day before Biden’s arrival, Harris unveiled $1.9 billion in corporate pledges — in addition to the $1.2 billion announced last year — to El Salvador’s impoverished and violence-ridden North Triangle, Guatemala and Honduras.
Harris, who met with business leaders, women entrepreneurs and civil society at the summit in her home state, said the effort stemmed from “our shared belief that most people don’t want to leave home,” but also that “the government does cannot do alone.”
“We know that the American people will benefit from stable and prosperous neighbors. And when we offer economic opportunities to the people of Central America, we address an important driver of migration,” she said.
Harris also announced the creation of the Central American Service Corps, funded by US aid, to serve young people.
But none of the Northern Triangle leaders are attending the summit, nor is President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of Mexico, who is the key US partner on migration policy because of the 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) shared border.
Lopez Obrador, a left-wing populist, had insisted that Biden invite all governments, including Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela — excluding the United States because the summit is only for democracies.
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Argentina’s center-left President Alberto Fernandez, who confirmed his attendance after a phone call and an invitation from Biden to Washington, said he would try to “give the absent countries a voice”.
“We deeply regret the absence of the non-invited countries,” he told reporters before leaving for Los Angeles.
“Unity is not spoken, it is exercised, and the best way to exercise it is not to isolate anyone,” he said.
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, present in place of Lopez Obrador, said his president will visit Washington next month and insisted ties were not in jeopardy.
The relationship between the neighbors “is and will remain positive and we don’t expect that to change,” he said.
But Lopez Obrador’s absence set a sour tone after the Mexican leader’s surprisingly close partnership with Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, who had threatened Mexico with sanctions if it didn’t crack down on Central American migrants.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tried to woo Lopez Obrador up to the last minute, including by seeking lower-level Cuban involvement and easing some restrictions, including on US flights to the communist island.
But US officials said they saw no response from Cuban authorities, who recently launched the trial of two dissident artists.
Regarding Venezuela, the United States does not recognize President Nicolas Maduro, whose re-election in 2018 was marred by widespread reports of irregularities. Maduro instead traveled to Turkey, who maintains ties with him.
But Biden also didn’t invite opposition leader Juan Guaido, whom the United States still sees as interim president despite what some Latin American officials privately see as his dwindling chances.
Biden will speak to Guaido by phone instead, Brian Nichols, the top US diplomat for Latin America, told VPI Television.
Biden is separately expected to meet President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Latin America’s most populous nation, despite growing fears the Trump ally will not accept the legitimacy of the upcoming election.
Ebrard hoped the summit would address the need for “massive investment” in Latin America and the Caribbean in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The new funding Harris announced included a commitment from credit card giant Visa to invest more than $270 million over five years to bring another 6.5 million people into formal financial systems in a region riddled with corruption.
The North American branch of Japanese auto parts maker Yazaki will invest $110 million and hire more than 14,000 new employees in Guatemala and El Salvador, the White House said.
Other companies making commitments include apparel maker Gap and Millicom, a telecom company that plans to invest $700 million to expand mobile and broadband networks in the three countries.
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