When Vice President Kamala Harris’ visited Guatemala last month, she delivered a message of “hope,” proclaiming that the U.S. would increase investigations of corruption in Central America. These investigations are in response to increasing criticism of the Guatemalan government and its alleged illegal activities. Yet, this glimpse of hope quickly faded when she bluntly told Guatemalans, “Do not come,” eliminating the possibility thousands seek through immigration. As the U.S. government aims to slow down the influx of migrants on the southern border, Harris’ statement is contradictory and damaging to a region desperately in need of aid and international assistance. Nevertheless, we can take from her statement that Latin America needs and deserves more than poor U.S. interventionism.
Several human rights groups have raised the concern that Harris’ message will discourage migrants from seeking asylum or even taking the chance to migrate to the U.S., as the statement plagues an already fragile region with increasing uncertainty. Her actions also contradict the Biden-Harris pro-immigration platform exhibited during the election, which specified a welcoming and grateful attitude toward immigration as a core U.S. value. The administration instead encourages immigrants to seek protection in their own countries, an approach Biden criticized of the Trump administration. Most of the time, staying in their own country is not an option for Latinxs and immigrants, especially in countries run under corruption and malice.
Harris explained her plans to strengthen the Central American economy and diminish corruption in the region. The Biden administration proposed to send homeland security agents to Guatemala’s borders as a measure to deter migration, as well as establish task forces to investigate corruption and violence in the country. At face value, this is a successful plan. However, most authoritative presidents, including President Alejandro Giammattei of Guatemala, continue to commit human rights violations or break the law without repercussions.
Corruption and violence are some of the most pressing issues in Latin America. However, Giammattei has denied allegations of corruption in his conservative government from his people and foreign countries, including the U.S. The tension between the U.S. and Guatemala escalated in response to the prospective plan of the Biden-Harris administration.
Rather than concocting an immediate plan to help a troubled region, Biden and Harris’ current plan to “heal” Central America and slow down immigration oozes U.S. interventionism because of its underlying savior complex. Instead of helping the Latinx community, aid intervention further destabilizes the economy when political leaders clash. While they offer the Central American region a plan for improvement, countries like Guatemala have refused to receive monetary aid and COVID-19 vaccines from the U.S. due to a vast precedent of oppression and imperialism across Latin America. Despite the rejection of such aid, the U.S. has not given up the idea of aiding the Central American region. The Biden administration has settled with Congress for a four-year $4 billion relief plan in Central America, distributed to the government instead of directly to the citizens. However, the region’s living conditions have deteriorated to a point where four years is too long for salvation.
Central America is facing immense violence — countries like El Salvador and Honduras hold two of the highest homicide rates in the world. Unemployment rates continue to skyrocket; 2021 forecasts indicate Latin America will have a 11.1% unemployment rate. Large portion of Central America is still recovering from the damage of Hurricane Eta and Iota a few months ago, heightening economic insecurity. Even as many people lose hope, some still believe the only salvation is embarking on the treacherous journey across the southern U.S. border.
Harris’ message has drawn immense attention, but the standard of living for Guatemalans and other citizens in Central America are forced to endure hasn’t yet. Instead of providing economic aid directly to the corrupt governments, the U.S. should focus its efforts on the people that desperately need help in the form of newly established NGOs similar to OECD, an anti-corruption initiative for Latin America. Even with its limitations, this system allows a more tailored approach for aid to meet the specific needs of each country, as well as provides a voice to those who have been deprived of one. Rather than criticizing the current political measures on immigration, we should strive to inform ourselves and challenge authoritarianism in Central America.
Sara Perez (24C) is from Managua, Nicaragua.