With Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to Guatemala and Mexico and Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s meetings in Costa Rica with his counterparts in Central America and Mexico, President Joe Biden continues to hit the right notes by signaling its commitment to a collaborative approach to regional challenges which are also at the top of its national agenda.
As expected, immigration-related issues dominated discussions, although announcements on investment, labor rights, security, anti-corruption cooperation and women’s empowerment, among others, highlighted demonstrates the depth and breadth of an agenda that is often too narrowly focused on the border security dimensions of the immigration debate.
In the preamble to the vice-presidential visit, the White House announced that the countries of Latin America will be among the priority beneficiaries of its global vaccine sharing initiative, including more than a million additional doses for Mexico and a half -million for Guatemala. This is an important and welcome step that should pave the way for additional allocations and cooperation to strengthen vaccine distribution capacities and preparedness for future pandemics.
Immigration monitoring will be difficult. Deep-rooted and deteriorating security, economic and environmental conditions are pushing increasing numbers of Central Americans away from their homes to undertake the perilous journey through Mexico to the United States.
Before leaving Washington, Harris announced a new public-private partnership with an initial group of 12 major companies and organizations. The partnership will support initiatives for financial inclusion, economic growth, education, clean energy, food security and health in the so-called Northern Triangle of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Along with the agreements reached with the Guatemalan and Mexican governments on tackling the root causes of migration, these initiatives go a long way to deflect the page from the unilateral approaches of the Trump era.
However, to be effective, they must be accompanied by stronger collaboration with governments, civil society, other international agencies and financial institutions. The recent visit to the Northern Triangle by USAID Administrator Samantha Power is another important sign of this more inclusive approach.
Credible actions will set the tone and momentum for engagement with Latin America on these issues and on a larger and more complex set of issues, including security, threats to democratic governance, human rights, climate change and trade.
Across the region, the severity of the economic impact of the pandemic and the significant setbacks in education, health, employment and poverty have only worsened inequalities and lack of inclusion, which feeds social discontent and polarization.
In the short term, the economic recovery will be driven by two factors. In the case of Mexico, a vital part of North American supply chains, it will be the expansive wave of the stimulus and vaccine-led return of the United States. In the south, the main driver will be the rapid increase in demand for commodities and agri-food exports from South America, particularly China.
Later, however, the mere manufacturing or exports of commodities will not lead to inclusive and sustainable growth if governments do not make the difficult choices necessary to add value to what they produce, provide education, better quality health care and security for their citizens, create more jobs in the formal economy and effectively fight corruption.
The Biden administration can play a key role in promoting forward-looking partnerships that foster business investment, innovation and the rule of law. Beyond its radar screen cluttered with domestic and foreign policy priorities, a sustained and lucid effort on this front can only benefit Latin America as a whole and the future prosperity and national security of the United States. .
Julián Ventura was Mexico’s Assistant Secretary for External Affairs from December 2018 to January 2021. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.
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