In his first visit to Central America since taking office, the top diplomat of the United States met with ministers of Foreign Affairs and leaders of the region and Mexico. In the two-day trip that ended Wednesday, Blinken avoided publicly criticizing any particular government, focusing instead on the Biden administration’s plans to distribute Covid-19 vaccines and other assistance, such as a proposed $ aid package. 4 billion.
“We believe it is the best way to ensure greater stability and improve the lives of people throughout the region, which ultimately benefits the United States as well,” Blinken said at a joint press conference with President Carlos Alvarado of Costa Rica.
The approach is a departure from the Trump administration, which reacted to a surge in migrants by expelling asylum seekers to Mexico or Central America and intensifying efforts to build a wall along the southwestern US border, among other measures. .
After a decline at the beginning of the pandemic, the number of arrests at that border began to rise under Trump and increased in the first months of the Biden administration. The Border Patrol had more than 170,000 encounters, including 50,000 people traveling with families, its highest total since March 2001.
It was an important topic of private conversations that Blinken had Tuesday night with foreign ministers.
The United States hopes that Mexican and Central American officials can do more to prevent the smuggling of migrants, especially children. The Biden administration has been expelling single adults who cross the border and most families, but it allows unaccompanied minors to enter the United States and apply for asylum or other legal applications for residency. US authorities found more than 17,000 children traveling alone along the border in April, compared with a record 18,960 a month earlier.
However, there are limits to what Mexico and Central America can do amid the economic devastation of the Covid-19 pandemic. The leaders made it clear that they expect some of the 81 million vaccines that President Joe Biden has said he will distribute around the world. Details of the distribution plan are expected this month.
Alvarado, whose nation has drawn admiration for its stability, relative wealth and environmental protection, made it clear that Costa Rica would only accept vaccines that have no political ties.
“We are talking about saving lives, but that does not mean that by receiving a donation we are going to compromise our dignity as a nation,” he said at the press conference.
The relative success of Costa Rica was another theme of the two-day visit. Blinken highlighted the close ties between the countries, noting that 40% of the country’s exports go to the United States and that 70% of foreign direct investment comes from the United States. Costa Rica is also an important tourist destination and, before the pandemic, it hosted more American students than any other country in the hemisphere.
On Wednesday, Blinken was meeting privately with his Mexican counterpart, Marcelo Ebrard, and planned to visit a non-governmental organization that offers recreational and educational activities to children and families. It’s the kind of organization that would get a share of the $ 4 billion in the proposed aid package that the Biden administration does not want to give directly to government entities in the region.
“It is no accident that we are here, and we are here first,” Blinken said. “We have a remarkably strong partnership that is built on a foundation of shared values and a shared perspective.”
Highlighting that relationship and those values allowed Blinken to contrast the situation with countries such as Honduras, whose president has been linked by US prosecutors to drug trafficking, and Nicaragua, where the authoritarian government of President Daniel Ortega is subject to US sanctions.
Blinken avoided any direct comment on El Salvador’s president, Nayib Bukele, a popularly elected leader who has an increasingly strained relationship with the United States due to his moves to consolidate power and weaken El Salvador’s other democratic institutions.
Still, it was clearly on Blinken’s agenda when he said: “We meet at a time when democracy and human rights are being undermined in many parts of the region.” He pointed to the “erosion of judicial independence” and the repression of independent media, in an apparent reference to Bukele, and the “nullification of anti-corruption efforts,” which probably refers to Honduras and elsewhere.
“We understand how fragile democracy is. We have experienced setbacks in our own country in recent years,” he said. “But that experience has shown us how important it is to shore up the institutions and norms that safeguard our democracy.”
The issue of corruption surely looms over Vice President Kamala Harris’s trip to Guatemala and Mexico next week, where she plans to meet with the presidents of both nations to discuss joint efforts to address the root causes of migration. Harris’ chief spokesperson emphasized the vice president’s efforts to secure financial investments and humanitarian aid when outlining her plans for the trip.
The goal is to “deepen our strategic partnership and bilateral relationship” with both countries and “advance a comprehensive strategy to address the causes of migration,” said spokesman Symone Sanders. “We will also engage community leaders, workers, young innovators and entrepreneurs and others on ways to provide economic security, address the core drivers of migration, and give people hope for a better life at home.”