With El Salvador and Honduras leadership under scrutiny, Vice President Kamala Harris is looking to lean on Guatemala as the key to stemming the Northern Triangle's migration influx to the U.S. southern border, Politico reported.
Harris, designated by President Joe Biden to handle the border crisis, is taking her first international trip to meet with presidents of Guatemala and Mexico about mass migration in early June.
El Salvador and Honduras are being left out of border strategy as each country's leader faces increasing criticism. Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez is suspected of being tied to drug trafficking, and El Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele's allies recently dismissed an attorney general and five judges on their Supreme Court, Politico reported.
"There are serious problems in Guatemala, too, but they can at least work with the president of Guatemala," Seattle International Foundation Director of Policy Eric Olsen told Politico, calling the single-country plan "more by default than design."
"I'm not sure that's going to work out," he said.
"The central issue in all three countries is the same: None of them have strong and independent judiciaries," Olsen added. "None of them have strong and independent attorney generals. And all have very, very weak oversight mechanisms."
Harris has expressed "deep concerns about El Salvador's democracy."
"An independent judiciary is critical to a healthy democracy – and to a strong economy," Harris tweeted earlier in May.
Harris will be fighting corruption before solving migration.
"No matter how much effort we put in — on curbing violence, on providing disaster relief, on tackling food insecurity, on any of it — we will not make significant progress if corruption in the region persists," Harris said at the Council of the Americas’ Washington Conference on the Americas, Politico reported.
Harris has met virtually with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, but has not spoken to any leaders from Honduras or El Salvador, according to the report.
"It is not the right moment, we believe, for very senior-level engagement with El Salvador and Honduras," a senior Biden administration official told Politico. "Lower level engagements are underway; we think is appropriate for right now."
Guatemala leadership has positioned the country to be a leader in the region, working directly with Mexico and the U.S.
"Guatemala's willingness to talk about the larger governance and rule of law agenda has made them an easier partner," Migration Policy Institutes President Andrew Selee told Politico. "Now, I don't know that it means they'll be better on the rule of law, but they are being very publicly willing to engage."
Regardless, this is a long haul for solving the problems that have persisted in the region for decades, if not almost half a century.
"If we are really committed, then it's going to require a sustained long-term commitment," Washington Office on Latin America's Adriana Beltrán told Politico. "We can't continue to focus on the region when there's a crisis and then just turn attention elsewhere, because that only really allows for short-term bandage-type solutions. And that doesn't achieve the change we want to see in the region."
Note: An original version of this story had misidentified the Honduran and El Salvador leaders.
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