America has a number of friends to its South.
Chief among these are Brazil and Colombia, which after the United States, boasts the second and third largest militaries in the Western Hemisphere.
Last month, President Trump praised both Honduras and El Salvador, and even had praise for Mexico, for its recent deployment of troops along our border.
However, it’s hard to find another country, particularly in Central America, that’s worked more closely with the U.S. in tackling immigration and trade issues in recent years than Guatemala.
Guatemala, a constitutional democratic Republic, possesses the largest economy in Central America. Guatemalans like Americans and polling data over the years has consistently shown strong support for the United States.
While their military is relatively small, it has trained with the U.S. military for a number of years. In fact, for the last 17 years, the Arkansas National Guard, as part of the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program, has trained in Guatemala and worked closely with the Guatemalan Army and Air Force. And just this past year, as part of U.S. Southern Command’s "Beyond the Horizon" exercise, the Idaho National Guard conducted joint training exercises with the Guatemalan Armed Forces as well.
Despite the long-standing friendship between the United States and Guatemala, what has transpired in the past few years is what’s so significant.
During the migrant march in the Fall of 2018, President Trump threatened to cut off U.S. foreign aid to Central American countries if they didn’t stop the migrant caravan. Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales responded by saying, "No help can be conditioned and no help can be demanded."
But then something happened. President Trump and President Morales worked together and on July 26, 2019, both countries signed an agreement designating Guatemala as a Safe Third Country. Under the agreement, migrants passing through Guatemala from countries like Honduras and El Salvador must seek refugee status first in Guatemala before attempting to go to the United States.
President Trump hosted President Morales at the White House right before Christmas.
Praising the cooperation between the two nations, President Trump thanked the Guatemalan President for being "the first Central American leader to sign and implement the historic Asylum Cooperation Agreement with the United States."
President Morales called the United States, "the main partner and ally of Guatemala, both in security and trade."
Besides immigration, security and trade, both countries have worked on other issues as well. After President Trump, President Morales became the second head of state to announce that it was moving its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Morales, a popular actor and evangelical Christian, ran for the Guatemalan presidency as an outsider. During his successful 2015 election campaign, which he won in a landslide, one pundit noted that his conservative views, humble demeanor and quick wit were out of the Ronald Reagan playbook.
And he publicly supported the U.S. securing its southern border.
Morales’ term will end later this month. U.S.-Guatemalan relations are rock-solid.
These last few years of our two countries and our two presidents working together should serve as a model to build upon for future U.S.-Central American cooperation.
Van Hipp is Chairman of American Defense International, Inc. He is the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Army and author of “The New Terrorism: How to Fight It and Defeat It.” He is the 2018 recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II September 11 Garden Leadership Award for National Security. To read more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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