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United States Vice President Kamala Harris meets with President López Obrador. United States Vice President Kamala Harris meets with President López Obrador.

‘Embarking on new era,’ Mexico and US sign cooperation agreement

US Vice President Harris discusses migration with President López Obrador

Mexico and the United States are “embarking on a new era” in bilateral relations, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris told President López Obrador during a migration-focused meeting in Mexico City on Tuesday that Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard described as “very successful.”

“I strongly believe that we are embarking on a new era that makes clear the interdependence and interconnection between nations,” the vice president told AMLO, as the president is commonly known, at the start of their meeting in the National Palace.

Ebrard said the hour-long bilateral meeting covered economic matters, security and development in southern Mexico and Central America. “It was a very successful meeting!!” he wrote on Twitter.

Prior to the meeting, López Obrador showed Harris around the National Palace, where they paused to admire murals painted by acclaimed Mexican artist Diego Rivera.

The pair also watched on as Ebrard and the chargé d’affaires of the United States Embassy in Mexico signed a memorandum of understanding to establish a strategic partnership to address the lack of economic opportunities in northern Central America, namely Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, countries from which large numbers of migrants have fled recently to seek asylum in the United States.

Vice President Harris and President López Obrador in Mexico's national palace
Vice President Harris and President López Obrador do a walk and talk through the National Palace.

The White House said in a statement that the U.S. and Mexico “will work together to foster agricultural development and youth empowerment programs” in those three countries and “will co-create and co-manage a partnership program enabling them to better deliver, measure, and communicate about assistance to the region.”

The Associated Press reported that “the Mexican government’s inability to provide security in parts of the country” is also of interest to the United States in an immigration context, “both for the people who are displaced by violence and the impact it has on a severely weakened economy trying to reemerge from the pandemic.”

The Mexican government said in its own statement that López Obrador and Harris made progress on plans to address “the structural causes of migration in the region [and] to protect human rights, particularly those of migrants.”

“… The governments of Mexico and the United States subscribe to a common humanist vision, under which orderly, safe and regular migration flows are sought together with cooperation mechanisms that confront the structural causes of migration. In that sense, the memorandum of understanding between both countries reflects the shared will to sustainably boost economic development in the south of Mexico and the north of Central America,” the government said.

López Obrador has proposed that the United States support a further extension of his government’s tree-planting employment program to Central America as part of the strategy to stem migration.

It was unclear whether the joint support for agricultural development and youth empowerment programs involved United States support for Mexico’s Sembrando Vida (Sowing Life) scheme and the Mexican government’s youth apprenticeship program, which López Obrador has also extended to Central America.

The U.S. government did say that it will aim to create $250 million in new investment and sales in southern Mexico by strengthening rural value chains such as cacao, coffee, and eco-tourism.

Harris’ visit to Mexico, made during her first international trip since she took office in January, came a day after she met with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei in Guatemala City and sent a clear message to would-be migrants: the Biden administration wants to “help Guatemalans find hope at home,” she said.

“I want to be clear to folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States-Mexico border: do not come. Do not come. The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our border,” the vice president said in a press conference on Monday.

She didn’t repeat such a blunt warning in Mexico on Tuesday — she faced significant criticism for her frank remarks, including from within the U.S. Democratic Party — even though the number of Mexicans attempting to cross into the United States has recently increased as migrants, encouraged by the change of government in the U.S. and its winding back or abolition of many of former president Donald Trump’s hardline migration policies, flock to the northern border.

The news website Axios reported that according to preliminary U.S. Customs and Border Protection data it obtained, the number of migrants illegally crossing the Mexico-U.S. border this fiscal year, which still has four months to run, is already the highest since 2006.

Instead of sending forthright messages to people considering seeking asylum in the United States, Harris on Tuesday was at pains to emphasize the importance of the bilateral relationship with Mexico, U.S. cooperation with its neighbor and the need to seek substantive solutions to the migration problem.

Responding to criticism of her remarks in Guatemala, the vice president told reporters in Mexico City: “I’m really clear: we have to deal with the root causes [of migration], and that is my hope. Period.”

Harris and López Obrador’s meeting came a month after they spoke during a video call. AMLO told the vice president then that his administration agreed with the migration policies the U.S. government was developing and would aid in their implementation. “You can count on us,” he said.

López Obrador said in a Twitter post that his meeting with Harris today was “important, beneficial for our people and very pleasant.”

In addition to migration, López Obrador and Harris discussed workers’ rights within the context of the new North American free trade agreement, and the former thanked the latter for sending shipments of Covid-19 vaccines to Mexico, according to the Mexican government’s statement.

The White House said that the United States will “invest an additional US $130 million in technical assistance and cooperation over the next three years to work with Mexico as it implements labor legislation and to fund programs that will support workers, improve working conditions and address child and forced labor.”

In addition to pledging to cooperate on migration issues, Mexico and the United States agreed to hold high-level economic talks in September, to maintain a cabinet-level security dialogue and to partner to disable human trafficking and human smuggling organizations.

“… These organizations often use lies and threats to lure migrants into being trafficked or leave them stranded in Mexico or at the border, far from help and without basic supplies,” the White House said.

“Law enforcement agencies will work jointly to identify targets, develop investigations and take enforcement actions such as freezing bank accounts associated with criminal groups.”

Mexico and the United States also agreed to work together to resolve missing person cases in Mexico.

The two countries “will work to expand forensic capacity and partnerships to help solve the more than 82,000 cases of missing persons and disappearances in Mexico, potentially bringing closure to tens of thousands of families and ending impunity for offenders,” the White House said.

With reports from the Associated Press (en) and El Financiero (sp)  

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