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LOS ANGELES: US Vice President Kamala Harris on Tuesday announced a fresh $1.9 billion in private sector funding to boost jobs in hopes of reducing migration from Central America, at a Latin America summit in Los Angeles snubbed by the leaders of Mexico and other affected countries.

Harris has been given the unenviable task of tackling the root causes of rising migration into the United States, an issue seized upon by the rival Republican Party that has turned into a top priority for President Joe Biden at a week-long Summit of the Americas.

A day before Biden’s arrival, Harris unveiled $1.9 billion in commitments by businesses – in addition to $1.2 billion announced last year – for the impoverished and violence-ravaged so-called Northern Triangle of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

Harris, who met business leaders, female entrepreneurs and civil society as part of the summit in her home state, said the efforts come from “our shared belief that most people don’t want to leave home” but also that “government cannot do it alone.”

“We know the American people will benefit from stable and prosperous neighbors. And when we provide economic opportunity for people in Central America, we address an important driver of migration,” she said.

Harris also announced the creation of the “Central American Service Corps” funded through US aid to mentor young people.

But none of the Northern Triangle leaders are attending the summit, nor is President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of Mexico, the crucial US partner on migration policy due to the 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) shared border.

Lopez Obrador, a leftist populist, had insisted that Biden invite all governments including Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela – which the United States is excluding on the grounds that the summit is only for democracies.

Seeking ‘unity’

Argentina’s center-left president, Alberto Fernandez, who confirmed his attendance after a phone call and invitation to Washington from Biden, said he would try to “give a voice” to the absent countries.

“We enormously regret the non-presence of the countries that weren’t invited,” he told reporters before heading to Los Angeles.

“Unity is not spoken, it is exercised, and the best way to exercise it is by not segregating anyone,” he said.

Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard, attending instead of Lopez Obrador, said his president would visit Washington next month and insisted that ties were not at risk.

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The relationship between the neighbors “is positive and will remain so and we don’t expect any change in that,” he said.

But Lopez Obrador’s absence set a sour tone after the Mexican leader’s surprisingly close partnership with Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump, who had threatened Mexico with sanctions unless it cracked down on Central American migrants.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken sought until the last minute to woo Lopez Obrador, including by seeking lower-level participation by Cuba and easing some restrictions including on US flights to the communist island.

But US officials said they saw no reciprocation from Cuban authorities, who recently went ahead with the trial of two dissident artists.

No Venezuela

On Venezuela, the United States does not recognize President Nicolas Maduro, whose 2018 re-election was clouded by widespread reports of irregularities. Maduro instead traveled to Turkey, which maintains relations with him.

But Biden also did not invite opposition leader Juan Guaido, whom the United States still considers interim president despite what some Latin American officials privately see as his dwindling chances.

Biden will instead speak to Guaido by telephone, Brian Nichols, the top US diplomat for Latin America, told VPI television.

Biden is separately expected to meet President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Latin America’s most populous nation, despite rising fears that the Trump ally will not accept the legitimacy of upcoming elections.

Ebrard hoped that the summit would address the needs for “massive investment” in Latin America and the Caribbean in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The new funding announced by Harris included a commitment by credit card giant Visa to invest more than $270 million over five years with an aim of bringing another 6.5 million people into a formal financial system in a region rife with corruption.

The North America branch of Yazaki, the Japanese auto parts maker, will invest $110 million, hiring more than 14,000 new employees in Guatemala and El Salvador, the White House said.

Other companies making commitments include clothing maker Gap and Millicom, a telecommunications company that plans to invest $700 million to expand mobile and broadband networks across the three countries.


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