“Do Not Come”: VP Harris Sends Anti-Migrant Message in Guatemala, Visits Mexico Amid Deadly Election

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In her first foreign trip as vice president, Kamala Harris is in Mexico City to meet with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador after first visiting Guatemala to meet with President Alejandro Giammattei. Harris is tasked by President Joe Biden with stemming the flow of Central American migrants fleeing corruption, violence and poverty, even after the two campaigned on allowing more migrants to apply for asylum along the U.S.-Mexico border, and issued a stern warning to migrants: “Do not come.” Her visit comes after voters cast their ballots in one of Mexico’s largest and deadliest elections in history, as over 80 politicians were killed in the run-up to the election, which had 21,000 local and national seats up for grabs. “This electoral process has been one of the most violent,” says Erika Guevara-Rosas, a human rights lawyer and Americas director for Amnesty International. “It is reflective of the human rights crisis that Mexico has been facing for many years.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

In her first foreign trip as vice president, Kamala Harris is in Mexico City today to meet with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador after visiting Guatemala Monday. Harris has been tasked by President Biden with blocking Central American migrants fleeing corruption, violence and poverty from reaching the U.S.-Mexico border, even after the two campaigned on allowing more migrants to apply for asylum.

Harris is the daughter of an Indian mother and a Jamaican father who both immigrated to the United States. During a press conference alongside Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei, she issued this jarring warning.

VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: 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.

AMY GOODMAN: In her remarks, Vice President Harris failed to acknowledge how U.S. intervention and foreign policy in Central America have contributed to the root causes of why people flee in the first place.

Her visit to Mexico today comes after voters cast their ballots Sunday in one of the country’s largest midterm elections in history, with about 21,000 local and national seats up for grabs. Final results are expected next week in what could be a referendum on President López Obrador’s government. Preliminary results show his political party, MORENA, and allies won over half of the 500 seats in Mexico’s lower house but failed to secure a supermajority.

The election is also being described as one of Mexico’s deadliest, after human remains were found Sunday in at least two voting booths in the northern Mexican state of Baja California. Over 80 politicians, including 35 candidates, were killed in the run-up to Sunday’s election, which took place as Mexico continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic and has one of the world’s highest case fatality rates. This is a Mexican voter.

MEXICAN VOTER: [translated] These are the measures I am taking. I am wearing my face mask, and I have alcohol gel. Although they gave us wipes here, it’s better to be prepared.

AMY GOODMAN: For more on all of this, we go to Mexico City to speak with the human rights lawyer Erika Guevara-Rosas, who is the Americas director for Amnesty International.

Erika, welcome back to Democracy Now! I mean, the story right now in Mexico is devastating. Nearly 100 politicians, what, at least 35 candidates who ran in this election, were murdered in the lead-up?

ERIKA GUEVARA-ROSAS: Yes, Amy. The situation is very complex, and it really represents what has been happening in Mexico for many years. It’s not only the political violence. It’s the violence that is affecting the majority of the states in Mexico. It’s the violence perpetrated by the organized crime, but also it’s the violence perpetrated by security forces that are committing human rights violations all over the country.

This political process, this electoral process, has been one of the most violent. I mean, you just mentioned the numbers. It has been the most violent for women, because out of the 35 candidates who have been killed over the electoral campaign, 21 were women. We have seen hundreds of reports of different type of attacks and violence against candidates and against politicians during the 200 days of electoral campaign.

And unfortunately, we are seeing also a President López Obrador that is denying the reality. I mean, every time that he’s been asked about this political violence, he just mentioned that Mexico is in peace and that this is one of the — not only historical process in terms of the number of people who are being elected for local and federal government, but he also said that it is historical because it’s the first time that democracy is happening in the country, while we are seeing all this type of violence all across the country.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Erika, could you talk about the — of this violence, is there any indication where it’s coming from? Is it particular political groupings that are being targeted, or is it just a random state-of-the-nation problem?

ERIKA GUEVARA-ROSAS: Well, a vast majority of the candidates who were killed and the vast majority of the attacks are against candidates of opposition parties. Politicians for opposition parties are the ones who have been targeted by this violence in different parts of the country. But it is also true that those who have been attacked are in locations where the organized crime has increased its influence over the last few years and also where the human rights situation is worse than ever, precisely because of the strong presence of the security forces of the military. So it’s difficult to say where the violence is coming from, because it’s the same violence that is affecting the general population. But the reality is that it is reflective of the human rights crisis that Mexico has been facing for many years.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And Vice President Kamala Harris is scheduled to meet today with President López Obrador. Could you talk about the significance of her coming immediately after these elections in a trip to Mexico and also what you would hope that a vice president would tell the president of Mexico at this point?

ERIKA GUEVARA-ROSAS: Yeah. Well, Amnesty International sent a letter to Vice President Kamala Harris as soon as we learned about the trip to Guatemala and Mexico. We raised a lot of our concerns about the human rights situation in both countries. And more important, we raised our concerns about the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and these two countries, particularly because over the last few years we’ve seen an increase in the level of support that these countries are getting to increase the power of the security forces, particularly to prevent migration.

So, we are hoping that Vice President Kamala Harris is going to have an open and honest conversation with President López Obrador, raising concerns about the human rights situation that is affecting, of course, the possibility of people to seek asylum at the border. We also need to acknowledge that many Mexicans are seeking asylum on the U.S. side, precisely because of the human rights situation that the country is facing.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen the results of the visit of Vice President Harris in Guatemala and this very contradicting message of telling people not to come and not to seek asylum, when the reality is that it is a human rights — there is a human rights of people to seek asylum that has been violated precisely because of the cruel and inhumane political policies of the Trump administration, that we are seeing continue to be implemented by the Biden administration, including the closing of the border to migrants and asylum seekers using, in a very unlawful way, this Title 42.

So, we hope that the conversation is going to lead in an understanding of the need to come up with different methods and policies to not only support people that are seeking asylum, but to provide protection to those people that are seeking asylum at the border.

AMY GOODMAN: Erika, when Harris met with the Guatemalan president and issued this very jarring warning, “Do not come. Do not come,” to immigrants fleeing poverty, fleeing the climate crisis, fleeing violence, but not acknowledging the U.S. role in this over the decades, what has led to this crisis, a part of the efforts that are being worked out with the Guatemalan government — and, I presume, with the Mexican government, with the presidents — are further militarizing the border. Can you talk about what that means?

ERIKA GUEVARA-ROSAS: Well, that means that they are going to create more risk for people that are trying to seek asylum. You just mentioned that, Amy, these people are being forced to leave their homes, they have been forced to leave their countries, precisely because of the massive violations of human rights that are happening at all levels. It’s not only the inequality, but it’s also the violence and the lack of protection that they are facing from the governments, particularly in Central America and Mexico. So these people are seeking asylum because it’s their right to seek asylum, and governments are obliged by international and domestic law to let people seek asylum, to protect those people who are seeking international protection.

And what we are seeing over the last few years is an increase in the militarization of the response. People that are seeking asylum, people that need international protections, are being treated and seen through the lens of security. And that means that these people are being confronted to a risky reality or of — you know, being confronted by organized crime and all the many risks, because they have been pushed to very risky situations and some of the more dangerous parts of the border, or they are also being confronted by the authorities, who are committing human rights violations against them by committing extortion, or, in very extreme cases, such as in Mexico, these people have been killed, as well, by security forces in collusion with the organized crime.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Erika Guevara, one of the hallmarks, supposedly, of President Biden’s different approach to the refugee and migration crisis was that he was going to embark on a sort of Marshall Plan-type effort to boost the economic life in Central America to induce migrants or those who are seeking to leave to stay in the country. But what’s Amnesty’s assessment of how U.S. foreign aid has been used in regions like especially Central America or Mexico? There was a New York Times report recently about how the bulk of that money that is apportioned out for foreign aid basically goes to U.S. contractors, who take up the bulk of the money, rather than — actually, the money doesn’t make its way down to the folks who need it.

ERIKA GUEVARA-ROSAS: Yeah, historically, we’ve seen how the humanitarian aid or the assistance that has been provided by the United States have been utilized in countries in Latin America to increase the power of security forces, and many times through the use of these private contractors. I mean, we’ve seen this in countries such as Colombia, and we are seeing now the consequences of this technical support and this assistance that the U.S. government has been provided to security forces. And we are seeing the same situation in Central America and Mexico. The vast majority of the resources are not going directly to support people and to address the root causes.

And in spite of this narrative of all efforts to address the root causes, to improve the economic situation, so that people can stay in the countries, the reality is that we are seeing the contrary. People continue to experience massive human rights violations, that have been fed by impunity, corruption, by the climate crisis and the lack of response from the governments. We are seeing now, for instance, in countries such as Guatemala, a backlash against all efforts to address, to tackle impunity and corruption by the [inaudible] government that Vice President Harris met yesterday. So, unfortunately, there is no hope that only the financial assistance that the U.S. is going to be providing to these countries is truly going to address the root causes of why people are forced to leave their countries, their homes, and take all this risk to seek asylum at the U.S.A. border.

AMY GOODMAN: Before we go, Erika, we wanted to ask you about the situation of COVID. In a moment, we’re going to go down to Peru. Peru and Mexico have some of the highest per capita death rates from COVID in the world. It might surprise some to know that AMLO, the Mexican president, took more of the approach of someone like the far-right president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro. I mean, he would wear amulets. He would hold mass rallies. Now we have news that 1 million Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines are headed to Mexico from the United States, with most of the shots set to service resort areas and spots along the border. Can you talk about how Mexico and Peru have dealt with COVID?

ERIKA GUEVARA-ROSAS: Well, Latin America really continues to struggle with COVID-19. And we have seen that any effort to try to minimize the impact of COVID has been insufficient. Even in countries such as Chile, where the vaccine rollout has improved over the last few weeks, we are seeing also an increase in the number of cases. Latin America continues to be the epicenter of the pandemic. With only 8% of the population, we have between 32 and 35 of the total death around the world, the number of people who have died because of the virus.

Just recently, a few days ago, Peruvian government acknowledged that the numbers that they were presented were lower, way lower, than the real numbers. I mean, we are talking about more than 180,000 people who have died because of the virus in Peru, when the numbers reported just a few weeks ago were around 70,000.

And in Mexico, there is a similar situation, where the government has acknowledged many times that the numbers that they have presented are lower than reality, precisely because of the lack of testing and the lack of capacity to really track all the cases.

So, the ways that the pandemic has been affected — affected these countries is very reflected of the lack of response and the structural challenges that these countries have been facing in terms of ensuring access to health for its population, for their populations. Right? So, we are seeing now a very slow vaccine rollout in both countries, but also in many countries across the region. People seem to be trapped between the ineffective responses from the governments, the fact of which countries are hoarding all the doses available of the COVID vaccine, but also the impunity and corruption that continue to shadow the efforts of governments to truly address the consequences of the pandemic, not only in terms of the direct impact with the number of cases, but also how the pandemic has been exacerbated the inequalities and the economic situation for millions of people across the continent.

AMY GOODMAN: Erika Guevara-Rosas, we want to thank you so much for being with us, human rights lawyer, Americas director for Amnesty International, joining us from Mexico City.

When we come back from break, we go to Peru, where a socialist teacher has taken a narrow lead in Sunday’s election over the daughter of Peru’s imprisoned former dictator. Her name is Keiko Fujimori; his name, Alberto Fujimori. We’ll come back in a minute.

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