Vice President Kamala Harris on Tuesday announced another $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 become a top priority for President Joe Biden at a week-long Summit of the Americas.
A day before Biden's arrival, the White House said that Harris was unveiling another $1.9 billion in commitments – in addition to $1.2 billion announced last year – from businesses with the aim of creating economic opportunity in the impoverished so-called Northern Triangle of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
Harris will also give details on the "Central American Service Corps" funded through U.S. aid to provide opportunities for young people.
The investments aim "to provide hope for people in the region to build safe and prosperous lives at home," a White House statement said.
On the visit to her home state, Harris held a dinner Monday with regional business leaders and was due to meet Tuesday with civil society leaders to promote women's empowerment in Central America.
But none of the Northern Triangle leaders are attending the summit, nor is President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of Mexico, the crucial U.S. partner on migration policy due to the 2,000-mile shared border.
The White House said 23 heads of state were coming to Los Angeles, including the leaders of key players such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Colombia. Mexico and the Northern Triangle nations will still participate at a lower level.
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 one million more businesses and 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 Millicon, a telecommunications company that plans to invest $700 million to expand mobile and broadband networks across the three countries.
Lopez Obrador, a leftist populist who had developed a surprisingly close relationship with Biden's predecessor Donald Trump, on Monday made good on threats to boycott the summit due to Biden's refusal to invite the leaders of Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela on the grounds that the summit is only for democracies.
"You cannot have a Summit of the Americas if you do not have all the countries of the Americas attending," Lopez Obrador said, complaining of U.S. "hegemony" and "lack of respect for nations."
U.S. 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 U.S. flights to the communist island.
But U.S. officials said they saw no reciprocation from Cuban authorities, who recently went ahead with the trial of two dissident artists, making an invitation politically unpalatable in Washington where anti-communist Cuban-Americans hold sway.
"The challenges that these three regimes pose," State Department spokesman Ned Price said, "were just insurmountable when you talk about bringing together a summit where democratic governance — democratic values — is on the agenda."
Cuba — an arch-enemy of Washington since the aftermath of its 1959 communist revolution despite tentative attempts at a thaw by former president Barack Obama – denounced its exclusion from the summit as "anti-democratic."
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro — considered illegitimate by Washington due to a 2018 election in which wide irregularities were reported — accused the United States of "discrimination."
But Bob Menendez, a Cuban-American Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, hailed the administration for standing firm.
"I join those increasingly concerned by President Lopez Obrador's decision to stand with dictators and despots over representing the interests of the Mexican people in a summit with his partners from across the hemisphere," Menendez said.