“Do not come. Do not come,” Kamala Harris’ controversial message to Guatemalan migrants.

A crowdsourcing experiment about the response to Kamala Harris’ powerful message in Guatemala as Vice President of the US.

By Ana Lucia Ralda. June 15, 2021.

This past Monday June 7, Kamala Harris travelled to Guatemala City on her first international trip as Vice President of the United States. “The goal of our work,” she said, “is to help Guatemalans find hope at home. At the same time, 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.”

Vice President Harris’ met with President Alejandro Giammattei to discuss the issue of mass undocumented migration to the US and to “address the root causes of the problem, particularly the subject of corruption and lack of economic opportunity,” which according to her are the main causes of migration.

In the press conference held at the Presidential Palace in Guatemala City, Harris said that, among other topics discussed with Giammattei was his government’s power to provide Guatemalan people with a sense of hope, the hope that help will come soon.

“The United States recognizes that it is in its interest and reflective of its values,” Harris said, “to help create that opportunity [in Guatemala] and to share that prosperity.”

However, her message was widely received as an antagonistic warning towards Guatemalan immigrants, whom she had earlier acknowledged were not responsible for their precarious conditions, nor guilty for the desire to find a higher quality of life and better opportunities for themselves and their families.

I conducted a short survey about people’s reactions and opinions to Vice President Harris’ message in Guatemala. The information was gathered with a small sample of mostly middle-class and upper middle-class Guatemalans residing in Guatemala City. My goal was to understand how this small portion of the population felt about the US agenda in Guatemala and whether they trust US officials intentions to find real solutions to the issue of undocumented migration from that region.

The poll was made through a private Instagram profile and it was conducted in Spanish. A total of 42 people responded. Of that number an approximate of 90% was Guatemalans residing in Guatemala City. Another 8% was made up of other Latin nationalities, living both in their respective countries or in the US. The remaining 2% were Americans living in the US.

The results of the poll proved that Vice President Harris’ message was received with controversy. On the first of two questions, the 60% of the participants responded that Vice President’s Harris statement towards migrants and potential migrants was harsh but necessary. The other 40% felt like the comments where out of place.

In the second question, only 14% of participants responded that they absolutely trust Vice President Harris’ leadership and find her efforts in Guatemala to be legitimate. The vast majority, with 45% of the participants, responded that they don’t trust at all her political discourse of solving issues of social and economic inequality in the region. Another 28% responded that, although they regard her as a good leader, they doubt that her agenda is genuinely interested in finding real solutions for problems that cause migration to happen. The remaining 13%, responded that, although they regard her as a good leader, they doubt that her discourse and the agenda she presented is legitimately concerned with solving issues in Guatemala.

The additional comments posted by participants showed that Vice President Harris’ declarations in Guatemala’s Presidential Palace created distrust among Guatemalan viewers. One of the participants commented that “ she inspires fear and not respect.” Other comments included comparisons to the Trump administration. Furthermore, President Biden and Vice President Harris were accused of deception towards democratic voters who believed that their foreign policy would have a different approach to immigration than that of the previous administration.

During campaign season, the Biden-Harris candidacy repeatedly denounced the antagonistic attitude of the Trump administration towards undocumented refugees from this region and made that one of their key argumentative discourses. As stated before, most of the participants of the poll, despite being Guatemalan, do not represent the part of the population who has to migrate undocumented due to lack of opportunities and violence in their county. Nonetheless, the poll results reveal that the contradictions of Vice President Harris’ discourse compared to the rhetoric of the administration’s campaign created distrust among Guatemalans of all social status.

Additionally, given the history of US intervention in the region, Guatemalans are naturally weary of Vice President Harris’ announcement to establish an anti-corruption agency in Guatemala that will be overseen by the United States Department of Justice, State and Treasury Department. These news certainly contributed to the skepticism of Guatemalans towards her presence. In particular, of those among the social circle of the poll participants, who more closely represent those who were already affected by an anti-corruption commission established in Guatemala by the UN in 2016: the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).

The data collected in this poll disclose both the perception of a group of Guatemalans towards the politics of the Biden administration in its beginning stages, as well as key aspects of Guatemalan society, such as the deep socioeconomic division and its effects on geopolitical struggles. The results of the survey, rather than addressing solutions to the US-Guatemalan economic and political relationship, uncover the disbelief that Guatemalans of even the highest social backgrounds have in US authorities.

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