US Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said the Joint Task Force Alpha would marshal US Justice Department and Homeland Security resources against “the most prolific and dangerous” human smuggling and trafficking groups in the region, according to a statement.
The group will complement other U.S. prosecutors who are working with counterparts in the “Northern Triangle” countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to build cases against corrupt actors in the region, the statement said.
The task force on human smuggling was announced while Harris was meeting with Giammattei on her first overseas trip as vice president, part of her mission of tackling root causes of migration from Central America to the United States.
“It is in our collective interest that we work together,” Harris said at the start of a meeting with Giammattei.
However, disagreement is likely over the best way to tackle corruption, with the United States giving recognition to anti-graft fighters the conservative government and its allies see as politically biased.
Giammattei said the fight against narco trafficking needed to be an integral part of tackling corruption.
The Biden administration push to strengthen the rule of law in all three countries has already suffered setbacks, with a series of moves against independent judges and prosecutors. Last week, El Salvador’s president pulled out of an international anti-corruption agreement, and in May he replaced judges and the attorney general with his allies.
Harris will also meet civil society leaders and entrepreneurs in Guatemala and then go to Mexico. Priorities include economic development, climate and food insecurity and women’s issues, White House officials said.
The visit will emphasize cooperation with non-government organizations, advisers and experts said. That focus could ruffle feathers in Guatemala, where the top court has cleared the way for a law that increases political oversight of civil society groups.
In Mexico too, the subject of US funding for NGOs is a sore spot, after the government complained in a diplomatic note to Washington that USAID was financing a group it considers close to the opposition.
There has been criticism from some officials in Guatemala and Mexico over the timing and thrust of Harris’ mission to curb migration to the United States from the region, with the Mexico leg following mid-term elections at the weekend.
Harris was due to discuss sharing Covid-19 vaccines with Guatemala during the meeting, chief spokesperson and senior adviser Symone Sanders said on Wednesday. Last week Giammattei said the United States would supply half a million Covid-19 doses to Guatemala.