QCOSTARICA – Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado made it clear he would not accept COVID-19 vaccinations with political strings attached.
“We’re talking about saving lives, but that doesn’t mean in receiving a donation we will compromise our dignity as a nation,” Alvarado said at a news conference with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Costa Rica has close ties with the United States, with 40% of Costa Rica’s exports going there and 70% of Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) coming from the U.S.
Costa Rica is also a hot tourist destination for many Americans.
According to Associated Press, Blinken is trying to entice Central American nations to tackle the corruption and poverty that have helped drive a surge of migrants to the U.S.-Mexico border and presented an early challenge for President Joe Biden’s administration.
In his first visit to Central America since taking office, America’s top diplomat has met with foreign ministers and leaders from the region and Mexico on Tuesday, June 1, and Wednesday, June 2 in San Jose, Costa Rica.
On the two-day trip, Blinken has avoided publicly criticizing any particular government, focusing instead on Biden administration plans to distribute COVID-19 vaccines and other assistance, such as a proposed US$4 billion dollar aid package.
“We think that’s the best way to ensure greater stability and improve the lives of people across the region, which ultimately is in the United States’ interest as well,” Blinken said at the joint news conference with Alvarado.
The current approach by the United States is a departure from the former administration, which reacted to an increase in migrants by expelling asylum-seekers to Mexico or Central America and stepping up efforts to build a wall along the American Southwest border, among other measures.
After a decline at the start of the pandemic, the number of apprehensions at that border began rising under Donald Trump and swelled in the early months of the Biden administration. The Border Patrol had more than 170,000 encounters, including 50,000 people traveling with families, its highest total since March 2001.
It was a major theme of the private talks Blinken had late Tuesday with the foreign ministers of Central America, who gathered in San Jose for the annual meeting of the Central American Integration System – Sistema de la Integración Centroamericana (SICA).
The United States hopes Mexico and Central America can do more to impede the trafficking of migrants, especially children. The Biden administration has been expelling single adults who cross the border and most families but it allows unaccompanied minors to enter the U.S. and pursue asylum or other legal claims for residency.
There are limits, however, to what Mexico and Central America can do amid the economic devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mexican and Central American officials made it clear they hope for some of the 81 million vaccines that Biden has said he will distribute around the world. Details of the distribution plan are expected this month.