Blinken seeks 'strong' Latin American pact on migration

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks with activists against corruption in Panama City (AFP/Brendan SMIALOWSKI) (Brendan SMIALOWSKI)
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The United States is seeking a strong declaration to coordinate on rising migration when Latin American leaders meet in Los Angeles in June, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday.

Blinken is paying a two-day trip to Panama to meet regional counterparts as record numbers of people are displaced around the world -- causing not only a humanitarian crisis but growing political worries for President Joe Biden.

Blinken said the Panama talks aim to "lay the groundwork for a strong declaration by our leaders" at the June 6-10 Summit of the Americas in California.

Blinken called for a "Los Angeles Declaration on migration protection that sets forth our shared principles for a collaborative, coordinated response."

"We can make a profound difference in the lives of our most vulnerable fellow citizens and for the future of our region," he said.

Biden called the summit to highlight his agenda of promoting democracy, with autocratic rulers in the region expected to be excluded.

Nearly 100 million people around the world are displaced -- the most since World War II, with Ukrainians fleeing at a startlingly fast pace since Russia's deadly invasion in February.

Migration rates have been increasing for years in the Western Hemisphere, fueled by conflicts, poverty and disasters worsened by climate change.

US authorities in March apprehended more than 221,000 people on the Mexican border, the most for a single month in more than two decades, an issue sure to be highlighted by Biden's Republican rivals in November congressional elections.

But nations throughout the Americas have been coping with rising migration, largely coming from El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras and Venezuela.

Blinken, accompanied by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, renewed calls to focus on root causes of migration, including corruption, political repression and climate change.

But in the near term, he called for coordination to support the nations such as Colombia, Mexico, Panama and Costa Rica that are accommodating migrants.

"We know that no country -- no community -- can solve a challenge as complicated as irregular migration alone."

Panama, a close US partner that is home to the dangerous Durian Gap connecting North and South America, on Tuesday signed an agreement to step up coordination with the United States.

Panamanian Foreign Minister Erika Mouynes highlighted efforts taken by her country, including biometric tracking to identify criminals.

But she said the region needed to speak "with a single voice," including at multilateral institutions to secure shared funding.

"We pass this hard test only if we work on it together," she said.

sct/caw

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