Guatemala's President-elect Bernardo Arevalo
Guatemalan President Bernardo Arévalo AFP

Guatemalan President Bernardo Arevalo said that the U.S. needs to invest more in his country to increase the chances of deterring migration up north.

Arevalo made the statement to CBS News in the context of his first visit to the country as president, where he met with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

"We have to work to allow people, what we call, 'The right to stay.' People have a right to remain in their places. People need to find opportunities," Arévalo told the outlet.

Guatemala has one of the highest levels of outward migration to the U.S., with over 700,000 encounters since June 2021, date in which Vice President Harris visited the Central American country to tell people to "not come."

Moreover, nearly 130,000 Guatemalans illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border from October to February, over 10% of the total of 1,150,000 migrants intercepted during that period, according to the US Border Patrol.

Arévalo pointed at the number of encounters to convey the message that Harris' plea didn't work and said he's seeking investment, rather than relief funds, for his country to be able to grow and allow for people to stay.

"Cooperation is not sending money. Cooperation can be by creating conditions in which we can invite you to invest in Guatemala and establish factories, work that can begin to produce and create jobs. That's fundamentally what we are most interested in," he told CBS News.

Arévalo did not leave the U.S. empty-handed. Harris, who has been tasked by the President to address the "root causes" of migration, especially in Central America, announced this week an additional $170 million in economic development and security assistance. A public-private partnership launched by the government also said it had plans for $1 billion worth of private investment, on top of over $5 billion that have already been committed.

Kamala Harris
Vice President Kamala Harris Ludovic Marin/Getty Images

Asked for his thoughts on former President Donald Trump potentially returning to the White House, he said that he's "looking forward to working with whoever wins in the next election to support and work so that our citizens that are residents in the United States enjoy full rights."

However, when discussing whether border walls work to deter migration, he noted that "history shows they don't." "What we need to look for is integrated solutions to a problem that is far more complex than just putting a wall to try to contain."

In another passage of the interview, Arévalo said that a domestic level corruption is the number one issue on the agenda. Development is the most important one, he clarified, but "if we do not fight corruption, we are not going to be able to get the development that we need so that people can flourish and stay."

Arévalo, who won an underdog campaign on an anti-corruption platform, had a fraught path to victory, as establishment figures sought to challenge his victory through different means and even prevent him from taking office.

Movimiento Semilla was suspended by Guatemala's electoral body, Citizen Registry, in November 2023 after the 64-year-old president-elect won the elections by an overwhelming margin on Oct. 31 of the same year.

Guatemalans accused Attorney General Porras of making efforts to disqualify Arévalo's party and stop him from taking over the office. Several Guatemalans even took to the streets to demand the resignation of prosecutors accused of blocking him from taking office.

Following strong international pressure, including from the U.S., Arévalo was finally able to be sworn in, but rivals who control the judiciary continue in their efforts to prosecute him, accusing his party of rigging the elections, something he has repeatedly denounced as attempted coups.

"As you hold corrupt actors accountable and promote good governance, we support you," Harris told Arévalo during their meeting..

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