Volcanic ash blamed as Biden envoys’ Guatemala trip ditched

By Sofia Menchu

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) – A delegation of senior Biden administration aides has postponed a trip to Guatemala because of heightened activity by the Pacaya volcano, the Central American country’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday.

Juan Gonzalez, one of U.S. President Joe Biden’s top aides for Latin America, and Ricardo Zuniga, newly appointed U.S. special envoy for Central America’s Northern Triangle, were due to meet with Guatemalan ministers on Thursday.

“The mission decided to postpone its arrival in Guatemala because of the conditions with the Pacaya volcano,” the foreign ministry said, adding that no new date had yet been set for the postponed meetings.

Shortly after the postponement was announced, Biden named Vice President Kamala Harris to lead U.S. efforts with Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to try and stem the flow of migration, amid a sharp rise in recent weeks.

Ahead of the scheduled visit, the envoys said the Biden strategy would include a focus on improving the rule of law and tackling corruption in the Northern Triangle.

“They can criticize us for trying to involve ourselves in internal matters, but when Guatemala’s justice system works the United States benefits,” Gonzalez told Guatemalan newspaper Prensa Libre.

Pacaya spewed ash and small rocks across Guatemala’s capital on Tuesday, causing the temporary closure of the international airport. The airport was officially open on Wednesday morning, after soldiers armed with plastic brooms swept the runway clean.

“Foiled by Pacaya,” Gonzalez wrote on Twitter. “We will be back.”

(Reporting by Sofia Menchu; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Rosalba O’Brien)