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Guatemalan Leader Blasts Trump Admin's "Contaminated" Deportation Flights as Rights Groups Say Expulsions Show "Reckless Disregard" for Rights and Health

"Guatemala is an ally to the United States, the United States is not an ally to Guatemala," said President Alejandro Giammattei.

Then President-elect Alejandro Giammattei speaks during a interview with AFP in Guatemala City on August 12, 2019.

Then President-elect Alejandro Giammattei speaks during a interview with AFP in Guatemala City on August 12, 2019. The elected President of Guatemala, the conservative Giammattei said he would not seek confrontation with his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump. (Photo: Johan Ordonez/AFP via Getty Images)

Guatemala's right-wing President Alejandro Giammattei on Thursday attacked the U.S. government for deporting to Guatemala people infected with the coronavirus, actions he said are overwhelming the Central American country's healthcare system and show the U.S. is not acting as an ally.

"Guatemala is an ally to the United States, the United States is not an ally to Guatemala," Giammattei said at a virutal event with the Atlantic Council's Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center,  claiming that the country has not received "even one single mask from the United States" to help boost protective medical supplies. 

"We understand that the United States wants to deport people," he said, "but what we don't understand is that they send us contaminated flights."

“We've had serious problems with deported people," said Giammattei. "We haven't been treated by the United States in a way that I'd say is kind, in relation to the deportees."

The Associated Press reported Thursday:

Guatemala has confirmed 119 deportees arrived with COVID-19 from the United States. The country has suspended the deportation flights on several occasions after infected passengers were detected, but resumed them after assurances from U.S. authorities.

The last flight with deportees who tested positive in Guatemala arrived May 13 from Alexandria, Louisiana. Officials have said 16 of them have tested positive.

The rising number of cases has strained the Guatemala's healthcare system.

"Doctors in hospitals, and nurses, have been out into the streets, outside the hospitals, protesting that they don’t have enough material to take care of the patients," Guatemala-based reporter José Alejandro García Escobar told Democracy Now! last week.

"Suddenly," he continued, "the health system in Guatemala is overwhelmed. We had reached a little over 1,300 cases, active cases, here in Guatemala, and this has put our health system really on the edge of their seats.

At press time, there were 2,512 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 48 deaths in Guatemala, and according to Guatemalan officials, a good portion of the cases can be traced back to deportations from the United States.

"Guatemalans are saying that up to 20 percent of Guatemalans infected with Covid-19 came from the United States as deportees," Guillaume Long, a former foreign minister for Ecuador and ambassador to the United Nations, who is currently a senior analyst at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR)," told Amanpour and Co. this week.

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Guatemala is likely not alone in being the recipient of deported, Covid-19 infected people he added. "There's no reason to think that this is not the trend throughout Latin America."

Backing up that claim is research last month from another CEPR analyst, Jake Johnston, who found that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) "continues to deport thousands of immigrants held in detention centers throughout the United States. Those facilities themselves have become hotspots of COVID-19 outbreaks, meaning the U.S. is now exporting the virus to countries throughout the region."

He continued:

Since the Trump administration declared a national emergency on March 13, one ICE Air contractor has flown at least 72 likely deportation flights to 11 Latin America and Caribbean nations — including to Brazil and Ecuador, which are suffering the region's worst outbreaks of COVID-19, and which have both experienced an increase in deportation flights under the Trump administration.

From March 15 to April 24, ICE Air appears to have made 21 deportation flights to Guatemala; 18 to Honduras; 12 to El Salvador; six to Brazil; three each to Nicaragua, Ecuador, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic; and one each to Colombia and Jamaica.

"The Trump administration is not just putting the lives of immigrants and Latin Americans at risk, but those of people around the world," said Brett Heinz , program assistant for CEPR's International Team.

The Guatemalan leader's new comments come amid fresh scrutiny over the U.S.-Guatemala Asylum Cooperative Agreement (ACA), a deal signed last year by Giammattei's predecessor and suspended mid-March in light of coronavirus pandemic. 

A so-called "safe third country agreement," the deal allowed the U.S. to send non-Guatemalan asylum seekers at the southern US. .border to Guatemala.

A report out this week by Human Rights Watch and Refugees International says the agreement forces asylum seeker to essentially give up any asylum claims and leaves the would-be asylum seekers at risk of serious harm. 

In an additional pushback to the Trump administration's anti-immigrant policies, Amnesty International USA this month called on the Department of Homeland Security to put a moratorium on deportations in light of the coronavirus crisis.

The group's letter to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf says that continuing the deportations amid the pandemic would display "reckless disregard of the public health consequences for immigrants, asylum-seekers, and the regional and global community."

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