'Guatemala has not been good': Trump threatens tariffs, fees on migrant cash

WASHINGTON/GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump said he is considering a “ban,” tariffs and remittance fees after Guatemala decided not to ink a safe third country agreement that would have required the poor Central American country to take in more asylum seekers.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks while meeting with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, July 22, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

“Guatemala ... has decided to break the deal they had with us on signing a necessary Safe Third Agreement. We were ready to go,” Trump tweeted.

“Now we are looking at the ‘BAN,’ Tariffs, Remittance Fees, or all of the above. Guatemala has not been good,” Trump wrote.

In response, Guatemala’s President Jimmy Morales blamed the country’s top court and political opponents for undermining his close ties to the United States.

Morales was due to sign a deal with Trump last week that would have made the country act as an asylum buffer zone to reduce immigration to the United States.

Instead he canceled the planned summit with Trump at the White House after the country’s Constitutional Court ruled he could not ink such an agreement without prior approval from Congress, which is on a summer recess.

Migrant remittances accounted for 11% of Guatemalan GDP in 2017, according to the IMF, a total of $8.2 billion. The United States is Guatemala’s main trading partner, with bilateral trade of some $4.7 billion through May this year, Central Bank data shows.

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“The Constitutional Court, without any understanding and without the right to interfere in foreign relations, wrongly took a stance against the national interest,” Morales said in a statement posted on Facebook.

In the past the Morales government has clashed with the court, which it considers aligned with the opposition. The case against the third safe country deal was brought by several former foreign ministers, the country’s rights ombudsman and a former presidential candidate.

Morales called the politicians “petty” and said they were attacking the country’s governability.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump has made restricting immigration a cornerstone of his presidency and re-election campaign. He has pushed Guatemala, Mexico and other countries in the region to act as buffer zones and take in asylum seekers who would otherwise go to the United States.

Reporting by Makini Brice and Susan Heavey in Washington; Sofia Menchu in Guatemala City; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama