SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica – The first official contact between the new US government and Central American countries took place during U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's meeting with regional leaders and representatives on 30 March.
La Prensa reported that Biden met with the Presidents of Costa Rica, Óscar Arias; Guatemala’s Álvaro Colom; El Salvador's Antonio Saca and Martín Torrijos from Panama, along with representatives from Honduras, Belize and Nicaragua.
Biden noted “an attitude of greater dialogue between the parties” although, reported La Nación, the likelihood of increasing U.S. economic aid was postponed for the time being.
In a preliminary meeting with officials from Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, Panama, Honduras, Nicaragua and Belize, Biden asked for patience in calls for aid, particularly economic assistance sought by the leaders.
According to La Prensa, the petitions presented to the United States included: capital increases at the Inter-American Development Bank and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration; the extension of the Merida Initiative in the fight against drug trafficking; the transfer of low-emission technology; the renewal of immigration agreements and the granting of Temporary Protection Status for some Latin American citizens residing illegallly in US.
“We understand the situation in the region, but we ask for patience. We hope you comprehend that some of these requests are complicated due to our country's current economic situation,” said Biden to El Nuevo Diario, in response to calls for aid.
Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom stressed in Prensa Libre that one of the main achievements of the meeting with Vice President Biden was a draft six-point regional agenda to discuss climate change, the economic crisis, immigration, trade and employment, to be taken up by President Obama at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.
Speaking to Noticias, Costa Rican President Óscar Arias said “We are grateful to Vice President Biden for honestly telling us that Central America's requests could take time and asking for patience, and that our petitions will be listened to and examined in Washington,” adding that he not only expected economic and military leadership from the United States, but also a moral example.
According to AFP, Biden announced increased funding for the Merida Initiative from US$65 million to US$110 million in 2009, and hoped to maintain this figure in the coming years to tackle the problems of drug trafficking and security, both being major regional worries.
The Merida Initiative is a regional effort to combat insecurity and organised crime which, over the next three years, will pay out US$1.4 billion to Mexico and a further US$200 million in Central America countries along with providing technological equipment.