Obama Pledges $200 Million to Central America Drug Fight

By Dialogo
March 25, 2011

President Barack Obama pledged $200 million on 22 March to Central America’s anti-drug fight on the final leg of a regional tour to bolster U.S. ties with southern neighbors in El Salvador after visiting Brazil and Chile.

The final visit of Obama’s Latin American tour marked a change in emphasis from issues of trade and investment that dominated his first stops, which were aimed at reasserting U.S. interests in countries where China poses growing competition.

Talks with President Mauricio Funes, a moderate leftist the White House sees as an emerging partner, focused on reassuring him of cooperation on drug enforcement and searching for common ground on volatile immigration matters. Both issues resonate loudly with Washington’s neighbors and among U.S. voters.

At a joint news conference, Obama offered $200 million fresh funding to governments combating drug traffickers and street gangs in Central America, which has suffered a spillover of drug violence from Mexico’s powerful narcotics cartels.

“We are launching a new effort against gangs in Central America to support efforts here in the region … including the social and economic forces that drive young people toward criminality,” Obama said. He said it would help train security forces, strengthen courts and tackle underlying poverty.

Funes welcomed the new initiative and praised Obama for acknowledging the need for greater U.S. efforts to curb U.S. demand for illegal drugs, which countries in the region see as the root of the problem.