US in New Push against Drugs in Central America

By Dialogo
June 22, 2011

The United States discussed efforts to be a “more effective” partner with Central America in fighting drug trafficking during Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Guatemala on 22 June, aides said.

The chief US diplomat visited Guatemala City to discuss a counternarcotics strategy with the leaders of Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.

Other leaders or top officials attending the talks represented Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Spain and the European Union, they added.

Clinton has “been concerned about the situation in Central America for some time,” Arturo Valenzuela, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, told reporters.

As Mexico has tried to fight its drug trafficking scourge, drug mafias have increasingly pushed south into Central America and countries like Guatemala and Belize have seen a surge in violence that they are struggling to stop.

Clinton has “been pushing for greater engagement on the part of the United States since she began to focus on these issues some time ago,” Valenzuela said.

However, he said, the meeting did not amount to a donors’ conference and instead focused on using existing resources better.

“The question is: Is the funding being used strategically in the appropriate way? And that’s what we’re going to be addressing in this meeting,” Valenzuela said.

“The secretary may announce how we’re repackaging some of our own assistance,” in support of the counternarcotics strategies of the region’s countries, he said previous to the meeting.

Washington cooperates with Central America through the Central American Regional Security Initiative, with a budget of 260 million dollars.

Clinton’s main concern is organized crime and its threat to the continent’s democratic institutions, particularly those in Central America, said Michael Shifter, who heads the Inter-American Dialogue, a DC-based think tank.

“When she thinks about the region, it is what concerns her most, and I believe she wants to achieve a concrete result to contain and respond to this growing criminality in Central America,” Shifter told AFP.