San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

U.S. in new push against drugs in Central America

The United States will discuss efforts to be a “more effective” partner with Central America in fighting drug trafficking when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits Guatemala on Wednesday, aides said.

The chief US diplomat, aides said Monday, will visit Guatemala City to discuss a counter-narcotics strategy with the leaders of Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.

President Laura Chinchilla will join the other Central American leaders in Guatemala’s capital to discuss how the region can better combat organized crime and drug trafficking.

The leaders will discuss implementing strategies for crime prevention, rehabilitation and prison security and specific visions for each country. In addition, the presidents will be looking for ways to finance these plans through other countries, international organizations and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (BCIE).

“This meeting will be an opportunity for other countries to turn their eyes with more determined efforts toward the countries of Central America in the fight against narcotrafficking,” Chinchilla said in a press release. The president will be accompanied by Costa Rica’s foreign minister, public security minister, the vice minister of the interior and the head of the country’s anti-drugs commission.

Other leaders or top officials attending the talks will represent 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 seem almost powerless 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 will not amount to a donors’ conference and will instead focus 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 various donors have been pledging monies now for some time in different kinds of categories,” he added.

“The secretary may announce how we’re repackaging some of our own assistance,” in support of the counter-narcotics strategies of the region’s countries, he said.

“We want to be more effective partners in carrying out their expectations, which of course, is also in our fundamental interest,” Valenzuela said, referring to U.S. efforts to fight drug traffickers traveling north.

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 D.C.-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.

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