SAN JOSE – Barack Obama’s administration wants a new, more collaborative relationship with Central America, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden told leaders at a regional summit in the Costa Rican capital.
“From the beginning of the administration we wanted to show that we want to start new ties with our neighbors, based on mutual respect and to listen before talking,” Biden said Monday in San Jose.
And while he said that the common policy of the United States and the region will be built upon mutual consultations like that on Tuesday in San Jose, he asked for “patience and understanding” in dealing with matters of concern to the area.
“I hope they are convinced of the sincerity of my government to change the dynamic,” the U.S. vice president said at a press conference following talks with leaders of Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize and Costa Rica.
“We want direct, immediate and personal contact with each of the leaders and each of the countries in the region,” Biden said.
About deportations of Central Americans by U.S. immigration authorities, he again stressed the need for patience.
“There will be no immediate response to deportation. There will, God willing, be a comprehensive reform of our entire immigration policy,” Biden said.
Emigrants, he noted, leave their countries because they see better opportunities elsewhere, and urged the presidents of the area to strengthen their economies and reduce the social and economic gaps in their countries to combat the problem where it originates.
Central America proposed the renewal and extension of the Temporary Protected Status that now benefits some 300,000 Salvadoran, Honduran and Nicaraguan immigrants in the United States, along with a new immmigration policy and long-term regional accords.
It also asked for expanded U.S. contributions to the Inter-American Development Bank and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration.
Biden told the Central Americans that expanding TPS must wait for improvements in U.S. economic output, and was non-committal on the subject of additional financial assistance for the region.
On the always-delicate question of Cuba, Biden said Obama had no plans to end Washington’s 47-year-old economic embargo against the communist island.
“That doesn’t mean we can’t ease the tensions over the next decade, there are likely to be and need to be changes in the relationship with Cuba and the United States,” the vice president said.
Costa Rica President Oscar Arias stressed the United States’ willingness to “construct a policy of good friends and to listen to its neighbors south of the Rio Grande,” and said that “the world hopes for leadership from Washington, not just economical and military, but also moral, and Obama,” he said, “has defended the right values.”
“We expect from them the moral leadership to reestablish the embargo on the sale of arms to Latin America and convince other countries to follow that example. The region must invest in conservation and education and not in weapons,” said Arias, a past winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end civil wars in Central America.
Although regional security and the war on drugs were mentioned, few details were forthcoming on those topics during the press conference, at which only Arias and Biden talked, the latter acknowledging that the Merida Initiative against drug trafficking must provide the area with more funding.
Panamanian President Martin Torrijos, Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom and El Salvador’s President Elias Antonio Saca attended the meeting, while Nicaragua was represented by Deputy Foreign Minister Manuel Coronel and Honduras by Vice President Aristides Mejia. EFE