Central America is focus of June visit to Miami by Trump Cabinet members

U.S. Ambassador Luis Arreaga is in charge of programs at the State Department to fight drug trafficking and organized crime.
U.S. Ambassador Luis Arreaga is in charge of programs at the State Department to fight drug trafficking and organized crime. emichot@miamiherald.com

Vice President Mike Pence and key members of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet will be in Miami in mid-June to attend a conference on prosperity and security in Central America, and to send a signal of the United States’ commitment to the region.

Pence, along with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, will join the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador at the event, to be held at Florida International University from June 15-16. Mexico is co-sponsoring the conference and will be represented by Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio and Foreign Affairs Secretary Luis Videgaray.

“Having a meeting of this magnitude in a city like Miami, so important not only for us but for the region, is extremely positive,” said Luis Arreaga, the deputy assistant secretary of state in charge of programs to fight drug trafficking and organized crime.

“I know there is a lot of speculation about what this administration is going to do, but if you see those signs, they are very clear that there is a desire to work with the region and find solutions,” he added.

The budget presented by the Trump administration for 2018 significantly cuts aid to countries from the so-called north triangle, 40 percent for Guatemala and almost a third for Honduras and El Salvador.

But the ambassador downplayed the cuts and noted that the region has received close to $2 billion in recent years, and that these developing countries also have limited capacity to “absorb” investments.

“Focusing on a relatively small reduction in 2018 does not do justice to all the investment that has been made and that will continue to be made in the region,” he said.

“Trump recognizes that the problems of Central America, not only in terms of drug trafficking and organized crime but also the issue as source countries for immigrants, is something that we have to work together on,” he added.

The conference at FIU would address macroeconomic and regulatory issues, the attraction of investment to the region, as well as security questions and the fight against corruption and transnational crime. Pence will participate in a series of bilateral meetings with President Salvador Sánchez Cerén of El Salvador, President Juan Orlando Hernández of Honduras, and President Jimmy Morales of Guatemala.

As for cooperation with Mexico, which he described as “excellent,” Arreaga said the focus is to attack the business model of drug traffickers and “dismantle those financial flows.”

In the administration's budget for 2018, aid to Mexico would also be reduced by almost half, although Congress could allocate more money.

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