TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — Vice President Joe Biden told Central American leaders that the United States is determined to defeat transnational gangs and continue funding an offensive against drug traffickers, but didn't publicly address the debate of drug legalization proposed in the region.
Still, Central American presidents insisted they will talk about decriminalizing narcotics in a meeting scheduled in two weeks, according to a joint statement read after the meeting with Biden.
Biden said the U.S. government has financially supported a regional security plan and is seeking more money to help Central American countries fight drug cartels, accused of causing a spike in murders.
Guatemalan President Otto Perez has said he favors a debate about legalizing drugs as a way to decrease cartel violence.
On Monday, during a visit to Mexico, Biden said Washington doesn't think that is the answer and will not legalize drugs.
After arriving in Honduras' capital for Tuesday's meeting, Perez didn't say whether he would bring up drug legalization at the session. But speaking at the Tegucigalpa airport, Perez said it was an opportune time to discuss "organized crime, drug trafficking and the problems the region faces."
Honduras President Porfirio Lobo read a joint statement after Biden's visit, which said the countries had decided to further discuss Perez's legalization proposal in a meeting on March 24.
"We showed the U.S. vice president the huge human, social and financial costs the illicit activities leave in our countries," Lobo said reading from the text.
Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla said the region is suffering from the ills tied to drug trafficking and consumption, and "we demand the United States assume responsibility."
"We expect more hopeful scenarios for fighting organized crime at this summit," Chinchilla said.
Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes said combatting organized crime is a priority for the region, particularly for El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
The four countries are grappling with some of the highest homicide rates in the world and have been battered in recent years by the incursion of Mexican drug cartels seeking to expand their territories and use Central America as a drug transshipment point.
"The United States is key in this battle," Funes said. "The strategy should be developed jointly, because that is the only way to defeat the powerful drug cartels."
Biden said the U.S. has provided about $361 million in anti-crime aid under the Central America Regional Security Initiative, but leaders in the region called that insufficient. Biden said the administration is asking more from congress.
"We have not found that the concern of the international community has translated into a commitment to ensure that Central America advances in the fight against drug trafficking," Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said.
U.S. Southern Commander Gen. Douglas Fraser said Tuesday in Washington that Central American nations faced the common threat that the power of transnational gangs could break through the countries' institutions.