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Obama wraps up Central America trip

Associated Press / March 23, 2011

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SAN SALVADOR — President Obama vowed closer cooperation yesterday with the Central American nations where US policies on crime, immigration, and other issues have outsize influence on populations that depend heavily on their giant neighbor to the north.

Speaking in El Salvador, the final stop on his three-country Latin American tour and the only one in Central America, Obama promised to work on increasing trade and economic growth, fighting drug trafficking, and creating opportunities so that people can find opportunity in their home countries and “don’t feel like they have to head north to provide for their families.’’

“The United States will do our part’’ in combating the increasing scourge of drug trafficking, the president said, standing next to El Salvador’s president, Mauricio Funes, who welcomed Obama’s attention to the oft-overlooked region. Obama announced a new $200 million partnership with El Salvador to combat drug wars that have led to a spike in homicides here and in other Central American countries.

Yet Obama’s five-day visit to Latin America has been overshadowed from the start by the war he’s running in faraway Libya, and just before the news conference started, the White House said Obama would be cutting his visit short to return to the United States today.

Obama sought to make clear that El Salvador is a critical partner on immigration and narcotics wars, issues of increasing concern to the United States.

Among the issues he and Funes addressed was the rising crime south of the US border. El Salvador has seen murder rates rise amid an influx of drugs and displaced traffickers from crackdowns in Colombia and Mexico. Obama said a new partnership to combat narco-trafficking could focus on strengthening courts and civil society groups in order to keep young people from turning to drugs and crime.

El Salvador also has one of Central America’s highest rates of emigration, especially to the United States. About 2.8 million Salvadoran immigrants living in the United States sent home $3.5 billion last year.