TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — Central American leaders gathered Tuesday to meet with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, saying they would focus on drug trafficking and the violent crime that plagues their region.
Guatemalan President Otto Perez has said he favors legalizing drugs as a way to decrease drug cartel violence. On Monday, during a visit to Mexico, Biden said the U.S. government doesn't think that is the answer.
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."
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.
Those three 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."
The U.S. has provided about $248 million in anti-crime aid under the Central America Regional Security Initiative, but leaders in the region called that insufficient.
"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.