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Biden urges Central America to tackle poverty, violence, impunity

March 4, 2015

GUATEMALA CITY – U.S. Vice President Joe Biden urged Central American leaders to redouble their efforts in fighting violence and poverty, which stand in the way of the region becoming “the next great success story.”

Biden was speaking during a two-day visit to Guatemala this week, where he met with President Otto Pérez Molina, as well as El Salvador’s President Sánchez Cerén and Honduran leader Juan Orlando Hernández.

“There’s no reason why Central America cannot become the next great success story in the Western Hemisphere,” the U.S. vice president said on Monday. “You have to end once and for all the climate of endemic violence and poverty.”

The Obama administration has asked Congress to approve $1 billion in funding for Central America to bolster security and stem illegal immigration into the U.S. from its southern neighbors. The funding would be spent on programs to promote trade, bolster border protection and help create jobs.

Biden said the United States was committed to boosting this support.

“In addition to the billion-dollar request for Central America, we’re working with Congress to significantly increase our assistance to you in this region this year because we need to start showing results now,” he said.

Honduran President Hernández said increasing opportunities in Central America will ensure regional security.

“A Central America without opportunities is a terrible danger to the United States,” Hernández said. “If [U.S. leaders] do not understand this, then it might one day be too late.”

Northern Triangle development plan

A main purpose of Biden’s trip was to discuss the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle plan. The plan was launched in Washington last November to promote “peace and prosperity” in the region — Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — in hopes of stemming the flow of migrants fleeing north to escape poverty and violence.

The plan rests on four central components: making the region’s productive sector more dynamic, developing human capital, improving citizen safety and access to justice, and strengthening state institutions (see below).

Addressing a gathering of business leaders after the presidential meeting, Biden underlined what he described as the private sector’s key role in the region’s development.

He also stressed the need to improve tax collection and management, a chronic problem in the Northern Triangle countries. Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras have among the lowest tax takes in the Western Hemisphere.

“The only way to collect the funds needed to invest in your future is to convince others to do the same, to collect and manage the income, making sure it’s managed in an effective, efficient and transparent way, so people know where the money is going,” Biden said.

“You hold the key,” Biden told a packed room of business leaders at the Ixchel Museum in Guatemala City.

“You need to make a convincing effort to have companies around the world come and invest in Central America, and you need patriotic Central Americans to invest in their countries, not abroad,” he said.

During the trip – his second to Guatemala – Biden also met with nongovernmental groups and visited violence-prevention programs.

At the site of one program, in the crime-ridden suburb of Villa Nueva, Biden said the U.N.-sponsored International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) should continue to operate if the country’s leaders wanted U.S. support. Guatemalan President Pérez Molina has expressed doubts in the past about allowing the commission to stay.

CICIG was created in 2006 to investigate illegal groups and thier connections to state officials and organized crime.

Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle Strategic Plan:

Improve productive sector

  • Promote strategic investment areas
  • Update and expand infrastructure
  • Reducing energy costs
  • Improve electricity supply system

Develop human capital

  • Strengthen technical training
  • Broaden and improve high school education
  • Improve children’s health, nutrition and development

Strengthen citizen safety

  • Improve violence prevention programs
  • Reinforce security institutions
  • Modernize justice systems
  • Provide care for at-risk youth

Strengthen state institutions

  • Increase transparency
  • Improving efficiency in spending
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