October 12, 2018 / 12:29 AM / 4 days ago

Pence promises U.S. backing for Central America if they strengthen borders

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Mike Pence told Central American countries on Thursday the United States was willing to help with economic development and investment if they did more to tackle mass migration, corruption and gang violence.

(L-R) El Salvador's Vice President Oscar Ortiz, Honduras' President Juan Orlando Hernandez, Mexico's Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence pose for a group photo prior to the start of the Second Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America, which also includes Guatemala at the State Department, in Washington, U.S., October 11, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Theiler

Speaking at a meeting with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales and El Salvador Vice President Oscar Ortiz, Pence also warned them about increasing regional investment from China.

The meeting, hosted by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, was part of Washington’s efforts to curb migration, boost economic growth and fund security programs.

(L-R) El Salvador's Vice President Oscar Ortiz, Honduras' President Juan Orlando Hernandez, Mexico's Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Vice President Mike Pence, Dept. of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, Mexico's Interior Minister Alfonso Navarrete and Guatemala's President Jimmy Morales pose for a group photo prior to the start of the Second Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America, at the State Department, in Washington, U.S., October 11, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Theiler

“We stand ready to help you unleash your energy resources, to create more business development in your countries, to increase collaboration between our universities and cultural exchanges, and more,” Pence told the meeting.

He added: “As you build commercial partnerships with other countries, including China, we urge you to focus on, and demand, transparency and look after your, and our, long-term interests.”

Pence called on Morales to increase resources for border security and urged Hernandez to redouble efforts to combat human trafficking. He pressed Ortiz to ensure that El Salvador strengthened law enforcement units to tackle gang violence.

“If you do more, I’m here to say on behalf of the president of the United States and the American people, we’ll do more,” said Pence.

Vice President Mike Pence (C) makes opening remarks as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) and Dept. of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen listens during the Second Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America, which includes Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, at the State Department, in Washington, U.S., October 11, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Theiler

Hernandez said U.S. funding was declining at a time when Washington wanted more done on border security. He also called on the United States to reunite migrant children with their parents.

“We see every year that there is a reduction in the resources that are budgeted by the United States. This should not take us to the conclusion that you have lost interest in your relationship with me, but it does concern us,” Hernandez said through an interpreter.

U.S. and Central American officials have clashed in recent months over Washington’s policy earlier this year of separating migrant children and parents trying to cross the U.S.-Mexican border. Governments in the region have demanded information from the United States as they seek to reunite families.

“If you look at your conscience, if we all put ourselves in the shoes of these parents, imagine if a child from your country found himself or herself in that situation, you could understand the rejection this has caused in my country, the huge pressure we face,” Hernandez said.

Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Peter Cooney

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