September 9, 2018 / 6:24 PM / 3 months ago

Meeting of U.S., Central American officials is called off this week

SAN SALVADOR/TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - A U.S.-hosted meeting with Mexico and Central American countries scheduled for this week in Washington has been called off, officials said on Sunday, as President Donald Trump’s policies test relations with the region.

The United States said the conference of the Alliance for Prosperity, a U.S.-led economic and security group, was postponed because of “scheduling conflicts” and with agreement by the participating countries. But El Salvador said it was Washington’s decision to suspend the meeting and that it did not know the reason.

“We are currently exploring alternate dates,” said an official for the U.S. State Department who declined to be named. “We are committed to our partnership with El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to address security, prosperity and governance challenges in the region.”

Launched in 2014, the Alliance for Prosperity was a U.S. bid to curb migration from the “Northern Triangle” of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras by strengthening economic growth and funding security programs.

But U.S. and Central American officials have clashed in recent months. Many Central American families were affected by the U.S. government’s policy earlier this year of separating migrant children and parents trying to cross the U.S.-Mexican border, and governments in the region have demanded information from the United States as they seek to reunite families.

On Friday, the United States said it recalled its top diplomats in El Salvador, along with the Dominican Republic and Panama, over those countries’ decisions to ditch diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of China.

The State Department official, responding to a Reuters request for comment on the cancellation of the conference scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, made no mention of any tensions.”Due to scheduling conflicts, the Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, and the governments of Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras decided on September 7 to postpone the conference,” the official said.

The El Salvadoran government said in a statement late on Saturday that it regretted what it said was a U.S. cancellation of the meeting. “El Salvador is ready to participate and waiting for this conference to be rescheduled,” officials said.

José Isaías Barahona, Honduras’ deputy foreign minister, said the meeting was canceled because of scheduling conflicts.

“Surely when schedules line up, El Salvador, along with Honduras and Guatemala, will attend the meetings of the Alliance for Prosperity,” he said in an interview.

Marta Larra, a spokeswoman for the Guatemalan Foreign Ministry, said she had been informed the meeting was postponed because the dates did not work well for the Central American countries.

Citing U.S. officials, the Washington Post reported on Saturday that the meeting was canceled after El Salvador and Guatemala said they would not send envoys. But El Salvador said it had been planning to attend.

Reporting by Nelson Renteria in San Salvador, Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa, Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Additional reporting by Jorge Pineda in Santo Domingo, Sofia Menchu in Guatemala City; Writing by Julia Love and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Peter Cooney

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