Mexico wants U.S. backing for development plan to stem Central American migration

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Monday he had ordered his foreign minister to seek a pact with the United States, Canada and other nations in support of a development plan for Central America to control immigration.

Migrants cross a river next to a section of the new wall between El Paso, Texas, in the United States and Ciudad Juarez as seen from the Mexican side of the border in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, February 5, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

Lopez Obrador has said he wants the United States to ditch the Merida Initiative that deploys millions of dollars for security programs in Mexico, in favor of more development assistance.

He said U.S. President Donald Trump had made a commitment for U.S. investment in Central America and Mexico and had shown interest in his ideas, but that the next step was to sign an agreement.

“We no longer want cooperation for security forces. We don’t want the Merida plan, we don’t want helicopters mounted with machine guns. We want cooperation for development,” said Lopez Obrador, reiterating his view that only economic development will tackle the root causes of immigration.

A State Department spokesman for Western Hemisphere Affairs said in a statement the U.S. government was committed to working with Mexico on “shared security and development challenges.”

“The Merida Initiative is an instrument to support Mexico’s security strategy and has evolved to meet the priorities of different Mexican administrations. We look forward to continued dialogue with Mexico on these issues,” the spokesman said.

Trump earlier this year ordered an end to U.S. aid to Central America over rising numbers of immigrants, many of whom are fleeing poverty and violence in their home countries.

He threatened to impose tariffs if Mexico did not do more to stop the flow of mostly Central Americans reaching the U.S. southern border, the biggest wave in a decade.

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said in December that Washington was committing $5.8 billion to development in Central America and increasing public and private investment in Mexico via the Overseas Private Investment Corporation by $4.8 billion.

In a partial rollback of the aid cut last week, U.S. Attorney General William Barr said Washington would continue funding police forces in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

Reporting by Diego Ore; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington; Writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Rosalba O’Brien