September 25, 2014 / 2:41 AM / 5 years ago

UPDATE 4-Central America plan foresees infrastructure, energy projects-draft

(Adds Honduran president, Guatemalan foreign minister quotes)
    By Gustavo Palencia
    TEGUCIGALPA, Sept 24 (Reuters) - A plan by Central American
governments to boost economic growth in the region and cut
illegal immigration to the United States foresees major spending
on infrastructure and energy projects, a draft of the proposal
showed on Wednesday.
    The "Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern
Triangle" aims to renovate highways, city bypasses and border
crossings in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, as well as
carry out improvements to other infrastructure in the region.
    The plan aims to provide people in the impoverished region
with jobs and an incentive not to emigrate north. Including
projects that have already been announced, the planned works are
worth well over $1 billion dollars.  
 
    A surge in unaccompanied children arriving this year at the
U.S. border has pushed the United States, Mexico and Central
American nations to seek new strategies to reduce the number of
children and families trying to get into U.S. territory.
    The flood of migrants has stretched U.S. resources on its
southwest border and revealed the hardships many migrants face
on the journey.
    The development plan, a copy of which was seen by Reuters,
proposes doubling the capacity of the shared Central American
network of power grids known as SIEPAC as well as supplying
natural gas from southern Mexico to Central America.
    Guatemala's Foreign Minister Carlos Morales told Reuters
that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had made clear $50
million was immediately available for the plan, with any more
funds needing to be approved by the U.S. Congress.
    The final details of the plan would be agreed upon by
Central American presidents in a meeting taking place early next
year, perhaps in February, he added. 
    The infrastructure projects planned for Honduras alone would
be worth "hundreds of millions of dollars," a Honduran
government official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
    Given that the U.S. marketplace was the main destination of
drugs trafficked through Central America, the United States
ought to shoulder the cost of over 80 percent of the aid
authorized by the plan, the same Honduran official said.
    Speaking in New York at the U.N. General Assembly, Honduran
President Juan Hernandez called for an international coalition
to fight the scourge of cross-border drug smuggling, making an
explicit link with the international alliance U.S. President
Barack Obama has sought to forge for tackling the threat of
Islamic fundamentalists. 
    "I ask, what is the difference between the terrorism caused
by radical fundamentalists, and the terrorism caused by drug
traffickers?" he asked. "What is the difference between those
displaced by violence in other regions, and those displaced by
violence caused by drug traffickers?"
    The plan for the region, which suffers from high murder
rates and widespread poverty, was developed with the help of the
Inter-American Development Bank. It also includes proposals to
improve several airports, including in Belize and Nicaragua.
    It mentions a regional investment plan from 2015 to 2019,
but that section of the document was blank in a copy reviewed by
Reuters. It was not clear how the projects would be financed.
    Foreign ministers from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador
presented the plan to U.S. and Mexican officials on the
sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Tuesday,
without giving details of what it involved. 
    The draft did not detail how much money would be needed to
carry out the works mentioned, some of which have already been
announced such as a $1.2 billion planned pipeline between Salina
Cruz in Mexico and Escuintla in southern Guatemala.
    Mexican lawmakers say boosting economic development in the
region is crucial to stop the flow of migrants north. The
projects listed could provide lucrative contracts to
construction firms in Mexico, the United States and elsewhere.

 (Additional reporting by Sofia Menchu in Guatemala City;
Writing by Dave Graham; Editing by Simon Gardner, Gabriel
Stargardter, Cynthia Osterman and Michael Perry)
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