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Obama vows to cooperate more closely with Central America

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) — President Barack Obama vowed closer cooperation Tuesday with the Central American nations where U.S. policies on crime, immigration and other issues have outsize influence on populations that depend heavily on their giant neighbor to the north and impact U.S. society in turn.

Speaking in El Salvador, the final stop on his three-country Latin American tour and the only one in Central America, Obama promised attention to increasing trade and economic growth, fighting drug trafficking and creating opportunities so that people can find work in their home countries and “don’t feel like they have to head north to provide for their families.”

“The United States will do our part” in combatting the increasing scourge of drug trafficking, the president said, standing next to El Salvador’s president Mauricio Funes, who welcomed Obama’s attention to the oft-overlooked region. Obama announced a new $200 million partnership with El Salvador to combat drug wars that have led to a spike in murders here and in other Central American countries.

Yet Obama’s five-day visit to Latin America has been overshadowed from the start by the war he’s running in faraway Libya. Just before his news conference with Funes the White House said Obama would be cutting his trip short, departing El Salvador for the U.S. on Wednesday morning instead of in the afternoon as planned.

Sespite Libya’s shadow, Obama sought to make clear that El Salvador is a critical partner on immigration and narcotics wars, issues of increasing concern to the United States.

Among the issues he and Funes addressed was the rising crime south of the U.S. border. El Salvador has seen murder rates rise amid an influx of drugs and displaced traffickers from crackdowns in Colombia and Mexico. Obama said a new partnership to combat narco-trafficking could focus on strengthening courts and civil society groups in order to keep young people from turning to drugs and crime.

Obama said he was confident that Funes would show “great leadership” in using the money properly.

El Salvador also has one of Central America’s highest rates of emigration, especially to the United States. About 2.8 million Salvadoran immigrants living in the United States sent home $3.5 billion last year, so laws that crack down on immigrants can significantly affect the Salvadoran economy. But congressional politics have made it difficult to restart talks about overhauling the nation’s immigration laws.

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