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No US pledges expected at CentAm drug meeting

No US pledges expected at CentAm drug meeting

June 22nd, 2011 in News

MEXICO CITY (AP) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and officials from throughout Central America are pledging to confront a problem her officials acknowledge U.S. policies helped create: a rise in activity by powerful drug cartels in the vulnerable nations of the region.

Representatives at the two-day meeting that opens Wednesday in Guatemala City are expected to discuss a coordinated security plan to stem the growing presence of cartels in Central America and ask for close to $1 billion to pay for it.

But U.S. officials said Monday that participants should not expect Clinton to break out the checkbook.

"The secretary may announce how we're repackaging some of our own assistance. But ... this is not a donors conference," Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela told reporters in Washington on Monday.

Instead, Valenzuela said, "we're taking substantial amounts of support for Central America and try to convert it into a far more strategic strategy."

Years of U.S.-backed anti-drug crackdowns in Mexico and Colombia have pushed traffickers into the Central American countries wedged between them, spreading violence in a region where corruption, poverty and underfunded police forces have allowed the problem to grow almost unchecked.

The harsh reality facing Guatemala was highlighted last month when 27 people were massacred, most beheaded, on a ranch in the country in an attack blamed on Mexico's brutal Zetas drug cartel, which has set up shop in Guatemala.

In a March visit to El Salvador, President Barack Obama announced a security partnership intended to address both Central America's growing problem and the wider drug, gangs and guns problem that spills south from North America.

The United States is the world's largest consumer of illegal drugs. It is also by far the world's largest supplier of arms, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

But Obama's announcement did not come with new money, just a pledge to review about $200 million already allocated.