Leaders Meet in Mexico

Central American leaders said Wednesday that trade with U.S. is fueling steady growth in their region but they must forge closer ties with each other and Europe.

Salvadoran President Tony Saca, a close U.S. ally, warned that a recession in the United States could temper growth on the isthmus.

“We have to see Central America as a bloc,” Saca told a panel at the World Economic Forum on Latin America in Cancun.

He and other officials said they will work to boost infrastructure and commerce in the region.

Honduran President Manuel Zelaya also emphasized close cooperation among Central American neighbors. “We aspire to have a single Central American nationality, with one single passport and a shared economy,” Zelaya said.

Saca unveiled plans to explore for natural gas with neighboring Guatemala along the nations’ Pacific coasts.

Democracy, free trade and institutional reforms since the 1980s have transformed Central America, previously ravaged by war, civil unrest and economic crisis. But human trafficking and poverty remain serious problems, and gang violence has exploded as drugs pass through the region from South America toward the U.S.

Today the region’s 40 million inhabitants offer “a very interesting market for any business,” with new ports and energy projects under way, Saca said.

A U.S. trade agreement with five Central American nations and the Dominican Republic has slashed tariffs and encouraged cross-border investment.

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