The US Secretary of State on Tuesday called on Central American countries to defend democracy and fight corruption to address the root causes of undocumented migration to the United States.
Antony Blinken, who is making his first visit to Latin America, was due to meet with foreign ministers from the member countries of the Central American Integration System (Sica): Belize, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama.
He is also due to meet with Mexican officials.
Upon arrival in the Costa Rican capital San Jose, Blinken headed to a meeting with President Carlos Alvarado and Foreign Minister Rodolfo Solano.
"What we want to hear from our partners is a shared commitment with us to address those root causes" that cause people to emigrate, Blinken said at a joint press conference with President Alvarado.
Those causes "that compel people to leave everything they know, to leave their homes, their families, their communities, their culture, their language, because they feel they have no other choice," Blinken said.
The trip aims to put into practice President Joe Biden's desire to tackle issues driving migrant arrivals to the southern border of the United States, said Julie Chung, the acting assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere.
Chung, speaking to reporters ahead of the trip, recalled that Washington had planned an aid package of $4 billion for the countries of the Northern Triangle (Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador).
"The administration has been clear from the beginning about the importance of addressing corruption," because "when you address the migration -- irregular migration -- the corruption and governance and rule of law, those are all interconnected," Chung added.
- Slow reforms -
When Biden arrived at the White House in January, he was confronted with a large influx of Central American migrants at the US border with Mexico.
Biden promised a more "humane" migration policy to turn the page on the draconian restrictions of Donald Trump's presidency, but Republicans accuse him of creating a surge and of subsequently denying the existence of a "crisis."
Reforms promised by the Democrat have been slow to take shape, with Biden entrusting Vice President Kamala Harris with the high-risk dossier.
She has promised comprehensive action against the root causes of the influx of migrants, without going into detail, before she makes her first trip to Mexico and Guatemala next week.
Blinken has praised Costa Rica, which has just joined the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) -- but not all those in San Jose for the Sica meeting will be on good terms with the United States.
"We meet at a moment when democracy and human rights are being undermined in many parts of the region," he said at the press conference.
"We see this in the erosion of the judicial independence. The crackdown on independent media and NGOs. The barring of political opponents of the quashing of anti-corruption efforts."
A senior State Department official said the United States "can't wait for governments to be perfect", adding that to effect change they need to include civil society and the private sector.
Washington recently denounced the attacks by the government of El Salvador on the independence of the judiciary, and Chung reiterated her concern about the situation in Nicaragua, particularly about press freedom and human rights.