Biden meets with Central American leaders

Vice President Joe Biden told Central American leaders Monday that the United States must first grow its own economy before it can extend a helping hand to Latin America.

"Economic growth in the United States is central to us being able to do anything," Biden said.

At a small weekend gathering in San Jose, Costa Rica – in preparation for next month's Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago – Biden met with the presidents of Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador and Panama, as well as representatives from Honduras and Nicaragua and the Prime Minister of Belize.

Biden thanked the leaders for their honesty and promised a new era of U.S.-Latin American relations, promising direct contact with each country. Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, who Biden called "a good and extremely valued friend of the United States," had raised the possibility of being a spokesman for the region, which Biden appeared to reject.

"We want direct, immediate and personal contact with each of the leaders and each of the countries in the region," Biden said after meeting with the Latin American leaders.

Biden, however, offered few concessions on some of the top concerns in the region: financial assistance from the United States to boost worsening Central American economies, an end to the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba and a halt to the deportations of illegal immigrants in the United States.

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