Pence gives keynote address at conference on Central America at FIU

Vice president meets with presidents from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras

MIAMI – Vice President Mike Pence attended a conference Thursday at Florida International University.

The vice president provided the keynote address at the Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America.

Pence started his speech by expressing gratitude for the Capitol police officers who defended members of Congress in a shooting that wounded several lawmakers and their aides at a baseball field outside Washington.

The agents were among those wounded in the attack.

Pence noted that he served in Congress with some of the people who came under attack Wednesday and that he is friends with Rep. Steve Scalise, who is recovering from wounds suffered in the shooting. He then singled out the two U.S. Capitol police agents, Crystal Griner and David Bailey.

"The American people are grateful for these courageous police officers," Pence said.

Pence was joined by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Department of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

Tillerson said that the U.S. wants to help Central America solve the security and economic problems that have caused turmoil in the region in recent years.

Tillerson told officials from the three countries of the Northern Triangle and Mexico that stronger economies in their homelands will improve security in the U.S. and throughout the hemisphere. He also said the U.S. wants to secure its borders to "bolster U.S. national security" as part of the agenda of President Donald Trump.

Tillerson said the goal of the U.S. in the region is to "create the prosperity we all want."

He said that must include ways to reduce the number of people working in the informal sector and make it easier for people to start new business in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

"What happens in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala directly affects the security and economic interests of the United States and other countries in the region," Tillerson said.

The conference brought together the northern triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to discuss topics that include the region's economy and security.

Leaders of the three Central American nations said they share the United States' interest in reducing illegal immigration and drug trafficking but need help to do it.

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales said in Miami on Thursday that "irregular" migration contributes to a brain drain in his country and divides families.

He also said the use of his country as a transit point for drugs bound for the U.S. and Europe are responsible for high rates of crime in his country. But he warns that his country needs financial and technological help to address both issues. He praised an aid package that began under President Barack Obama called the Alliance for Prosperity.

The Trump administration has proposed cutting that budget by 30 percent and believes it can help support the countries even as it spend less money.

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez said improving security and economic opportunity in Central America is in the U.S. interest.

"A convulsing Central America, faced with a lack of opportunities and with violence, is a tremendous risk for the United States, Mexico and the region," Hernandez said. 

After his speech, Pence will participate in a series of bilateral meetings with the presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.