MIAMI (CBSMiami) — Vice President Mike Pence stopped into Miami Thursday to focus on Central America and the region’s relationship with the United States.
During the Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America, Pence focused on the region’s fight against drugs and the future of the countries that belong to the Northern Triangle – Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.
“The United States stands with the nations and the people of the Northern Triangle,” said Pence while at Florida International University (FIU). “We stand with you in your commitment to root out crime and corruption. We stand with you in your commitment to stop the scourge of drug trafficking once and for all. The United States of America stands with you as you build a more secure and prosperous future for the benefit of your people and the benefit of the Western Hemisphere. In a word, we’re in this together.”
While Vice President Pence touted the role the U.S. is playing in assisting Central American nations, he also stressed that crime and drug trafficking from the area is wrecking havoc from Central America to the U.S. He said President Trump is already tackling that from this end with tough talk on illegal immigration.
“The United States is helping train your police forces. We’re supporting your attorney’s general as they target drug traffickers, gang leaders and corruption,” said Pence. “We can’t overestimate the importance of strong borders. Under President Donald Trump the United States’ border will be strong but the borders of the United States will always be open to legal immigrants and lawful flow of commerce.”
Pence also took the opportunity to call on the world to condemn Venezuela.
“We must all of us raise our voices to condemn the Venezuelan government for its abuse of power and abuse of its own people and we must do it now,” said Pence.
Protesters greeted Pence on campus earlier. The administration’s hard-line on immigration had many of the protesters showing up.
“It is unfair. While they are taking advantage of our cheap labor for us to be treated like criminals, like second class citizens. We immigrants, we deserve to be able to live here free of fear and with respect and dignity,” said Marleine Bastien with Haitian Women of Miami.
Other attendees who include the presidents of Honduras and El Salvador, will undoubtedly shift the conversation to TPS, or Temporary Protected Status, of immigrants.
It’s something protesters believe needs to be addressed.
“Haitian families are here, working, they’re paying taxes. They’re contributing significantly to the community and we don’t think that an extension of six months is enough time for a family to pretty much transition from one country to another which is facing cholera. It’s facing perilous conditions,” said Melissa Taveras with the Florida Immigration Coalition.
Haiti’s president is not expected to join the conference but is expected to meet with Pence later on Thursday.
Protesters also focused on other topics as well – from homophobia to Russia.
“To be honest, I didn’t know which one of my signs because there are so many issues that I wanted to talk about so I made an erasable sign so I can change it every day,” said protester Kelsey Reider.
Pence was not alone Thursday. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly joined him.
During the opening remarks in the conference, Tillerson said a safer, more prosperous Central America means a safer and prosperous U.S.
“Promoting prosperity in Central America is a key component of this effort,” said Tillerson. “Our prosperity and security interests are tightly linked through the movement of ideas, people and goods. What happens in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala directly affects the security and economic interests of the United States.”
The conference, which lasts until Friday, brings together a diverse group of governments and business leaders from the U.S. and Central Americas. Their main focus is on the economic, security, governance challenges and opportunities in the Northern Triangle countries. The first day of the conference focuses on prosperity and economic growth in the region while the second day will focus on achieving a stable and secure Central America.
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Pence’s visit comes one day before President Donald Trump is expected to also stop into Miami to talk about changes to the U.S.-Cuba policy.