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Obama Pledges $200 Million to Fight Drug Trafficking in Central America

U.S. President Barack Obama greets children during his arrival in San Salvador, Mar 22 2011

U.S. President Barack Obama greets children during his arrival in San Salvador, Mar 22 2011

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States will provide $200 million to Central America to combat drug trafficking and gangs as he promised closer cooperation with the region.

The president made the announcement Tuesday during a joint news conference with El Salvador President Mauricio Funes in San Salvador, the final stop on his three-country Latin American tour.

President Obama said the money will help El Salvador to improve basic security and the rule of law but will also be used to reach young people to give them a better path to economic prosperity. He said people in Central America need to be able to find opportunity in their home countries so they don't feel like they have to travel north to provide for their families.

The president also addressed immigration reform in the United States. He said comprehensive immigration reform, including addressing the millions of undocumented workers in the U.S., is the right thing to do. He said he will continue to push for it but acknowledged that the politics of the issue are not easy.

The United States has a significant number of immigrants from El Salvador - both legal and illegal.

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama will attend an official dinner at the presidential palace Tuesday evening.

The president's five-day visit to Latin America has been overshadowed from the start by the air strikes Libya, and just before the news conference started Tuesday the White House said Obama would be cutting his visit short to return earlier to the United States on Wednesday.

President Obama arrived in El Salvador from Chile. While there he said Chile has shown the world that a transition from a dictatorship to democracy can take place peacefully. He said the United States is ready to help Chile resolve human rights violations committed during the 1973 to 1990 dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.

Mr. Obama also spoke about Cuba, saying authorities there must take meaningful actions to respect the basic rights of the Cuban people. In 2009, his administration eased travel and money-transfer restrictions on Cuban-Americans with relatives on the island. But, a decades-old U.S. embargo on Cuba remains in effect. Mr. Obama has said in the past the embargo will stay in place until Havana takes steps toward democratic reforms.

Mr. Obama's first stop of his tour was Brazil.