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Mexico aims to slow Central American migrant flows from 2020

By Diego Oré
Asylum seeking migrant families from Central American walk through a field to the main road after they illegally crossed the Rio Grande river into the U.S. from Mexico in Penitas, Texas, U.S., March 31, 2019. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

By Diego Oré

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico aims to slow a surge in U.S.-bound Central American migrants from entering its territory from next year once a regional development plan begins taking hold, a senior Mexican official said.

Mass migration from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador has strained relations between Mexico and U.S. President Donald Trump, who has threatened to close the U.S. border with Mexico if its government does not stop the flow of migrants.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) on Monday presented a development plan for the three countries and Mexico that seeks to address the migration surge by reducing violence and boosting economic growth.

Maximiliano Reyes, Mexico's deputy foreign minister responsible for Latin America and the Caribbean, said the first priority was to cut the rate at which migrants leave the three key countries, all of which suffer from high levels of violence and poverty.

"We hope that this year we can start with some steps (from the ECLAC plan) so that next year we can bring down the rate," Reyes said in an interview with Reuters on Tuesday.

"We can get to a turning point as of month 13 or 14 from when we start applying public policy steps agreed."

The ECLAC plan proposes raising investment to at least 25% of gross domestic product in the targeted Central American countries, better integrating their energy networks, improving education and ramping up local welfare spending.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador wants the United States to contribute to development plans, but Trump has instead threatened to slash aid to the region citing the spike in migrants pressing toward the U.S. border.

Skepticism is widespread in Mexico that Trump, who has frequently criticized Mexico and Central America, will commit additional U.S. funds to helping the region.

Mexico's government estimates annual investment of $10 billion is needed to make the plan a success.

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Wednesday that if investment did not increase in Central America and Mexico's poorer south, the number of migrants would keep rising.

"The U.S. budget for the border with Mexico keeps rising, and in the last few years it's even doubled. Migration and the people getting to the United States aren't coming down," Reyes said. "If we want to get a different result, we should do things differently."

(Reporting by Diego Ore, additional reporting by Anthony Esposito; editing by G Crosse)