President Obama's Costa Rican visit signals new respect for Latin America, Costa
Rica's foreign minister said as Obama was to meet with regional leaders.
"In the first term, we noticed indifference," Costa Rican Foreign Minister Enrique Castillo told CNN en Espanol.
"This gesture of coming to Costa Rica and meeting with the Central American presidents is a change," he said.
Obama is to meet Friday with Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, followed by a meeting with Chinchilla and national leaders from Belize, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama.
The countries, along with Haiti, whose president was not expected to attend, represent the Central American Integration System, a Central American economic and political organization seeking to improve cooperation and integration in the region.
White House officials said Obama would focus on the benefits of closer cooperation with the United States.
Obama, who spent the night in Mexico City after meeting with President Enrique Pena Nieto, is to travel to Costa Rica in the afternoon after delivering remarks at Mexico's National Museum of Anthropology, which contains artifacts from Mexico's pre-Columbian heritage, and meet with Mexican entrepreneurs.
In meeting with Pena Nieto Thursday, Obama offered his support for Mexico's shifting security strategy as he called for a greater focus on economic ties.
Pena Nieto is revamping his law enforcement bureaucracy, which U.S. officials say could limit coordination with U.S. agencies.
Mexico has placed new restrictions on intelligence-sharing with the United States, pulling back on the extraordinary access the previous Mexican administration gave U.S. authorities in prosecuting the drug war and organized crime.
Mexican officials deny the changes will lessen Mexico's coordination and cooperation with U.S. law enforcement efforts.
When Obama arrives in Costa Rica, he plans to meet with U.S. Embassy staff at a hotel before meeting with Chinchilla and the Central American leaders, the White House said Thursday night.
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