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Associated Press
President Obama and Costa Rica President Laura Chinchilla shake hands Friday in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Strong economy, weak drug trade

– Eager to move the conversation beyond drugs and violence, President Obama met with Central American leaders Friday and declared that building stronger economies and greater trade ties will let nations of the region offer residents a better way of life and reduce incentives to support narco-trafficking.

“We have to make sure that everybody feels opportunity,” the president declared in a news conference with Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla. “Even in countries that are doing well, the scourge of drugs and drug-trafficking will still be there. And there still needs to be a strong law enforcement component. But we can do better than we are currently doing.”

The president sounded a similar message earlier Friday in Mexico, which he said is ready to take “its rightful place in the world” and move past the drug battles and violence that have defined its relationship with the U.S.

The president’s three-day visit to Mexico and Costa Rica is his first to Latin America since winning a second presidential term in an election in which he gained the support of Hispanic Americans by a large margin.

In both countries, the president said his talks with leaders focused on how to strengthen the regional economy and build trade ties, adding that the stronger that local economies are and the more opportunities that people have, “the less powerful these narco-trafficking operations are going to be.”

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