The United States is calling on Central American countries to confront corruption and poverty as Washington examines root causes and strategies to manage irregular migration flows.
Wednesday in Costa Rica, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard discussed "a variety of issues to promote the prosperity and security" in the region.
The top U.S. diplomat thanked Ebrard "for the Mexican government's continued collaboration on addressing the root causes of irregular migration in the region."
Both also "discussed progress toward addressing COVID-19 and economic recovery, as well as issues related to regional democracy and governance, and security," according to the U.S. State Department.
Blinken embarked on his first in-person trip to the Western Hemisphere this week when he traveled to San Jose, Costa Rica.
The top U.S. diplomat's trip comes ahead of Vice President Kamala Harris's upcoming visits to Guatemala and Mexico.
Harris has been tapped by U.S. President Joe Biden to lead diplomatic efforts in Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to address the underlying causes of migration in hopes of halting the flow of Central American migrants to the U.S.
Some experts see Blinken's visit to Costa Rica as laying the foundation for a successful visit by Harris.
"The U.S. is also looking for cooperation on immigration, and we're more likely to get that cooperation when governments see the carrot of a broad-based economic integration program," said Professor Richard Feinberg, who teaches international political economy at University of California, San Diego.
Feinberg suggested including Caribbean Basin countries in the U.S. "transportation networks" and "economic integration" as Biden is eyeing large expenditures on infrastructure, roads, ports, and airports in the United States.
Blinken's trip to the region also comes as China actively positions itself as the dominating provider of COVID-19 vaccinations in Latin America.
China had supplied more than 165 million COVID-19 vaccines to Latin America and the Caribbean by late May, with Mexico, Chile, and Brazil receiving significant shares.
As countries in Latin America continue to get doses, three Chinese vaccines — CanSino, Sinopharm, and Sinovac — are reaching wider distribution in the region.
The U.S. has announced its goal to ship 80 million vaccine doses abroad by the end of June. Blinken said Washington will detail this global distribution plan in the next two weeks.
"We will be announcing the process by which we will distribute those vaccines, what the criteria are, how we will do it," said Blinken during a joint press conference with Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado on Tuesday.
"Among other things, we will focus on equity — on the equitable distribution of vaccines; we'll focus on science; we'll work in coordination with COVAX; and we will distribute vaccines without political requirements of those receiving them," added Blinken.
Asked if he was worried that getting Chinese vaccines would come with certain conditions and caveats, Costa Rican President Alvarado said there should be "no strings attached."
"Our condition is that those vaccines that we buy or receive as donations should be qualified by a strict agency," he said.
In May, the United States said it would share an additional 20 million coronavirus vaccine doses with other countries, in addition to the 60 million it has already committed. Officials said the U.S. will distribute according to need, and not to curry favor.
Blinken also attended a regional meeting of the Central American foreign ministers held Tuesday under the auspices of the Central American Integration System, where collaborating on migration challenges, combating the COVID-19 pandemic, improving economic growth, as well as reinforcing democratic institutions, were said to be high on agenda.
VOA's Cindy Saine contributed to this report.