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Biden visits Honduras amid drug legalization debate

By the CNN Wire Staff
March 7, 2012 -- Updated 0316 GMT (1116 HKT)
U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden, left, meets with Honduran President Porfirio Lobo to discuss drug trafficking.
U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden, left, meets with Honduran President Porfirio Lobo to discuss drug trafficking.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Central American leaders will debate drug legalization on March 24
  • Joe Biden says he supports debate over drug legalization, but U.S. won't change stance
  • The vice president says the U.S. shares responsibility for security problems in the region
  • Guatemala's president has said he supports decriminalization measures

Tegucigalpa, Honduras (CNN) -- U.S. Vice President Joe Biden vowed Tuesday to help Honduras and other Central American nations defeat drug traffickers and fight corruption.

But at a meeting with Central American presidents in Honduras, Biden stopped short of supporting a proposal that has gained growing attention in the region in recent weeks: drug legalization.

Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina said last month that he supported measures to decriminalize drug production, trafficking and consumption. On Tuesday, Central American leaders announced plans to debate the idea at a meeting later this month.

Biden "said that he was in favor of an open and genuine debate about the decriminalization of drugs as long as the procedures and possible results are analyzed," according to a Honduran government statement distributed to reporters after Tuesday's meeting.

"Resources cannot be wasted if they are not going to achieve concrete results," the statement said, quoting Biden. "Resources must be focused on integrated, conclusive strategies and programs."

After meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Monday, Biden said there was no chance the Obama administration would change its policy opposing drug legalization, according to Mexico's state-run Notimex news agency.

"In every country that has experimented with the legalization or decriminalization of drug consumption, the part of the population that consumes illegal substances grows," he said, according to Notimex.

In an interview with CNN en Español last month, Perez Molina defended his position.

"What I've done is put the topic back on the table. I think it is important for us to have other alternatives and to talk about decriminalization. ... We need to talk about decriminalization of the production, the transportation and, of course, consumption," he said.

On Tuesday night, Honduran President Porfirio Lobo said Central American leaders meeting in Tegucigalpa "listened with attention and interest to the proposal of the president of Guatemala about the search for alternative mechanisms for the fight against drug trafficking" and would debate the issue at a meeting in Guatemala on March 24.

Honduras is a key drug trafficking corridor and has the world's highest murder rate, with 82.1 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in 2010, according to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime.

Lobo and other Central American leaders have repeatedly argued that drug use in the United States fuels escalating violence throughout the region.

On Tuesday, Biden told reporters the United States "shared responsibility" but also noted that Central American countries must work to stop drug production.

He pledged that the United States would provide economic assistance and training to Honduran law enforcement and judicial officials.

"One of the areas in which we will hopefully be of help is in vetting the police, the prosecutors and the judges," Biden said. "My experience has been: The people of the country have to be able to have confidence in the integrity of each of those institutions, if progress is going to be made."

Journalist Elvin Sandoval and CNN's Patricia Janiot contributed to this report.

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