Guatemala and Belize maintain a border dispute. Honduras and El Salvador are fighting over the use of the waters and shores of the Gulf of Fonseca, and a conflict between Nicaragua and Costa Rica has been escalating over the San Juan River border. On top of that, Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua often feel excluded because Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras get the bulk of U.S. security aid, said Eric Olson, associate director of the Latin American program at the Wilson Center think tank in Washington.

"SICA has tried to build itself as the place where all these countries can come together and that can be the distribution point for that aid," Olson said. "But I think the rivalry between these governments gets in the way."

The White House doesn't plan to launch any new initiatives with this trip, said Ricardo Zuniga, the lead official for Latin America policy on the U.S. National Security Council. Rather, it wants to talk about better coordination and use of the aid that is already going to the region.

"Besides the United States expressing its deep worry over the deterioration of the region, there isn't much more to expect," said Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin American program at the Wilson Center.

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