The United States remains committed to Latin America's security and development through multiple bilateral cooperation accords and within the framework of a "pragmatic" and mutually respectful relationship, a senior Obama administration official told Efe.

The remarks served to counter criticism from some sectors in the United States who contend that Washington, despite its rhetoric and visits by top officials to the region, is not promoting closer ties with Latin America through concrete measures.

"The most important message is that we view our relations in the hemisphere as a relationship of equal partners. I think the president has made that very clear through his words and through his actions in the region," the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

Since 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama has traveled to Latin America a total of six times, while Vice President Joe Biden has made four trips to the region, and over this period "our entire approach has been based on equal partnership," the official added.

Latin America has seen "a massive increase in its middle class and a reduction in severe poverty" and, within the context of a "pragmatic" relationship, Washington is working jointly to respond to challenges such as promoting economic development, reducing energy costs and increasing the competitiveness of the region's economies.

The official noted that the United States has invested nearly $500 million since 2008 in security assistance alone and $200 million more in that same period in the Caribbean.

"We do have a commitment to working with Central America, Mexico and other partners to reinforce citizen security and that goes beyond the direct assistance" because emphasis is also being placed on strengthening institutions.

"Security overall is something that (is) important in our relationship with Mexico, and it's an area where we're going to continue working with them," the official said, reiterating the Obama administration's support for a comprehensive immigration overhaul with a strong border-security component.

The official also defended a June 5 meeting between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua to try to "establish a more constructive relationship" with Caracas.

Kerry "also made clear that we are going to continue to speak out when it's appropriate on democratic governance issues, on fundamental freedoms, the rule of law, those are all part of our dialogue," both public and private.

According to Jaua, during that meeting on the sidelines of an Organization of American States' meeting in Guatemala, the two men discussed establishing a direct channel of communication "to clarify any differences" in the future, and work toward returning the countries' respective ambassadors to their posts.

The Obama administration official also referred to the Nicaraguan Congress' approval earlier this month of legislation giving a Chinese company an up to 100-year concession to build and operate an inter-oceanic canal.

"It's up to Nicaragua and whatever private investors they found to determine the viability and suitability of the project," the official said.

"Every country has to weigh the potential ecological cost of any kind of development program, any kind of infrastructure project of this nature ... environmental considerations are big not just for this particular project but for any large infrastructure project," the official said.

The remarks constituted the Obama administration's first public reaction to a mega-project that, if completed, would rival the Panama Canal.

Asked about what interest the U.S. government may have in the project, the official said "this is all pretty much hypothetical at this point."

"There's a pretty long distance between the idea of a canal and having the project actually ... development has to be something that contributes to the overall development of the country," the official said. EFE