Story highlights

Foreign minister: In Obama's first administration, he seemed indifferent to Latin America

Traveling to Costa Rica to meet with Central American leaders is a change, he says

Economic issues are a priority during Obama's Costa Rica trip

Official: "The extraordinary violence that has ravaged Central America" also on agenda

San Jose, Costa Rica CNN  — 

As U.S. President Barack Obama prepares to head to Costa Rica to meet with Central American leaders on Friday, a top official there says he’s sensed a shift in how Obama’s administration views the region.

“In the first term, we noticed indifference,” Costa Rican Foreign Minister Enrique Castillo told CNN en Español this week. “This gesture of coming to Costa Rica and meeting with the Central American presidents is a change.”

So are the priorities officials have said they hope to discuss, Castillo said, including development, trade and improving the climate for investments.

Before Obama headed to Mexico for the first stop on his Latin America trip this week, administration officials said they hoped to focus on economic matters.

“It’s an important chance to show how important Latin America is to our foreign policy and to our economy,” said Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser.

But even as Obama and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto stressed the importance of deepening economic ties in Mexico Thursday, security issues loomed large over their meeting.

The same may be true in Central America, where drug trafficking and security issues remain a top concern.

In addition to meeting with Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, Obama will meet with leaders from Belize, Guatemala, Honduras El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Panama and Nicaragua.

“There he’ll be able to talk about what we’re doing together to combat the extraordinary violence that has ravaged Central America in recent years,” Rhodes said, “through greater cooperation and resources from the united states, but also sharing of best practices from within Central America.

Fostering greater cooperation between Central American countries on security matters could be a key role for Obama to play, said Jason Marczak, director of policy at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas.

“He is going to try to use it (his visit) to encourage the Central American governments to work more closely together on security issues. … There is a challenge in Central America because many times the governments do not work together in regard to this issue,” Marczak said.

But even with significant security concerns, one expert told CNN en Español it’s important to focus on economic issues, which fuel drug violence.

“There needs to be economic development,” analyst Constantino Urcuyo said, “so there is not migration and so there is not a social base that feeds drug trafficking.”

Journalist Djenane Villanueva reported from San Jose, Costa Rica. CNN’s Catherine E. Shoichet wrote the story in Atlanta. CNN en Español’s Juan Carlos Lopez contributed to this report.