INCAE and Woodrow Wilson Private Sector Initiative to Address Crime and Insecurity in Central America

Maria Otero
Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights 
World Bank
Washington, DC
April 19, 2012

(As Delivered)

Thank you, Cynthia. It is an honor to attend the third meeting of the INCAE and Woodrow Wilson Center project here in Washington, DC. I also want to thank the World Bank and the Central American Private Sector Initiative for co-hosting today’s event. I especially want to thank INCAE and the Woodrow Wilson Center for bringing together the private sector to help create practical solutions to the security challenges in Central America – because we know that governments cannot do this work alone. Your contribution is critical to help build safe, prosperous, and democratic societies in Central America.

Today, I want to talk about three key areas of the U.S. strategy to combat crime and insecurity in Central America: First, what the U.S. is doing to reduce the demand for illicit drugs in our own country, which we know is a major factor in this transnational issue. Second, how the U.S. is utilizing new international partnerships to address transnational organized crime and citizen security. And lastly, the need for a comprehensive, community-based approach to address citizen security in each country in Central America.

At the Summit of the Americas, President Obama and Secretary Clinton engaged with the leaders of the region in a robust and healthy dialogue on a range of issues, including the U.S. strategy on drugs. The U.S. has acknowledged that the high demand for drugs in our own country is a major contributing factor to drug trafficking and its effects in the region. In response to this concern, President Obama charted a new direction for our efforts to reduce illicit drug use and its consequences by launching a National Drug Control Strategy in 2010. This week, he announced a revised strategy that provides a review of our progress, and looks ahead to continued reform.

This new strategy rejects the false choice between an enforcement-centric “war on drugs” on the one hand and the notion of drug legalization on the other, an issue that was also addressed in Cartagena.

While the United States remains open to engaging in discussion on this issue, we do not believe that legalization is the path towards a holistic solution to combat drug trafficking and organized crime and improve citizen security across the region.

The United States believes there must be a balanced approach to reducing illicit drug use, and our efforts are yielding results. The rate of overall drug use in America has dropped by roughly one-third over the past three decades. Since 2006, meth use in America has been cut by half and cocaine use has dropped by nearly 40 percent. In 2011, the United States spent over 10 billion dollars on drug prevention and treatment; 9.4 billion dollars on domestic law enforcement; 3.6 billion on interdiction, and 2.1 billion on international drug control programs. The President’s revised National Drug Control Strategy seeks to redouble our efforts, and employs a balance of evidenced-based public health and safety reforms.

Another pillar of this strategy is strengthening international partnerships – and at the leadership of Secretary Clinton, we have created new partnerships to address the security challenges in Central America.

The United States has developed new modes of cooperation starting by addressing security issues that are identified by Central Americans themselves. Secretary Clinton firmly believes that the solutions to the problems in Central America must come from Central Americans – that is why the U.S. supports the Central American Integration System, commonly known as SICA. I cannot stress the importance – however difficult and slow it may be – to have the government leaders of Central America agree upon the primary security challenges and then identify as a group the specific areas of cooperation needed to create the solution. Today’s event further contributes to the Central American-led effort to identify practical solutions to the security challenges facing the region.

The U.S. programmatic efforts are funneled through our Central America Regional Security Initiative – known as CARSI – which is an integrated, collaborative program designed to disrupt and dismantle the gangs and transnational criminal organizations. From 2008 to 2011, the United States has allocated over 361 million dollars to CARSI efforts.

At the Summit of the Americas, President Obama announced that the U.S. will allocate 130 million dollars for CARSI in fiscal year 2012.

Our support is focused not just on helping security forces track down criminals. We are working to address the root causes of violence, from impunity to lack of opportunity. We are working to build accountable institutions free from corruption that respect human rights and enhance the rule of law. We are building partnerships to improve courts and prisons, train police and prosecutors, and enhance education systems and job-training centers. We are working towards building partnerships with political leaders, but also with civil society, businesses and with the elite, who have a special obligation to help confront these challenges.

The U.S. welcomes the progress on tax reform in some countries, such as President Perez Molina’s tax reform in Guatemala and the recently passed security taxes in Costa Rica and Honduras. The fact that so many of the wealthy in Latin America have not paid their fair share of taxes is one of the many reasons why the services that are necessary to protect citizen security and enhance educational opportunities have not been available. Fora such as the one today are critical to ensure the voices of the private sector are part of the solution.

In addition to new partnerships with Central Americans, we are building partnerships across the Americas. One example is our cooperation with Colombia in Central America. Presidents Obama and Santos announced a new Action Plan on Regional Security Cooperation earlier this week in Cartagena. These coordination efforts will initially focus on Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Panama with the goal of expanding to the rest of the Americas and West Africa. Both countries will develop complementary security assistance programs and operational efforts to support partner nations afflicted by effects of transnational organized crime.

Lastly, I want to talk about the progress we are seeing on the ground. I have seen the most progress during my visits to Central American countries when there is a multi-faceted, community-based approach that empowers all actors in society – including municipal and state government officials, members of the private sector and civil society, and individual citizens, with a focus on young people who are not only the most at-risk, but who have the most potential to change their communities for the better.

We are seeing progress clearly demonstrated in the Model Precinct Program which has significantly aided in reducing homicides, robberies, and burglaries throughout the region. The program uses community-based policing techniques and youth drug prevention programs like the Gang Resistance Education and Training – or GREAT - and the Police Athletic League to build local support. Police officers assigned to the unit receive several years of classroom and on-the-job training, greatly increasing their investigative and patrolling capabilities.

I recently visited the Model Precinct in Lourdes, El Salvador, where new police leadership was installed in the spring of 2010. The new commander of the Lourdes precinct fully embraced and implemented best practices for policing. By adopting an intelligence-led policing philosophy for crime prevention and targeted enforcement, the Lourdes precinct reduced the number of homicides from 287 in 2010 to 170 in 2011 -- a 40 percent reduction. All other major crimes were also reduced by more than 40 percent. By comparison, the national homicide rate in El Salvador rose by 9 percent in 2011.

Now these programs occur on a municipal-level; the challenge is how to scale up these efforts and replicate them across each nation and the region. In Guatemala, the new tax reform funds will go to support community-based policing programs building upon the Model Precinct in other parts of the country. For example, I visited the Mixco Model Precinct earlier this year. The local mayor, police chief, priest and community leaders worked together to create a new level of trust and collaboration that resulted in a significant decrease in the levels of crime and violence.

And it was clear that these efforts were not only difficult, but dangerous. In this particular case, the police chief had to release a high percentage of the police force due to corruption and train an entire new cadre of young police officers. So we see that even these models are not simple, and take a great deal of time, effort and personal investment by many actors. I am pleased that we will now expand this program in Honduras, which has launched the first Model Precinct Program. President Lobo has indicated that funds from the new security tax will go towards the expansion of these efforts.

Solving the crime and insecurity that plagues Central America requires a set of multi-faceted responses that include involvement by every sector of society. My message to those of you here today is that your governments need you – they need your investment in the country. And more importantly, they need your support to help increase the political will needed to face these tough issues head-on. They need your help to rebuild weak institutions, to strengthen the judicial system, to build capacity through the government, all essential for a meaningful and long lasting response. I look forward to learning about the results from your previous two dialogues, and engaging today in a robust conversation about how we can work together towards a common vision of a prosperous, peaceful and democratic Central America.