Background Briefing: Preview Meeting of the Group of Central American Friends

Special Briefing
Senior Official of the Department, Office of the Spokesperson
New York, New York
September 23, 2011

MODERATOR: Good morning, everybody. We are pleased to have a background briefing this morning previewing the meeting of Central American donors that the Secretary will participate in this afternoon. For your records, our briefer, Senior State Department Official, is [Senior State Department Official]. Without further ado, over to Senior State Department Official.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you, [Moderator]. This afternoon, Secretary Clinton will meet with what are known as the Group of Friends of Central America. Those are the major countries who are donors in Central America as well as foreign ministers from all of the Central American countries themselves and a number of the international institutions who have played a crucial role in supporting Central American countries on security issues. Those are CECA, the Central American integration organization; the IDB, the Inter-American Development Bank; the World Bank, and the OAS, and the United Nations.

You may recall that the Secretary was in Guatemala June 22nd, I believe, for what was really the launch of a very large process from the international community and among the Central American countries to really focus on a new strategy for Central American security issues. Crime – transnational crime issues, violence – have obviously risen very high in Central America. They are the number one priority of citizens of those countries as well as the governments. And so Secretary Clinton felt very strongly that the United States, as a major donor in security issues in Central America, needed to lead at that meeting in the launch of this Central American strategy and the international community’s support for that strategy.

But if the June meeting in Central America in Guatemala was the launch of that strategy, this meeting is really an opportunity for us to turn from the commitments, both financial and political, that the international community has made to Central America to help partner with them and support their own efforts on anti-crime programs to actions that we can all take to implement that strategy. And so the focus of today’s conversation will really be on what everyone is doing, what we have figured out with our international institutions about where we are all working well together and where there are gaps that we are not covering in support of the countries of the region, and what more we can do to make that support real.

She will focus on the four pillars which have been outlined in the Central American strategy. Those are combating crime, rehabilitation and penitentiaries, institutional strengthening of democratic institutions, and preventing violence. And obviously, the United States, through the Central American Regional Security Strategy, is extremely active in all four of those pillars. But many other countries are working only in one or two areas, and so we will talk about how we can make sure that all of those areas are coordinated and supported.

The Central American countries will all be present, as will the following countries. I’m just going to run down the list to make sure folks know. They are Canada, Chile, Colombia, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Spain, the European Union, and Australia.

So I think I will leave it at that and take your questions, if you have any.

QUESTION: One of the sort of antecedent causes of all the things you’re trying to combat is, obviously, the narcotics trade. I wonder to what extent, in a meeting like this, and notably with the Central American officials, you nowadays hear them saying thanks for all the help, we want to work on this, et cetera, but if you would just do more to address the American demand problem, we would not be feeling all the ill effects from the drug trade, and the particular ones that occur as the trade through Mexico gets squelched, to whatever degree it does, and that it balloons up elsewhere. So to what extent is that a function of – is that a feature of the discourse nowadays? Or when they come into the room, are they all just focused on the international piece; they don’t see a point in making the other point about how it’s ultimately American demand that creates this problem?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think that is a key part of this equation, but I think it’s important to remember that – and this changes the dynamic in the room – it’s important to remember that no one more than the Secretary has acknowledged U.S. responsibility in this problem and that we each have to do our part. And she discusses that with them every time. But this is not --

QUESTION: She says it publicly, too. I mean I know – yeah.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right. That this is not just an international effort to support Central Americans in Central America, but it is also the United States doing more at home to get at that aspect of the problem. And so I have to say that conversation, which some have, in the past, called sort of the blame game, the Secretary believes, and her counterparts do to, that we really have moved beyond that. The Administration’s efforts on demand reduction, efforts to increase that budget, numbers that are going down to 30-year lows in many areas in the United States, really does, I think, help change the conversation away from that dynamic, because we are, in fact, sort of walking the walk as well as talking the talk. And so we tend in these meetings – and the Secretary does at the beginning – talk about the practical cooperative steps that we can take transnationally, and sometimes that’s cooperation with the United States on both sides of the border as well as in Central America in a way that’s less present, I think, than (inaudible).

QUESTION: In the discourse. That’s the thing. And then one other thing – sorry, I’m so tired.


QUESTION: Yeah. Well, you’re doing – performing better than I am.


QUESTION: Forgive me, it’ll come through yet.

MODERATOR: Any other questions --


MODERATOR: -- while Arshad gets his thoughts together? No?

And as you know, the Secretary is also having two bilateral meetings in [Senior State Department Official]’s region today, so if we have interesting things to report from that, we will put it out on paper, on background, later this afternoon.

QUESTION: I’ve gotten over my moment.

MODERATOR: Go ahead, Arshad.

QUESTION: Money – look, you’re in a really austere budgetary environment. To what extent have you perceived – and maybe not at all, frankly – but any desire on the Hill, where they’re scouring every line item to cut back on Merida, to cut back on any of this money? Or are you confident that you’re going to get this from FY 2012, that you’re going to be able to maintain the funding that you now have?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’m always confident. I think in the conversations that I have had, that the Secretary has had, that many others have had with leadership in the committees on the Hill and others who are very interested in this issue, I have to say that the area of citizen security is not one that comes up as an area that folks really want to cut.

We are making sure, obviously, that what we send forward to Congress is as lean as possible. It’s – one of the reasons for this kind of an effort in the international community, quite frankly, is to make sure we’re all maximizing resources and that we know exactly what everybody else is doing, because if there are areas that there’s a lot of overlap, then we’ll step back if others are doing it or doing it better. We’ve seen the Columbians partner in Central America in ways that are very effective and efficient, and frankly less costly than having U.S. direct assistance.

So that is – I mean, part of the reason you do sort of coordinate more aggressively, if you will, is the lean budgetary times. But I think most of our contacts on the Hill have supported the fact that this is very directly in the U.S. interests, it is really an issue of shared responsibility, that we can’t fight it alone, nor can the countries of Central America. And there, I think, is a little bit less – let me put it in the positive. There’s considerably more support for these kinds of programs than there might be in other areas. But obviously, we’re going to continue to scrub the books all the time.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MODERATOR: Good? Thanks very much.

PRN: 2011/1583