In 2013, the Department of State partnered with the Foundation for the Autonomy and Development of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua (FADCANIC) to implement a one-year pilot project focusing on the four most dangerous neighborhoods of Nicaragua’s North Atlantic Autonomous Region. The remote, sparsely populated communities of this region of Nicaragua are especially vulnerable to transnational organized criminal groups, creating rising instances of drug and human trafficking, and youth who are increasingly both the victims and perpetrators of drug-related crime. The area’s homicide rate is three times the Nicaraguan average.
By treating drugs, alcohol, and domestic violence as public health issues, the “Safe and Healthy Communities” project provided alternative outlets for youth offenders and those at risk from criminal activity, supporting after-school sports and art activities and working to bring together youth from rival gangs. FADCANIC provided community security training to 1,518 people in the area, organized neighborhood watch groups and clean-up events, provided counseling sessions for parents, and formed 42 sports teams which included 804 local youth.
After the project ended, a local police chief sent a letter to FADCANIC reporting that his town had seen a decrease in reported criminal activity from 15-17 reports per day to only one report every nine days.
To follow up on the success of FADCANIC’s pilot project and other civil society partnerships built in recent years, INL provided $3.7 million in 2013 to deepen this engagement.
Using INL funding, FADCANIC will build off of its newfound experience with the impact rising violence and drug use has on Atlantic Coast families to develop a mass media campaign reaching communities throughout the North and South Autonomous Atlantic Regions.
Meanwhile, U.S. NGO Project Concern International (PCI) and Nicaragua’s Institute for Public Policy and Strategic Studies (IEEPP) will both work with local educational institutions, the University of the Autonomous Regions of the Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast (URRACAN) and the Bluefields Indian and Caribbean University (BICU) to provide expanded community security training and youth leadership to strengthen local populations struggling to deal with rising crime and violence. Meanwhile, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and its Nicaraguan partner Casa-Nica will develop drug demand reduction curricula for cities in Nicaragua’s central region, including the capital.
So far in 2014, PCI has begun enlisting local youth to do a comprehensive mapping exercise and survey of risks facing the North Atlantic region, enlisting local expertise rather than relying only on outside experts. This collaborative approach will not only lead to more nuanced and accurate information about the risks facing these communities, but will promote the same local ownership of the project that proved such a success to FADCANIC’s efforts last year. Similarly, FADCANIC, now working directly with INL, is enlisting local youth in the Atlantic Coast to star in upcoming radio and television public service announcements raising awareness of the toll drugs and criminal activity can take on families.
Building upon the success shown last year through FADCANIC’s “Safe and Healthy Communities,” INL and U.S. Embassy Managua will continue to leverage the promising human capital of Nicaragua to strengthen some of the country’s most vulnerable communities.
On December 19, 2013, 33 newly trained Border Police officers from the Congolese National Police (PNC) graduated from a two-week training course. The officers received training that emphasized the fundamental, practical skills of seamanship, boat maintenance, basic policing, and swimming. The training was executed through the collaborative efforts of INL, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and the UN’s Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) Uruguayan Riverine Unit (part of the MONUSCO peacekeeping force in eastern Congo). The 33 fully trained officers will form three Lake Police Units, who will be the first to patrol Congo’s Great Lakes region.
The PNC began as a merger of the former Civil Guard and Gendarmerie. In December 2012, the DRC issued a five-year reform plan to reform and professionalize the now-civilian police force. The Border Police and the Lake Units are part of this effort to create a civilian law enforcement that can maintain public security, respect human rights, and serve the community.
During the graduation ceremony, the Governor of South Kivu, the Commissioner of the Border Police, and Embassy Kinshasa’s INL Director Mark Hove provided remarks and presented certificates to the graduates. According to Hove, the training, technical assistance, and equipment “represents one small part of the United States’ overall effort to support law enforcement reform in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and development of a community-oriented police.”
INL funded and monitored the project, and also supported the refurbishment of three boats for the Border Police Units. In addition to their regular duties, MONUSCO’s Uruguayan Riverine Unit, led by Captain Sergio Bique, developed the training materials and conducted the training. Often the Uruguayans spent a full shift patrolling one of the Great Lakes, and then returned to conduct training. IOM assisted with the development of the curriculum, managed training logistics, and oversaw the refurbishing of three boats.
The PNC Lake Units recently demonstrated their newly-acquired skills for U.S. Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region and the DRC Russell Feingold and U.S Ambassador James Swan, during the Special Envoy’s most recent visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. INL is currently in discussions with the PNC and IOM about providing training, technical assistance, and equipment to form additional Lake Units for the DRC’s borders on the Great Lakes.
On March 26, the INL section at U.S. Embassy Podgorica, in coordination with the Judicial Training Center of Montenegro (JTC), hosted a two-day course on international legal assistance and combatting transnational organized crime. Held in Ulcinj, a city located on the border with Albania, the workshop brought together Montenegrin and Albanian judges, prosecutors, police officers, and international cooperation officials for an exchange of best practices.
The training offered officials from both countries an opportunity to discuss requests for international legal assistance between their countries and ways to improve them. U.S. Department of Justice officials, as well as the INL Podgorica Resident Legal Advisor Erik Larson, led breakout sessions. The U.S. experts provided guidance on how nations can effectively cooperate with each other, as well as guidance on procedures for requesting legal assistance from the United States. U.S. experts from the International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP) lead a breakout session where they talked about police-to-police cooperation across borders.
Other sessions focused on working with NGOs. A local NGO, which had received an INL grant, discussed experiences and practices on cooperating with criminal justice stakeholders in Ulcinj.
Bilateral meetings on the margins of this event concluded with the commitment of the Montenegrin and Albanian prosecutors from the bordering municipalities to hold a meeting this fall. Criminal activities in both countries require frequent cooperation between these prosecutors’ Offices. With facilitation from INL, prosecutors will meet to discuss joint strategies in combating these crimes, as well as to improve communication in an effort to expedite the exchange of information.
Assistant Secretary Brownfield and Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Director Steven McCraw signed a new partnership agreement at a ceremony in Austin on March 27. Under the new partnership agreement, the Department of State will tap into Texas DPS’ extensive experience in border law enforcement issues, police and leadership training, criminal investigative methods, and other law enforcement disciplines. The Department of State has partnerships such as this one with more than 70 state, county, and municipal criminal justice entities around the United States that work with INL to build countries’ capacity to fight crime, administer justice, and safeguard the rule of law. While in Austin, Assistant Secretary Brownfield also delivered remarks at the University of Texas Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs on “Drugs, Security, and Latin America: The New Normal for the 21st Century?”