As prepared for delivery
I wish to thank everyone for traveling to Washington today for this important meeting, which represents the first time the nations of Central America, Canada, Mexico, and the United States have come together to discuss our shared concerns and coordinate our collective response to improve citizen security in Central America. We are also pleased our regional partners Colombia and the Dominican Republic could join us today.
Today’s dialogue also comes at a very opportune moment as President Obama prepares to travel to the region to discuss our joint efforts to foster economic growth and improve citizen security in both Mexico and Central America.
The United States has not wavered in its commitment to assisting the countries of Central America as they develop the policies and programs to combat crime and violence and create an improved citizen security environment that will allow for greater economic growth and prosperity for the region’s citizens.
We continue to channel significant citizen security assistance to the region through the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), which has received $496 million in funding between Fiscal Years 2008 - 2012.
While this is a constrained budget environment, with many agencies seeing their budgets cut and programming reduced, our support for CARSI has held steady and in fact we are anticipating robust levels of CARSI spending in future years.
Our Fiscal Year 2012 allocation for CARSI of $135 million represented a 33 percent increase in funding from FY 2011. For FY 2013, we requested an additional $107.5 million and for FY 2014 we requested $161.5 million for CARSI, a 20 percent increase over Fiscal Year 2012 levels.
CARSI represents only a portion of overall U.S. citizen security assistance to the region. We are aligning CARSI programs with other U.S. government citizen security initiatives, including counternarcotics monitoring and detection that the Department of Defense manages and programs to combat child labor and human trafficking that the Department of Labor supports in El Salvador and Guatemala, to ensure that every dollar of U.S. assistance is making an impact in the region.
As we have increased funding for citizen security in Central America through CARSI, we have also supported security programs in the Caribbean through the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), in which the Dominican Republic is a key partner, and in Colombia through the Colombia Strategic Development Initiative. The security of the entire hemisphere is intricately tied together. Our security assistance serves as a link between regions and supports countries throughout the hemisphere in their effort to combat crime and violence.
As we look to expand our commitment to assisting the countries of the region improve security, we believe strongly that reductions in crime and violence are intricately tied to economic growth and development, employment opportunities for young people and those living in marginalized and high-crime communities, and effective delivery of public services, including well trained, equipped, and professional police. Preventing crime and violence only works when we offer economic opportunity and hope to all members of society.
I believe the linkage among economic growth, social development and security is crucial to today’s dialogue, and I hope this connection can serve as a framework for your discussion.
The United States takes a balanced approach to help Central American nations advance citizen security, through capacity building in the rule of law and security sectors, targeted support for law enforcement operations, and perhaps most important, prevention programming. We support a wide range of prevention programs for at-risk youth, such as outreach centers in high-risk communities, youth vocational training, mediation to resolve conflicts before they turn violent, and community policing to rebuild trust between citizens and police.
Central American countries all have a growing population of young people. It is critical that we dedicate significant investments to empower our youth and give them the hope and the tools they need – such as expanded opportunities in education, vocational and technical training, safe places to play, and ultimately meaningful employment – to build peaceful, stable, and prosperous societies.
Our work to promote a regional network of youth activists is now present in all the countries of Central America. This network, the Movement Against Violence in Central America, has been a key advocate for prevention policies that help improve the lives of young people affected by violence in their communities. The Movement has met with Presidents in the region and is recognized for their strong advocacy on behalf of youth.
In 2012, we opened the 100th youth outreach center in Central America. These centers provide life skills and vocational training, and recreational and cultural activities to youth in the most vulnerable neighborhoods in the region. We hope countries will replicate this successful model and double or triple the number of centers over the next five years. In a similar effort in the Dominican Republic, USAID launched the “Alerta Joven” program last year, committing $20 million over the next five years towards increasing educational and vocational opportunities for at-risk youth in the Dominican Republic.
We are also helping countries to draw on lessons from U.S. cities that have succeeded in reducing crime. Last year, we signed an agreement with the City of Los Angeles to pilot programs in Central America based on models that have already helped Los Angeles prevent the most at-risk youth from joining gangs.
Another successful model is Education Partnerships for At-Risk Youth, which leverages public and private resources to create educational and employment opportunities for out-of-school, unemployed, and at-risk youth across the Caribbean, Central America, and South America.
Since 2009, USAID has led this effort, most notably through its support for the A Ganar Alliance, which uses soccer and team sports to help youth find jobs, learn entrepreneurial skills, or return to school.
Public-private alliances are increasingly becoming an important tool in reducing crime and violence. In February, USAID and five Salvadorian foundations announced a partnership to combat citizen insecurity and strengthen municipal responses to crime and violence in 50 dangerous communities in El Salvador. This five-year, $42 million public-private partnership is the largest in USAID history with local partners and ever in Latin America.
U.S. assistance to host nation citizen security programs is making a difference in the lives of Central Americans every day. Homicide rates and public perceptions of crime are showing signs of improvement, particularly in CARSI-funded model precincts. In the Mixco and Villa Nueva model precincts in Guatemala, homicides were down 15 and 18 percent, respectively, between 2011 and 2012. In the Lourdes, Colon, model precinct in El Salvador, we have seen a 50 percent drop in homicides during the same time.
Following a dramatic rise in gang violence in Belize, we worked with the Belizean government to deploy U.S.-based experts to train civil society, law enforcement, and community members in gang mediation and conflict resolution. Since the initial training, individual mediations and community dialogues have continued to grow. In his 2013 New Year address, Prime Minister Dean Barrow announced the planned roll-out of peer mediation to all Southside Belize City high schools, a direct outcome of the program.
Noting a rise in the seizures of precursor chemicals in Central America and a call for the United States to assist in developing precursor control capacities, we have allocated $500,000 to a pilot precursor program in Guatemala and an additional $1.5 million to expand this program regionally. Our team looks forward to today’s discussion on precursor control in the region and hearing your thoughts on how we can better prevent the diversion of precursor chemicals and safely destroy chemicals that have been seized.
The United States, Mexico, and Canada have been key participants in the Group of Friends mechanism, and today offers us an opportunity to engage in a dialogue on how our three countries can work with SICA to improve citizen security and combat transnational organized crime while enhancing the effectiveness of our bilateral assistance programs.
Canada has made significant contributions to Central American security. Canada has provided the region with Integrated Ballistic Imaging System (IBIS) machines that complement firearms interdiction and trafficking support. Canada also continues to coordinate its efforts in Guatemala with the United States in support of the Police Reform Commission, and has consistently provided funding for the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). Canada is also leading the effort on Security Sector Donor Coordination in the Caribbean.
Mexico has also played an important leadership role, co-chairing with the United States and Colombia the Security Experts Group (SEG), which supports SICA’s Combating Crime Pillar. The United States coordinates assistance programs with Mexico in border management, land and maritime interdiction, and control of firearms.
As a partner of Central America, the United States is committed to supporting regional and national cooperation, and to using our diplomatic and political resources as well as our foreign assistance to foster enhanced levels of sustained dialogue, cooperation, and collaboration to turn today’s citizen security challenges into catalysts for building a more secure and prosperous future for Central America.
By focusing on the specific themes of precursor chemicals and best practices in violence prevention, our work here today can address specific, critical issues facing Central America and allow us to further the development of closer collaboration, multilateral action, and coordination among the states of the region and the hemisphere to improve citizen security.
Thank you Mr. Secretary General.