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Diplomacy in Action

Remarks at the Inaugural Caribbean-U.S. Security Cooperation Dialogue

Arturo Valenzuela
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs
Loy Henderson Auditorium, Department of State
Washington, DC
May 27, 2010


ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Good morning. I’m Arturo Valenzuela, and I’m delighted to welcome you today to this Inaugural Caribbean-United States Security Cooperation Dialogue. On behalf of the U.S. government, we’re pleased to have you here at the Department of State. And thank you for representing your governments and organizations at this important event.

This dialogue comes one year after President Obama first met with leaders from the hemisphere in Port of Spain at the Fifth Summit of the Americas. At the meeting, he announced his intent to request $45 million in new funding for the Caribbean as an investment toward the shared safety of our citizens. He charged the U.S. government with initiating a process of consultation with your governments and organizations. After a year of preparation, I’m happy to join you today in this conversation to discuss the many shared challenges that we face, to deepen our partnership, and to reaffirm our commitment to the belief that it is only through cooperation and shared responsibility that we can successfully address the security challenges that confront us throughout the region.

And I’m pleased to announce that, in fact, the U.S. government is committing the funding that the President announced towards this partnership. But funding alone is insufficient to achieve our shared strategic priorities. We must also commit to an action-oriented process to develop a regional program to combat the transnational threats in the region.

This meeting represents an important step in our efforts to combat growing security threats. It is the formal beginning of a process of coordinating our resources towards building a safer society for all our people. As President Obama stated before the summit, the United States will strongly support respect for the rule of law, better law enforcement, and stronger judicial institutions. Security must be advanced through our commitment to partner with those who are courageously battling drug cartels, gangs, and other criminal networks throughout the Americas. And I take note of the challenges that Jamaica is facing as we speak.

Partnerships and cooperation will be critical to the achievement of our common goals. This joint effort must also emphasize shared responsibility, successfully require the allocation of adequate resources for enhanced law enforcement and prevention programs. It also will involve undertaking hard judicial reforms that will give states the legal instruments necessary to combat transnational crime. Our endeavors will also involve finding new and innovative ways to collaborate and coordinate collective actions. We must share information better and faster. We have to leverage our individual and unique expertise, assets, and resources much more effectively.

With this in mind, the U.S. recognizes that we cannot reasonably expect to limit the flow of illicit drugs to the United States on a sustainable basis without further reducing domestic demand. Secretary Clinton noted we know very well that the drug traffickers are motivated by the demand for illegal drugs in the United States, that they are armed by the transport of weapons from the United States.

The United States has made some important gains in reducing illegal drug use. Between 2006 and 2008, regular cocaine use dropped by a third for people in the age bracket most prone to using it. And fewer young people are trying cocaine for the first time. We’ve placed great importance on insuring full U.S. interagency support for all of our citizen safety initiatives so our domestic agencies may consider what more can be done here in the U.S. to improve Caribbean safety. The Office of National Drug Control Policy, as you know, has recently announced a very important sort of framework agreement that embodies all of these dimensions that I have referred to.

We recognize the security challenges facing the region. They are non-traditional and transnational. Organized crime, drug trafficking, arms trafficking, violence, trafficking in persons, and terrorism are increasingly threatening the stability of the region. Beyond narrow police and military responses, we must find ways to incorporate the whole range of local, national, and regional institutions, multilateral organizations, and civil society into our efforts to combat rising crime rates. With broader participation, expanded coordination, and partnerships, we will be more capable of combating these threats while maintaining full respect for democratic principles and human rights.

It’s not enough to recognize that violent crime is detrimental to our societies. We must also acknowledge and act to address many of the root causes of violence and crime that afflict us. At the summit, the President also proposed that we must build a new foundation for long-term prosperity. This means bolstering social programs to support economic growth and investment by building capacity of the region’s workforce, private sector, and local institutions.

Without personal safety, fear of crime and violence trumps economic opportunity, exacerbates poverty, and fosters greater social exclusion. We know when security concerns dominate local communities and even whole countries, foreign and local investors also look elsewhere. Without real economic growth and opportunity, communities lack the jobs to offer young people alternatives to joining a gang. And the false appeal of drug trafficking and crime often provides the only tangible substitute for a life of poverty.

Security concerns are increasingly being articulated as the number one concern, as we all know, of the citizens in our region – in the whole hemisphere, in fact. We recognize the interconnectedness of narcotics trafficking, transnational organized crime, terrorism, and other local forms of crime that threaten the security of people, in particular in the Caribbean. We further recognize that transnational crime is linked in a vicious cycle, as I said earlier, to these weak institutions and the lack of social and economic opportunity.

So it’s in this atmosphere and with this knowledge that we come together to discuss how we can work in a spirit of genuine partnership and co-responsibility to defeat the threats posed by the illicit trafficking of drugs and guns, transnational criminal organizations, and associated crime. So with this dialogue, we will have a concrete platform of partnership to fight transnational threats.

Addressing today’s transnational security challenges will require multidimensional responses. It requires national commitments to address security, justice, and opportunity. This means governments and institutions will need to collaborate across ministries to apply all of the elements of national power to these formidable international problems. The good news is that the Caribbean has already begun this work. Together with the Dominican Republic and other international partners, through our combined efforts on the part of foreign ministers, defense and national security ministers, and other appropriate ministers, we can begin a sustained streamlined regional program to address the myriad of challenges we have already recognized.

No single organization and no single country can be relied upon to affect this change singlehandedly. We must consider the role of traditional law enforcement and defense institutions. We must also include organizations that address the social and economic aspects of insecurity. We must bolster education, health, corrections, criminal justice systems to prevent and deter criminal activity. Our intelligence and police, with the support of armed forces, will be in the forefront. But they must be supported by finance, economic ministers, legislative committees, public prosecutors. All are needed and all must be involved for the success of our common efforts.

CARICOM member states have demonstrated the power and potential of democracy to accomplish these goals. I’m also of the opinion that as partners we can establish the diplomatic and political space necessary to foster, again, a genuine dialogue of cooperation, collaboration, mutual commitment to turn today’s challenges into catalysts for building more secure and prosperous futures for our countries.

We are committed to defeating the crime and violence that are plaguing all of us. But none of us, as I said before, can do it alone. To be successful, we must fight together and extend a hand to partners to assist in this fight. Transnational threats require transnational solutions. I look forward to hearing from my counterparts today, from all of you. And I again want to welcome you to Washington, to the State Department, and congratulate you for all the hard work that you have put into this in preparation for this meeting today. I know that we’ve had at least four previous preparatory meetings, and I’m very grateful for the hard work that went into those preparatory meetings.

So without further ado, I will again thank you for coming, and at this particular point I would very much like to invite my colleague, Dr. Errol Cort, the Minister of National Security of Antigua and Barbuda, who will also address you this morning. Thanks very much. (Applause.)

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