Without further ado, Assistant Secretary Valenzuela.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Thank you. Thank you very much. As you know, the Secretary will be traveling this Wednesday to Guatemala City to attend the meeting of the Central American Integration System, SICA, that is being held in Central America in order to discuss the Central American security strategy that the countries of Central America have come up with through their integration mechanism, which is the SICA mechanism.
They’re doing – they’ve developed this strategy with support from elements of the international community, including the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, and a Group of Friends. The Group of Friends consist of the United States, European Union, Canada, Spain, other countries.
This has been a long-going process where we in the international community have tried to focus much more on the severe challenges that Central America faces and, as they develop their own strategy, see how we can more effectively support that strategy. And we’re doing so not only with our bilateral assistance. As you know, the President went in March to El Salvador. He mentioned then that he wanted to extend a security partnership to Central America. But this is a broad, integrated strategy that we’re contemplating together with our other international partners.
There will be a meeting of the Group of Friends of Central America at the time that we develop during the meeting. And by the way, the friends also include Mexico and Colombia, and both the presidents of Mexico and Colombia will be attending, as will be, for example, the foreign minister from Chile, from Spain, and others.
At the – after the conclusion of this meeting, the Secretary will go to Jamaica, and in Jamaica she will be meeting with the Caribbean foreign ministers. This will be a follow-up to her trip last year, where she met also with the Caribbean foreign ministers in Barbados, where the United States also indicated to the Caribbean states the commitment of the United States to the Caribbean security strategies through the Caribbean Basin Security Initiatives.
In these discussions, the Secretary will also be focusing on the issue of shared responsibility, which is, in fact, what the United States is doing in both Central America and the Caribbean. The Secretary has made clear in her statements that the United States stands ready to work with the countries of Central America and the Caribbean. And at the same time, we’re looking to how the Central Americans, through their own individual country processes as well as through the – through their integration mechanisms address their own responsibilities in this case, which is to increase additional resources internally, strengthen their budgets and that kind of thing, and work much more effectively in developing the security strategy.
I’ll stop there and ask my colleague from INL, Bill Brownfield, if he has anything to add with respect to particularly our own assistance on security matters. Mind you, this is an integrated strategy. It touches on security but it also touches on many other aspects of it. We understand that the fundamental challenges of security in Central America are not just questions of criminal organizations and things like that, but it’s also strengthening judicial institutions, training police, but ultimately, also it’s about strengthening societies through development, through addressing things like youth at risk and so on. So this is a whole-of-government response. AID plays an important role as well.
But I’ll stop there and see whether Bill could add something to what I just said.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BROWNFIELD: Oh, surely something, Arturo. I am Bill Brownfield. I do the State Department’s part of drugs, law enforcement, and rule of law. We oppose the first one and support the second two.
If you hear a loud rumbling, do not be alarmed; I have not had anything to eat since breakfast at 5:30 this morning. It could be my stomach. Alternatively, I arrived from Europe just last night. I am suffering jetlag. It could be me snoring while I am talking to you.
I have very little to add to what Arturo said by way of starting this conversation other than to note our reasoning process as we built our part of the President’s announced Central America Citizen Security Partnership from his visit to Central America in April, if I recall correctly.
Our reasoning went along the following lines. There are two basic institutions that are at this point attacking Central America and, through Central America, the United States of America as well as all other countries in the hemisphere. Those are, in essence, organized gangs and narcotics trafficking. The two obviously overlap to a very considerable extent. Those two institutions take advantage of certain other realities in the region, realities such as porous borders, culture of violence, weak institutions, elites that are reluctant to dedicate their own resources to support these sorts of programs, weak corrections systems, et cetera.
Our approach, then, is an attempt to address those weak elements in the regional system as a way to attack the ultimate organizations that are the cause of the problems, and that is the gangs and the narcotics trafficking organizations. This approach takes into account the rather logical reality that as we have dedicated a vast amount of resources over the last 11 years to our efforts in Colombia through the so-called Plan Colombia, and a vast number of resources over the past three years to the situation in Mexico through the Merida Initiative, the logic is those who are affected by those efforts have focused their effort, their attention, and their resources in Central America. And if we do not address the Central America issue as well in a comprehensive and coherent manner, as Assistant Secretary Valenzuela suggested – that it’s not just law enforcement, not just drugs, but is also development, it is also security, it is also institution building – then we are merely moving the problem around the chessboard as opposed to addressing the problem at its fundamental core.
That is what I have by way of addition, and I now turn this over to Heide.
MS. FULTON: At this time, we’ll be up for a few questions.
QUESTION: Mr. Brownfield, I would like to ask you how serious do you think is becoming the problem of insecurity in Central America, especially in Guatemala, due to the offensive of the Mexican cartels? And how important do you think is that the U.S. – Mexico maybe with the support of the U.S. and Guatemala, build a stronger and more safely border between Mexico and Guatemala to stop the crime?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BROWNFIELD: Sure. And Arturo has a right to jump into this as well, of course, whenever he might wish.
As to your first question, how serious is the security problem, I think we can literally quote every government in the region, all seven of them – Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. Each and every one has stated publicly and for the record that security – and specifically security from gangs and security from narcotics trafficking organizations – is one of the most important issues that they are confronting today.
Guatemala itself – your second question – obviously is, in terms of population, the largest country in Central America. In terms of its geographic location, it shares the largest and longest border with Mexico of any country in Central America. And if you accept as your starting premise that much of what is happening in Mexico has an impact on Central America as well, Guatemala is an essential part of that problem and therefore must be an essential part of the solution.
My own suggestion to you is we have not been asleep for the last three or four years. We have a fairly ambitious program of a bilateral nature with Guatemala, and what this SICA regional approach is designed to do is to take these seven individual bilateral programs and make them work together in a regional and comprehensive and coherent manner.
QUESTION: Can I just add one more thing? Do you think the brutal violence that we are seeing in Mexico can go to – can expand to Guatemala and some other Central American countries? And also, anything – you are going to travel to Mexico on the 22nd with Mr. Galagoski (ph). Can you tell us something about that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BROWNFIELD: Ha. First – (laughter) – I will answer your second question first, and I will tell you that despite all appearances to the contrary, I cannot violate Newton’s Law. I cannot be in two different places at the same time. And because and since I will be joining the Secretary of State in Guatemala on the 22nd of June, I therefore logically will not be in Mexico City at that same time. My deputy, Mr. Brian Nichols, will be. And he will be the lead State Department representative at the Demand Reduction conference hosted by the Government of Mexico at that time.
How serious is the violence that has penetrated Central America? Once again, I think we can quote the seven governments of Central America, and they describe violence – violence in their communities, violence in their streets, and increasing violence as their foremost concerns right now in terms of law enforcement and crime control. I think we have to take them seriously. I believe they must know what they are talking about. How much of this is an import from other nations, how much is developed internally from within those nations themselves, and how much is an inevitable byproduct of criminal organizations that are competing with one another, I believe those are questions that we will need to answer and assess in the months ahead as this SICA process develops.
MS. FULTON: Okay. Jill?
QUESTION: It’s a very simple question. What is the Secretary going for specifically? Is there a message, is there a program, is it what you’re talking about – coordinating, pushing for all of those countries to coordinate? What’s our lead?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BROWNFIELD: Mr. Valenzuela, I defer to you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: She’s been concerned about the situation in Central America for some time. She’s been pushing for greater engagement on the part of the United States since she began to focus on these issues some time ago. This particular meeting in some ways is the end result of a deep set of evaluations internally within the U.S. Government as to what our response could be. But at the same time, I just want to stress again the fact that this is a meeting that the SICA countries are doing with others from the international community. The response has to be an integrated, but also an international, cooperative response. The presence of the Colombian president, Mexican president, the foreign minister of Spain, for example, are extremely important. The European Union is going to be present.
Altogether, when you add up the support that is provided towards Central America by the United States and these other partners, it’s a substantial amount of funding for Central America. The question is: Is the funding being used strategically in the appropriate way? And that’s what we’re going to be addressing in this meeting. This is a meeting that takes a significant amount of commitment on the part of various different players, donors, and turns it into a far more effective strategically created strategy. That’s the purpose, and she’s going to unveil it from the United States and join her counterparts.
MS. FULTON: Okay. I think we have time for just one more question. Andy.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up on that issue. So I take it this isn’t really a pledging conference in itself. These pledges of aid are all already out there, that she isn’t going to be going with any new packages of either money or material support for Central America beyond what’s already been pledged. Is that correct?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: The various donors have been pledging monies now for some time in different kinds of categories. What we’re trying to do is to readjust the categories. We may be – the Secretary may announce how we’re repackaging some of our own assistance. But you’re right that this is not a donors conference. This is a conference in – where we’re taking substantial amounts of support for Central America and try to convert it into a far more strategic strategy, a strategy that’s being led by the Central Americans, that’s been created by the Central Americans. This is not being imposed by the United States or other donor countries, but we want to be more effective partners in carrying out their expectations, which of course, is also in our fundamental interest. Thanks.
MS. FULTON: Okay. Thank you very much, Assistant Secretaries Valenzuela and Brownfield. We appreciate your time.