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I want to welcome all of you to our third Central American Citizen Security meeting. I’m pleased so many of our partners are here today to review our progress and discuss the path forward. We established this group because we all have an interest in enhancing stability and security across Central America. For the United States, this is very personal. These are our friends and our neighbors and our partners on so many important issues. We count a lot of our own people with origins from Central America. So we wanted to – and I particularly made it a priority – to do everything we could to deal with crime and violence and help people live safer and more prosperous lives.
Where governments have struggled to meet these challenges on their own, we want to build the partnerships that will allow us to do this better together. And since the Groups of Friends first met last June, we’ve seen real progress. In the first six months of this year, versus the first six months of 2011, homicide rates are down 10 percent in Guatemala, 25 percent in Honduras, and 26 percent in El Salvador. In some communities, we are told that the fear of violence is beginning to fade for the first time in many years.
Now, we have a lot more work to do, because still the rates of violence remain too high, rampant crime threatens to undermine citizens’ faith in their governments, and so we have to keep up the momentum. First, we need to double down on efforts that are making police more responsive and more effective. For instance, the United States has funded model police precinct programs in El Salvador and Guatemala. This program provides training and equipment to get local police more involved in their communities, to build trust between citizens and law enforcement, and to target the zones of impunity where criminals operate.
In these three precincts, homicide rates have declined even more than the national average – 35 percent, 40 percent, 50 percent. And we should expand this proven, successful program and other measures that have brought down crime and built up law enforcement, making it both more professional but also, frankly, more connected, more sensitive to the needs of the people in the communities.
Second, we should build on the success of violence prevention programs that target those who are most vulnerable to being recruited by criminal gangs, namely young people and marginalized populations. USAID is at work in 12 high crime areas in El Salvador partnering with civil society, municipal leaders, and businesses to provide education and vocational training for these at-risk groups. And in these communities, the feedback we are getting from residents is that they feel more confident making reports to local authorities, and crime rates have in fact gone down.
Third, we need to maintain the political will that has driven change from within Central American governments and societies themselves. Since last year, Honduras has passed a law permitting the extradition of drug traffickers, and we thank you. Costa Rica has strengthened its police forces and courts. Guatemala has ramped up its efforts to seize drugs and arrest criminals at the border with Mexico. Now we need to be sure that the new laws are enforced and that the new initiatives are given the resources they need to succeed.
Finally, we hope to keep strengthening partnership and collaboration. Donor countries such as ourselves need to continue to coordinate so we focus resources where they’re needed most without duplicating our efforts. Regional governments need to share effective practices and launch joint efforts, because crime, of course, doesn’t stop at borders, and we have to continue to work together.
For our part, the United States is committed to being a strong partner. Our Central American Regional Security Initiative is designed to help make streets safer, disrupt criminal networks, support the development of strong government institutions, bring services to at-risk communities, and promote greater collaboration among the region’s governments, not only within Central America but with Mexico, with Colombia, and beyond.
This year we are providing $135 million for these efforts, which brings our total in the last four years to nearly half a billion dollars. And we think, based on the evidence, this has been money well spent. We are very proud to be partnering with you, because our partnership is not simply about reducing crime. It is about building safe and stable communities that will allow entire societies to thrive and prosper.
So again, I want to thank all of you for your commitment to this effort. I look forward to hearing from people around this table who are on the front lines doing the hard work. And let me now turn to the Nicaraguan Foreign Minister – Minister Santos, welcome – to please provide an update on the efforts that have been made by Central American governments to reduce crime and violence and to engage the international community in supporting the region’s most pressing security challenges.