Mr. President, Chargé Thomas, distinguished colleagues. It is an honor to join you at the High Level Dialogue on Institutional Reform.
I look forward to this discussion on issues that are of tremendous importance to both of our countries: combating corruption, improving citizen security, fighting transnational criminal organizations, protecting human rights, and building economic prosperity.
The Administration is the first in U.S. history to make anti-corruption a pillar of our national security strategy. The White House released the first-ever U.S. Strategy on Countering Corruption alongside the first Summit for Democracy last December. The strategy provides a blueprint for how the United States will work domestically and internationally, with governmental and non-governmental partners, to prevent, limit, and respond to corruption and related crimes.
As many of you know, there are good reasons to put anti-corruption at the center of our efforts to promote democracy. Democracy depends fundamentally on institutions and on trust. Institutions perform the fundamental work of democratic government—from faithfully representing the interests of the people to ensuring everyone has fair and equal access to public services. Institutions, in turn, depend on trust—trust between citizens to resolve their differences through the democratic process, rather than outside it, and trust in government to provide effective leadership in times of calm and of crisis.
Corruption is corrosive to both. It siphons resources away from democratic institutions and erodes people’s trust that these institutions will serve them in the first place.
I know that consolidating democracy and combating corruption is also a pillar of your administration, President Abinader. As fellow democracies like the Dominican Republic and the United States work to turn the tide of rising authoritarianism around the world, including right here in Latin America, it is critical that we work together to strengthen our efforts, to learn from one another, and to show the world that democracies can deliver in responding to the demands of their people. Fundamentally, this is what today’s High-Level Dialogue today is about – recognizing the remarkable efforts of your administration to consolidate democracy and fight corruption, and exploring ways in which the United States can support them.
The Dominican Republic has made significant strides since the last High Level Dialogue, cementing its leadership role in Latin America and the Caribbean. Through the dedicated leadership of President Abinader and committed legislators in the Dominican congress, including two represented here today – President Estrella and President Pacheco – the Dominican Republic has taken a step that many did not believe was possible. The passage of civil asset forfeiture legislation earlier this year – in the face of vested interests who deeply opposed it because they were worried it could be used to go after their crime and corruption – represented a major achievement in the Dominican Republic’s fight against corruption and transnational crime. The United States is proud to offer support to your efforts to ensure implementation of the law is transparent, credible, and effective. Just this week we launched the first training for judges and prosecutors – one of many more to come.
But this is no time to rest. While we take inspiration from our success, there is more work to do. We know that in addition to confiscating assets, one of the most effective ways to combat transnational criminal organizations is to dismantle their financial networks. The United States stands ready to share its expertise, provide training, and support for the work of this important body.
We also hope to use today’s dialogue to discuss ways to prioritize passage of new public procurement legislation. This may sound like a technical undertaking, but we shouldn’t forget that public procurement accounts for
around 10 to 15 percent of GDP in many countries, and that fraud in this area typically accounts for some of the biggest corruption cases in the world, including recent cases right here in the Dominican Republic.
Another task we are here today to discuss is police reform, something that is a challenge for both of our countries. Of course, improvement in citizen security cannot happen without a professional, trustworthy, and responsive police force. This isn’t easy to accomplish – we know that all too well in the United States. But we are encouraged by President Abinader’s commitment to citizen security.
The United States will continue to partner with the DNP to increase professionalization, responsiveness, and accountability of the force.
In the coming months we will support President Abinader’s citizen security strategy by:
- Advancing toward international accreditation of the DNP.
- Strengthening community policing and leadership training.
- Working with internal affairs to combat corruption and misconduct. We know accountability is critical to establishing trust in the police. As in every country, where there are reports of misconduct, we urge thorough investigations and accountability.
I want to be clear with some hard truths about the enormity of the challenge that is before us today. The experience in the United States has demonstrated that police reform is not something that can happen overnight. This is a challenge that will take time, hard work, and patience. President Abinader is committed to doing the hard work in this area, and we are ready to support those efforts.
On the subject of law enforcement, I want to encourage the Dominican government to pass an updated trafficking in persons law, that is in line with international standards, and that will make it easier to prosecute those who would prey on children.
The United States has provided technical assistance to update this law, in partnership with the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, and we will continue to do so.
The Dominican government must continue to make progress against human trafficking through effective investigation, prosecution, and conviction of traffickers; protecting the most vulnerable in our communities. This includes providing services to all vulnerable individuals, including Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent.
In conclusion, I want to emphasize again that a critical component of the Biden-Harris administration’s approach to supporting democracy and fighting corruption, is identifying the bright spots in the world where real reforms are happening, and to partner with those countries in supporting them.
That is why I am pleased to announce that the Dominican Republic has been identified as a “bright spot country” and has been selected to receive additional support through the Partnership for Democratic Development, a new USAID program under the Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal – to demonstrate that democracy delivers. This program will unlock additional funding to support the Dominican Republic to initiate reforms and address key development challenges in a variety of sectors, identified in partnership with the United States. A key expectation is that together we will not only define, plan and implement promised reforms, but also commit to working with a broad swath of stakeholders across government, the private sector, and civil society in doing so. We look forward to working with the Dominican Republic to advance this initiative.
In recognition of the Dominican government’s efforts in this area, President Biden also asked the Dominican Republic to assume a leadership role at the Summit for Democracy meeting next year. We were pleased to see President Abinader respond positively to that request and pursue active engagement in the Year of Action leading up to the Summit.
As I mentioned at the outset, the issues we will discuss today are among the most important facing our two countries. Mr. President, I’m looking forward to getting started.