Roberta Jacobson, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs

Publish Date: 
Friday, April 29, 2011

Forward Together/Avanzando Juntos/Avançando Juntos: A Conference Looking at the Changing Politics of the Americas
Monday, April 11th, 2011
Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roberta Jacobson


Thanks to everyone for being here today. And I think it’s probably pretty lousy to be told that you have no breaks in this session. I’m not going to take anything personally; indeed I hope that you take whatever breaks you need. Otherwise, this is going to be more difficult from you all than for me. But I’m delighted to be here and I’m particularly delighted to be here since it was a near thing, and I don’t whether Dan Restrepo mentioned this earlier but obviously all of us were checking our calendars… lot of different ways on Friday in trying to figure out what we could and couldn’t do on Monday if we were actually shut down, but I’m delighted that we got right to the very edge but didn’t jump…at least not this time. I want to talk this morning just a little bit, and I hope I leave plenty of time for questions, about the Citizen Security Partnerships that we’re creating in the hemisphere.  I know that Dan Restrepo and others before me have probably talked a little bit about many things going on in the hemisphere and the President’s trip, but hopefully some of this will be of interest in addition to what they have said already.

This year’s Latinobarómetro, the one that covered 2010, had some very, very interesting trends in it. And one of the most interesting for us was the fact that in nearly every country in the hemisphere, among the one or two top concerns of citizens was citizen safety, security, crime, violence. And so when you look at that throughout the hemisphere, you know that the citizen security partnerships that we are creating respond directly to a priority in the hemisphere, something that people are particularly concerned about, both citizens and their leaders. You’ll also hear in the nomenclature that we use very, very little of the “war on drugs”, it’s on the out list in the Washington Post, and a lot of talk about citizen security partnerships, and there’s a reason for that, because they are two very different things. Surely, citizen security partnerships include the fight against narcotics, trafficking, but we’re really talking about transnational organized crime in a much broader sense. Whether that is gang violence, whether it is common criminal violence, whether it is trafficking in persons…all of these organizations are now transnational and they all recavic on the citizens of the countries they operate in. And so the Obama Administration has responded to that need in the hemisphere, and the desire for partnership with four major initiatives…and they are, and they have begun in different times and are at different stages, so I’m going to run through them real quickly just by name and then talk about two of them in particular.

They are, north to south, the Mérida Initiative in Mexico, Central American Regional Security Initiative in Central America, and now the Central American Citizen Security Partnership that the President talked about in El Salvador; in the Caribbean the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative and in Colombia, what some people might call the grandchild or grandson or daughter of Plan Colombia, the Colombia Strategic Development Initiative. All of these partnerships are based off the priorities of the countries in the hemisphere, not US priorities.

In Mexico, we are in strong support of the Calderón Administration, and the priorities and programs are intensively debated every year, and agreed to by both countries before implementation. In Central America, those countries are undergoing a process of creating national and regional strategies by CECA (The Central American Integration Organization) in recognition of the Central American leaders that a critical priority is driving that strategy. In CBSI in the Caribbean, we are working with various technical working groups and a Secretariat that has been created with the help of CARICOM in Trinidad. And in Colombia we are continuing to support Colombian efforts beyond Plan Colombia where we were in a supporting role from the very start. But one of the things that is critical and consistent throughout these initiatives is the political will and prioritization that these issues have gotten from the leaders and the citizens in each country.

The other thing that is critical and we’ll be talking a lot about in months ahead is sustainability. Obviously everyone who’s watched the budget fight in Washington knows that foreign assistance programs are not the most popular for the American Congress. We hope to be able to sustain programs in years ahead but we don’t know exactly, and I’ll talk a little bit about the budget impact coming up. But regardless or not we are able to sustain programs, it’s critically important that the partner nations, the host countries be able to sustain programs once they begin, that they’d be the programs they want and that once they’re up and running they be taken over by the countries themselves. And that actually implies a lot of decisions that countries have to make including fiscal and tax reform, and dialogue with citizenry. So as we became partners in these initiatives, what are some of the reasons we think we have something to offer in the hemisphere on this subjects? And the first I think is most important is that we are partners because we are confronting the very same issues. There may be differences in emphasis, there may be differences in degrees, there may be differences in response but they are some of the same problems that we wrestle with.

Demand reduction for example, in the use of narcotics…prevention and demand budgets are up significantly in the Obama Administration and despite some increases in drug use in the past year; the overall demand for drugs in the United States has now dropped dramatically over the past three decades. The number of American using illicit drugs today is roughly half the rate it was in the 1970s. There’s also what I call the fallacy of spillover. There’s a great deal of debate in this country about the spillover effect of things going in Mexico. And in particular, the impact that that violence may have along our Southern border. But in fact I call it a fallacy, because we know these issues are present throughout the United States. If you look at the DEA map of where Mexican cartels are operating in the United States, there are more than 230 cities in the United States, impacted by Mexican cartels. And so this is not just a crisis on the border, it’s a crisis that we confront in our cities and throughout the United States. And when you look at things like building prosecutions and investigations, combating corruption within law enforcement agencies and working with communities, including communities who may be resistant or suspicious with working with law enforcement authorities, we are confronting the very same issues as the countries of the region. Not to mention, confronting the period of severe budget constraints. And so we acknowledge that openly and we know that these partnerships make sense because we are both tackling the same issues. But also we know that we need to be adaptable and agile to confront cartels, gangs, other organizations, who are much more agile, much more able to cross borders than governments are used to being. And that’s a significant challenge to all of us who are bureaucrats within government structures.

The anti-crime partnerships in this hemisphere have—at least up to the present and I hope this will continue—garnered very significant bi-partisan support in this country. Again I think there are some arguments over levels of the funding, there may be arguments over emphasis but we have found, beginning with Colombia, through work on Merida in Mexico, and now in our work in Central America and the Caribbean that it is really not a partisan battle. Everyone agrees that these are issues that we must help countries tackle, and that these are issues which have an impact directly on the United States. But these initiatives are at different stages, and each of them needs to be dealt with individually but there needs to be a consistency and coherence across initiatives.
For that reason, I was asked to take on the role of regional security coordinator for the Western Hemisphere as to ensure that are learning the lessons from one program to another and using those lessons across programs, whether they are things that we’ve learned over the last decade in Colombia, things that Mexico is learning and the impact of Mexico’s efforts on its Central American neighbors, or translating those lessons learned into the Caribbean where we know that if success is undertaken along the isthmus we will have increased trafficking through the Caribbean. The final thing I would comment on before talking a little bit about these specific initiatives is just the critical, critical need for outreach for civil society and citizens. Each of these programs has strong government components, strong institution-building that takes a significant amount of time but law enforcement and judicial institutions, institutions of government know that without partnership with citizens and civil society, none of their efforts can work. And so that is one of the biggest challenges we face and those, when we talk about civil society, we mean not just the non-governmental organizations and non-profit sector but we also mean the business community.

I’m not going to talk too much about budgets right now because there are more unknowns than knowns. And that is to say that even while we’ll actually go to Congress this week and talk a little bit about the FY12 budget and the request level the Administration has made, we have no idea exactly what it’s in the budget for FY11 for these individual programs, and if anyone knows more than I do I would be happy to listen because we‘re still figuring out what’s in there and what it means to us.

But let me talk briefly about two of the initiatives in Mexico and in Central America, which I think are in very exciting stages right now. In Mexico, the Merida initiative began in 2008 and I would tell you that although we have completed the initial commitment of 1.4 billion dollars in assistance to Mexico, no one in the Administration thinks that initiative is over. And so requests have continued for the Merida Initiative to be used in what are now referred to as the four pillars, which you’ve probably heard about, which are: disrupting and dismantling the drug trafficking organizations, building strong institutions and the rule of law, a 21st Century Border and strong and resilient communities. Assistance in general is shifting now from having been frontloaded with some heavy equipment to a package that is much more focused now on training and technical assistance, capacity building in areas where we think we can add value and where others can add value, so just Colombia, Canada and others. And I would tell you honestly that at this point, progress is uneven. There has been very strong progress, clearly, in dismantling some of the drug trafficking organizations, high value targets and leaders of organizations, who’ve been captured in the last three years. But there is less progress, and it is harder in many respects to work on pillars two and four—institution building and the resilient and strong communities—harder because those things naturally take more time, harder because the results of work in those areas are not as obvious as quickly. And so I would argue that that’s where we need to focus our attention now even recognizing that those things take longer, they’re not as, shall we say, politically satisfying for front page news as some other efforts may be, but they are critically important for the whole. There’s been a great deal of development at the level of the federal police, greater education, more courses on human rights, anti-corruption efforts to vet officers coming in and moving up through the process…but we know that judicial reform is another area that is exceptionally difficult to tackle and will take a long time but is also underway in Mexico with many of the states moving ahead as well. And finally, efforts with the community I think are underway starting in Juarez where many have noted where some of the most difficult levels of violence are being confronted, for our part we are trying to do what we can to support President Calderón’s initiative in Juarez called “Todos Somos Juárez” to see what we can do to be helpful in that area.

On Central America, I think all us recognize that as things, the transnational organizations,  criminal organizations were under more pressure in Mexico, there would be impact in Central America and clearly those impacts are being felt, especially in the northern three countries, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. And a couple of months ago, our Secretary asked us if we could refocus our efforts on Central America, step up those efforts and o more. And I think what we found was that there were really two efforts going on at the same time and we linked them up. One was our effort to look at what we were doing in Central America and how we could do better, how could we do more, and how could we do better. But at the same time, leaders of the region were frankly tackling the fact that crime was becoming the number one problem for their citizens as well, and therefore the number one issue that governments had to respond to. And so we’re working together in a number of different areas.

CECA as I mentioned before, which is planning to have a major conference in Guatemala in June, with the IDB, which is in support of that conference and in support of pulling together a lot of the data on these issues, and help us to do the donor coordination that’s necessary. There are lots of donors active in Central America, all of us don’t know always what the other is doing and that’s critical to making the best use of our funds, but just as important and the President talked about this in El Salvador, are to ensure that all of the partners are doing what they know how to do best, and those partners really among them are the international organizations such as the IDB, especially partners like the EU, Colombia, Mexico, Canada, Spain and other organizations. And I think that it’s critical that we each bring to the table that part of this process, whether it is on the law enforcement side, on the judicial or institution building side or on community outreach, that we feel we can do best.

Ultimately, however, unless there are reforms and greater funding for these initiatives by host countries, they are doomed, and that is critically important as we confront this challenge and as we prepare for the June meeting. We are also focusing on understanding the linkages between socio-economic efforts and the crime issues, whether they are in prevention, in demand reduction, in opportunities for especially young men to avoid the lure of crime and that’s a critical feature of the programs we are looking at in Central America and in the Caribbean. So let me just close that by saying that I don’t think that anyone should come before you and say that this is a battle that can be one conclusively by eliminating organized crime in any country, including our own. However, victory does not necessarily mean elimination of that crime but it means reducing the impact of transnational crime to one that can be handled by law enforcement and judicial systems. It means government institutions that are strong and clean enough to gain the confidence of their citizenry, respond to the threat, and police their own internally…and it means communities that pull together to resist the threat, reject violence and work in partnership with state, local and national governments. And those partnerships need to be ones that are deep and institutional; that are not dependent on individual leaders or a particular moment but survive transitions in government.

Finally, I would note that the victory also has to include comprehensive immigration reform in the United States, something that the President has mentioned often, because that is the only way that ultimately along with demand reduction and other ways of going after transnational criminal organizations, we can ensure that young people do not attempt dangerous illegal travel to pursue economic opportunity, but can either find it at home or can be part of orderly and safe and illegal migration options. So let me stop there, and take any questions that you have.