Good afternoon. I wish to begin by thanking the Department of State and the National Intelligence Council for organizing this Analytic Exchange; it is a pleasure and an honor to be here today.
Throughout my tenure as Secretary of Multidimensional Security, the Organization of American States has been thoroughly involved in the process of building and strengthening institutions to combat insecurity in the Americas. Due to rising rates of violence in the region, we have made Central America a particular focus of our efforts.
A bit of background: the Secretariat for Multidimensional Security was created in 2005 by OAS Secretary General Insulza, in response to the 2003 Declaration on Security in the Americas. It sought to unify a range of disparate security strategies and initiatives into one comprehensive, multidimensional approach with the fundamental goal of safeguarding the lives and livelihoods of the citizens of the Americas.
The Secretariat of Multidimensional Security is composed of a series of political organs, led by three ministerial bodies. The Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Public Security in the Americas (MISPA) aims to establish a regular dialogue between the highest national security authorities of the OAS member states, facilitating more effective cooperation at the national level, promoting technical assistance, and providing a forum for the exchange of knowledge and promising practices. MISPA is complimented by the Meeting of Ministers of Justice or other Ministers or Attorneys General of the Americas (REMJA). REMJA is the premier hemispheric policy and technical forum for the promotion of cooperation among national criminal, penitentiary, and justice systems. To address cooperation in defense and national security, SMS also integrates the Conference of Ministers of Defense of the Americas (CMDA), which serves to coordinate defense strategies at a hemispheric level.
There is also a permanent body of the Permanent Council called the Committee on Hemispheric Security (CHS). This is the body that receives and processes the mandates of the General Assembly, the supreme body of the OAS. The CHS is essentially our accountability link back to the member states.
These political organs work in tandem with SMS’s three technical directorates: the Executive Secretariat of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD), the Executive Secretariat of the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism (CICTE), and the Department of Public Security (DPS). These bodies are charged with the implementation of declarations produced at the ministerial meetings and of resolutions passed by the OAS General Assembly. The directorates have themselves developed a very powerful network of associated political bodies and meetings of practitioners and experts, in areas ranging from money laundering and transnational organized crime to drug demand reduction, cyber security, penitentiary systems, and trafficking of persons and goods.
With the support presented by these political and technical groups, the directorates run a series of ongoing projects ranging from drug demand reduction to cybersecurity technical assistance to landmine destruction and arms control, working both out of Washington and through field offices and missions across the Americas. These projects are sustained and enabled by the input and expertise of the associated political bodies, which serve to multiply the effectiveness of even the least-funded initiatives.
The Secretariat’s diverse activities are united through a common philosophy, which we have termed “smart security.” Smart security dictates that all Secretariat actions entail a) an objective, evidence-based identification of objectives, b) the creation of proposals based on national and regional needs and capabilities, implemented in alliance with all relevant actors, c) a multidimensional focus ensuring systematic problem-solving, and d) a rigorous evaluation of results.
This model requires a comprehensive knowledge of the security systems of OAS member states. To acquire this knowledge, we established a pilot program of security sector diagnostics. We performed diagnostics, by invitation of each government, in El Salvador, Belize, Costa Rica, and Honduras. Each diagnostic was comprehensive, penetrating, and impartial; each concluded with the production of a confidential report which was submitted to the government, analyzing the weaknesses and possible means of fortification of the security system.
Unlike other security sector evaluations, the diagnostics we carry out under smart security focus on the relationship between the various institutions of a security system – between public and private bodies and between government sectors, including the police system, judiciary, and social programs. They aim to identify opportunities to improve inter-sectorial communication and to more effectively coordinate efforts.
The analytic, comprehensive approach espoused in these diagnostics supports a philosophical pillar crucial to smart security: the firm belief in the power of institutions and culture to combat crime and insecurity. The solution to the problem of insecurity is not more security – more police, more troops, harsher anti-crime legislation – but rather more intelligent and more efficient security, security that emphasizes strong, transparent, collaborative institutions and a culture of respect for the rule of law and the responsibilities and rights of citizenship. Security reform must be institution-driven, must be meticulously tailored to the specific needs and capabilities of each national security system, and must be sustainable in both the short- and long-term. It should emphasize effective inter-institutional communication and cooperation at both the national and international levels.
One major area in which we have attempted to apply the principles of smart security is the fight against insecurity in Central America. As you are aware, the last decade has seen a dramatic increase in violence in Central America as a result of the growth of transnational organized crime in the region; the number of homicides committed per year in Central America doubled in the years between 2000 and 2010, from 9,486 to 18,401. The percentage of homicides committed with firearms also increased over this period, nearly tripling in Honduras from 2005 to 2010. This increase in violence, furthermore, disproportionately affected young people – 29% of homicide victims in Central America are between 15 and 24 years old.
To address this complex and increasingly difficult problem, we looked for relevant precedents. To a certain extent, this was an impossible task. The combination of institutional weaknesses and uniquely powerful criminal organizations was entirely without precedent in the region; any attempt to solve this problem would necessarily be largely without the guidance of experience. Two programs, however, seemed worth seriously consulting – the MAPP (Mission of Support of the Peace Process, implemented by the OAS) in Colombia and CICIG (International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala), created by the United Nations. Both programs had addressed problems similar to those currently plaguing the countries of Central America, from civil violence and organized crime to corruption and weak judicial and law-enforcement institutions; both had achieved significant success. After a careful examination of both programs and their applicability to the regional context of Central America, we created an initiative called the “Mission of Support for Central American Security,” or MAS Centroamerica.
MAS Centroamerica is one of few programs in the Secretariat with an exclusively regional focus. Implemented in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, MAS “aims to articulate a program of cooperation to fortify the security institutions of these states, to facilitate the social reintegration of persons who leave crime- and violence-generating groups, to support the regeneration of the social fabric of communities affected by crime and violence, and to facilitate the creation of platforms for collaboration between these four states to confront transnational problems.” This mission is closely aligned with the policies and priorities of the Central American Integration System (SICA).
Under the aegis of MAS Centroamerica, we began working in El Salvador. In June 2011, the annual General Assembly of the OAS was held in San Salvador. The theme of the Assembly, chosen by the host state, was “Citizen Security in the Americas.” Before the event, we had entered in discussion with the Salvadoran government about the possibility of carrying out a security sector diagnostic in the country. This was no small commitment on the part of the government – security sector diagnostics are thorough, invasive processes. El Salvador would be the first country to receive one. During the Assembly, nevertheless, the government of El Salvador formally and publicly requested a diagnostic. After some obstacles in implementation – Manuel Melgar, the Minister of Justice and Public Security, resigned in early November, which precipitated a reorganization of the ministry and held up the evaluation process – we concluded the diagnostic, and formally submitted the report to the government at the end of 2011.
In February 2012, the new Minister of Justice and Public Security, David Munguia Payes, invited me to attend a meeting of the security ministries of the countries of the Northern Triangle: El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The declaration that resulted from this meeting emphasized the need for comprehensive reform to Central American security systems and underlined the importance of international cooperation to combat insecurity, conclusions that dovetailed well with the ideals of the OAS and of smart security.
At the same time, Monsignor Fabio Colindres, the Military Bishop of El Salvador, and Raul Mijango, a lawyer and ex-guerrilla, arrived at an agreement in talks with the two most powerful gangs in the country. The Calle 18 and Mara Salvatrucha gangs were heavily entrenched in violent conflict over territory and resources, contributing significantly to skyrocketing levels of violence in El Salvador. Negotiating in secret with the incarcerated gang leaders, however, Colindres and Mijango surprised the nation with an unexpected but very welcome announcement: the two gangs had signed a truce. In the following days and weeks, the national homicide rate plummeted from 16 homicides per day to 5. It has remained approximately at this level to date; the truce has held.
In April, after a year of close cooperation with the government of El Salvador, I formally offered the services of the OAS and of the Secretariat for Multidimensional Security to Minister Munguia Payes. It was clear that international support would be crucial both to sustain the truce and to strengthen the government’s attempts to reform the national security system. I went to visit the incarcerated gang leaders, and they requested, in dialogue with Mijango, Colindres, and representatives of the government, that the OAS serve as the “guarantor” of the peace process. With the approval and on behalf of the Secretary General, I accepted this charge.
In early May, Monsignor Colindres came to Washington. He met with various OAS directors and representatives of the State Department, and he gave an interview to CNN to raise public awareness of the situation in El Salvador. The following month, the official spokesmen of the two gangs sent the government a “Proposal for the Recuperation of Social Peace in El Salvador.” This document proposed that the Secretary General of the OAS act as “a [guarantor], [integrating] actors from the international community” and assuring that all parties involved continue to comply with the terms of the truce. On July 12, the Secretary General and I went to El Salvador; he met with Monsignor Colindres, President Mauricio Funes, and Minister Munguia Payes, and they signed an agreement formally specifying the role of the OAS as guarantor of the peace process.
Over the summer, we oversaw the creation of a Technical Committee to lead the process and to coordinate between the OAS, the government, civil society, and the gangs. This Technical Committee, integrating all of these stakeholders, has worked to organize reform efforts and reconcile interests, and has done so with success. The spokesmen of the two gangs sent us a letter on September 24, in which they expressed their gratitude toward both the OAS and the Technical Committee. To further concrete the OAS’ commitment to the peace process, last month we appointed a permanent OAS representative on the ground to support the actions of the Technical Committee.
Just this week, the gang spokesmen accepted a proposal presented by the truce mediators to establish “zones of peace.” These “zones of peace” will be municipal areas free of gang assault, kidnapping, and extortion, areas with free movement of persons and facilitating the voluntary surrender of weapons. Through a press release, the spokesmen expressed their gratitude at having been so heavily involved in the political peace process. They also submitted a confidential list of the first 10 municipalities to be converted into “zones of peace,” and announced the coordination of a new disarmament event in the near future.
As a Secretariat, we are in the process of organizing and funding a series of initiatives to ensure the sustainment of the truce and reduce violence and insecurity, initiatives that are nearing implementation. Several such programs – created by the Salvadoran government, NGOs, and various bodies of the OAS – already exist. With time, funds, and coordination, I believe that these and our forthcoming projects can guarantee a stable and sustainable peace process.
In addition to our work in El Salvador, SMS has had the chance to substantially engage the problem of security sector reform in Honduras. Following the successful conclusion of a diagnostic in Honduras, the Secretariat and the Honduran government created a coordinating body to implement the recommendations of the diagnostic report. This body, the “Commission to Reform Public Security in Honduras,” consists of five commissioners: three Honduran officials, a Chilean official, and me. Appointed with the support of the Honduran government, we meet frequently and work to coordinate between the government and the international community to design, plan, and certify the process of comprehensive public security reform in the country. Much as in the case of El Salvador, the OAS and our international partners are in the process of developing and funding correctional, judicial, and law enforcement sector reform projects in Honduras.
It is my firm belief that international institutions like the OAS have a critical role to play in the ongoing struggle against insecurity in Central America. Such institutions are uniquely positioned to bring together the stakeholders invested in achieving sustainable security, and uniquely able to collaborate with the state to diagnose capacity gaps and implement reform of security institutions. I believe that our experiences in El Salvador and Honduras have shown and will show that concerted, politically courageous efforts by the state and by international organizations can effectively and sustainably improve national and regional security in Central America.