Evidence Based Multilateral Engagement
Notes for the Remarks by the OAS Secretary for Multinational Security
George Washington University, Washington D.C.
May 12, 2011
- Despite the weak economic outlook the world is facing, Latin America and the Caribbean is considered today one of the fastest growing regions in the world. According to the ECLAC, Latin America absorbs more than $362.9 billion in exports from around the world. More than 56.4% of the U.S.’s total exports to all destinations and according to an announcement from Export Development Canada (EDC), a 40 percent increase in its Latin American business volumes in 2010, have reached a record of CAD 10 billion in March 2011. Clearly, Latin America is a big enough market for the northern tier of the hemisphere to be concerned about.
- Unfortunately, as Latin America has expanded economically, the region has also witnessed an increase in crime and violence. Today, the effects of crime are a threat to the region’s economic development, to the stability of the states, to the strengthening of democracy and the rule of law. Most importantly, heightened crime threatens the safety and well-being of our citizens .
- The activity of perpetrators of crime and violence has direct impact on the physical integrity, health, peace, and property of others. But it does not end there: the threat of crime and violence, the drug problem being one of its main expressions, is, in many countries of the region, directly impacting major economic areas, such as tourism and agricultural production. The activity of perpetrators of crime and violence has also come to jeopardize state control of entire geographic areas in some of our countries, has sought to undermine democratic institutional processes, and has ongoing impact as a source of corruption in public and private institutions.
- In Latin America and the Caribbean, crime and violence is the leading cause of death. In a recent study, Latinobarómetro, stated that “the population of Latin America and the Caribbean believe that protection against crime is the part of democracy that is less guaranteed.” The survey results reflect a significant change in the issues of concern to Latin Americans. For nearly a decade, unemployment was seen as the main concern of Latin Americans. Today crime and violence destroy more homes than any economic crisis we have witnessed.
- Chief responsibility for this situation may be attributed to organized crime. In areas marked by weak law enforcement, and high rates of poverty and corruption, criminal organizations have flourished. Today, gang activity has become transnational Criminal activity is no longer concentrated within gang circles, as networks expand across national and international borders. Ordinary citizens are now acutely aware of gang presence, as retribution killings and territorial wars are fought in their neighborhoods. This isn’t exclusive to Latin America – it is estimated that Mexican cartels alone, have representatives in more than 230 cities across the United States.
- These criminal gangs are not just trafficking drugs, but engaging in extortion, intimidation, money laundering, theft, assault, kidnapping, smuggling of migrants, human trafficking (largely women and children) and murder. Their activity is one of the main reasons why, in 2010, malicious homicide figures stood at over 130,000 in Latin America and the Caribbean, with nearly 200 million victims of crime, nearly a third of all inhabitants of the region. Almost two thirds of the world’s kidnappings are perpetrated in the Americas, and a homicide occurs there every three minutes. Although the Americas have only 8% of the world’s population, 50% of all homicides by firearm are perpetrated there.
- Therefore, even though organized crime not as apparent in North America, criminal activity taking place elsewhere in the hemisphere is understood as an important security concern and a major focus for investment.
- “It takes a network to beat a network”. In the face of this phenomenon, government agencies and law enforcement officials have come together to discuss strategies and new approaches to addressing this growing threat. As a leading regional organization for the western hemisphere, the OAS serves as headquarters, technical secretariat, or coordinator for the Hemisphere’s most important political and technical forums in the security area. I wish to make special mention of the processes associated with the Meeting of Ministers of Justice or Other Ministers or Attorneys General of the Americas, and the Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Public Security in the Americas. These permanent discussion and decision-making forums enable the highest law enforcement and public security authorities of our Hemisphere to identify the most profound causes of the phenomenon of crime and violence in the region and to build consensus and generate coordinated actions to address it.
- It must be mentioned that the central theme of the forty-first regular session of the General Assembly of our Organization, to be held this year in El Salvador, will be Citizen Security. At that meeting, the ministers of foreign affairs of the 33 states now comprising the OAS will review issues related to combating and preventing crime and violence; victim assistance; and rehabilitation and social reintegration of offenders.
- Besides, to support the states of the Americas in meeting the challenge of crime and violence, in 2005 the OAS General Secretariat created the Secretariat for Multidimensional Security. This Secretariat, through the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission, and the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism and its Department of Public Security, provides technical and legal assistance to OAS member states and promotes and facilitates cooperation among them in security-related areas.
- My Message about the problem we are dealing with is based on my experience as Secretary of Multidimensional Security. The security solutions we propose are based on the concept of “smart security”. This concept denotes that every action of the Secretariat will be based upon
a) The objective and evidence-based identification of an issue and gaps
b) Proposals that take into account the specific needs and the national and regional capacity of beneficiaries to ensure the sustainability of the project
c) Positive experiences of accomplishments from previous projects
d) A multidimensional approach that ensures a systematic response to the problem(s)
e) Evaluation of results.
- On the other hand, we assume that the main problem that has to be attended are five:
a) Harmonization of Laws on Security
b) Coordination of Law Enforcement
c) Harmonization of Instruments for the Prevention of Crime and Violence
d) Harmonization of Instruments for the Assistance and the Rehabilitation of Victims of Crime, Violence and Drug Dependency
e) Harmonization of Instruments for Social Reintegration and Recidivism Prevention of Convicted Felons Released from Prison
- The orientation I have referred, and the result of our efforts to address crime and violence phenomena, have lead the Organization of American States to the position of lead strategic player in the fight against crime, violence, and insecurity in the hemisphere.