Assessing U.S. Efforts in Central America

By Holly Gilbert

There are no quick fixes to the problems faced by Central American countries, but progress is being made, according to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield, who spoke at an event hosted by the Americas Society and Council of the Americas. Brownfield was discussing the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), established by the U.S. State Department in 2008 to address security issues in Central America. CARSI’s mission is to provide enhanced security to communities by working bilaterally with the governments of the seven nations of Central America. Since its inception, it has provided $496 million in assistance to the region. The United States has a vested interest in working with Central American countries to help them address their problems, both to stem the tide of drugs heading to the United States and to create more stable neighbors.

The drug problem in Central America has grown since 2006, when Mexico began its crackdown on drug trafficking. The Mexican effort had the unintended consequence of pushing narcotics trafficking to Central America, according to Transnational Organized Crime in Central America and the Caribbean: A Threat Assessment. The report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) notes that the way that a crackdown in one country affects others in the region highlights the need for coordinated efforts among nations, such as CARSI.

Drug cartels aren’t the only problem. Weapons trafficking, transnational youth gangs, other crimes, and political turmoil all pose a threat to the stability of the region. CARSI is focused not only on countering drug and weapons trafficking but on enhancing institutions like law enforcement and the courts, said Brownfield at the event. CARSI “is designed to build institutions, and it is those institutions that will eventually deliver what the societies and communities and peoples of Central America are demanding in terms of security and safety,” he said.

The bolstering of government institutions, like the judiciary, is critical, says the UNODC report. It notes that “most of the anti-crime efforts in the region have... proven largely ineffective due to weaknesses in the criminal justice system,” including poor investigative processes and judicial corruption, which means that those arrested are rarely convicted.
Brownfield emphasized that Central America’s problems related to drugs and violence can’t be solved overnight. “It takes a long time for systematic security reforms and enhancement of institutions to have an impact,” he said. “We are going at these problems systematically and gradually.”



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