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Security – Prime Focus at Central America Summit with Ban Ki-moon

Danilo Valladares

GUATEMALA CITY, Mar 11 2011 (IPS) - Central America’s security problems will be front and centre at a summit meeting between United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and leaders of seven countries, to be held Mar. 16 in the Guatemalan capital.

Ban is set to arrive in Guatemala Mar. 15 and stay until Mar. 17. During his visit he will also sign an agreement for a two-year extension of the work of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), created in 2006 and due to conclude its mandate in September.

The penetration of the cartels that smuggle drugs from South America to the United States and the rise of organised crime mean the summit of Ban and the presidents of the Central American Integration System (SICA) will focus on security matters, according to experts consulted by IPS.

“The issue must be given priority at the meeting, basically because of the insecurity created by organised crime in our countries, and due to the effects of the Mexican war on drugs,” Roberto Orozco of Nicaragua’s Institute for Strategic Studies and Public Policies (IEEPP) told IPS.

The regional summit meeting was convened at the initiative of Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom, whose country took on the rotating presidency of SICA for six months in early March.

Presidents Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica, Mauricio Funes of El Salvador, Porfirio Lobo of Honduras, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and Ricardo Martinelli of Panama are planning to attend.

Also participating will be Dean Barrow, the Prime Minister of Belize, and Rafael Albuquerque, the Vice President of the Dominican Republic, which is an associate member of SICA.

The summit meeting is being held a few days before U.S. President Barack Obama is due to visit El Salvador on Mar. 22-23, at the end of a Latin America tour that will take him to Brazil and Chile.

In the Northern Triangle of Central America, made up of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, the countries most afflicted by drug mafias, there is a sense of expectancy and anticipation that the summit may give rise to new initiatives to reinforce regional security with United Nations backing.

According to the Report of the International Narcotics Control Board for 2010, released Mar. 2, the limited resources of national authorities, in contrast with the vast illicit resources amassed by drug trafficking syndicates, is causing increased corruption and violence in Central America.

“Central America will be the drug cartels’ next theatre of operations unless efforts are made to prevent them from becoming entrenched here,” Orozco said. “These efforts should be supported by international cooperation.”

He said foreign aid in the field of public security should concentrate on expanding institutional capabilities in the region.

Among the measures to be taken, “there must be a firm commitment to breaking up the links between state employees who collaborate with organised crime,” he said.

Orozco pointed out that in his own country, Nicaragua, crime levels are relatively low, but he said they are rising because of weak institutions.

“In 2004, a total of 104,103 crimes were recorded nationwide, compared to 164,890 in 2009,” the expert said.

Andrea Furlán, spokeswoman for the Guatemalan Foreign Ministry, told IPS the U.N. secretary general will also discuss issues other than security with the Central American presidents, such as the situation of the U.N.’s country offices and the programmes they are carrying out.

The U.N. office in Guatemala mentioned subjects like violence against women, progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to reduce poverty, disease and inequality by 2015, adopted by the U.N. member countries in 2000, and the fight against impunity.

In fact, signing the agreement to extend the life of the CICIG will be the key event in what will be Ban’s first visit to Guatemala. The International Commission was approved by the U.N. General Assembly in 2006, and began to operate formally in 2008.

Its mandate is to investigate illicit security forces and clandestine organisations embedded in the Guatemalan state, and cooperate in their dismantling, but the results have so far been unconvincing.

Its mission is also to strengthen the Guatemalan justice system, wracked by corruption and inefficiency to the extent that 98 percent of murders in this country go unpunished.

Guatemalan security affairs analyst Mario Mérida told IPS that Ban’s visit could be useful if concrete cooperation is agreed, and is confirmed at the next regional summit on security.

The First International Conference in Support of the Central American Security Strategy is slated for Jun. 8-9 in Guatemala, and it is hoped that international organisations will actively participate.

Colom said in early March that this conference should produce a regional plan against drug trafficking and organised crime, with particular emphasis on the Northern Triangle of Central America.

Mérida said that unfortunately, “because of lack of political will,” the region has not yet managed to take advantage of regional integration initiatives to fight against the common problems of insecurity.

In his view, the region already has a legal framework for the joint fight against organised crime: the Framework Treaty on Democratic Security, signed in 1995 by all seven Central American countries, with the aim of promoting democracy and strengthening institutions, the rule of law and respect for human rights.

He also advocated leveraging the Central America Regional Security Initiative, a U.S. plan to combat crime in the region, supported by 100 million dollars in available funds.

Carlos Manuel Echeverría, at SICA headquarters in El Salvador, told IPS that the security issue “will be vital” at the meeting of Central American presidents with the U.N. secretary general.

He also said support for the Central American Treaty on Democratic Security was important, since “crime rates in the region have soared.”

According to the 2010 annual report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, “the Northern Triangle of Central America has the highest murder rate of any region in the world.”

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