GUATEMALA CITY – The World Bank unveiled Wednesday a billion-dollar bid to support security measures in Central America, as the United States and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) upped their funding in the region as well.
The new funds come amid an upsurge in drug-related killings in Central America, a region the United Nations says is now the world’s most violent area outside of war zones. Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla joined other world leaders, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in Guatemala’s capital to discuss how the region can better combat organized crime and drug trafficking.
“The World Bank will provide $1 billion for Central America in the coming years, which can be used by each country for its own priorities, and clearly including a security strategy,” said World Bank vice president for Latin America and the Caribbean, Pamela Cox.
Cox said the bank can offer technical assistance, especially in ways to strengthen national institutions.
“We have picked up a great deal of experience that combines technical knowledge of the region with the bank’s global focus,” she said.
The Inter-American Development Bank also said it would provide some $500 million, spread over two years, to supplement funding efforts from the region and donor countries, IDB President Luis Alberto Moreno said.
Clinton announced that funding for Washington’s regional security partnership effort was being increased to $300 million this year, up from $260 million.
She said the “almost $300 million this year backed up by an action plan of our own focused on high-impact investments” could have a deep impact on the violence-scarred region.
“We will be your ready partners but it must begin with you and led by you. Political power is necessary to root out corruption and ensure accountable and effective institutions,” she added.
Amid Clinton’s announcement, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos proposed the creation of a regional center to fight money laundering.
“We should hit them where it hurts. And in the drug business what hurts most is their money, their property,” he said.
He also proposed creating a regional database that would contain information about all weapons seized in each country and could help determine where the weapons came from and how they entered the region.
Santos suggested possibly training central security forces at facilities in Colombia, highlighting that his country has experience dealing with criminal organizations.
“This is a dangerous enemy, no scruples, no respect for human rights, but we must respect human rights, so you must train the security forces to be effective without destroying the democratic values,” he said.
Both were attending the Central American Security Conference with the leaders of Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama, aiming to curb crime in one of the world’s most violent regions, fueled by a spillover from Mexico’s war on drug cartels.
“Everyone knows the statistics, the murder rates surpassing civil wars levels, the citizens who rank security as their top concern, the violence that burdens economic development and foreign direct investment,” Clinton said in remarks to the conference.
She also highlighted “the threats to democracy, and the impacts on society’s most vulnerable populations, especially women and children.”
“But we don’t need to go through the statistics, because many of you around this table are living these brutal facts every single day.”
Saying she wanted “to make good on the promise of shared responsibility,” Clinton stressed the funds will help pay for special police units, intelligence gathering, training of judges and prosecutors, and other efforts.
Washington would back the region in the fight against organized crime “because we care about the citizens … but also because we know that the wave of violence sweeping Central America also threatens our own country.”
“And therefore, we see this not just as an obligation, but as a mutual responsibility,” Clinton said.
During her visit, Clinton also met with Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom and Honduran President Porfirio Lobo.
The top U.S. diplomat left later in the day for Jamaica, where she planned talks on security efforts in the Caribbean region.
According to the IDB, Washington has allocated a total of some $377 million for security efforts in the region.
In remarks at the conference, Costa Rica’s Chinchilla highlighted the plight of women who have become involved in the region’s growing drug trade. “Recently we’ve see a feminization of the [drug-trade] problem. The main crime that puts women in jail is local drug dealing. Up to 70 percent of the women in jail in Costa Rica are there on drug-related charges,” Chinchilla said.
The Costa Rican president also took a jab at her Nicaraguan counterpart, Daniel Ortega, by mentioning a recent border conflict between the two countries.
“Our objective should be to fight crime, but always according to international law. We are not willing to permit flagrant violations of territorial sovereignty by a state, as recently happened to us,” Chinchilla said.