Assistant Secretary General Speech


March 10, 2016 - Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

H.E. Bernard Whiteman, Prime Minister of Curacao
H.E. Ambassador Peter van Wulfften Palthe
Distinguished representatives from the Caribbean
Other invited guests
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good morning,

It is a pleasure to be here today to participate in this seminar on “Citizen Security in the Caribbean Basin: Our Common Concern.” I first wish to thank both the Government and people of the Dominican Republic for their warm hospitality and of course also the Kingdom of the Netherlands for organizing this most important meeting that brings together authorities from Caribbean countries to explore ways to address the serious security challenges we all face as we work to provide a safer Caribbean region.

As some of you may know, I am from Belize, and am proud to call the Caribbean and Central American region my home. I am therefore keenly aware of the impact that transnational organized crime has had on our societies in these regions. In fact, the majority of the violence in our societies is associated with organized crime activities and linked to the drug trade and illicit firearms trafficking. It is truly a tragedy that our region has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, with 30 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. The impact of increased levels of this most extreme form of violence is felt throughout the fabric of our societies, increasing the sense of insecurity in our communities and negatively impacting on their financial opportunities, socio-economic growth and development. Of grave concern is the potential for these social forces to trap our citizens in a cycle of violence and poverty, conditions that are further exploited and exacerbated by transnational criminal groups.

Reconocemos que el crimen organizado transnacional es una de las amenazas más complejas y desestabilizadoras en el hemisferio. En ese sentido, nuestros países no sólo deben enfocarse en implementar medidas para hacer frente a sus propios desafíos de seguridad, sino también tratar de colaborar con los Estados vecinos que pueden estar enfrentando problemas similares. Por esa razón, me complace ver que el principal objetivo de este seminario es la necesidad de una mayor colaboración entre los países de la región. La OEA esta comprometida con un enfoque multidimensional y coordinado para abordar estos retos de seguridad dentro de un contexto del pleno respeto a los derechos humanos porque estamos convencidos que es la mejor forma de reducir la violencia y garantizar la seguridad ciudadana. Asimismo, se debe subrayar que estos desafios requiren ser enfrentados dentro del marco de sus fuertes vinculos con los temas de pobreza, de desarollo sostenible y las otras realidades de nuestra region.

It is important to note that OAS political fora such as the Meeting of Ministers of Public Security (MISPA), and the Meetings of Ministers of Justice or Other Ministers or Attorneys General (REMJA) are institutionalized mechanisms of dialogue and cooperation that Member States have at their disposal as they confront these shared threats. In addition to these two widely used avenues, there exist several political and technical fora within the Inter-American system that have been established by our Member States to address issues related to transnational organized crime such as trafficking in persons, drug trafficking, illicit trafficking of firearms, among others. The OAS has the established institutional architecture to promote cooperation in these and other critical areas, and we stand ready to do our part.

Es ampliamente conocido que las amenazas de seguridad que enfrenta el Caribe están conectadas en gran medida a las condiciones geopolíticas regionales. La región, que se encuentra dentro de una de las más activa rutas internacionales de la droga, sufre el impacto de de las políticas regionales que traen consecuencias no deseadas. Por ejemplo, con el fortalecimiento de las políticas antinarcóticas para restringir el tráfico de drogas por las rutas tradicionales, las organizaciones de tráfico de drogas buscaron encontrar nuevas rutas de tráfico. Esto ha tenido el resultado no intencionado de conducir el tráfico de drogas hacia las islas del Caribe que tienen menos recursos para hacer frente al problema. Las estadísticas confirman este cambio operacional ya que las incautaciones de drogas en el Caribe se multiplicaron por diez entre el 2011 y el 2013.

Apart from the drug trade, the region also faces significant problems with trafficking of illegal firearms. According to the 2012 OAS Report on Citizen Security, 68 percent of homicides in the Caribbean are committed using firearms. Additionally, illegal firearms play a key role in facilitating other forms of trafficking, including trafficking in persons. Furthermore, in many instances, illicit trafficking networks have allowed criminal organizations to acquire firepower equal to, or even greater than, the public security forces facing them. The 2013 Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Crime and Security Strategy addresses many of these concerns and continues to guide CARICOM’s coordinated efforts in combating the drug problem and addressing increased violence in the region. It has also guided the OAS’ work in the region. In 2014 we signed an MOU with CARICOM IMPACS reaffirming our commitment to cooperate and coordinate our efforts within the framework of the 2013 Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Crime and Security Strategy.

In real estate the experts talk about the importance of location, location, location. And this is also true in other facets of life. In this case, we know that their geographic location places countries in the Caribbean at the epicenter of criminal activity given their position between major drug producing countries and primary consumer markets. In addition, considering that the global shipping network is the primary method of transporting illicit goods - in particular illegal narcotics and firearms - Caribbean countries, which have extensive maritime borders, are highly targeted by criminal organizations. Their extensive coastlines and vast territorial waters create an additional challenge for law enforcement in terms of patrolling. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), 60% of the total cocaine seized was transported through maritime routes.

As a consequence, these countries are faced with extreme difficulties in being able to adequately patrol their territorial waters. For that reason, the OAS pays special attention to the needs of small-island and low lying coastal states in the Caribbean. Improved maritime domain awareness and air surveillance, along with strong customs and border controls, are essential to combating transnational organized crime. In that regard, through the efforts of our Secretariat for Multidimensional Security and the Inter-American Committee on Ports, the OAS has played a leading role in promoting maritime security by working with all of our Member States to implement effective policies and mechanisms.

Some of our work includes conducting port security assessments and providing required follow-up on training to port security personnel, thereby improving maritime security policies and standards, and promoting public-private partnership in maritime infrastructure and safety. Furthermore, we recognize that the maritime domain is inherently transnational and because of this, the OAS encourages and supports our Member States’ efforts to collaborate and share information on best practices.

Other topics that we have been addressing at the OAS and which will be discussed in this seminar include incorporating a gender perspective in citizen security. At the OAS we are committed to developing programs and projects which incorporate the gender perspective as a cross-cutting element. Too often we hear reports of young men as being either victims or perpetrators of transnational organize crime. However, we should not forget that transnational organized crime has also impacted the lives of many women in our region. The growing role of women in this illicit market is reflected by the increased female prison population. Some studies report that approximately 70 percent of women in prison are there for nonviolent micro-trafficking, and many also act as “mules” for transporting drugs. Women are also the most common victims of trafficking in persons for sexual exploitation in Latin America and the Caribbean. This crime takes place through almost all our borders and is still many times undocumented and under-registered.

The region’s youth are also another vulnerable group disproportionally affected by transnational organized crime, and the OAS is actively involved in initiatives to confront this problem. For example, in an effort to address one element of this impact, the OAS Department of Public Security is implementing a pilot project with the Jamaican Department of Correctional Services at two of their juvenile correction centers. This project is aimed at strengthening their capacities to provide training courses that support the social and productive reintegration of juvenile detainees. We see this type of effort as an essential element to breaking the cycle of crime and violence that face some of our youth.

La Comisión Interamericana para el Control del Abuso de Drogas (CICAD) de la OEA aborda el tema de la droga en el hemisferio. Una de las áreas en que se ha logrado mucho éxito es en la de políticas de la reducción a la demanda. Me gustaría destacar su Programa de Capacitación y Certificación para la Prevención, Tratamiento y Rehabilitación de Abuso de Drogas y la Violencia (PROCCER), diseñado para desarrollar y fortalecer las instituciones de los Estados Miembros, las políticas y estrategias relacionadas con el tratamiento y rehabilitación para personas con problemas derivados del abuso de drogas y la violencia. El programa PROCCEER es un modelo de capacitación y certificación que capacita a personal en el campo de salud a proporcionar estándares de atención optimizados para el tratamiento y la prevención del abuso de drogas. Bajo este programa, la OEA ha capacitado a más de 800 profesionales en el campo de la prevenciónón y de servicios de tratamiento en los países de CARICOM.

En la OEA hemos reconocido que el problema de las drogas debe ser visto desde un enfoque multi-dimensional que incorpora una amplia y transversal sección de los sectores sociales que abarcan desde las autoridades policiales hasta las autoridades de salud pública. En los últimos años hemos visto un cambio de paradigma en la forma en que se abordan los problemas de abuso de drogas, cambiando del uso de mecanismos estrictamente policiales para enjuiciar y encarcelar a los infractores hacia la utilización de medidas más preventivas y servicios de tratamiento.

Another innovative program is the Drug Treatment Courts in the Americas which provides treatment alternatives to incarceration for drug-dependent offenders. It involves diverting substance-abusing offenders from serving prison time to instead receiving treatment and rehabilitation under judicial supervision. These Drug Treatment Courts have proven to effectively reduce crime, relapse into drug use, and the prison population, and have been more cost-effective than more traditional policies.

The OAS has also been at the forefront of many other regional initiatives in the area of security, including but not limited to efforts to confront money laundering, customs security, identification of false documents, cyber security, marking of firearms and the preparation of model legislation to name but a few.

In conclusion, the OAS remains firm in its commitment to combat transnational organized crime in the hemisphere and foster greater citizen security. To this end, we stand ready to work with our strategic partners to collaborate on expanding our programs or developing new initiatives. The issues to be discussed in this seminar are of paramount concern to all present today. I hope that through your various exchanges and dialogue, you will be able to identify your common challenges and derive a common approach to tackling them.

I thank you
Muchas Gracias