Media Center



November 4, 2009 - Santo Domingo

I would like to thank the Government of the Dominican Republic; Mr. Leonel Fernández, its President; the Minister of the Interior and Police, Mr. Franklin Almeyda; and all of you for your generous support of this highly important meeting and for the warm welcome you have extended to us in your country. My thanks also to Mr. Rafael Albuquerque, Vice President of the Republic.

I would also like to present my compliments to the other civilian and military authorities and special guests of the Dominican Republic and to thank all of you for the welcome to us, as usual, and to the Ministers and Vice Ministers attending this Meeting. On a personal note, as a former minister responsible for public security in my country for several years, let me say that I know how difficult it is to attend these meetings. The job of looking after public security is probably, for obvious reasons, one of the most taxing. I would like to congratulate you on the work you are doing and thank you for the extra effort of attending this Meeting.

This Second Meeting is a response by our region to an unquestionable fact: public insecurity today poses one of the principal threats to stability, the strengthening of democracy, and the development potential of the Americas. Today public security is much more than a topic for speeches: it is a principal source of citizen concern. Insecurity is both real, as the figures mentioned by Minister Almeyda illustrate, and a media phenomenon. There is a public security problem and a problem of public alarm over security, which is not quite the same thing. There is concern even in countries and areas with lower crime rates, because they see what is happening elsewhere. That is why public opinion polls – in countries with the lowest crime and homicide rates as in those with highest – also show public security as a core concern for citizens. That indeed explains why, in democratic countries like ours, Heads of State and Government are more and more concerned with this issue.

Second, our region is keenly aware that, despite the economic turmoil of recent crises, it has progressed; that our standard of living is improving and that the poverty, which still afflicts us, is gradually being lowered. Under those circumstances, security policy becomes a social issue, an issue of democracy, of society. Our citizens – men, women, and children – have a legitimate right to enjoy the material resources they have acquired in the course of a lifetime, to enjoy good health and the benefits of better housing. Yet it is difficult to do so if, as is the case in many of our large cities, they have to live holed up in houses behind bars for fear of thieves.

Security policy – and this is a point that needs to be driven home – is as social a policy as housing, health, or education. The State is duty-bound to deliver security to its citizens so that they can enjoy the fruits of democracy.

Third, it is important to point out that this is no longer a national problem. There are crimes that are intrinsically transnational. Drug trafficking is no longer just a domestic issue. The economic rationale behind it requires ever vaster markets. The sums involved generate financial transactions in numerous countries. The passivity it gives rise to in certain places means that it spreads to neighboring countries and beyond. The differences in the way we handle crime have repercussions on our relations among ourselves. For instance, in some cases the policy is to repatriate, in others to deport. Inconsistency abounds, as when people extradited from a country are reprocessed back into the country they were expelled from.

We are facing an issue that is intrinsically transnational, a global issue, one we have to do our best to solve. Today, as we have heard here, homicides in our region are double the world average; in some areas the number is, unfortunately, five times the world average. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the rates vary enormously but are among the highest in the world. Latin America as a whole, which has a little over 10 percent of the world’s population accounts for approximately 41 percent of the world’s homicides committed with a firearm. Latin America and the Caribbean is home to almost two-thirds of the world’s kidnappings. A young Latin American is thirty times more likely to be murdered than a European youth, because the youth crime rate is so much higher in our region.

Then there are other, less frequently considered, types of crime: the number of cases of maltreatment of children an emergency calls from women victims of violence are still increasing.

Much of this has to do with the society in which we live and its injustices. But most of our countries have to contend with organized crime, drug trafficking, a flourishing illicit arms trade, above all from North to South, trafficking in persons, money laundering, and the bulk of the violence directed at people. Taking the violence out of crime is complicated by these forms of trafficking and drug use. Organized crime acts like a catalyst, spurring other manifestations of crime and violence. It affects the whole of society, undermines relations between governments, and poses a threat to governance. Economic studies by the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank point to the great harm done to the economy of our countries by high crime rates. The World Bank shows us how lower crimes rates in certain Central American and Caribbean countries would substantially increase their economic growth rates.

Two years ago, we in the Organization of American States called for this to be addressed as a hemispheric issue. That was the reason why the First Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Public Security was held in Mexico in October 2008 and why it went along with our basic document, entitled “Commitment to Public Security in the Americas,” which expresses the political will of the countries of the region to deal with this problem. It defined core concepts in line with the Declaration on Hemispheric Security (Mexico, 2003), in which security was construed as a cross-cutting, multidimensional issue, to be addressed not just with a set of policies aimed at preventing insecurity, but also with a set of related policies transcending that narrower focus. The Declaration, for instance, places prevention and rehabilitation at the very heart of security strategy.

I think that it is important to recall that these ideas, the problems we have, were first extensively addressed, with far greater sensitivity to the issues involved, at the Fifth Summit of Heads of State and Government in Trinidad and Tobago. It is important to recall that because it had never happened in previous Summits, which essentially referred to drug trafficking as a Western phenomenon [Tr. más occidental. Typo in transcript?] There, however, at the Summit in Trinidad and Tobago, in the Declaration of Port of Spain, an entire paragraph is devoted to the strengthening of public security. While recognizing the existence of so many other security issues, such as terrorism, that are also covered in the Declaration, our Heads of State and Government accord priority attention to the issues of public security, transnational organized crime, drugs, the smuggling of immigrants, money laundering, corruption, kidnappings, criminal gangs, and cyber crime. Building on the outcomes of our meeting last year, they reaffirm their readiness to intensify their commitment to public security in the Americas, to promote public policies, redouble efforts, and so on. I believe that it is also important to recall that our Heads of State and Government endorse the multidimensional approach; that they, too, regard the social and cultural aspects of crime as factors that have to be addressed; and that they attach considerable importance to prevention and rehabilitation, embracing not just joint actions by Ministers of Justice but health factors as well: an area in which we now have a far better grasp of the harm wrought by violence and aggression.

I would like to remind you that at the Summit in Port of Spain, much mention was made of the Inter-American Convention Inter-American Convention against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and Other Related Materials (CIFTA), and its model legislation. It is important to remember that on the occasion of that same Declaration of Port of Spain, President Obama pledged efforts by the chief arms exporting country of the region, namely the United States, to accede to and ratify that Convention, which is of such vital importance for all of us.

It is true that the problem we face is vast and we could talk endlessly of its multiple dimensions. Nevertheless, our First Ministerial Meeting did not just list our woes. It also proposed steps that the member states and the OAS General Secretariat could take. In those solutions, the immediate focus in our MISPA was on the need to professionalize public security management, tailoring it to the needs of states governed by the rule of law and the contemporary challenges posed by crime and violence. It became clear on that occasion that both the police and government officials needed more training, not only in order to acquire new skills, but also to enhance their values and increase their professional management capabilities.

To that end, OAS General Secretariat conducted a feasibility study on the best ways to strengthen the training and education of police and civilian personnel responsible for designing and managing public security policies. The study aimed to evaluate the need to create training opportunities, with particular emphasis on the dissemination of public security management tools for senior officers in police institutions, civilian authorities, and other actors in the public security sector, in order to assist with their training in those countries in which major shortcomings were detected. At the same time, that experience would facilitate the transfer of successful experiences and horizontal cooperation among our countries.

What we want to achieve is the replication of successful experiences and horizontal cooperation among our countries. It is not a question of a massive international training program, for which we lack the resources and capacity and which is not what we need. It is a matter of strengthening management capability and, above all, of enabling police from some countries, especially those with the highest levels of insecurity, to get to know the experiences of other countries that have had greater success in certain areas.

We presented those studies in Montevideo, during the Inter-American Specialized Conference on Public Security, held on August 4 and 5, to prepare this Second Meeting of Ministers. To that end, also, the General Secretariat convened a meeting with civil society organizations specializing in security and, a few days ago, at the OAS Headquarters in Washington, D.C., a meeting of representatives of important police institutions in the region. Based on those evaluations, we are attempting to shape a proposal for improving public security management through an open, participatory process.

Today, I can announce that, as a first tangible result of this process, the General Secretariat is in a position to conduct, next year, the First Course on Public Security Management, directed at senior police officers and civilian government officials and open to any states wishing to participate. It will be open to all states wishing to take part in it. This course will last approximately four months. It will tap the human and material installed capacities of certain police institutions in the region and benefit from contributions from high-level professionals with recognized expertise in the public security issues of our region. We are also currently engaged in talks with INTERPOL, AMERIPOL, and the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA), with a view to incorporating their skills in this process, too.

We already have available 60 scholarships for those who, after a rigorous selection process, will participate in this initiative, which we regard as a pilot scheme, as an offer open to all the countries wishing to make use of it. We are also endeavoring to obtain academic recognition and accreditation of this first Course. Once that process is completed, we will conduct an evaluation to supplement the feasibility study.

I should explain at this point that this exercise will be conducted without prejudice to the Inter-American Police Training Program, about to deliver its sixth course in the Republic of Colombia in the coming weeks. In the course of this year, there have also been courses in Chile with the Criminal Investigations Police, with the Federal Police in Mexico, and with the Chilean Police (Carabineros), as well as other police institutions. This initiative attempts to exploit the comparative advantages of each police institution and to contribute to the dissemination of their experience.

I must also stress that, in connection with security issues and based on studies conducted by the General Secretariat and other organizations, it transpires that some countries need to update the legal provisions currently in force in this area and to strengthen parliamentary capacity to keep track of and monitor the authorities’ actions. In response to that need, we have embarked on a comparative legal study of public security provisions, with two goals in mind: developing an instrument that will enable legislation in this field to be updated and offering training for members of the respective parliamentary committees and their advisory bodies.

In the same vein, also in response to the concerns expressed in the first of these Ministerial Meetings, the General Secretariat’s Department of Public Security has established an Inter-American Observatory on Security, which can now be accessed over the Internet. It aims to compile, track, analyze, and disseminate comparable data on crime and violence in the Hemisphere. This is an issue brought up by Minister Almeyda, namely that we often lack reliable and comparable information. For instance, we generally compare crime rates by looking at the homicide rates, but there are countries that have very high homicide rates, or assault rates, or home robbery rates. So we lack reliable statistics covering the most relevant crimes in a society, which would allow us to craft better policies. This Observatory is the first of its kind in the region and the information it is already yielding can serve as an input for designing public security policies, monitoring them, and developing the indicators needed to evaluate them.

We are presenting a first draft of a study by our Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to identify the first achievements and challenges of states in the region in respect of human rights and citizen security.

During this Second Ministerial Meeting, you will also learn about the initiatives taken by the Inter-American Development Bank over the past 10 years in the area of citizen security, especially the project it is carrying out through the Research and Development Institute for the Prevention of Violence and Promotion of Social Harmony (CISALVA) of Colombia’s Universidad del Valle, aimed at developing comparable public security parameters. I would like to underscore this initiative because, in addition to its intrinsic importance, which you will be able to judge for yourselves when it is presented to you, it voices the interest and concern felt by all the organs and agencies of the inter-American system with respect to this issue and it reflects the significant levels of cooperation that we are beginning to forge in order to address it.

We have entered into a partnership with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to implement the global Surveys of Crime Trends it has been conducting since the 1970s. We will also promote UN-Habitat strategies for violence prevention at the local level. Both these organizations will deliver presentations on their initiatives in the course of this Meeting.

As I conclude these remarks, I would like once again to express my personal gratitude and that of the Organization of American States for your support. Without your personal commitment and that of your Government, this Meeting would probably not have been possible

We are embarking on a new path. For a long time I wondered why we in the Hemisphere had a Meeting of Ministers of Transport, a Meeting of Ministers of Education, Meetings of Ministers of Health, but on this issue that matters most to the people in our countries, we made little effort to coordinate. We have now begun to do, we have embarked on that path, and we regard this meeting quite simply as an opportunity to take further steps in the same direction. I therefore wish to end by expressing my conviction that the security of our citizens is neither a utopia nor an unattainable dream, but rather a task that is requiring more and more effort by our governments and by our civilian and police authorities responsible for security. It is a path on which we are making progress, with a single goal in mind: to achieve a region in which crime and violence rates are more nearly comparable to those of the most highly developed countries in the world. We are on our way and will only arrive at our destination, at success, if we join forces in this endeavor.

Thank you very much.