Media Center



August 4, 2009 - Washington, DC

I would like to thank President Tabaré Vázquez for the splendid welcome that his country has given this meeting and the generous support of his government in holding it.

It is always a pleasure to visit Uruguay, and particularly now as democracy experiences testing times in other parts of our region. Here we can breathe democracy, something that we must permanently fight to impose throughout the Americas, in spite of the flaws with which we may occasionally practice it or any setbacks -hopefully only momentary- such as the one currently affecting Honduras. Whatever the case, as everyone can see, democratic awareness is very much in the ascendancy in the region today. Hence the swift and unhesitating unanimous reaction of the states in the region to what occurred in that country and their adoption of decisions in keeping with the mandates of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. I am convinced that the promptness and inflexibility of that collective reaction of all the countries in the hemisphere is what currently encourages the possibility of a solution to the conflict we are seeing today.

In October Uruguayans will elect a new president and it is gratifying to see how they express their political maturity, mobilizing without extremist slogans and taking an active part in the debate of ideas and proposals that does so much good for democracy. Democracy, as President Obama recently said, is more than elections. It is also the daily practice of civilized coexistence and respect for the opinions of others, and on that score Uruguay is an example to all.

Like every other country in the region, Uruguay naturally has its problems and I know from the latest statistics of the Observatory on Crime and Violence of the Ministry of the Interior that, as in the rest of the region, insecurity here is a matter concern. But to keep things in perspective, I should point out that the crime figures in Uruguay, where, as in any country, they are the subject of ever-growing public debate, are among the lowest in the region, although they always demand particular attention where public policy is concerned. I know for a fact that significant strides have been made in terms of training, information systems, and monitoring. Also important are the programs that address the rise in underlying social problems. In that sense, we admire the success of the Ceibal Plan and, in general, value the efforts of this country and its government to improve quality of life for its citizens. There is always more to be done and I feel sure that the authorities of Uruguay will continue to move forward in the right direction.

We must be aware that crime is no longer a phenomenon confined to any one country. Organized crime, drug trafficking, and other ills, are evils of a transnational nature and their spread is growing region-wide. That is why, in my opinion, the public security situation today is one of the biggest threats to the stability, democratic strengthening, and development prospects of our region. Albeit to very different degrees, violence and insecurity in general undermine all our societies and severely impair quality of life for our citizens, who feel afraid, besieged, and vulnerable to the constant danger of becoming victims.

The homicide rate in our region is twice the world average, and in some areas five times as high. The homicide rates in some Latin America and Caribbean countries are among the highest in the world. Even though the region is home to just 8 percent of the world population, it is where 42 percent of all firearm-related homicides and 66 percent of all kidnappings in the world occur.

On top of interpersonal violence and common crime, most of our countries also have to contend with organized crime linked to trafficking in drugs, firearms and persons. Moreover, most violence perpetrated against individuals, in particular homicides, is connected with drug trafficking, drug use, and organized crime in general.

Given the extent of the problem, in September 2007, I drew the attention of the Committee on Hemispheric Security of the Permanent Council of the OAS to its seriousness and called for it to be adopted as a hemispheric issue. I said then that confronting the rise in violence and crime was a challenge for the governments of the Americas, which had an obligation to do so through appropriate and efficient policies coordinated with the rest of the countries because they were all, without exception, suffering or beginning to suffer its consequences.

The Permanent Council of the OAS responded to that request by convening the First Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Public Security in the Americas, a forum that gathered for the first time in October of last year and has quickly become the technical and policy pacesetter in the hemisphere on public security concerns as a whole.

That ministerial meeting adopted the “Commitment to Public Security in the Americas,” a document that expresses the political will of the region’s countries to confront crime and insecurity in a joint, preventive, comprehensive, coherent, effective, and continuous manner, targeting five priority areas: public security management; prevention of crime, violence, and insecurity; police management; citizen and community participation; and international cooperation.

It is a fundamental document for our future endeavors. It adopts a crosscutting approach to public security and defines the core elements and principles for a public policy on democratic security that observes human rights. It also recognizes -and this is an aspect to which I attach the utmost importance- that just as important as law enforcement strategies are prevention and rehabilitation policies.

The Commitment to Public Security in the Americas instructed Member States and the OAS General Secretariat to adopt concrete measures. The importance of putting discussions into practice was something that all the ministers emphasized at that meeting. Accordingly, in the course of this Inter-American Specialized Conference on Public Security, the General Secretariat and other organizations will put forward a number of proposals designed to put the undertakings of the First Ministerial Meeting into practice. It is hoped, through these presentations, to initiate a dialogue with the delegations and receive their comments for constructing solid proposals founded on consensus. I would like briefly to refer to some of them.

At the First Ministerial Meeting the need was proposed for professionalization of the police and its adaptation to the needs of the rule of law and contemporary security challenges, as well as introducing significant improvements in terms of working conditions and social security. In this framework, attention was drawn to the need for the police to receive more training, not only to acquire new skills, but also to reinforce their values, change attitudes, and strengthen their role in providing protection and assistance to the community.

The OAS General Secretariat will present a study to determine the availability of and need for training and capacity-building courses for police officers and civilians responsible for the design and implementation of public security policies. The aim of this study is to assess the need to create a training environment that gives particular attention to the dissemination of public security management tools for the senior management bodies of police institutions, civilian authorities, and other stakeholders in the security sector, in order to support training in those countries where important shortcomings are detected.

In addition, the Inter-American Development Bank and the Institute for Research and Development in Violence Prevention and Promotion of Social Interaction (CISALVA) of the Universidad del Valle, Colombia, will deliver a progress report on an IDB-funded project to develop comparable public security parameters. The objective of this project is, within three years, to develop and implement a regional system of standardized citizen security and interaction indicators so as to enable region-wide measurement, monitoring, and comparison of the phenomena connected with these issues, in order to bolster the capacity of decision-makers in terms of design, implementation, and evaluation of citizen security policies. I wish to draw attention to this initiative since, its intrinsic importance aside, it reflects the interest and concern of all the agencies and entities in the inter-American system for this problem and the considerable degrees of cooperation that we are achieving in confronting it.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, for its part, is preparing a regional study that will serve as a guide and offer recommendations to Member States with respect to their obligation to protect their citizens from violence. The document, a first draft of which is presented here, will identify the main advances and challenges faced by states in the region in the area of human rights and citizen security.

Finally, the General Secretariat, through the Department of Public Security of our Secretariat for Multidimensional Security, will offer a presentation on the Inter-American Security Observatory, the purpose of which is to collect, follow up on, analyze, and divulge comparable information on crime and violence. The Observatory assembles information and prepares global and specific statistics on crime and violence in the Member Countries of the Organization. The information available in this multi-sector and interdisciplinary mechanism will serve as an input for devising public security policies, as well as for monitoring them and developing indicators for their evaluation.

Apart from these initiatives and listening to the delegations discuss their innovative experiences in preventing and fighting violence and crime, we hope that this meeting of experts will generate a rich debate on the items that will comprise the agenda of the Second Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Public Security which will be held in the Dominican Republic toward the end of this year. We are honored by the presence here of the Minister of the Interior and Police of the Dominican Republic, Franklyn Almeyda, who will set out for us the preliminary ideas of his government for MISPA II.

The insecurity problems endured by the citizens of the region’s countries are not isolated events, either in terms of types of crime or in time, much less territorially speaking. This elasticity of crime must be taken into account in the design, implementation, and promotion of strategies and tactics to curb violence and crime. As well as overcoming thematic divisions, it is also necessary to move beyond the time-bound perspective, given that crime and its various manifestations very often continue over time, while policy responses are usually sporadic. These days crime does not recognize borders between countries and regions and criminals make use of the facilities that they offer them, while states seldom design joint crime-fighting and prevention strategies.

The magnitude that the problem has acquired suggests that the path to its solution will only be found when the various actors involved comprehend that it is not a task that can be tackled alone. I would like particularly to highlight the capacity of the Organization of American States, as a political body in the region, to track developments, propose novel strategies and encourage strategic partnerships with other agencies of the inter-American system, the United Nations system, and, of course, the Organization’s members.

This Meeting of Experts and the Second Ministerial Meeting are paving the way for proposing those strategies and forging those partnerships. For that reason, I wish you every success in your work.

Thank you very much