The US should focus its anti-crime strategy in Central America on strengthening the court system and the police force, rather than military aid and drug interdiction, according to recommendations by US think-tank the Council on Foreign Relations.
In a new report which examines criminal violence in Central America, author Michael Shifter argues that the State Department’s Bureau of Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs should assign two-thirds of its projected budget (some $36.7 million) to the strengthening of institutions in the region. Even though some presidents in Central America may be demanding more military aid from the US in order to buy equipment and upgrade their anti-drug technology, the US should be cautious of military assistance and only offer it “under the strictest of conditions.”
But shifting money around will not be enough to confront the problem, the report states, and goes on to recommend that the US double its total funding commitment to Central America. These new funds should be used to increase training and provide resources for judges, prosecutors and witness protection programs, rather than funding military and anti-drug agencies.
InSight Crime Analysis
One of Shifter's key recommendations is that the US should support the replication of UN-backed body the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) in other countries in the Northern Triangle. The CICIG was designed to support Guatemala’s public prosecutor's office, and since its creation in 2007, it has been one of Guatemala’s most effective institutions, helping to launch cases against public officials like the former head of the national police, and former President Alfonso Portillo.
The CICIG does have limitations -- its mandate has already been extended several times and is now set to expire in 2015, and there are questions over whether the body is doing enough to strengthen Guatemalan institutions to survive on their own. But considering that El Salvador and Honduras have already expressed interest in establishing their own CICIG-type bodies, this could be one of the most effective approaches to strengthening rule of law in the region.
The CFR also makes a good point by emphasizing that Central America needs to be fundamentally responsible for coming up with its own security solutions. The report suggests that this could include working with other countries in the region, including Colombia, on security issues, as well as implementing reforms that would fix the broken tax system in the Northern Triangle countries, helping raise more revenue for the fight against crime.
A version of this article was previously published on the Pan-American Post.