Latin America Advisor

A Daily Publication of The Dialogue

Official: Funding Issues Critical to US Security Programs

Focusing on transnational crime is a top priority of the Obama administration's policy in Latin America, but the government has found mixed successes and questions loom about future funding for critical programs, a senior State Department official said Monday.

"Progress has been uneven in Mexico," said Roberta Jacobson, the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, at a conference organized by the National Democratic Network Wednesday. Though there has been "strong progress in dismantling some of the drug trafficking organizations," the development of effective institutions and resilient communities has advanced more slowly, she said.

Despite initiatives like Plan Mérida, which dedicated $1.6 billion since 2008 to aiding the governments of Mexico and Central America in their fight against narcotraffickers, violence remains a threat to stability and economic progress in the region, with over 35,000 deaths in Mexico alone since President Felipe Calderón began his crackdown on the cartels. Citing the results of the 2010 Latinobarometro study, Jacobson noted that safety, crime and violence were among the top one or two concerns of citizens in nearly every country in the hemisphere.

The Obama administration's approach has been to drop the nomenclature of the "War on Drugs" and focus on so-called "citizen security partnerships," which recasts the fight against narcotics trafficking under the broader banner of combating transnational organized crime.
Among the State Department's priorities are supporting the Mexican government's battle against the cartels, refocusing efforts on Central America and applying lessons learned from the isthmus to the Caribbean.

Though there are disputes over funding and emphasis, confronting transnational crime is "not a partisan battle, everyone agrees that these are issues that we must help countries tackle and these are issues which have an impact directly on the United States," according to Jacobson. However, she also acknowledged that "aid programs are not the most popular in the U.S. Congress" and that, given the current budget battle, the State Department does not know the extent to which it will be able to financially support efforts like the Mérida Initiative and the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) in the future.

The United States needs to collaborate with foreign governments to be "adaptable and agile" in the face of cartels that are easily able to cross borders to escape justice and there is a critical need to partner with civil society, citizens and the business community to ensure future successes.

"Ultimately, however, unless there are reforms and greater funding for these initiatives by host countries, they are doomed," said Jacobson.

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