Arturo Valenzuela
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs
Panama City, Panama
May 7, 2010

Good morning. I am honored to be here with you at this Third SICA-United States Dialogue on Security. It is a privilege to see how we can use this forum to address together the serious challenges and threats we face.

On behalf of President Obama’s administration, allow me to emphasize from the start our conviction that only through genuine collaboration based on shared responsibilities can we successfully meet the enormous challenges of citizen security.

We will be able to meet this objective because of the commitment of our partners in the international community, both ally nations and international organizations, present here today. Thank you for being here with us. Lastly, I would like to thank SICA and the Government of Panama for its gracious hosting of this meeting.

Central America has overcome the serious internal conflicts of the past. But today the countries of the region are threatened by drug and arms trafficking, gang violence, and the trafficking of people. These new threats are manifestations of serious social and institutional shortcomings that combine with harmful factors, such as the demand for drugs in all areas. These challenges require coordinated and multi-faceted responses. In addition to police and military actions, we must strengthen judicial and governmental institutions and seek out mechanisms for greater cooperation among national institutions and multilateral bodies.

Together we are building relationships based on [missing text] to provide greater security to our peoples – a commitment that recognizes shared responsibility in solving our problems. For too long, some people in the region have viewed security matters as a one-way effort dictated by Washington.

This effort requires difficult but necessary changes. It requires in-depth judicial reforms to provide governments with the legal instruments for fighting transnational crime. It requires allocation of resources to increase prevention programs, which in some cases may necessitate raising taxes in order to obtain resources.

We need to find new and creative ways to coordinate our collective and individual actions. We must share information more efficiently and quickly.

The security problems that we see today in Central America challenge us to think creatively about the role that our diplomatic missions, institutions, and regional relations can play in overcoming these threats. This Dialogue provides us with an excellent platform for designing and implementing our joint strategies for this effort, and it must continue to be a forum to strengthen our relations.

No organization can carry out this agenda alone. We must include organizations that understand the social and economic aspects of this problem. We need to strengthen education, health, correctional, and criminal justice systems to prevent and, if necessary, penalize crimes. Our intelligence and police systems, with the support of the armed forces (law enforcement in the case of Panama and Costa Rica) must be on the cutting edge, but they also need support from Ministries of Economy and Finance, legislative committees, and oversight agencies in general. They are all necessary and must be involved and integrated for our efforts to succeed.

Facing the transnational security challenges of today requires multi-dimensional responses from us. It requires a national commitment to focusing on security, justice, and the creation of opportunities. This means that governments and institutions need to rely on inter-agency collaboration to apply all elements within the scope of their national power to address these international problems. The good news is that we are already making progress in this regard.

On our behalf, I would like to reiterate our responsibility for many of the problems caused by the demand for drugs in our country and by the illegal flow of cash and weapons through across our southern border. To this end, we have increased our efforts to decrease demand and increase security in our ports in order to help contain the illegal flow of these elements.

A shared security agenda that is well-defined by SICA member countries and the United States shows that cooperation and collaboration put us in a better position to protect our countries, our economies, our institutions, and our citizens. We have redefined what began as the Merida Plan, focusing on Mexico, as what is now known as the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI).

I am pleased to be here in Panama, and my delegation is pleased to be part of this important dialogue to continue our efforts in the field of security.

Thank you.

[This is a mobile copy of U.S.-SICA Dialogue on Security]

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