Remarks at the Hispanic National Bar Association 36th Annual National Convention
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
Ladies and gentlemen, it is my distinct honor to address the 36th National Convention for this great association. On behalf of the Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the Assistant Secretary of State, William R. Brownfield, thank you for this opportunity.
My name is Todd David Robinson, and I am a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs or INL. As a career diplomat, I have spent the bulk of my career working in Latin America. most recently as the Deputy Chief of Mission to the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City, Guatemala. Essentially, I was the second ranking U.S. official in Guatemala and ran daily operations at the U.S. Embassy. I have also served in the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, El Salvador, and Colombia.
In my current position as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, it is my unenviable privilege, to manage a tiny portfolio which covers all of Latin America and Africa and the Middle East.
Despite my vast regional expertise in Latin America, I am new in my current position where I oversee a multi-billion dollar strategic engagement to reduce the impact of criminal elements in Latin America on the United States. These criminal elements pose a great threat to our nation’s immediate and long term security. I manage these programs with a large team of lawyers who are subject matter specialists in rule of law.
Seriously, our Bureau leads the Department of State’s multifaceted response to international criminal threats. This multifaceted response includes making criminal justice systems abroad stronger, healthier, and more transparent. It includes countering the flow of illegal narcotics, and minimizing the effects of transnational crime.
As the INL writ is large, working in over 70 countries worldwide, dealing with the full range of criminal justice and counternarcotics assistance activities, we rely on a wide range of partnerships to help achieve US objectives. In the past year, we have increased our team of in-house police advisors, justice sector specialists, and corrections experts as we develop, design, and implement programs. We now employ State Department personnel with subject matter and programmatic expertise. Our overseas work also relies on experts from other federal, state, and local government agencies, multinational organizations, grantees, and privately hired contractors.
We also must recognize each host country’s cultures, traditions, and laws. Working with the host government, we identify host-country’s local expertise, regional partner associations, and multi-national organizations’ skills to best partner with the host government.
On a daily basis I supervise and work with a remarkable team that are at the tip of the spear of our nation’s fight against transnational crime, narco-trafficking, and terrorist activities that threaten our borders and communities.
We in INL are directly embroiled in a very tough fight against drug trafficking organizations, violent gangs, and other criminal elements which are wreaking havoc south of our border, from Mexico to southern Brazil.
What are these challenges that we face?
From 2006 to 2010, experts estimate that narco-traffic has claimed nearly 30,000 lives in Mexico alone. Prior to my departure from Guatemala in June of this year, the Mexican Zetas crossed into Petén Province in northern Guatemala and beheaded nearly 30 people who the Zetas perceived as interfering with drug movements. Drug gang violence is a serious threat to our neighbors and to our communities. We do not want that violence to expand or to cross into the U.S.
In South America, the United Nations recently gave Peru an upgrade: Peru now ranks number one in the world in cocaine production, topping Colombia. Of course you know who is the biggest consumer of cocaine? Yes, indeed, the United States. A large percentage of those drugs end up here in the United States affecting all of our communities; from New York to San Diego, and from Seattle to Miami.
With this visit I hope we will begin a chapter of friendship and partnership between INL at the Department of State and you, the men and women of the Hispanic National Bar Association. You have outstanding expertise, personal investment and the desire to help the United States deal with some great challenges facing Latin America and the rest of the world.
Many of you may be asking yourselves. Why is this State Department non-lawyer here? What is this partnership that I speak of? Well, as I mentioned earlier, INL is at the tip of the spear in leading this fight against transnational crime. But how do we do it?
Some really smart people have concluded – and there is universal support for this position – that in order to have stable communities, the rule of law must be deeply rooted in society.
It requires a fair, fully operational, capable, and transparent system of justice, where citizens can obtain redress of grievances.
It requires a capable judiciary with judges who preside over public, oral trials.
It requires prosecutors who are invested in bringing criminals to justice fairly, respecting the rights of the accused.
We in INL have been working with Latin American countries since the mid-90s on code reform, when some began transitioning from a civil law-based system of justice, the inquisitorial model, to a common law-based system of justice, the adversarial model.
Imagine the magnitude of that transition. What if, next month, the United States at the state and federal level suddenly changed legal systems? Would you know how to do your job? Would the police? Judges? Would the public know their rights?
In those countries in Latin America transitioning to a common law style system of justice, many of the players in the criminal justice system need to learn new skills. INL advises, mentors, and trains those gang experts, police investigators, forensic experts, prosecutors, defense attorneys, solicitors, and judges. We do so by relying, in part, on experts such as you.
Let me offer some concrete examples of actual rule of law work we are doing:
- In Mexico: we work with Assistant U.S. Attorneys in the Department of Justice who are introducing Mexican prosecutors and investigators to the adversarial system through a 2-week training, culminating in a mock trial. From January to April of this year, DOJ trained 126 Mexican prosecutors and investigators.
- In Guatemala: we are training a specialized unit of police detectives who are responsible for investigating attacks against human rights advocates.
- In Colombia: we are training a cadre of prosecutors who are responsible for narcotics cases on how to process cases more efficiently and effectively.
- Throughout the Caribbean: we fund programs to rehabilitate, manage and improve prisons, to ensure the prisoners’ basic needs are met.
- In Peru: we support specialized District Attorney units with training in how to process money laundering and financial crimes cases.
What I am discussing is not abstract – these are actual steps that will help strengthen our national security AND strengthen rule of law in Latin America. Every police officer, prosecutor, judge, defense counsel and solicitor we can train to be more effective on the job goes a long way in fighting transnational crime and establishing more stable societies in Latin America.
The Department of State is investing billions of dollars in security sector assistance in Latin America. We need to make the most of that assistance. With the proximity to our borders, the expansion of drug trafficking organizations, gangs violence, trafficking in persons and weapons, we do not have a moment to rest.
As you can see, we in INL at the State Department focus not only on policy and diplomacy, we also work with a country’s law enforcement and judicial systems, their police officers, specialized police units, prosecutors, defense counsel, judges, and prison officials, among others. Our bureau’s mission is an exciting one and requires talented, committed professionals such as you.
It is a demanding undertaking. To tackle these jobs we rely on State Department officers, both foreign service and civil service employees. We also work closely with Homeland Security, Justice, the FBI, DEA, U.S. Marshals, and ICE. Even with all of those interagency partners we still need more help.
I am here because we need experts who understand Latin American culture; legal systems; who speak Spanish; who have a particular affinity for the region; who are concerned about what is happening south of the United States. When I saw the theme for the convention: “Forging the Future Together” I could not imagine a more appropriate opportunity to share with all of you the great work that the U.S. Department of State does on a daily basis to protect our country’s national security interests, and how the Department of State and HNBA members can work together on ‘Forging a Better Future for Latin America.’
What better way to multiply our force than with the HNBA and its network of over 100,000 members? With your collective expertise we can bring a cadre of you to different countries and help train police, prosecutors, defense counsel, and judges on trial tactics, jury selection, opening statements, direct examination and cross examination, and closing arguments.
You can work with law schools, law students, defense bars on strengthening curricula and standards. You can deliver lectures to investigators on crime scene investigations and how to testify at trial. You can even instruct law enforcement officers on how to write police reports.
In sum, all of you can help significantly build capacity in Latin America. An effort that will help make those countries stronger in hopes of denying operational space to criminal gangs. And we would pay you to work with us. This is not a request for you to work pro bono. If some of you are interested in exploring this further – and I sincerely hope you are – INL will work with HNBA’s Executive Director to put together a roster of those of you who would like to work with us.
To be clear: this is not an offer of FULL-TIME EMPLOYMENT. We will ask you to support short-term assignments of days, weeks or even a few months.
Each one of you comes from different areas of employment: private sector, public sector, or self-employment. We will ask your employer to make you available to support the assignment on behalf of the Department of State, and will come to an agreement on how you will be compensated for your time with us. We will cover your salary, transportation, lodging, and any security requirements appropriate to the environment.
I hope that I have been to peak your interest in a professional opportunity to further strengthen legal systems in Latin America.
Thank you so much for your attention. At this time I am happy to take some questions.
You can send your resumes to: INLCAPJUSTICE@STATE.GOV