Last week Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) William R. Brownfield traveled to Costa Rica and Honduras to discuss the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) and collaborative counternarcotics and security strategies. While there he announced funding for upcoming initiatives in both countries.
In Honduras, Assistant Secretary Brownfield met withVice President María Antonieta Guillen de Bográn, Foreign Minister Arturo Corrales, Security Minister Pompeyo Bonilla, and Defense Minister Marlon Pascua.
Brownfield announced the U.S. would be providing $16.3 million to combat crime in the country: $6 million to create a special police unit to combat large-scale crimes (to be called the Major Crimes Task Force), and another $10.3 million to equip and train police and prosecutors.
Recently, two troubling Associated Press reports have linked U.S. funding to Honduran police units carrying out “death-squad style” killings. In August the United States froze about $30 million in aid to Honduras over concerns that its police director, Juan Carlos ‘El Tigre’ Bonilla, had been involved in extrajudicial killings and disappearances. The United States has since released some of the money under strict conditions, saying it only would go to specially vetted units not under Bonilla’s control, in accordance with the Leahy Law.
The AP investigation revealed that under Honduran law, all police units are in fact, under Bonilla’s control. Some of the aid announced by Brownfield “will go to the Gang Resistance Education and Training program under the director of community policing, who also told the AP that he reports directly to Bonilla,” according to the AP.
In an interview with the AFP, Brownfield insisted that the U.S. does not have relations with Bonilla and would not offer him “neither a dollar nor a cent.” He recognized that as director Bonilla is responsable for all units, but that not all “15,000 or 16,000 members of the Honduran National Police report directly to the director.” To give “two degrees of separation” between U.S. funding and individuals and units accused of human rights abuses, Brownfield said the U.S. would also give no support to the 20 officials directly below Bonilla.
Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, has also refuted the claims, saying the U.S. is monitoring individuals and institutions receiving the funds and that aid will continue to flow into Honduras.
For 2013, the U.S. Congress approved around $36 million for programs in Honduras, $26 million of which was marked for police and security initiatives, according to Brownfield. Of this funding, Congress is reportedly withholding $11 million over human rights concerns.
Brownfield estimated police reform in the Central American country could take five to ten years. He noted the U.S.’ current strategy “is to support the process over the years and at the same time work with small, specialized units” of vetted officers that would be monitored. He also added that the U.S. was looking to create specialized anti-gang and anti-drug units that would work with the FBI and DEA.
These reports follow last year’s revelations that Honduran citizens had been killed during U.S.-funded counternarcotics operations by specially vetted security force units.
Speaking at a recent event at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas in Washington on Central American security, Assistant Secretary Brownfield said, “We do not need to create law enforcement ‘paradise’ in Central America. What we need to do is improve capabilities by 10 or 15 percent. That will drive up the cost for the trafficking organizations of doing business in and through Central America.”
While in Costa Rica Assistant Secretary Brownfield met with Anti-Drug Commissioner Mauricio Boraschi and Public Security Minister Mario Zamora. He announced the U.S. government would provide $6-$7 million to fight drug trafficking. The funds, he said, would provide for “training of prosecutors and investigators, the professionalization of police corps, for border control tasks, and for supporting anti-drug police units during land and sea operations.”
Brownfield also revealed another $1.6 million would be provided to government institutions and NGOs to fight domestic violence.
A recent Associated Press article notes that in 2012 the U.S. spent more than $18.4 million in direct security in Costa Rica. The article discusses increased U.S. involvement in the country and is definitely worth a read. It cited risk-analysis firm Southern Pulse director Sam Logan as saying Costa Rica was “the closest the U.S. has to a protectorate in Central America.”
In the past few years, Costa Rica has been threatened by rising domestic drug consumption, increasing levels of violence and expanding presence of Mexican drug cartels.
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Organized crime is also on the rise. As President Laura Chinchilla and Brownfield have both noted, Costa Rica is a “victim of its geography,” located between cocaine producing countries in South America and the region’s number one consumer – the United States. The country has become a more attractivetransit country for traffickers as counternarcotics operations targeting more traditional routes have shifted smugglers’ tactics.
According to the U.S. State Department’s 2013 International Narcotics Strategy Report, law enforcement agencies in the army-less country are under-resourced and have limited capacity. In 2012, Costa Rica increased its police budget by 11% to $351.5 million, which the Wall Street Journal pointed out was slightly less than the Baltimore police force’s budget.
In a radio interview while in Costa Rica, Brownfield warned the situation is likely to worsen. He said tackling crime would “require more force, more collaboration between the United States and Costa Rica during the next two to three years” and that more focus on maritime interdiction and border and port security would be required. He underscored the importance of creating opportunity but also the need for the threat of legal consequences for those involved in drug trafficking.
During the interview, Brownfield said that the argument that the United States’ role as the main consumer in the region creates the problem is “up to a certain point, stuck in the 1990s,” citing that cocaine and methamphetamine consumption has dropped considerably in the past seven years.
The White House just announced that President Obama will be traveling to Mexico and Costa Rica May 2-4. In Mexico he will meet with President Peña Nieto to discuss border security, trade, and immigration, among other topics. In Costa Rica he will meet with President Chinchilla and other leaders of countries part of the Central American Integration System (SICA), also to discuss trade and security.