Senior officials from the United States and Mexico are hosting their Central American neighbours on Thursday to plan ways to build a legal and economic wall against the drug trade. Their two-day Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America will look at ways of rebuilding prosperous, stable economies in the region and fighting transnational organized crime.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will be at pains to assure the worst-hit countries of Central America that Washington will continue to support their best efforts to assert the rule of law. But the Miami get-together comes just as President Donald Trump’s administration is looking to dramatically cut development assistance — so the meeting will also seek to interest new partners.
Along with co-host Mexico and the Northern Triangle –Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — envoys from Belize, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the European Union, Nicaragua, Panama and Spain will also take part.
Although senior US officials are diplomatic when asked which countries should be spending more to support anti-drug programs in the Triangle, they nod to Canada and Europe as places that could do more.
“Much of the product that is flowing through Central America today in trafficking routes makes a right turn and heads to Western Europe,” says William Brownfield, assistant secretary of state. It may be a question of tactics rather than resources.
In the 46 years since then-US president Richard Nixon first declared drugs “public enemy number one,” the “War on Drugs” has produced more many more casualties than victors. Still, Brownfield — who heads the State Department’s law enforcement and counter-narcotics efforts — thinks progress has been made in the often-lawless Northern Triangle since 2009.
Working with Colombian trainers bloodied in their own long war against cartels and militias, the United States has spent USD 1.5 billion building police and judicial capacity in a region destabilised by traffickers.
That has started to get results — homicide, violence and drug flights are down over the past two years — but has also been controversial and often criticized by local activists.
Just last month, an official report found that American anti-drug agents had been implicated in the deaths of Honduran civilians during botched raids in 2012 more than they had admitted.
The new initiatives, coming along with Trump’s aggressive rhetoric about building a “great wall” to stop criminals from bringing rape and drugs from Mexico, have led to fears of a new militarisation of the effort. “This conference unfortunately signals a recommitment to some of the worst policies the US has implemented in Central America in the past several decades,” researcher Alexander Main said.