Guatemala City—On June 22nd and 23rd, the Central American Integration System (SICA) will host delegates from member countries and representatives from cooperating countries to discuss a regional security strategy in light of growing levels of crime and violence. U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton will attend the meeting in Guatemala City along with the Presidents of all seven Central American countries, Mexico, and Colombia, and officials from Canada, Europe, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the World Bank. As this high-level meeting gears up, WOLA experts Adriana Beltrán and Geoff Thale will be in attendance and are coordinating with civil society experts from Central America to ensure that the viewpoints and experiences of those working on the ground in violence prevention and citizen security are taken into account in the new regional plan.
Many countries in the region are facing grave problems of citizen insecurity. Despite democratic progress, homicide rates have risen steadily over the past fifteen years and the “Northern Triangle” countries—El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—consistently rank in the top ten highest homicide rates in the world. The lack of security in the region not only makes citizens fearful but exacerbates poverty and hinders development. The Guatemala City conference will call attention to the serious levels of crime and violence in the region and encourage coordination among the Central American governments and push for support from the international community.
“The calling together of heads of state and high-level decision makers from the international community is significant”said Adriana Beltrán, Senior Associate for WOLA’s Citizen Security program, who will be in attendance. “This meeting has the potential to generate consensus in the region not only on a plan to reduce high levels of crime but can also be a key moment to have a real discussion about the root causes of insecurity,” she added.
Geoff Thale, WOLA’s program director cautioned that high-level meetings like the upcoming SICA Conference have had a tendency in the past to focus narrowly on the threat of drug trafficking and organized crime in lieu of addressing the full spectrum of crime and violence experienced by everyday citizens. He argued that “leaders who are really serious about dealing with the issue of crime and violence will not focus solely on asking the international community for increased technology and equipment for the police or strengthening the military, but instead will propose actions to end corruption in the police and judicial system, rebuild and strengthen communities affected by the violence, and work on job creation.”
As you prepare to cover the SICA meeting in Guatemala, we’d like to draw your attention to WOLA materials related to the ongoing debates:
- Tackling Urban Violence in Latin America: Reversing Exclusion through Smart Policing and Social Investment shows how crime and violence grow in areas where residents have historically suffered from social, political, and economic exclusion. Conversations at the SICA conference are likely to steer towards debates about successful models for reducing crime in the region. This new WOLA report analyzes the experiences in several of the most well-known cases—Rio de Janeiro, Medellin, Ciudad Juarez, and Santa Tecla—and highlights the innovations as well as shortcomings in each.
- The Crisis of Crime and Violence in Central America: More than just Drugs and Gangs, commentary from Program Director Geoff Thale about the upcoming meeting and recommendations for leaders in attendance.
- Protect and Serve? The Status of Police Reform in Central America draws on in-depth research on the police forces of Central America.
- Daring To Care: Community-Based Responses to Youth Gang Violence in Central America and Central American Immigrant Communities in the United States highlights the importance of preventing youth violence before it starts in a region beset by gang violence.
On the ground in Guatemala City
Senior Associate for Citizen Security
For general press inquiries