WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
22 Jun 2011 | News

WOLA and IDB Release Most Comprehensive Study To Date on International Aid for Citizen Security in Central America

Guatemala City—International donors have committed $1.7 billion in grants and loans for citizen security in Central America over the last three years, according to a study released today by WOLA (Washington Office on Latin America) and the Inter-American Development Bank. Of that total, $1.3 billion is dedicated to projects already being implemented, and the remaining $375 million is for projects in the design and/or approval phase. The database is available online here.

The study appears just as international donors gather in Guatemala to discuss a Central American regional strategy to combat rising crime and violence in the region.

As the first undertaking of its kind, the study details what the international community is doing to support citizen security in Central America. Never before has there been such a comprehensive effort to look at the assistance provided by donor governments and international agencies to Central America for issues of citizen security.

This is an important study, in part because it raises as many questions as it answers. One key question is – with the relatively robust levels of funding going to the region to support citizen security, why do crime and violence rates continue to rise? Analysts, international donors, and Central American governments should examine the study carefully to understand not just what’s being done in the region, but also how to leverage the assistance for the greatest lasting impact.

Looking at the region from 2009 to June 2011, the study identifies 423 projects being implemented and 30 additional projects still in the design phase. It looks at funds committed over the years as well as funds actually spent on projects. Detailed figures for the various projects will be available online soon. Though this study is essentially an inventory, it will lead analysts to question how the funds are being used and what results they are achieving.

For many years, Central American governments talked about the “iron fist” instead of seriously developing a comprehensive strategy to address the problems of crime and violence. Meanwhile donors have been developing a huge range of projects and committing major funding to those projects. This study suggests that it’s time to do some thoughtful evaluation, coordination, and future-oriented planning in relation to the funds already committed before donors commit more funds,” said Adriana Beltrán, WOLA’s senior associate for citizen security and co-coordinator of the new study.

The study groups international assistance into four broad categories: violence prevention, institutional strengthening, efforts against organized crime, and rehabilitation. It shows that, of the projects being implemented, about 30% of donor funds go to prevention, about 46% to institutional strengthening, 18% to organized crime efforts, and 5% to rehabilitation programs. This is a helpful first step in conceptualizing the priorities and interests of the international community.

In a future investigation, WOLA believes the study should be supplemented by a more detailed analysis of each of these four broad areas, to better understand what kinds of programs and strategies are being supported. In particular, it begs a more detailed analysis of what types of prevention programs are being funded, and how sustainable these efforts are; a closer look at what institutions (or parts of institutions) are being strengthened, and the indicators to measure the long-term impact of those efforts; and an examination of the coherence and effectiveness of the anti-organized crime strategies.

The study also reveals a serious lack of coordination and consultation between governments and donors and among the different bilateral and multilateral donors supporting citizen security-related initiatives. In some cases, investigators found a duplication of efforts in the region. In worse cases, different programs support contradictory initiatives, which can undermine the effectiveness of the aid.

As donors and regional governments meet this week in Guatemala City, they should take advantage of the meeting to propose mechanisms of coordination for their efforts. Though this isn’t a meeting for donors to pledge funds, setting coordination mechanisms in place as part of the region’s strategic plan will help international donors smartly contribute funds to projects in the future that are congruous with the plan being developed this week and coordinated with other efforts,” said Geoff Thale, WOLA’s program director.


On the ground in Guatemala City
Adriana Beltrán
Senior Associate for Citizen Security
[email protected]

Geoff Thale
Program Director
[email protected]

For general press inquiries
Kristel Muciño
Communications Coordinator
[email protected]

(617) 584-1713