Fighting Crime and Preparing for Disasters Are Priorities for Central America

By Dialogo
February 02, 2010

The search for strategies to confront alarming levels of crime and prepare for natural disasters are two priority topics for the Central American Integration System (SICA) in the next five months. Since the members are convinced that both ordinary and organized crime lead to instability in the region, the topic of security was proposed by Panama, the country that holds the SICA’s rotating presidency and so sets the agenda for the period, AFP was told by the General Secretary of the joint body, Juan Daniel Alemán. “The topic of security is a topic that extends beyond the borders of the Central American isthmus, with gangs, drug trafficking, juvenile delinquency, and (the circulation) of small arms and light weapons,” in Alemán’s judgment. According to the SICA General Secretary, the member countries should be focused, on the basis of a “Democratic Security” treaty, on “preventing, fighting, and suppressing crime, as well as on rehabilitation in the framework of a culture of the rule of law.” In order to address the different effects of insecurity among Central America’s more than forty million inhabitants, the SICA believes it useful to establish a “Central American crime watch” in order to have sufficient tools to be able to make timely decisions. One of the topics of greatest concern in the region is that of gangs, which have become involved with organized crime and have acquired heavy weapons. In Mexico and Central America, principally in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, there are between 90,000 and 100,000 active gang members, the majority of them marginalized young people, many deported from the United States, according to official estimates. A study conducted by experts from the Salvadoran National Public Safety Council determined that in 2008 the economic cost of violence in Central America was 6.506 billion dollars, the equivalent of 7.7 % of the region’s GDP. With regard to disaster preparedness, the second of the Central American priorities, the aim is to establish an early-warning system that will make it possible to confront the natural phenomena that, year after year, claim lives and leave behind economic losses in the millions of dollars. According to Alemán, “anticipating” disasters in a region considered highly vulnerable requires strengthening an “early-warning” system at the Coordinating Center for Natural-Disaster Preparedness in Central America (CEPREDENAC). “What we have to do is increase the abilities of CEPREDENAC in technology and in these early warnings so that we can predict natural phenomena better and be more proactive than reactive,” he emphasized. With slightly more than 520,000 square kilometers and forty million inhabitants, Central America is located in the so-called “Pacific Ring of Fire,” exposing it to frequent earthquakes and hurricanes, the latter especially in the Caribbean region.