“Gangs and organized crime have made the so-called Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala) one of the most dangerous regions in the world,” reads a quote from “¿Hogar dulce hogar? (Home Sweet Home?)”, a report published by Amnesty International in October 2016.
The document addressed the role these countries have played in the current refugee crisis and stated that “soaring violence has caused rising numbers of people to run north to save their lives.” The problem, therefore, goes beyond borders and requires neighboring countries and other partner nations to mobilize in search of solutions.
That is why government representatives from the United States and Mexico met with business and government leaders from Central America and other countries, mainly from the Western Hemisphere, at the “Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America,” held June 15th-16th in Doral, Florida. Hosting the event on behalf of the United States were Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Representing Mexico, also a host country, were Secretary of Foreign Affairs Luis Videgaray, Secretary of the Interior Miguel A. Osorio, and Secretary of Finance José A. Meade.
Conference participants analyzed economic, governance, and security challenges in Northern Triangle countries, whose leaders were present, including Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales,; Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, ; and Salvadoran Vice President Oscar Ortiz. Also in attendance were representatives from the private sector and the governments of Belize, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Spain, Nicaragua, Panama, the European Union, as well as representatives from the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank.
“What happens in the Northern Triangle countries - El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala - directly affects the security and economic interests of the United States and other countries of the region,” Secretary Tillerson said during the opening plenary session published on the website of the U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua. “A more prosperous, safer Central America will help to halt illegal and dangerous migration, defeat transnational drug cartels and gangs, and end corruption in their economies,” Secretary Tillerson added.
Alliance for prosperity
Agenda items included policies to promote investment and sustained growth as well as ways to improve conditions for companies investing in the region. In this regard, one of the most concrete results of the meeting was reaffirming support for the “Alliance for Prosperity,” a plan led by the Northern Triangle to reduce violence.
“Under the Alliance for Prosperity, the countries of the Northern Triangle have been making real progress in areas such as citizen security, strengthening institutions, and developing human capital. The key over the next five years will be to tap the private sector to help build critical infrastructure that will generate jobs, improve competitiveness, and create the conditions that encourage people to build prosperous lives in their homelands,” said IADB President Luis Alberto Moreno, in a statement available on that institution’s official website.
The Colombian contribution
The Colombian delegation was headed by Army General Juan Pablo Rodríguez Barragán, the general commander of the Armed Forces, and the Minister of Defense, Luis C. Villegas. The presence of the South American delegation reaffirmed Colombia’s support for the efforts of the United States and Mexico towards security and stability in Central America.
Colombia is promoting investment and business with Northern Triangle countries, with which there is an existing free trade agreement. Currently, it is one of the 10 largest sources of foreign capital in these countries, with investments of approximately $2.4 billion.
With respect to security, “Colombia has trained 17,000 public servants from Central America since 2013 on such issues as criminal investigation, anti-narcotics efforts, and the fight against extortion and kidnapping,” Villegas stated in a press release from the Ministry of Defense referencing the work of local police academies in Central America. Colombia has also joined Central American countries to strengthen their institutions in the areas of nutrition, healthcare, agriculture, modernization of the government, and social inclusion, among others. According to the website of the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the country cooperates on social development, services, and quality management through its Mesoamerica Project. It also seeks to make progress on expanding the electrical grid.
“Colombia has received widespread recognition from the United States, both from Homeland Security Secretary, General John Kelly, [and from] various officials, deputy secretaries, and assistants for its improvement in security indexes, which I had the opportunity to present on, for example, the decrease in homicides,” Villegas said. He also pointed out that the number of lethal attacks was reduced by half, compared to 17 years ago, a fact that reflects regional stability.
“This means that we have achieved below-average levels of violent deaths for the region. Likewise, there has been a significant decrease in issues that have harmed Colombian society, things like extortion, which has fallen 44 percent, and kidnapping, which is [now] at its lowest level. Ultimately, it’s a peaceful situation,” he concluded.