Emerging Threats and Security in the Western Hemisphere (Press Release)

Posted on October 14, 2011 • Filed under: Crime, Drug Activity, Latin America News, Police/Military Activity, Politics

Emerging Threats and Security in the Western Hemisphere
Press Release: US State Department
Next Steps for U.S. Policy

William R. Brownfield
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
Statement before the House Foreign Affairs Committee
Washington, DC
October 13, 2011

As delivered

Madam Chairman, Ranking Member, ladies and gentlemen of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you. I have prepared a written statement. With your permission, I will submit it for the record and offer brief, oral remarks.

Members of the Committee, I have been in the Foreign Service for 32 years. I mention this not just to make you feel sorry for me, but to suggest that the answers to today’s theme, “Emerging Threats and Security in the Western Hemisphere,” have evolved over time. We are providing a snapshot of a moving train. In many ways, the speed and direction of that train are determined by our own policies and programs.

• If you asked me to assess major threats in 1980, I would have pointed to guerrilla insurgencies in Central America, supported by governments both within and outside of the Hemisphere.

• In 1990, I would have answered huge, vertically integrated Colombian cartels controlling all drug trafficking in the Andes.

• In 2000, I would have said the threat was the nexus between drug traffickers and guerrilla insurgencies in Colombia and Peru.

• In 2007, I would have argued that the most serious security threat to the United States had moved to Mexico, where criminal cartels produce, traffic, and market their product into the United States.

• Today, I believe our greatest threat has moved to Central America, where traffickers and criminal gangs now facilitate the flow of up to 95% of all cocaine reaching the U.S. and threaten the very governments themselves.

Madam Chairman, I suggest there is cause and effect here. As we correctly focused on Central America in the 1980s, the Medellin and Cali cartels grew. As we broke the backs of the major cartels, smaller traffickers developed an unholy alliance with the Colombian FARC and ELN, and the Peruvian Sendero Luminoso. As Plan Colombia squeezed Colombian traffickers, Mexican cartels filled the void. And as the Merida Initiative begins to bite against those cartels, we see them moving into Central America.

We still face security threats from drug cartels, guerrilla movements, organized crime, and trafficking networks. But our job is to stay ahead of the emerging threats. Right now, I believe that is Central America. The President made that clear last March when he announced his Central America Citizen Security Partnership. Our tactical challenge is to provide additional resources for Central America law enforcement and security programs, link the governments more closely together in regional efforts, engage other partners, and support our essential Plan Colombia, Merida Initiative, and Caribbean Basin programs. We very much appreciate the Committee’s support in this effort.

The Committee asks us to consider as well security threats from outside the Hemisphere. They may not be as great as those from within, but they exist. I served three long years as Ambassador to Venezuela. When I arrived in 2004, the diplomatic list showed fewer than ten diplomats assigned to the Iranian Embassy. When I left in 2007, the number was above 40. The Iranian Ambassador never told me what his people were doing, but I assume they were doing something. And, if you had asked me when I left Argentina in 1989 the prospects for massive terror attacks in five years supported by the Iranian government killing hundreds of innocent people in Buenos Aires, I would have said very remote. I would have been wrong. Dead wrong.

Members of the Committee, our mission is to assess the threats from the Hemisphere to the American people, and to support programs to solve them. I believe our highest priority right now is Central America. But we cannot lose sight of Mexico, Colombia, the Caribbean, and the Andes. We must look ahead to tomorrow’s priorities; I see an emerging trafficking threat from South America across the Atlantic to West Africa, and from there to Europe or back to North America. And we must not lose sight of the external players in our Hemisphere. We did that in the early 1990’s; we should never do that again.

Madam Chairman, I thank you for this opportunity, and look forward to your questions.

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