US Ambassador addresses El Salvador's challenges
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Even with all we have accomplished together, a number of challenges lie ahead. I see two major challenges for Salvadoran political, business and civic leaders. The first is to preserve and nurture this positive investment climate. The second challenge is to ensure that economic prosperity resulting from your positive trade policies benefits all Salvadorans across all sectors of society. Taking concrete steps to spread the economic benefits of free trade and a market economy will strengthen democracy, increase confidence in public and private institutions, deter criminal activity, allow Salvadorans to find their financial future here rather than overseas, and most importantly of all, improve the lives of so many.
Let me focus just a moment on the first of these challenges, because you in the private sector have a very important role – no, a responsibility – in addressing it.
Experts estimate that the cost of crime amounts to approximately 11% of GDP. That’s a hidden 11% tax on all business done in the country. The murder rate in El Salvador is one of the highest in Latin America. All of us who live here make certain sacrifices in our daily lives to protect ourselves and our families from crime. But as a businessman and investor myself, I want to emphasize that El Salvador’s public security crisis can also create an economic crisis and a disincentive to foreign investment in El Salvador. There is no doubt that El Salvador must have direct foreign investment to grow and prosper. Foreign investment means a stronger economy, more jobs, increased tax revenues, and a better life for all.
Public security is the number one priority of the American Embassy. And something that I can’t help but think about everyday.
We are working closely with our Salvadoran counterparts on this issue. Several weeks ago we dedicated the new site of the International Law Enforcement Academy, a regional body under State Department auspices that trains judges, prosecutors and police officers in the latest crime-fighting methods. The U.S. is contributing over $7 million to build the Academy, and although San Salvador’s ILEA serves the entire continent, Salvadoran officials make up more than 25% of the students in each class.
The Cooperative Security Location at Comalapa Airport is a bilateral effort to combat drug-trafficking – a scourge that has not affected El Salvador to the degree that it has some of its neighbors, but that nonetheless remains a threat to the security and economic welfare of the country.Drug traffickers bring with them violent crime and political corruption. The CSL is a testament to the determination of our two countries to keep narcotraffickers out of El Salvador.
The Minister of Public Security and Justice, Rene Figueroa and I recently dedicated a new anti-gang unit in which US and Salvadoran law enforcement authorities work side by side to combat the pandillas. We have also created, under the State Department’s international law-enforcement program, the position of Regional Gang Advisor. This important State Department official will be based at the Embassy here in San Salvador and will dedicate himself full time to working with US and local law enforcement authorities to fight gangs throughout the -region....
The United States is dedicated to working with our Salvadoran friends to address these challenges, but it won’t be easy. Resources are hard to come by. Political will is harder. Salvadorans of all political persuasions, inside and outside of the government – must dedicate themselves – fully -- to solving the public security problem and demanding respect for the rule of law.
I have worked very closely with the government and the government officials charged with public safety. Here is my conclusion: The government is trying very hard to implement the measures that are necessary to protect its citizens. Murder rates have dropped, and that’s important. I hope to see a similar focus by Salvadoran authorities, the media and the public on other violent crimes –most importantly assaults and robberies on the buses. When we see the rate of these violent crimes drop, we’ll know that El Salvador has taken a second important step.
The executive branch of government cannot do it alone.
An important part of the solution lies in the courts. The annual Human Rights Reports of the Department of State have for the past six years identified judicial inefficiency and corruption as an obstacle to effective democracy in El Salvador. We know there are many honest, efficient judges, doing their part to build an effective judiciary in which Salvadorans and foreign investors can have confidence and be proud. But all too often, there are those who wish to continue “business as usual”. This impacts honest citizens and business people who deserve and need a reliable, predictable and honest judiciary.
Many of you have told me in private that you lack confidence in the courts, that decisions are arbitrary, unpredictable and slow to come. Yet I see little public pressure to strengthen the process for dealing with judicial corruption.
The National Assembly should approve a revised criminal procedures code during the next few weeks, ensuring transparency and predictability in criminal courts and giving judges, prosecutors and police the critical tools necessary to ensure public security. An improved, modernized criminal code is within the grasp of the current Assembly. Salvadorans deserve improved access to justice and the greater public security it promises. The fiscalia and police deserve to have criminal cases heard quickly and adjudicated impartially according to the law of the land. I urge the Assembly, the judicial branch, the executive branch and civil society to step forward and do what is right to protect your country.