Thursday, May 02, 2013

Central America: An agenda for President Obama in Central America

Source: International Crisis Group Blogs

An agenda for President Obama in Central America

By Mark Schneider, Senior Vice President / Special Adviser on Latin America

President Obama’s visit on Thursday to Mexico and Costa Rica comes at an important moment. Mexico is experiencing a marked revival; it is listed 11th in global purchasing power and does $500 billion a year in trade with the U.S. In Costa Rica, President Obama will highlight the democratic stability of a country that decided more than 50 years ago to do without an army. However, in both countries citizen security is now the main public concern amid unrelenting violence by Mexican criminal cartels engaged in extortion, kidnapping and cocaine trafficking. Crisis Group covered this issue in depth in our inaugural report from Mexico in March.

President Obama could take three decisions on the trip that would make his counterparts happy and help anticipate the June Organization of American States General Assembly debate on counterdrug policy and crime.

First, he could announce a blue-ribbon presidential bipartisan commission to review US counterdrug policy, taking into account the views of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy blue-ribbon panel and the forthcoming OAS report on that issue, which should be made public soon.

Second, he could announce US readiness to share more intelligence and more money to respond to the new Mexican security plan on police and justice reform, and support Mexican president Peña Nieto’s community violence prevention plan centered on youth poverty reduction. Together, Peña Nieto and Obama could pledge to do more on violence prevention and security reform not only in the Northern Triangle area of Central America but throughout the isthmus, no part of which is free of gang and cartel-driven violence.

Finally, while much needs to be done to bolster institutions south of the border, the U.S. can help Mexico and Central America most by putting its own house in order, through immigration reform, stopping the flow of assault weapons across its borders, and toughening efforts against money laundering.