Ambassador’s Remarks at Opening of International Anti-Gang Training Conference

Titular de la Unidad de Gobierno de la Secretaría de Gobernación, SEGOB Lic. David Garay Maldonado;

Coordinador Nacional Antisecuestro, CONASE, Lic. Renato Sales;

Secretario Ejecutivo en funciones del Secretariado Ejecutivo del sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SESNSP Lic. Carlos Felipe Ortega Rubio;

Ambassador to Honduras, Excmo. Jose Mariano Castillo Mercado;

Director of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement in Mexico City Steve Kraft;

and distinguished guests,

It gives me great pleasure to be here today and welcome all of you to the third annual International Anti-Gang Conference.  Looking around this room, I see our numbers have grown significantly in three years.  In fact, I believe there are more than 400 people in attendance today.  The growth of this conference demonstrates the importance we have given to fighting gangs in our region.

I am honored to join everyone on this podium in welcoming you to this important conference.  The work we are doing together to combat transnational street and prison gangs is significant and benefits the citizens of all our nations.

We know that crime—and especially organized criminal activity—has no respect for borders.  Coordination and intelligence sharing are keys to combatting crime.  And that is what brings us together today.

Mexican criminal investigations have revealed that gangs in Mexico are aligned with transnational criminal organizations (TCOs).  TCOs utilize gangs as their enforcement arm to target and eliminate rivals.  That is exactly how Los Zetas got their beginning.

TCO networks, including transnational gangs, have expanded and matured.  Many TCOs have moved beyond drug trafficking into human smuggling and trafficking, weapons smuggling, bulk cash smuggling, extortion, theft of gasoline from pipelines, and kidnapping for ransom.

In addition to being an affront to the safety and security of citizens across the region, gang activity and transnational crime also threaten our economic interests.  The price of doing business in countries affected by organized crime is rising as companies budget for additional security costs, adversely impacting foreign investment.

And let us not forget the terrible human cost of gangs—the loss of so many young people to a life of crime.  Once a young person becomes involved with a gang, we all know it is almost impossible for them to get out.

Strengthened international cooperation is our best weapon against gangs and TCOs.  Through the Merida Initiative, the U.S. government—specifically the State Department, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)—is working with Central America and Mexico to build law enforcement capacity to counter the gang threat.  To date, over 725 officers from throughout Mexico and Central America have attended Merida Initiative anti-gang trainings.

There is much we can learn from each other.  Members of the Transnational Anti-Gang (TAG) units in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have valuable lessons-learned about identifying and tracking gang members, especially methods for gleaning as much information as possible about each member, things such as tattoos, street names, and typical hideouts in the U.S. and Central America.  The information obtained by the TAG units is extremely useful in facilitating international efforts to combat gang activity in the United States, Mexico, and Central America.

We are grateful for the leadership represented here today and your support for our joint efforts to further the capacity of police, investigators, and prosecutors throughout our region.  As the U.S. Ambassador, I am honored, very honored, to be working with such great partners.  And, I strongly agree with President Obama who said;

“I believe that in the Americas today, there are no senior partners and there are no junior partners, there are only equal partners.  Of course, equal partnerships, in turn, demands a sense of shared responsibility.  We have obligations to each other.”

Which brings me back to what I said earlier—investigations and shared intelligence are our best weapons in fighting crime.  As the gangs and TCOs recognize no borders, neither should our ability and willingness to share gang-related investigative leads.  Together, we are building our own network to defeat transnational crime.

Thank you.