U.S. Policy in the Caribbean

Maria Otero
Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs
Washington, DC
June 27, 2011


Thank you Cheryl for that kind introduction.

As you just heard, I am the Under Secretary of State for Democracy and
Global Affairs. However, following the recommendations of the first ever
Quadrennial Development and Diplomacy Review, QDDR, my position will be
transitioned into the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and
Human Rights — recognizing the importance of civilian security not only in
our words and deeds, but in the very way we are organizing our foreign
policy establishment.

The central theme I would like to talk about today is opportunity — how we
can seize it and use it to build the future that we in the United States and
our neighbors and partners in the Caribbean countries want to achieve.

Just last week, Secretary Clinton and I traveled to Guatemala to show our
commitment to working with the Central Americans on a strategy to promote
civilian security.

We underscored the necessity of a comprehensive regional approach to these
challenges so we don’t merely push violence from one country to another or
from one region to another. If you follow what has been happening in Central
America, you know exactly what I mean. The successful work in Colombia to
overcome criminal gangs and the increasing effectiveness of the Mexican
Government have squeezed the drug traffickers, shifting their destructive
and destabilizing activities to Central America.

When she left Guatemala, Secretary Clinton traveled to Jamaica, where she
reiterated her commitment to citizen security at the High Level
Caribbean-U.S. Dialogue. She emphasized the Caribbean Basin Security
Initiative as one part of a broader regional security approach and announced
a 70% increase in funding for fiscal year 2011 for this initiative.

I’d like to take a moment to discuss how we can stop this cycle of civilian
*in*security. How do we move from bold ambitions and weak institutions to
strong rule of law and stable communities?

I would argue that, much like the negative trends I just mentioned, our
efforts toward civilian security in the Americas do not exist in isolation
from one another. We cannot succeed in addressing citizen security over the
long term without addressing the underlying causes of social dislocation and
disaffection that lead to violence, drug abuse, and corruption.

Indeed, our success depends on many moving parts—many antidotes to the
overall weakness we seek to displace.

Today, I would like to talk about three of those antidotes. The first is
what we would call *institutional reform* — or investing in the building
blocks of the security sector to secure rule of law and protect human
rights. The second is another kind of *investment — in our youth*. We must
identify and promote alternate opportunities for our young people so they
can make good choices for themselves and for society. And third, we
must *recommit
to ourselves human rights for all people* — including the traditionally
marginalized and abused, such as women, ethnic minorities and LGBT

On the first point, we must continue to invest in the institutional
framework that provides accountability for criminals and recourse for
victims. Without this basic structure, our pursuit of societies governed
justly through rule of law is like a skeleton without a backbone.

Our investment must take several forms — from basic equipment and
infrastructure to extensive training and curriculum development.

In the Caribbean, the Department of State and other U.S. agencies work
through the CARICOM member states and the Dominican Republic, and other
regional security organizations to strengthen national and regional capacity
to address the challenges and priorities of member states. Security programs
range from logistical support to control maritime borders to capacity
building for law enforcement regional data sharing, police
professionalization, border security, and other justice sector reform

We have also worked hard in the Caribbean region to fight the scourge of
human trafficking*. *Just an hour ago, Secretary Clinton released the
11th annual
Trafficking in Persons Report, and we are pleased to see the progress
Caribbean nations have made to combat the problem of modern slavery within
and among the islands.

We were especially delighted to honor Sheila Roseau of the government of
Antigua and Barbuda as a “hero” in recognition of her innovative leadership
and perseverance in establishing a victim-centered approach to combating
human trafficking. While many challenges remain, some Caribbean countries
have made impressive progress in identifying and helping more victims of
forced prostitution and forced labor over the past year. We must focus
additional resources on identifying victims, increasing victim protection,
and holding perpetrators accountable through increased convictions and
prison sentences.

The second major focus of our efforts is on civil society, women, and youth
of the Caribbean. I say that not just because of my own personal belief in
their power, but because including them in the solutions is the strategic
and effective way to build up all societies.

The young people of our countries play many roles, and our efforts today can
make the difference in whether they join those who perpetrate gang violence
or become the human rights leaders of the next generation. Too often their
options for young people’s personal and professional growth are limited,
leading them to a life in the shadows of society. We owe them a better

Nowhere have I seen the power of youth as forcefully as in the small town of
El Progreso, Honduras. There, a young man [full disclaimer, he is my son]
and a friend recognized that the way to empower youth was through education.
They started a non-profit organization, Organization for Youth Empowerment,
OYE, which offers scholarships to at-risk youth to finish high school and
attend college.

OYE sees youth as the social change agents in their community and presents
them with opportunities to develop leadership skills and social awareness.
Of course, OYE is just one example of many youth empowerment initiatives.
Scaling up programs such as this one is cost-effective and works.

But we must go a step farther — we must elevate our commitment to support
marginalized and disenfranchised groups, including women, persons with
disabilities, ethnic minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender

Let me start with women.

Despite bearing the brunt of society’s political and economic challenges,
women across the Americas continue to drive democratic change and social
equality. I have met with women leaders in the Dominican Republic who are
fighting the scourge of human trafficking. And in Cuba, the *Damas de Blanco
* were recently honored by the Department for their work fighting for
fundamental freedoms and human rights.

Yet, despite these heroic examples, women remain marginalized by outdated
legislation and ineffective law enforcement. As countries seek to establish
more stable rule of law and equitable judicial systems, the role of women
will be paramount to their success.

In nations across the hemisphere, men and women may be subjected to horrific
violence, persecution, and threats simply because of who they are or whom
they love. Such hatred poisons so-called “free” societies. The United States
has responded by condemning such actions, and I have personally addressed
this issue at the highest levels across the globe.

We see a particularly acute problem in the Caribbean, with negative societal
and government-endorsed attitudes toward people because of their sexual
orientation and gender identity.

This is particularly difficult in small island nations, where the
communities are small — and the discrimination and violence is compounded
because of the close knit socially conservative environment. Same-sex sexual
activity remains criminalized with a life sentence in some countries and up
to 25 years in prison in other countries in the Caribbean.

We have made strides in recent months, with the United Nations Human Rights
Council passing the first UN resolution calling for the full protection of
the human rights of lesbian, gay, transgender, and bisexual people. It is
based on the simple idea that all individuals deserve universal rights. I
ask everyone here to join our efforts to promote and protect the human
rights of LGBT people, and make this issue a priority as you engage with
your networks in the Caribbean.

Similarly, the erosion of freedom of expression undermines the democratic
institutions we have fought to build and preserve for generations. Without
this freedom, opposition is silent and democracy becomes a vehicle for
derision rather than for peaceful and stable governance.

To achieve citizen security, we must stand up — time and again — for media
freedom and freedom of expression. In many nations, including Haiti, we have
collaborated to support healthy, free media through training journalists in
human rights, unbiased reporting, and the importance of media freedom.

As President Obama emphasized earlier this year in Santiago, Chile, we must
confront the challenge of citizen security together, and from every
direction. As we invest in the judicial systems that form the backbone of
every society, so too must we invest in a future that honors all members of
society and empowers the youth of our region. The violence and insecurity we
face today should not cripple our hope for a better future. With that, I
thank you for all that you do, and for inviting me to be here with you

Thank you very much.
Maria Otero
Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs


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