AS/COA Online | Interview: El Salvador's Ambassador to the U.S. Rubén Zamora

“[W]e have started what we call the two-track policy—continuing with the fight against crime in the country by stage agencies, but at the same time, town by town, trying to develop conditions for preventing violence and reintegrating those people into society in a productive way.”

Appointed last month as the new Salvadoran ambassador in Washington, Rubén Zamora spoke with AS/COA Online’s Carin Zissis about the evolution of U.S.-Central American security policy in light of President Barack Obama’s recent trip to the region, saying: “Now the Obama administration is moving towards a more comprehensive approach, using the mantra, I would say, of partnership.” The ambassador also gave an overview of the Salvadoran government’s local strategies to drive down crime, as well as how to leverage initiatives such as the Partnership for Growth and CAFTA-DR. With a political career dating back to 1970, Zamora served twice as a legislative deputy in El Salvador’s National Assembly, was a member of the country’s Peace Commission, and ran, in 1994, as the first presidential candidate of the left’s coalition after the 1992 Peace Accords. More recently, he held the post of ambassador to India.

AS/COA Online: In light of U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent meeting with leaders in Costa Rica, including with President of El Salvador Mauricio Funes, what were some of the accomplishments? And what more do you think should have been done?

Ambassador Zamora: For us, the meeting between President Obama and the seven Central American and Caribbean head of states was important because we learned about U.S. foreign policy on Central America. The discussion was very frank among the presidents and it was clear for us—and this seems to me an important achievement—that President Obama clearly was for a more integrated approach to the question of security. That was one of the main issues in the talks among the heads of states. We had mostly been used to the United States insisting more and more on the question of controlling crime; that is necessary, but is very insufficient to achieve results. Now, it seems to me, Washington is having a more comprehensive, holistic approach to the problem that we are facing in Central America, both in terms of the crime and in terms of Central America being a region through which South American drugs travel to the United States.

AS/COA Online: In connection with that, I wanted to ask about CARSI [Central America Regional Security Initiative]. In March, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William R. Brownfield gave remarks at our organization, and he said: “What we are doing today is actually very different from what we thought we were going to be doing four years ago.” What do you think needs to happen to improve security cooperation on a regional level? And how would you suggest that CARSI could evolve further?

Zamora: The starting point now is that the best strategic view when it comes to security in Central America, especially in the northern part—that means Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador—is that you have to attack the problem with a two or three-track policy. You cannot do it just with a single line of policy, or the tactic of controlling crime without addressing the question of the rehabilitation of gang members into mainstream society...

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AS/COA Online | Pérez Molina Takes the Helm in Guatemala

For the first time since Guatemala’s return to democracy, an ex-general took the presidential helm on January 14. “Change has arrived,” said new President Otto Pérez Molina during his inauguration. He also acknowledged that he enters office at a time when the country faces “many problems and enormous challenges.” Pérez Molina of the Patriotic Party won a November runoff election with the promise of a mano dura—or iron fist—to fight criminality and rein in the country’s high murder rate. His inaugural speech urged Mexico, Central America, Colombia, and particularly the United States to step up cooperation in the fight against organized crime. Guatemala’s high poverty rate and economic concerns will be crucial issues for the administration as well. But, with over two-thirds of Guatemalans viewing violence as the country’s top problem, combating crime will be at the top of Pérez Molina’s agenda. How will he balance these challenges with his military past?

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AS/COA Online - New U.S. Measures Seek to Stem Arms Trafficking into Mexico

The Obama administration announced Monday new rules requiring increased reporting about semi-automatic weapons sales in Southwest border states. Firearms dealers in Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas will be required to report when making a sale, within five business days, of more than one semiautomatic rifle greater than .22 caliber and with detachable magazines. Such weapons include AK-47s U.S. Department of Justice Deputy Attorney General James Cole heralded the new rules as a tool for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) “to help confront the problem of illegal gun trafficking into Mexico and along the Southwest Border.” But the new rules could force the White House into a legal tussle with the National Rifle Association (NRA), an organization dedicated to gun ownership rights. The move also comes amid a simmering scandal over the ATF’s botched gun-tracing operation dubbed “Fast and Furious” that allowed U.S. weapons to fall into the hands of Mexican drug gangs.

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IPS News - 'The Gatekeeper' Shows Plight of Mexican Migrants

”Welcome to California,” says an undocumented Mexican lab worker after showing how to make the drug methamphetamine by mixing toxic chemicals over a burner in a dim, windowless shack.

The scene is from ”The Gatekeeper,” a drama tracing the experiences of a group of Mexicans who illegally cross the Tijuana-San Diego border. After arriving in the United States, the migrants are forced to work making the highly addictive street drug, also known as ”speed” or ”meth”, to pay off their passage.

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