Good afternoon, and thank you.
I am pleased to be here today on behalf of President Bush and to recognize the new Ambassador to El Salvador—Ambassador Glazer. And I am grateful for the opportunity to meet with President Saca, Attorney General Safie, and Minister of Public Security and Justice Figueroa to discuss issues of great importance to both of our countries.
Protecting the safety of our citizens is perhaps the central mission of any government. Without basic safety and security, we cannot be free to enjoy the many blessings of liberty, democracy, and economic opportunity.
We recognize that the safety of El Salvador is threatened by its serious gang problem. The United States has a gang problem as well. We estimate that about 30,000 violent gangs, with 800,000 members, operate in the U.S. today.
Violent crime committed by these gangs is a major concern for many American cities, and fighting it is one of my top priorities. So I appreciate the challenge you are facing, and I want you to know that you are not alone in your struggle.
In the United States, we have set up special national anti-gang task forces and a gang intelligence center to help us combat gang violence. But we recognize that this is not a problem that stops at our national borders, and we know that we need to do more.
So today I am proud to announce a tough new anti-gang initiative, launched in partnership with the government of El Salvador, and focused on those transnational gangs responsible for the worst violence.
It is a comprehensive, four-part initiative, aimed at enhancing enforcement, fugitive apprehension, international coordination and information sharing, and training and prevention.
First, the PNC and the FBI are together launching a new Transnational Anti-Gang Unit, or "TAG Unit," to go after the worst offenders. FBI agents will work with PNC detectives in El Salvador, and the U.S. Department of State has pledged funding and support to help set up this new unit. I am grateful to Attorney General Safie for his commitment to assign an experienced anti-gang prosecutor to work in the TAG unit to help bring these criminals to justice.
Second, thanks to a funding commitment from the U.S. Department of State, the FBI will be accelerating the implementation of the Central American Fingerprint Exploitation initiative, known as CAFÉ. The FBI and the CAFÉ initiative will provide equipment and training to help El Salvador and other countries acquire fingerprints of violent criminals who elude capture by slipping across international borders, and put them into a computerized system searchable by law enforcement.
In addition, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has created an Electronic Travel Document system, called eTD, that will soon go into operation for criminals deported to El Salvador. The eTD system will provide Salvadoran authorities with faster, more complete computerized information than has ever been available before. I want to stress that U.S. policy is to deport convicted criminals back to El Salvador only after they have finished serving all their prison time in the United States.
Third, international cooperation and coordination is critical to combating gangs that know no borders. Tomorrow in Los Angeles, for the first time, the Chiefs of Police for El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize are meeting in a summit focused on the single issue of transnational gangs. Their new proposals will be presented at the 3rd Annual International Gang Conference here in San Salvador in April.
Fourth, the U.S. has increased anti-gang training in the region, including at the International Law Enforcement Academy in San Salvador. Just last week, police and prosecutors from El Salvador and four neighboring countries completed an intensive anti-gang training program that included U.S. prosecutors and agents. And I am pleased to announce that the U.S. State Department will be funding a new program aimed at gang prevention, police training, and development of law enforcement institutions in El Salvador and throughout the region.
Each of these new steps is being launched in close cooperation between our two governments. I commend Salvadoran law enforcement, and you Mr. President, for you commitment to the fight against gang violence in El Salvador, and for your courage in recognizing and addressing this problem. The United States stands with El Salvador in your fight against violent gangs. We recognize that this is not just an issue for one or two countries; it affects the entire region, and so we must work together regionally. It is essential that both our nations fight this problem, individually and together. For all of our citizens, we must win this fight--and I believe that working together, as friends and partners, we will.