Thank you, Mr. Secretary General, for your opening remarks. I also want to thank the Government of Mexico for hosting this important regional meeting, the first of its kind under the auspices of the OAS. This forum gives us an excellent opportunity to promote the goals and objectives we all share in increasing the security, prosperity and happiness of our citizens. I fully endorse the statements of the previous speakers, who have stressed the need for all of our nations to work both individually, and cooperatively, to provide our citizens with secure and safe communities in which they can live and work.
Although we come from 34 different countries, we are united by a single objective: to maintain and improve the security of our citizens. It is part of the genius of the OAS that it recognizes that this goal can be accomplished only when we work together.
This meeting, the OAS’s first to gather senior officials responsible for their country’s public security functions, provides an important opportunity for us to openly discuss and share experiences, set goals and priorities and identify possible future action we can take to enhance the security of our citizens, their communities and their property.
Security for our citizens and our communities can be measured in many ways, including the elimination of poverty, the provision of high-quality education, the promotion of sustainable economic growth and development, and the protection of the environment. As we will affirm when we adopt the Conclusions and Recommendations tomorrow, achieving those objectives depends upon maintaining the physical and personal safety of those to whom we are responsible, those we serve. That can be done only through the elimination of violent crime, corruption, terrorism, the trafficking of drugs, arms, and people, and other forms of criminal conduct.
The criminal organizations that engage in those unlawful activities and threaten our citizens’ well-being, are increasingly transnational, which makes it absolutely essential for us to strengthen hemispheric cooperation. It is essential both for the internal stability of our individual nations and for our shared security.
I believe that the increased threat posed by transnational organized criminal groups is one of the most significant public security challenges we face in the hemisphere. We have found that modern-day international organized crime poses a greater challenge to law enforcement than did the traditional mafia, in many respects. It is not only the geographical source of the threat that is different. The degree of sophistication is also markedly different.
Some of the most significant international organized criminals are infiltrating our own strategic industries, and those of other countries in this hemisphere and around the world. And they are capable of creating havoc in our economic infrastructure.
In the past we understood the basics of international organized crime, but we lacked an overall perspective on how the pieces fit together. Therefore, the U.S. Department of Justice and other federal agencies have conducted a comprehensive assessment of international organized crime.
We learned that organized crime, in addition to being more varied and dangerous than ever, has a remarkable ability to adapt to changing conditions. As a result, the challenge we face with the new breed of organized criminals is quite different from the one we faced a generation or two ago. They are more sophisticated, they are richer, they have greater influence over government and political institutions worldwide, and they have the technical capacity to use the latest technology, first to perpetrate and then to cover up their crimes.
These new groups of organized criminals also are far more involved in our everyday lives than many people understand. They touch all sectors of our economy, dealing in everything from cigarettes to oil; clothing to pharmaceuticals. These criminals invest some of the millions they make from illegal activities in the same publicly traded companies as we hold in our pension plans. They exploit the internet for their own criminal gains, and commit crimes in our countries using their computers while hiding safely in faraway places. Indeed, the internet is tailor-made for organized crime--it's anonymous, largely untraceable, and can provide instant communication for a far-flung network of criminals.
These groups run like global corporations; they use sophisticated financial operations. They can exploit legitimate banking systems in our countries to launder money, or engage in other financial crimes like insurance fraud. The criminals operating these schemes are willing to move money for anyone who needs to hide the source, ownership, or destination of the funds--no questions asked. They corrupt banking officials and exploit lax anti-money-laundering protections around the world to inject illicit funds into the global money stream. By all estimates, such schemes move billions of dollars every year through the world’s financial institutions.
Other threats identified in our assessment include manipulation of securities markets; corrupting public officials globally; and using violence as a basis for power. These are the hallmarks of international organized crime in the 21st century. That is what we are up against.
So what are we doing about it? Earlier this year, I announced a comprehensive law enforcement strategy to address international organized crime. This strategy – which supplements our related strategies for attacking narcotics cartels and gangs – sets out four priority areas of action against international organized crime.
First, we have to identify and target the biggest organized crime threats, just as we've done successfully in targeting the worst of the worst transnational drug cartels. We will develop a high-priority list of people and organizations that pose the greatest threat, and then focus our resources on them.
Second, we have to gather information from all available sources--law enforcement, the intelligence community, the private sector, and most importantly you, our international partners—so we can identify and draw connections among the groups.
Third, we have to use every tool at our disposal. This means we will step up what we are already doing with our international partners to get these criminals wherever they hide. International borders pose no obstacle to criminals, so we’re making sure those borders do not pose an obstacle to effective enforcement.
Finally, we have to develop aggressive strategies for dismantling entire criminal organizations and removing their leadership.
But we can do this only in partnership with you. We want to help design new programs, and forge even closer working relationships with you. For the sake of future generations, this is both a noble and a vital goal, and I am proud to be able to pursue it with all of you, the leaders on public security issues in this hemisphere.
In this first Meeting of the Public Security Ministers of the Americas, we have a chance to act on the urgent need to examine, and strengthen where necessary, our national, regional and hemispheric institutions and policies aimed at countering the trend of increased international organized crime and enhancing the protection of our citizens and communities against the harm those organizations inflict on all of us. Our task in this regard is made all the more urgent because one of the most vulnerable groups in our societies is young people.
It is fitting that this initial meeting of the officials charged with the public security functions in the hemisphere is taking place in Mexico City. Mexico has been a long-time leader in recognizing the importance of regional efforts to increase public security. For many years, Mexico has participated with Central American countries, as well as with the United States, to combat, on a regional basis, the very real harm that transnational organized crime does to our citizens, our communities and our democratic institutions. For example, Mexico and the United States recently joined, along with a number of other nations here today, to adopt the Merida Initiative, a regional program that identifies and sets a course to combat narcotics trafficking, money laundering, trafficking in persons and other transnational crime carried on by increasingly sophisticated criminal organizations.
The importance of working together to identify, address and solve hemispheric public security challenges is reflected by the Conclusions and Recommendations we will adopt and approve at the end of this meeting. I think it is noteworthy that those joint statements will reinforce the work done by REMJA, the group of Justice Ministers of the Americas that conducts bi-annual meetings under OAS auspices to focus on hemispheric cooperation in criminal justice matters. Public security and the rule of law go hand in hand, and both are promoted by effective and transparent criminal justice systems. In the United States, that relationship is reflected in the fact that the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security have related roles to play in public security matters. Tomorrow, you will have an opportunity to meet and hear from the Deputy Secretary for Homeland Security, who will address other important issues related to this topic.
I’d like to conclude by adding my commitment to work with all of you to try to improve the security of our citizens and residents, especially the most vulnerable. I am proud to be part of this inaugural meeting of hemispheric public security ministers. I’m grateful for this chance we have to hear from each other what public security issues we each face, and to talk about what we can do to help each other. I hope we can maintain that contact after this meeting, through bilateral, sub-regional, and hemispheric efforts.
Finally, I would like to once again thank the OAS and the Mexican government for hosting this meeting, which allows us to renew our common goals and commitments to maintain and improve the safety, security, and quality of life of all our citizens.