DOJ/OPDAT Latin America and the Caribbean Programs
Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) is a diverse and dynamic region in which many countries are currently undergoing transitions from inquisitorial judicial systems to accusatory systems. In LAC, as in the other OPDAT regions, OPDAT provides targeted technical assistance and mentoring programs to prosecutors, investigators, and judges through its Resident Legal Advisers and Intermittent Legal Advisers in Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico and the Caribbean. Assistance often includes reform of criminal codes and criminal procedure codes. OPDAT also provides technical assistance in specialized areas, including terrorism, gangs and organized crime, witness protection, cybercrime, human trafficking, intellectual property rights, corruption, money laundering and asset forfeiture. In conducting these programs, OPDAT draws upon the expertise of the appropriate Criminal Division components (most notably the Office of International Affairs and the Asset Forfeiture & Money Laundering Section), federal law enforcement agencies (including FBI, DEA, and DHS), and the US Attorney's Offices (in 94 districts around the country).
OPDAT's largest and longest running program in LAC is in Colombia. From 2000 through the present, OPDAT implemented in Colombia the Justice Sector Reform Program (JSRP) through the US Embassy in Bogota. It has assisted Colombian lawmakers, judges, prosecutors and police authorities to implement a Colombian Criminal Procedure Code that mandated that country's transition from a written, inquisitorial criminal justice system, marked by delays and inefficiency, to an oral, accusatorial one. Since 2008, OPDAT has continued its work mentoring Colombian counterparts in implementing the Criminal Procedure Code and providing training in specialized areas, such as human rights, witness protection, and victim/witness assistance. The OPDAT RLAs in Colombia have also helped strengthen the Colombian judiciary and enhanced the courts' working relationships with other criminal justice sector institutions. Finally, OPDAT helped create and implement the first Victim/Witness Assistance Centers using the attention model employed in US Attorneys' Offices to provide services and representation to victims of crime as required by Colombian law.
The Merida Initiative in Mexico is OPDAT's second largest and fastest growing program. Since 2009, OPDAT has been providing major technical assistance program for Mexican prosecutors and law enforcement officers in investigation of complex crimes (including gang-related violence and money-laundering). It has also assisted in criminal procedure code reform efforts, drafting of witness protection legislation, extradition and mutual legal assistance, human trafficking, intellectual property rights violations, and more. OPDAT conducts Trial Advocacy courses for Mexican prosecutors unfamiliar with the adversarial system in preparation for a transition to an adversarial system with the next six years. To further assist in this transition, in late 2011, OPDAT began implementation of Plan Diamante, an ambitious capacity building effort aimed at preparing investigators and prosecutors nationwide for the new investigative and legal procedures attendant to an adversarial criminal justice system. Finally, OPDAT was instrumental in the creation of an Amber Alert system in Mexico, designed to find abducted children quickly and already credited with the rescue of several children.
OPDAT also provides regional assistance including Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, the Caribbean and other countries, relating to gang activity and other law enforcement or criminal justice system areas.