Thank you, President Fernandez, for your kind words, and for welcoming me here this evening. It is a pleasure to be with you, and a privilege to bring greetings from President Obama. Over the last three years, as the two of you have taken part in wide-ranging discussions – at the Summit of the Americas; in the Oval Office, during your visit to Washington last summer; and through the many bilateral and regional channels of communication that your respective Administrations have forged and strengthened – I know that President Obama has come to consider you as a valued partner and friend.
It is in this spirit of friendship that I have traveled to your beautiful country. And I am grateful, on a very personal level, for this opportunity to help build upon the progress that our nations – and America’s allies throughout the Caribbean region – have made together over the years.
As some of you may know, my father and all four of my grandparents were born and raised in Barbados. And so, while I am a proud American who was born in the United States, in many respects, I was a child of the Caribbean. And I am very proud of that part of my heritage.
During my tenure as Attorney General, I have been honored – in my travels throughout this region – to reaffirm a promise that President Obama made shortly after taking office. At the opening of the Fifth Summit of the Americas, he pledged the United States’ best efforts in establishing strong, effective, mutually beneficial, and forward-looking partnerships with our Caribbean allies. And, this evening, I am proud to be here in the Dominican Republic to advance the goals and priorities that we share – particularly when it comes to law enforcement cooperation.
Today – when criminal enterprises know no borders, and when national problems often demand global solutions – there can be no doubt that our countries share both common values and mutual concerns: from securing our borders and fighting terrorism; to combating cybercrime, financial fraud, corruption, and organized crime; to eliminating gang- and gun-related violence, curbing drug trafficking, and reducing prisoner recidivism.
These challenges span our entire hemisphere – and, as a result, our nations’ security interests have become permanently intertwined. More than ever before, our ability to achieve effective and lasting security for our nations, and our entire region, will depend on our willingness to work together.
Fortunately, we all can, and should, be encouraged that our nations have signaled a new commitment to cooperation in recent years – and that we’ve taken decisive steps to make good on this commitment. My American colleagues and I have often had the opportunity to work closely with our counterparts in this country – and throughout the Caribbean – to develop collaborative strategies for addressing our most pressing needs, confronting our most urgent challenges, and meeting our most critical public safety responsibilities.
Today, the United States and the Dominican Republic are working together like never before – to investigate and prosecute transnational crime, to share intelligence and criminal information, and – ultimately – to better protect the citizens we serve. Every person in this room can be proud that the partnership between the U.S. Department of Justice and your Prosecutor General’s office and law enforcement community has never been stronger.
Already, these bonds have led the Dominican Republic to become the fourth ranking country in the world when it comes to extraditing foreign nationals to the United States. And I’m happy to announce that, at the beginning of this month, a federal court in the United States cleared the way for us to extradite Eddy Bismarck Nunez Garrido to the Dominican Republic to face murder charges.
But I’m proud to say that all of this is only the beginning. Earlier today, I had the pleasure of meeting with Prosecutor General Peña to discuss ongoing law enforcement initiatives and cooperation between our countries, as well as additional opportunities for collaboration. Prosecutor Pe ña and I also signed an important forfeited asset sharing agreement, which relates to assets from the well-known case of the Benitez brothers, who defrauded an estimated 80 million dollars from the U.S. Medicare program, a program that serves the elderly, widows, orphans, and the disabled in the United States. The agreement will result in 20 percent of all assets recovered being shared with the Dominican government. An estimated 37 million dollars worth of criminal assets are currently in the process of being recovered by U.S. and Dominican law enforcement authorities here in the Dominican Republic.
Today’s signing was made possible by extraordinary – and, in many ways, unprecedented – levels of cooperation between American and Dominican law enforcement officials over the last two years. It marks the fourth time in a decade that the United States has recognized – through asset sharing – the remarkable forfeiture assistance that Dominican authorities have afforded to the United States. And it signals the opening of an historic new chapter in the critical relationship that exists between our two countries.
In fact – as many of you know – our nations have recently entered into negotiations for a permanent agreement that will govern our asset sharing relationship in the future. And both Prosecutor General Peña and I look forward to a rapid conclusion of these negotiations, and to the timely adoption of such an agreement.
Like President Fernandez, members of the Dominican government, and citizens across this country, the American people – and my colleagues at every level of our Department of Justice – are committed to advancing our joint interests and ensuring the security of our citizens. And we applaud the steps you’re already taking to address difficult challenges from an institutional perspective.
In addition to establishing a framework of critical laws and procedures that our countries – and our allies – can agree upon and embrace, we must utilize these laws and procedures to investigate and prosecute transnational crime. And we must continue to share intelligence and criminal information – police department to police department, prosecutor to prosecutor, forensic office to forensic office. Of course, as we fight crime, we must – and we will – respect the human rights of all persons, and work together to build justice systems that comport with the rule of law. With your support and collaboration, I am certain we can enhance the entire criminal justice process – from prevention, investigation, and prosecution to incarceration and, where possible, to rehabilitation and re-entry into society. And I want to assure you that the United States Department of Justice stands ready to support you in any way possible.
Despite the gravity of the challenges we face – and the fiscal difficulties that so many of us must confront on a daily basis – as I look at this group of leaders, allies, and friends, I am more confident than ever before that we can succeed in advancing our strong record of cooperation.
In this work, I am eager to pledge my own best efforts, as well as the strong support of President Obama and our colleagues throughout the government of the United States.
Once again, I want to thank Your Excellency for welcoming me this evening – and for the leadership and commitment you are bringing to the work we share. The United States is deeply grateful for your partnership, and I look forward to all that we will accomplish – together – in the critical days ahead.