Western Hemisphere


OPDAT’s Western Hemisphere Programs (WHP) provide capacity building and technical assistance to foreign prosecutors, judges, and investigators throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, most often through the deployment of experienced Resident Legal Advisors (RLAs). There are currently 16 RLA positions in this region. OPDAT’s WHP programs, funded by the U.S. Department of State, are focused on a variety of subject matters, but the work in the region places a large emphasis on helping countries transition to the accusatory system and providing case based mentoring in relation to complex investigations involving transnational criminal organizations (TCOs).

WHP Programs

Brazil: On September 2016, OPDAT placed an Intellectual Computer Hacking and Intellectual Property (ICHIP), formerly known as an Intellectual Law Enforcement Coordinator (IPLEC), in Brazil who works in close coordination with a Department of Homeland Security/Homeland Security Investigations investigator to provide Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) technical assistance to Brazilian investigators, prosecutors, judges, and customs officials as well as throughout the region. This team continues to build upon the work initiated by the Intermittent Legal Advisor (ILA) and continues to strengthen the capacity of Brazilian and regional justice sector officials to combat IPR crimes through mentoring, best practices handbooks, and practical training programs.

Colombia: The Colombia program was initiated in 2001 as a U.S. law enforcement umbrella assistance program under Plan Colombia and was implemented jointly by OPDAT, ICITAP, and the U.S. Marshals Service. OPDAT’s signature project was the effective implementation of a new criminal procedure code enacted in 2005 and building the capacity of all parties to work under the new adversarial criminal justice system. Other programs included the establishment of victim assistance centers, an extensive witness protection and court security program; and developing and mentoring a specialized national unit for organized crime. Currently, the OPDAT program led by two RLAs support and mentor specialized prosecutorial units combatting TCOs. OPDAT has developed bench books and guides which have been implemented by the Colombian judiciary and prosecutors to stream line hearings and processes for a more efficient judicial system. These guides are being shared and modified by countries within the region. OPDAT also continues to partner with the U.S. Marshals to provide capacity building in relation to protection and court security.

El Salvador: OPDAT's El Salvador program consists of three RLAs. One RLA mentors and supports specialized vetted task forces that target extortion crimes and TCOs against small businesses and crimes involving the public transit system. The second RLA is focused on providing technical assistance in relation to money laundering, asset forfeiture and anti-corruption efforts. The third RLA focuses on building capacity with the judiciary.

Guatemala: OPDAT deployed its first RLA in May 2016. The RLA aims to provide capacity building in relation to the transition to the adversarial system and case based mentoring on complex investigations and prosecutions, such as cases related to TCOs, i.e. counter-narcotics, organized crime, money laundering, and extortion.

Honduras: OPDAT currently has a program in Honduras focused on providing technical assistance in improving the capacity of justice sector actors and quality of prosecutions to combat transnational and domestic crimes such as organized crime, including corruption, gang crime, narcotrafficking, trafficking in persons and smuggling, money laundering, tax crimes, and customs offenses; improve its capacity to seize and forfeit ill-gotten gains; and strengthen enforcement of Honduran tax and customs laws through training and case based mentoring. We expect to have an RLA at Post in October 2019.   

Mexico: OPDAT’s Mexico program is significant in both strategic importance and size, with six RLAs currently in-country. OPDAT/Mexico provides comprehensive training for Mexican prosecutors and other justice sector officials to facilitate Mexico’s transition to an adversarial system. Over the past several years, OPDAT has successfully collaborated with the Government of Mexico on drafting legislation, most notably on the National Criminal Procedure Code, which was passed in February 2014, the 2012 Witness Protection Law, and the 2014 Law on Alternative Justice. OPDAT also provides assistance to Mexican legal and law enforcement professionals in the following areas: combatting TCOs, money laundering; trafficking in persons; justice sector security (in close collaboration with the U.S. Marshals Service); and judicial capacity building. In addition, OPDAT helped Mexico establish an AMBER alert system in 2012 and has, since that time, been working to ensure interoperability of the U.S. and Mexican systems. 

Panama Asset Sharing Program: As a result of the United States v. Speed Joyeros, S.A and Argento Vivo, S.A criminal case, which resulted in $36.2 million in forfeited assets, the United States and Panama agreed to an equitable asset sharing agreement, with the shared funds used to strengthen the capacity of the Republic of Panama to combat money laundering and forfeit illicit assets in criminal investigations and prosecutions. The agreement provided a mechanism for that sharing, to be guided by a joint U.S.-Panamanian Executive Sharing Committee (ESC) composed of three U.S. member representatives from the U.S. Departments of Justice, State and Treasury and three Panama members are from the Attorney General’s Office, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Public Security. An OPDAT D.C.-based attorney Program Manager assists in the planning, design, implementation and evaluation of programs funded with this award.

Tri-Border Area Counter-Terrorism Program: OPDAT deployed an RLA to Argentina in 2017 who focuses on supporting counter-terrorism efforts in and among Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. The RLA builds on the work of the former ILA for South America who covered Colombia and Paraguay through April 2016 when that program concluded. The RLA supports the TBA countries to identify and make cases against terrorist organizations and help freeze assets related to terrorist financing, thereby reducing their potential to act as terrorist safe havens.

Paraguay Counter-Terrorism Program: OPDAT deployed an RLA to Paraguay in September 2018 to support counter-terrorism efforts in Paraguay. The RLA will build on the work of the former ILA for South America who covered Colombia and Paraguay through April 2016 when that program concluded. The RLA works with the regional TBA RLAs to identify and make cases against terrorist organizations and help freeze assets related to terrorist financing, thereby reducing their potential to act as terrorist safe havens.

Brazil ILA Counter-Terrorism Program: OPDAT will deploy in the fall of 2019 an ILA to support counter-terrorism efforts in Brazil. The ILA will work in collaboration with the regional TBA and Paraguay RLAs to identify and make cases against terrorist organizations and help freeze assets related to terrorist financing, thereby reducing their potential to act as terrorist safe havens.

Judicial Studies Institute: The Judicial Studies Institute (JSI) was inaugurated in Puerto Rico in April 2012 as a result of the efforts of the Honorable Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, and a unique collaboration between the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of State, members of the U.S. and Puerto Rico judiciaries, and the University of Puerto Rico and Interamerican University law schools. Its mission is to strengthen the capacity of judges from Latin American countries making the transition to an adversarial criminal justice system. JSI leverages Puerto Rico’s use of the adversarial system, coupled with a shared language and culture, to offer Latin American judges a full immersion in the adversarial system that includes academic classes, courtroom visits and practical exercises. Sessions are held in Puerto Rico on a quarterly basis, and include modules I and II, specialized and court administration courses. Since 2012, over 360 judges hailing from Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Uruguay have participated in JSI.


U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor Addresses Latin American Judges at Justice Department’s Judicial Studies Institute (January 27, 2020)

Updated April 23, 2020

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