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Western Hemisphere Region

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). Currently, there are 17 RLAs, two International Computer Hacking and Intellectual Property Advisors (ICHIPs) and one Intermittent Legal Advisor (ILA) positions in the 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), money laundering corruption, drug trafficking, gang crimes and environmental crimes among others.

WHP 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. Most recently, OPDAT has spearheaded the creation of four specialized working groups, in conjunction with the AGO, to provide case-based mentoring and specialized training to prosecutors who investigate and prosecute key transnational organized crime cases, corruption, and drug trafficking among others. As a supplement to these working groups, OPDAT has developed an intensive one-week advanced trial skills course for these prosecutors.

Recently, OPDAT expanded its program into selected rural areas that have been greatly affected by criminal activity affecting their progress and citizen security. OPDAT’s assistance will increase the capacity of local, regional, and national prosecutors to collaborate effectively in disrupting rural drug trafficking corridors, criminal organizations, and other criminal activity (i.e. gender based violence, homicides, corruption and human smuggling) in the target municipalities of Caceres, Tumaco, Sardinata, and surrounding regions. OPDAT has created a Rural Justice Working Group which is already yielding results including arrests and convictions of members of various subgroups of Clan del Golfo. Additionally, OPDAT has developed bench books and guides which have been implemented by the Colombian judiciary and prosecutors to streamline hearings and processes for a more efficient judicial system. These guides are being shared and modified by countries within the region. OPDAT has also been mentoring prosecutors on environmental matters through its Grupos Armados working group in the remote area of Buritica.

OPDAT and the AGO are currently developing a first-of-its-kind money laundering task force. The goal of this task force will be to effectively investigate and prosecute money laundering and asset forfeiture cases of bilateral interest. OPDAT will provide mentoring to task force members and will also deliver specialized training courses to enhance their skills and develop interagency coordination in complex investigations and prosecutions.

 El Salvador: OPDAT's El Salvador program provides technical assistance and case-based mentorship in relation to combatting transnational and domestic organized crime, money laundering, asset forfeiture, and anti-corruption efforts. The anti-corruption RLA also coordinates and serves as the regional Northern Triangle anticorruption RLA. OPDAT also works with the judiciary to build capacity to efficiently manage oral hearings, develop a bench book for judicial personnel, and implement training standards and compliance measures.

Guatemala: OPDAT deployed its first RLA in May 2016 and in the summer of 2021, the program expanded with the addition of two more RLA positions. Our work focuses on providing technical assistance and case mentoring in relation to money laundering, asset forfeiture and anti-corruption efforts, OPDAT also provides technical assistance and mentorship to combat human smuggling while also coordinating these efforts regionally with the Northern Triangle and Mexico.

Honduras: The OPDAT Honduras program focuses on improving the capacity of justice sector actors to combat transnational and domestic crimes such as organized crime, including corruption, gang crime, narcotrafficking, human smuggling and money laundering. The program has established a Specialized Technical Advisory Group (GATE, acronym in Spanish) which is an OPDAT led anti-corruption task force and provides technical assistance and case-based mentoring to prosecutors and investigators handling these cases. OPDAT has also assisted in the creation of a Migration Task Force with the goal of coordinating strategies and providing best practices to combat human smuggling and trafficking cases in the region.

Mexico: OPDAT’s Mexico program is significant in both strategic importance and size, with five RLAs and one Attorney Liaison working in country. Our work focuses on providing technical assistance and case-based mentoring to our counterparts in the areas of transnational organized crimes, drug and firearms trafficking, money laundering, human smuggling, trafficking in persons, and environmental crimes. OPDAT is also providing technical assistance and mentoring in the area of extraditions and MLAT requests to the United States. The goal of the program being to assisting Mexico’s judicial system in operating more efficiently and transparent as it transitions to the accusatory system.

Panama Counterterrorism and Money Laundering: OPDAT’s program in Panama focuses on implementing and supporting programs aimed at strengthening efforts against counterterrorism, money-laundering and financing of terrorism (AML-CFT), improving the capacity of Panamanian criminal justice actors to detect, investigate and prosecute terrorism and related criminal activity, as well as complex financial and organized crimes. In 2022 OPDAT deployed an ILA who focused on case-based mentoring and developing capacity building programs designed to provide important skills training to justice sector actors in areas such as counterterrorism, financial investigations, money laundering, terrorist financing and asset seizure. The ILA also provides technical assistance on assessing relevant legislation. Currently this position is vacant.

Argentina Counter-Terrorism Program: OPDAT deployed a CT funded RLA to Argentina in 2017 who focused on supporting counter-terrorism efforts in Argentina, but also Brazil and Paraguay and the Tri-Border Area (TBA). The program has since transitioned to the posture of focusing primarily on Argentina and seeks to strengthen the capacity of Argentina to identify, investigate, prosecute, and disrupt terrorism, terrorist financing, money laundering, and the predicate crimes which produce illicit funds. The RLA focuses on updating Argentina’s legal and regulatory framework; providing case-based mentoring to judges, prosecutors and police; providing skills-based training to judges, prosecutors, and police; working with relevant authorities to better cooperate and share information with counterparts in neighboring countries and with the United States in cases of terrorism, terrorist financing, money laundering and other complex crimes; and assist the respective posts to advance their justice sector reform programs and overall missions.

Paraguay Counter-Terrorism Program: OPDAT’s AML-CT work in Paraguay began in 2015 with an ILA. In September 2018, the program expanded and OPDAT deployed its first RLA to support counter-terrorism efforts. The RLA coordinates and provides technical assistance to counter terrorist financing and provides case-based mentoring to build capacity to investigate, prosecute, and adjudicate terrorist and terrorist financing cases. Further, the RLA works with Paraguay justice sector officials to establish a financial crime and terrorist financing task force, comprised of analysts, investigators, and prosecutors, to assist in intelligence sharing and improving the seizure and/or freezing of assets related to terrorism financing.

Brazil Counterterrorism Program: OPDAT deployed its first ILA in January 2020 to support counter-terrorism efforts in Brazil. The ILA program focused on providing technical assistance and working with Brazilian prosecutors and investigators to combat terrorist financing and help freeze assets related to terrorist financing and assists Brazil in developing designations of terrorist groups. In 2021, the Brazil program expanded and in 2022 was able to deploy an RLA. The RLA provides assistance to the government of Brazil to strengthen its laws and regulations covering terrorism and terrorist financing. The RLA will continue to facilitate interagency cooperation and coordination within Brazil and with TBA countries as well as regional and international cooperation and coordination in countering terrorism, terrorist financing and money laundering.

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, and include Modules I and II, specialized and court management courses. Since 2012, over 1,070 judges hailing from Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Peru, and Uruguay have participated in JSI, and 1,340 judges have participated in special virtual courses and roundtables.


Four Defendants Extradited from Guatemala Sentenced for Roles in Deadly International Human Smuggling Conspiracy  (11/1/23)

Justice Department Officials in Mexico Provide Capacity Building to Mexican Prosecutors to Counter Fentanyl Trafficking and Organized Crime (10/30/23)

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor Addresses Latin American Judges at Justice Department’s Judicial Studies Institute (English version);  U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor Addresses Latin American Judges at Justice Department’s Judicial Studies Institute (Español version)

U.S. Embassy, representatives of the Mexican Judiciary, and UNAM present the first volume of Mexico’s first Judicial Guide for the Evaluation of Forensic Evidence

DOJ-DHS-INL in Mexico Host Foreign Law Enforcement Partners at Regional Human Smuggling Roundtable Event

Readout of Justice Department Leadership Meeting on Human Smuggling and Trafficking Networks

Updated November 2, 2023