Cenral America's rich fail to fund security: Clinton

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 22, 2011 4:55 PM
Cenral America's rich fail to fund security: Clinton

By Pedro Nicolaci da Costa

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday businesses and the wealthy in Central America are not contributing enough to the fight against drug-related crime.

Speaking at a regional security conference, Clinton said Washington was committed to helping Central American nations boost security by providing training and aid for law enforcement, bolstering legal systems and spending on education.

She said the United States was raising the amount of funds allocated to that effort by about $30 million for a total of nearly $300 million this year -- a relatively small amount, according to analysts, given the enormity of the task.

But the top U.S. diplomat added that because of weak tax collections and consistent evasion, countries like Guatemala often lack the funds to deal with security problems appropriately.

According to the Inter-American Development Bank tax collection amounts to just 10 percent of gross domestic product -- around half the level in the United States.

"Businesses and the rich must pay their fair share of taxes and become full partners in a whole-of-society effort, since true security cannot be funded on the backs of the poor," Clinton said.

Once largely detached from the drug trade, stronger cartels in Mexico have begun to use the region as a route of transport, increasing violent crime along the way.

Still, critics of America's drug-fighting tactics argue that years of heavy spending and tighter enforcement have not paid off.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy, a high-level international commission declared the global "war on drugs" a failure and urged nations to consider legalizing cannabis and other drugs to undermine organized crime and protect their citizens' health.

"The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world," said the report issued by the commission.

But Clinton cited progress in Colombia, where drug violence is down sharply, as a model.

"Our experience in Colombia has shown what proactive investments and committed partnership can do," Clinton said. A senior State Department official told reporters that, beyond the issue of low tax revenues, the problem was compounded by a renewed tendency by the rich to spend resources on their own private security apparatus.

"Resources are going to private security that should, in theory and in practice, go to institutions that are public," the official said.

Much of Central America is still recovering from decades of civil war and deep inequalities between rich and poor persist.

(Editing by Eric Walsh)