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Recognizing that Violence Poses an Increasingly Serious Threat to Peace and Stability in Central America

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. SHERMAN. Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of this resolution and yield myself as much time as I may consume.

I want to thank our colleagues, Congressman Eliot Engel and Dan Burton, the Chair and ranking member respectively of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, for introducing this important legislation.

The measure brings a long overdue spotlight to the serious and growing problem of violence in Central America. The February murder of three Salvadoran legislators and the subsequent shocking murder in prison of the Guatemalan policeman linked to the crime illustrate the very real daily threat posed by violence in this region.

While this high-profile incident brought violence into the spotlight, it is unfortunately nothing new. In recent
years, murder rates have been increasing throughout Central America. In 2005, the estimated murder rate per 100,000 people was roughly 56 in El Salvador, 41 in Honduras, and 38 in Guatemala. These rates are extraordinarily high by international standards.

Much of the violence in Central America is closely related to drug trafficking. A report released by the United Nations in May argues that Central American countries are particularly vulnerable to violent crimes, fueled by drug trafficking, because they are geographically located between South America and the United States; in other words, between the world's largest drug-producing and the world's largest drug-consuming countries or areas. In fact, 90 percent of the cocaine shipped from the Andean region to the United States flows through Central America. This clearly plays a major role in triggering violence in the region.

If drugs are the primary factor in the scourge of violence, youth gangs are a close second. There's estimated to be about 70,000 youth gang members in Central America. Many of these gangs have ties to the United States and pose threats to security in our own communities.

We are beginning to address this violence crisis. The United States and Central American officials have started to work together to combat violence in Central America, but more needs to be done. This July, high-level officials from the United States and all seven Central American countries met to discuss security in the region, particularly addressing gangs, drug trafficking and arms trafficking. This meeting marked the first time in almost a quarter century that high-level officials from the United States and all the countries of Central America met formally to discuss security issues.

At the meeting, the State Department announced the U.S. strategy to combat criminal gangs from Central America and Mexico and pledged $4 million to help Central America deal with the youth gang issue. I applaud this meeting and the State Department's initiative and encourage Central American countries to go beyond a police-based approach and address the social roots of violent crime.

With passage of the important measure today, the United States Congress will recognize that violence poses an increasingly serious threat to peace and stability in Central America. This resolution encourages Central American and U.S. officials to meet on a regular basis to enhance further cooperation in curbing violence in the region.

The measure also recognizes the U.S. has a commitment of $4 million to tackle this problem, and that is a welcome start. But, importantly, this resolution notes that greater resources should be considered in the future to fight the problem of violence in Central America.

Our friends in Central America are great and close allies, and we should do everything we can to bring stability to these societies and to end excessive violence. That is why I urge all Members to support this resolution.

Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.


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