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Monday, August 26 2019 @ 01:29 am EDT

US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Visits Panama

Drug Trafficking PANAMA (AFP). The chief U.S. diplomat for Latin America, Arturo Valenzuela, said drug trafficking and organized crime have overtaken some countries, but warned they can not be fought only with "heavy-handed policies." Valenzuela is in Panama to discuss with officials of the countries of the Central American Integration System (SICA) regional security issues, including combating drug trafficking and organized crime, U.S. officials said. "The issue of organized crime and gangs are a concern for all countries. We are overwhelmed to some extent with these criminal problems and we are determining how to face them," said Valenzuela. But he warned "crime and drug trafficking can not be addressed only with heavy-handed policies, because then we forget the social factor." "The commitment is to build more egalitarian societies," he said. "You can not have highly unequal societies," said Valenzuela while speaking before Panamanian students who had scholarships to attend school in the United States.

For his part, the Secretary General of SICA, Juan Daniel Aleman, said the Central American countries require more resources and technology. "Fundamentally, what we want is qualitative and quantitative support" from Washington to fight crime in an area that serves as a passageway for drugs from South America destined for North America. "We need technological resources and funds for the implementation of our strategy and a plan of action," said Aleman, who said they would need "a little more than $900 million dollars" to execute the plan.

Valenzuela said "the United States, for the Central American zone, has spent $165 million, but president (Barack) Obama has requested (to Congress) for the current year and next year another $210 million." Valenzuela admitted the U.S. has "shared responsibility" in the drug trafficking problem. "We are a consumer country," but "demand is not just the northern countries, but in each of the countries of the Central American region," he said.

The meeting in Panama, which will run until Friday, is the third edition of the Dialogue between the U.S. and Central America, where some drug cartels have turned part of their criminal activities as a result of the repressive actions in Mexico and Colombia, security officials say. Valenzuela also met Thursday with Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli to "talk about the issues of mutual interest to better relations" with the United States, said the president. The U.S. official, who has heard on his tour the criticism over the law that criminalizes illegal immigrants approved by the State of Arizona, will leave Panama on Friday night, the last leg of his tour, which also included Guatemala and El Salvador.

In San Salvador, Valenzuela said Wednesday that Washington will give a new extension to the Temporary Protection Status (TPS) that allows some 240,000 Salvadorans to live and work in the United States. Meanwhile, the U.S. government announced an 18-month extension of the TPS for Hondurans and Nicaraguans before its expires on 5 July 2010.

Editor's Comment: The murder rate in Panama has tripled in the past four years, a direct result of "heavy handed" crackdowns against drug traffickers in Colombia and Mexico. The lesson for each individual government of Central America is clear - if you greatly increase your security posture to a point where it is no longer safe or sane for drug traffickers to conduct their illegal activities within your borders, they will go elsewhere. This is exactly what happens to each individual home owner in a rich neighborhood. The criminals go there because "that's where the money is." However, if you put in the best alarm system, physical security, hire armed guards inside and out 24/7, put up perimeter lighting, buy personal firearms for home defense, get both a guard dog (to eat the bad guys) and a little noise maker inside (to let you know they are coming) - the bad guys will take one look at all of that security and go elsewhere. In this case, they will go to Costa Rica or Nicaragua. Americans like to talk about the "social aspect" of the drug problem because soft left-wing liberals seem to have a need to implement public policy and do things that make them feel good about themselves, first and foremost. However Panama's problem is not local consumption but rather the trafficking of the hundreds of tons of cocaine that pass through this country every year, on its way to the real markets in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Miami, and every little town all over the country. Panama catches five Colombians and two Mexicans with 1,500 kilos of cocaine with a street value of more than $150 million dollars - and the logical response is to build a new community center? Just how far out there in left field are these people? Hello, McFly? Anyone home? And did you catch the numbers game in this article? Aleman said "we need more than $900 million dollars" and Valenzuela responded that the US government has already spent $160 million and is asking for another $210 million dollars. That money will be spread out over the entire Central American region, so Panama will see only a fraction of those numbers. The cocaine is not going to go away, the "drug war" is not going to go away, so Panama might as well make the strategic decision to take the full court press option and to do anything and everything they can think of to improve security, shut down the traffickers, and protect the country. If they don't, things will only get worse. Sure, social programs are great. I would be asking for AC-130 gunships. That'll work..."Kumbaya, my lord, kumbaya... Fire For Affect!"

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