LA JOLLA – Gang members deported from the United States are building sophisticated criminal networks in Central America that assist drug cartels in the shipment and distribution of drugs, said William Brownfield, Assistant Secretary of State for Narcotics and Law Enforcement, during an Oct. 1 speech at the Institute of the Americas.

“We deported gang members back to the northern triangle of Central America in the 1990s and the first decade of this century and — without meaning or even realizing it — we sent seasoned criminals back to weak, vulnerable societies,” Brownfield told an audience of almost 100.  “They maintained their connections in the U.S. and throughout Central America. And the more entrepreneurial among them established connections with the more sophisticated drug trafficking cartels headquartered in that large country located between Central America and the United States – Mexico.[inset side=left]“We estimate there are as many as 85,000 18th Street and MS-13 gang members today in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras,”[/inset]

“We estimate there are as many as 85,000 18th Street and MS-13 gang members today in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras,” he said.

Brownfield made his remarks during the opening session of a professional workshop organized by the Institute of the Americas titled, “Drugs, Youth and Demand Reduction.” The Oct. 1-5 workshop offers roundtable discussions with law enforcement professionals, educators and NGOs that work with gang members.  During the workshop, the 14 participants will make a field visit to Los Angeles and will meet with administrators at a juvenile detention facility.  The participants are law enforcement officials and NGO representatives from nine countries in Latin America, including Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Panama, El Salvador and Guatemala.

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders praised the objectives of the Institute of the Americas’ professional workshop on drugs, youths and demand reduction, telling the audience that, “conferences like this are critically important.” Photo by Russell Edwards

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders praised the objectives of the professional workshop, telling the audience that, “conferences like this are critically important because we never solve anything by ourselves.  The best solutions come from cooperation. The best solutions come from collaboration. I look forward to seeing what comes out of this conference because I’m sure that it’s going to be something that is tremendously important for the world.”

Brownfield described the dimensions of the regional gang problem: “Tens of thousands of disaffected, under-educated and poorly prepared youth, seeing little hope for a future in their traditional communities, band together in criminal organizations…They join because they see the gang structure offering the best option. History teaches that to break them out of the gang structure, they must be convinced of the negative consequences for remaining in the gang, and positive benefits for staying out. The carrot and the stick.”

o address the gang problem, the U.S. government, in collaboration with the governments of three Central American countries, has used both the carrot and the stick.

The FBI manages programs to train and equip police in Central American countries to conduct anti-gang enforcement, Brownfield said. “We also support policing at the community level, because a better policed community is less attractive to organized gangs.”

The United States is also working with the governments of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to control arms flow. “A criminal gang is bad; a criminal gang armed with automatic weapons is much worse,” Brownfield said.

[inset side=right] “We also support policing at the community level, because a better policed community is less attractive to organized gangs.”[/inset]TIn addition, the U.S. is working with “the often overlooked elements of law enforcement – prosecution, courts and corrections,” he said.  “Efficient police coupled with inefficient rule of law and corrections systems do not solve the gang problem; they merely recycle it.”

”Moises de la Cruz, of the National Police of Ecuador, listens to suggestions for combating gangs during the opening session of the Institute of the Americas’ Oct. 1-5 professional workshop. Photo by Russell Edwards

But breaking the cycle of youth, gangs and violence requires more than aggressive anti-gang policing, Brownfield said. “There must be an alternative offered to the gang member or he will not leave the gang.

Part of the solution is education, prevention and training.  Another part of the gang solution is rehabilitation for those coming out of the gang structure.

“Youth with a basic education and an employable skill are not likely to join gangs,” Brownfield said.  “If the gang member does not see a job waiting at the end of the community program, he will return to the gang.  Unemployment is the life blood of the organized criminal gang.”

A public information campaign must be part of the “carrot” for the criminal gang member, he said.

“Public information is not just a bunch of posters hanging from telephones,” said Brownfield.  “To be effective, gang members must participate in the effort.  They know what appeals to the youth gangs.  They know how to reach them.  Their participation becomes part of their rehabilitation and reentry into society. “

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