- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2008

COST OF CRIME

The slaying of a state prosecutor in Guatemala earlier this month is a “grisly reminder of Latin America’s crime problem,” according to a former ambassador from Costa Rica, who warns that drug lords are still threatening fragile democratic governments in the region.

Jaime Daremblum, now of the Center for Latin American Studies at the Hudson Institute, noted that drug gangs are the prime suspects in the killing of Juan Carlos Martinez, who was investigating the assassination of three Salvadoran members of the Central American nation’s parliament. President Antonio Saca of El Salvador blamed “powerful drug cartels” for killing Mr. Martinez.

“The Martinez murder offers a grisly reminder of Latin America’s crime problem, which is especially bad in Central American countries like Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras,” Mr. Daremblum, ambassador to the United States from 1998 to 2004, said in a review of criminal activities.

Mr. Daremblum cited World Bank studies that estimated the economic toll from organized crime at a high of 14.2 percent of gross domestic product in Central and South America.

“To be sure, Latin America has experienced several years of strong growth thanks to high commodity prices and prudent economic management,” he said. “However, crime and violence constrain Latin American growth and continue to cloud the business climate.”

He explained that corporations regularly have to budget for security costs, which increases the burden of doing business.

“There are no simple answers to the crime problem,” he added, noting that liberals blame social conditions and conservatives demand a “more muscular law-and-order agenda.”

Mr. Daremblum cited Colombia as an example of a country that grew its economy and reduced violence through aggressive military strikes against the narco-guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Before President Alvaro Uribe was elected to his first term in 2002 and “cleaned up the cities,” drug traffickers, right-wing paramilitaries and guerrillas “were running wild,” Mr. Daremblum said.

“As Colombia demonstrates, Latin America’s battle against violent criminal activity is not hopeless,” he said.

YEAR IN BOSNIA

Cliff Bond returned to his congressional staff job in Washington this month, after a year in Bosnia, where he helped heal war wounds from the worst case of genocide in Europe since World War II.

Mr. Bond was dispatched to Srebrenica on behalf of the congressional Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Srebrenica, ironically declared a U.N. “safe haven,” was the bloody scene of the mass murder of 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Serbian forces in 1995 during the Balkans’ upheaval in the aftermath of the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

“Much more needs to be done,” he wrote in a report posted on the commission’s Web site (http://csce.gov). “But I believe over the past year, Srebrenica has begun to move in a positive direction.”

He cited a decision by political leaders to allow former residents of the city to vote in local elections last year, which prevented Bosnian Serbs from consolidating power. He also praised authorities of the new pro-Western government in Serbia for apprehending the notorious war-crimes suspect, Radovan Karadzic, who was on the run for more than a decade.

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