Assessing U.S. Efforts in Central America

By Holly Gilbert

CARSI is on the right track, says Johanna Mendelson Forman, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. Forman, who is also a scholar in residence at American University School of International Service, tells Security Management that by working with people on the ground in Central America, CARSI should experience long-term success.

“[In terms of] dealing with the countries and building up local capacity.... They are training people locally; they’re giving the knowledge to the people who ultimately have to sustain it, which is a model that’s very important,” she says.
One of CARSI’s initiatives is to “Support the development of strong, capable, and accountable Central American governments,” according to the State Department Web site. Forman says that government collaboration in the region has been successful. “The good news is that the governments are working together. They’ve articulated a common set of threats that they have to address,” she says.

But there are areas where CARSI might improve, she notes. For example, the program could make more progress in terms of providing access to justice outside of urban areas. “While most violence now in the world takes place in urban settings, there’s a lot of rural ungoverned land in these places that don’t have police or military presence,” Forman explains, “and that leaves opportunity open for these criminal groups to operate.… That’s the biggest challenge for [CARSI], which is helping to create an environment which is much more enabling of government actors to work with communities.”

She says ending the “public perception of impunity” is one of the most important elements of enhanced security and stability in the region. She points to the current trial of Efrain Rios-Montt, who is accused of terrorizing and murdering hundreds of citizens. The trial is “helping to rebuild confidence that the state can punish wrongdoers,” she says, “and that’s a major part of the message that has to be brought to any citizen, that impunity is not acceptable as a way of doing business.”



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