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Colombia Forum: Violence in L. America, Caribbean

Colombia To Host Forum on Violence in Latin America, Caribbean

Mayors of region's cities expected to participate in September 12-13 event

By Eric Green
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- Colombia will host a September 12-13 forum to identify the most effective responses to the persistent problem of violence and insecurity in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), which is helping to organize the forum in the Colombian city of Medellin, said the event will bring together the mayors of the following cities: Montevideo, Uruguay; Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil; Buenos Aires, Argentina; San Pedro Sula, Honduras; Bogota, Medellín, and Cali in Colombia; and Kingston, Jamaica. Also participating are senior officials and experts in the fields of development and citizen security.

The importance of fighting crime and corruption was specifically cited in the Florida Declaration, a resolution adopted by participating nations at the 2005 Summit of the Americas in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Entitled "Citizen Security and Violence Prevention: Examining Experiences and Challenges," the forum will include panels on three main topics: public policymaking for citizen security and violence prevention, community measures to prevent violence, and steps to increase citizen security.

IDB President Enrique Iglesias, who will participate in the event along with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, said that the "high levels of violence in Latin America represent a serious obstacle for economic and social development in the region, which has the dubious distinction of being one of the most violent in the world."

He added: "Insecurity has devastating consequences for communities and for the quality of life of the population, as well as huge costs for the economies of the region -- and it affects their growth. Addressing this scourge is a complex proposal, but it can be done."

EFFORTS TO IMPROVE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE

The IDB has provided financing and other support for numerous programs for violence prevention and for services to victims, addressing social and domestic violence in various countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Another important area of activity in this connection has been improving the region's administration of justice.

During the 1990s, an IDB-financed program for citizen security and violence prevention was launched in Colombia through loans to that country's federal government and to the local governments of Bogota, Medellín and Cali.

The U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID’s) Bureau for Latin America and Caribbean Affairs oversees regional strategies to reform courts, enable greater access to justice, and end practices of impunity for government and military officials. These projects, said USAID, are "essential to strengthen democracies in the region, create greater stability and security, and attract greater inflows of foreign investment."

USAID said its efforts have fueled a judicial reform movement that has spread across Latin America and the Caribbean region, capturing the attention of civil society leaders and nongovernmental organizations. According to USAID, initiatives to strengthen the rule of law throughout the region have now been endorsed by the General Assembly of the Organization of American States and by the Summit of the Americas.

The crime and corruption that result when the rule of law is not effective can be costly, said USAID. The agency cited a study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies called Crime, Democracy, and Development in Latin America (33 pages, PDF format) that showed a corrupt or inefficient justice sector can slow economic development, undermine the strength and credibility of democratic institutions, and erode the social capital necessary for development.

USAID added that estimates by the World Bank show that Latin America's average per capita income would be 25 percent higher if it had a crime rate comparable to the typical crime rate in the rest of the world.

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