"True security cannot be funded on the backs of the poor" is quote that resonated with me from Secretary Clinton's remarks at the International Conference of Support for the Central American Security Strategy held in Guatemala City on June 22, 2011. Her statement reflects a broader U.S. call on Central American governments to adopt fiscal policies that will provide resources to improve citizen security without sacrificing social programs.
The conference was a very important statement of political consensus on the part of all the Central American countries, and their main donor partners, on the priority of arresting and reversing the security crisis in the region. Much of that is fueled by gang and cartel inspired violence, for which the people of Central America are paying a huge human and economic price.
Although much of the discussion focused on the need to strengthen security and judicial institutions as a bulwark against insecurity, it was notable to see how much emphasis was also placed on social dimensions of the threat and its proposed solutions. An event on the margins of the conference highlighted the preventive role education can play in overcoming crime and violence and offering opportunities to young women. The day of Secretary Clinton's visit to Guatemala, the U.S. Embassy recognized the determination of Guatemalan women to improve their communities through two programs she has supported over the years: a scholarship for indigenous Guatemalan girls and a Vital Voices mentorship program for female Guatemalan leaders.
On June 22, the embassy organized an event in Guatemala City, where five Mayan women who received scholarships in 1998 and are now emerging leaders in their communities shared with Ambassador McFarland how the scholarships have supported their goals to continue their education and become teachers, businesswomen, and medical professionals. Two participants in a recent Vital Voices political training course told visiting USAID Assistant Administrator Feierstein about their renewed sense of purpose in implementing effective public policies for their communities.
While true security cannot be funded "on the backs of the poor," true security can be supported by all those in society who stand up to play a constructive role in defining the future of their country and who are prepared to make the most of the opportunities available to them. As international efforts move forward in Central America to stem the violence the drug trade fuels, education and its capacity to nourish social responsibility will be one of the defining investments in the future. It will take a village, a country, a region, and a world of leaders, investors, and partners to create a safer and more prosperous environment in Central America.