Office of National Drug Control Policy

Central America

“As the nations of Central American develop a new regional security strategy, the United States stands ready to do our part through a new partnership that puts the focus where it should be – on the security of citizens. And with regional and international partners, we’ll make sure our support is not just well-intentioned, but is well-coordinated and well-spent.” – President Obama, March 21, 2011

Geographically, the countries in Central America are considered a natural conduit for the illicit activities of transnational criminal organizations (TCO). TCOs and criminal organizations in Central America have grown in size and strength over the last decade, intimidating law enforcement and judicial officials, weakening the states' abilities to maintain public security. All seven Central American countries are actively used by major TCOs to smuggle drugs into the United States, while arms and cash flows move south across our border through Mexico to sustain these criminal organizations. As drugs flow through the region, the user base grows and increases TCO competition along the way. This ultimately increases the rates of drug use and drug-related homicides.

The gang problem in Central America is an issue of growing concern for the United States and its regional partners. It is known that these gangs sometimes act as enforcers for TCOs, even receiving payment in the form of drugs.

In the Northern Triangle countries, which include Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, U.S. efforts are focusing on replicating programs that have proved successful and can make short-to-medium-term, sustainable impacts. Programs include municipal crime prevention planning, youth-at-risk services, model precincts and community policing, and border interdiction programs. In Belize, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama, the U.S. supports host-nation efforts to reduce growing levels of insecurity and to rebuild the capabilities of their rule of law institutions. The United States will utilize training and best practices from regional partners, such as Colombia and Mexico, to support the efforts of Central American governments. Utilizing Economic Support Funds, the Unites States Agency for International Development (USAID) is continuing to fund local community-based initiatives that diagnose the risk factors, support better crime prediction tools, and develop municipal-led crime prevention plans.

The Western Hemisphere Counter Drug Strategy is being developed to coordinate the reduction of the trafficking and consumption of illicit drugs and to reduce the damages they cause in the Western Hemisphere. The ultimate goal being to accelerate the proliferation of successful, evidence-based programs and policies to measurably improve hemispheric capacity for prevention, treatment, recovery, supply reduction, reducing criminal violence and strengthening counterdrug institutions.

The United States has far-reaching geographic, economic, and demographic links to Central America and a compelling national security interest in assisting these nations succeed in addressing the challenges they face. Only through cooperation, partnership, and shared responsibility can today's transnational security challenges be addressed while balancing peoples' security, economic growth and opportunity, and justice concerns.

Central American Citizen Security Partnership

The United States desires to enhance citizen security in Central America. Together with our partners, we will work to address citizen safety by reducing the involvement of criminal organizations in destabilizing governments, threatening national and regional security, public safety, as well as preventing the entry and spread of illicit drugs, violence, and other transnational threats to countries throughout the region and the United States. The U.S. government will accomplish this task by exercising greater political and resource commitment of the regional governments, enhancing increased donor coordination, and more focused, accelerated, and coordinated U.S. assistance. The strategy will reduce crime, improve citizen security, and decrease illicit drug manufacture and distribution.

To meet the challenges in Central America, the United States plans to direct resources, in close coordination with partners within and outside the region, toward five main objectives:

  1. Safe Streets: Work with partner governments to reduce the levels of violence in the region to foster social and economic opportunity for the citizens of Central America.
  2. Disrupt the Movement of Criminals and Contraband: Work with partner governments to prevent the transit of criminals and contraband to, through and within Central America toreduce the ability of organized crime to conduct illicit activities and perpetuate the cycle of violence in the region.
  3. Strong, Capable, and Accountable Governments: Work to reduce corruption and support our partners in their efforts to maintain properly trained and resourced law enforcement, rule of law institutions, and community action programs to create a culture of lawfulness.
  4. Effective State Presence in Communities at Risk: Work with partner governments to expand law enforcement, judicial, social, and educational capacities and services to counter the activities and influence of organized crime.
  5. Enhanced Levels of Cooperation: Support the development of coordinated action plans with Central America, building on the efforts of Central America System of Integration (SICA), to harness the critical training and assistance capabilities of others, including Canada, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, the European Union, and Spain, as well as international financial institutions, such as the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank, and multilateral organizations, such as the Organization of American States (OAS) and the United Nations (UN).

Related Resources

For detailed reports on the drug trafficking situation in Central American countries please refer to the Central American section of the State Department's International Narcotics Control Strategy Report