Perry Center Professor Celina Realuyo participated in a Congressional briefing on “Drug Trafficking, Organized Crime, and Violence in Central America’s Northern Triangle” convened on July 6 by the Central America Caucus led by Congresswoman Norma Torres (D-CA), with Rep. David Valadao (D-CA) and Rep. Reid Ribble (R-WI).
Drug trafficking and organized crime in Central America’s Northern Triangle—Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador—poses a direct challenge to the United States’ national security and border security. As cocaine and other illicit drugs flow northward through the subregion, rampant criminality undermines democratic governance and destabilizes communities. Street gangs exercise territorial control over entire neighborhoods, extracting “protection fees” from small businesses, forcibly recruiting young children, and sexually exploiting young girls. Life has become unbearable for many children and families who have become easy targets for human traffickers and human smugglers. Since 2014, tens of thousands of undocumented, unaccompanied children have arrived at the United States southwest border; as part of the U.S. government’s response to the crisis, Congress has appropriated $750 million in new assistance to improve security, governance, and prosperity in the region.
The briefing assessed the interrelated challenges of drug trafficking, organized crime, street gangs, and violence in Central America’s Northern Triangle. Moderated by Clare Seelke of the Congressional Research Service, a panel of experts including Celina Realuyo (William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, National Defense University), Steven Dudley (American University), and Enrique Roig (Creative Associates) offered suggestions for how the United States and regional governments could improve their policy responses to these urgent problems.