2 p.m. ET
Mr. Johnson: I’m David Johnson, and my title and role in the State Department is I’m the Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs which is a somewhat misleading title because you focus on the narcotics I think more than anything else. But in broad strokes our mission is to help both developmentally and in post conflict situations to help countries build the rule of law and in those particular and special cases where there’s a challenge to the rule of law from narcotics trafficking, we have a more specialized role as well.
We have programs worldwide. The largest ones are in the post conflict situations or in special cases having to do with the challenge of drug fueled organized crime. We have quite large programs in Iraq and in Afghanistan where we’re helping to build the institutions of the rule of law, police, corrections, prosecution, judicial services, things of that nature. And we have significant sized programs in the Andes which are focused, are driven by combating the cocaine that originates there and that is ultimately marketed in the United States or in Europe or in Latin America.
Also a relatively recent and quite good-sized program focused on Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean which seeks to help Mexico in particular, as well as the other states of the region deal with organized crime which is focused in Mexico and is driven by the drug trade.
I’ve been in New York today for a set of encounters that I’d actually scheduled some time ago but because of events of the last several days, of course, have focused quite clearly on Haiti. The meeting I had and the signing event I had this morning with Commissioner Kelly was to set up a mechanism so that as time goes on we can, if we agree on how to do it, actually bring New York City police officers into Haiti to perform functions there. As the Commissioner said, it’s like to be something having to do with training, but that’s to be worked out.
But it’s important to note that this is the first time we’ve established such a memorandum and such a relationship with any state or local police department, and we started at the top, if you will, with the NYPD.
Commissioner Kelly has a longstanding interest and special vocation, if you will, for Haiti, having represented the United States there in the police mission in the mid ‘90s and that’s continued. He was there only last week on a cooperative program we have where NYPD was providing some specialized training.
I’ve also been meeting, and forgive me, I was late for this encounter because of discussions we’re having with the UN about a few things, but a real focus on Haiti and how we can be of assistance there as they assess things on the ground and see how the member states can best support the UN mission there and how that entire operation can help with the revival of the Haitian National Police and the support of them and providing security for the people of Haiti in this very difficult time.
Question: Why is it necessary to do a Memorandum of Understanding with Commissioner Kelly on this particular matter?
Mr. Johnson: As I mentioned earlier, we’d been working toward concluding this document as kind of a legal tool so that the federal government could bring officers from a locality, in this case being New York, into federal service for the purpose of deploying abroad in service of the United States. And as a foreign policy and foreign assistance issue, it is managed by the Department of State, by myself and my colleagues and the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.
So what we were able to do is to work out the legal mechanisms so that as we fashion a specific program we have the tools to bring the individuals within the NYPD and potentially with other municipal services as well, into the service of the United States as a whole in that development role abroad.
Question: In terms of meetings in places like, places in Latin America like Colombia, are there any lessons learned from your engagements in Colombia, for example, that you would take to Haiti or we can derive from the lessons learned in Colombia in Haiti?
Mr. Johnson: Let me answer that question in a way perhaps slightly different than you asked it. I’d be very reluctant to talk about lessons that we’ve learned anywhere and how they’re going to apply to Haiti right now, because we’re just in the process of assessing that. And assessing along, and really that’s an assessment that’s being done by the UN and we’re playing a supporting role. But we need to know what Haiti needs before I start telling you how lessons learned abroad can be applied there.
What I would say though, in a more general fashion, is that we find that no matter where you’re operating where there’s a threat to the rule of law, that building the institutions of the state and extending them throughout the territory of a country is really the objective you’re pursuing. You might think for example, you raised the question of Colombia. In Colombia what you’re doing is destroying cocaine or coca. But the way you're going to succeed is helping Colombia extend its governing structures throughout its territory. And one of the tools that you might use to do that is an eradication program that’s focused on coca. But that’s a tactical way of helping Colombia in this case develop its rule of law, institutions, and have them active and effective throughout its territory.
So one can speculate in Haiti we’ll be looking at the same kind of things, helping Haiti reestablish and further develop its police, its courts, its correction systems, but that’s just exactly how one would go about doing that can only be based on looking at what the conditions are on the ground, what the Haitians themselves want from the international community, and how those things can be integrated.
Question: Haiti is also a member, a part of the Caribbean Community of Nations, also known as CARICOM. CARICOM has always put a force, a police force or a military deployment in countries for hurricanes or earthquakes and what have you. What kind of collaboration would happen with the United States, particularly with the State Department and CARICOM on this particular issue in terms of law enforcement?
Mr. Johnson: In the very particular case of Haiti, I think both the United States and its partners very much including CARICOM will be looking to the UN and will be looking to the UN mission, assistance mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH, to work with the Haitian authorities and to work with the member states so that we can determine how the capacities that the members states have might be most effectively employed in Haiti. But I wouldn’t anticipate, if you will, a direct relationship between the United States and CARICOM in this, but both of us working through the UN as collaborators and supporters of the UN effort.
Question: In terms of the UN effort, how quickly that is going? Because there have been concerns that the longer the process takes to get law enforcement, law and order on the ground, the worse the situation can develop in Haiti in terms of law and order.
Mr. Johnson: I think you're correct in the sense that you never want a vacuum to develop on security, and that’s a very important element in any of the ultimate tasks that are being undertaken in Haiti on the humanitarian front whether it’s providing water or food to needy populations or shelter or health care.
On the other hand, I’d have to say that with the support of MINUSTAH, the Haitian National Police has gotten back out on the streets and it’s been a self-regenerating force. I think we’ve all admired and been gratified by that step by the Haitian forces that we and other have been working through the UN to train over the course of the last several years.
They’re going to require more support over time. Logistical support likely. Things that we’re just looking at at this point. But the earthquake happened to all of the institutions of Haiti, including its police, so the buildings that they worked from, the equipment that they have, communications systems, those have all been affected one way or another. The UN is assessing how best we can make contributions as supporters of Haiti so that it’s an integrated whole. And we want to respond very much to that partnership between MINUSTAH and the Haitian authorities so that we provide what’s needed and wanted, rather than just what we happen to have.
Question: Based on the history of policing in Haiti, what kind of verification is being done to ensure that the police who are on the street are the real police?
Mr. Johnson: It’s a reasonable question. Not so much if you think about Haiti, but if you think about the environment that they’re facing right now.
In this case, fortunately if you will, there is a significant size police training, mentoring and monitoring mission in the form of MINUSTAH that is there. They have an opportunity to work with the Haitian National Police. The Haitians have a capability of self policing, if you will, in terms of their own ranks. And so I think that that’s an issue that they of course should be paying attention to, but that doesn’t appear to be an overwhelming challenge right now that you have volunteer police that are impersonating those who would normally be on the beat. It’s certainly something to be attended to over time, but at this point at least I have not heard of that being a real challenge for us to have to work with.
Question: If I could bring you, Ambassador, to the issue of narcotics specifically in Haiti. There have been some concerns too, that there are some narcotics traffickers at a fairly high level performing in Haiti. Either at the political level or at a business level. Now that there is shall we say a temporary breakdown in law and order, is there a chance to get some of these people?
Mr. Johnson: I’d say the driver of the narcotics threat to stability and security in Haiti originates significantly in the area in the Venezuelan/Colombian border. And over the course of the last couple of years we’ve seen a significant increase in the aviation from that area, from Venezuela, from if you will western Venezuela into Hispaniola, both the Dominican side, and to a lesser extent but still a significant extent, into Haiti.
We had a team down just a few weeks ago looking at that issue and considering how we might be able to be supportive of both Haiti and the Dominican Republic in that very specific and growing challenge.
I think while we don’t look at this as seizing an opportunity, we will be looking at how we can accelerate that program and integrate it into the support that we will be willing to offer to Haiti as part of the UN mission, or potentially bilaterally, directly between the United States and Haiti. But I think right now our focus really is on supporting the partnership between the UN and the Haitian National Authorities and supporting that effort as a whole. So that’s where we’re looking for the immediate future, but we’re not by any means going to forget about this earlier effort we had underway. I think while the amounts in terms of say the ultimate threat to the health and safety of people in the United States from the narcotics trafficking might not be large, given the challenges in Haiti, particularly right now, of the types of resources that might be generated by that illicit trafficking, it is an issue that we need to pay attention to very quickly, and we intend to do so.
Question: Thank you very much.
Mr. Johnson: Thank you. It was a pleasure to talk to you. My apologies again for my tardiness, but I was stuck -– I don’t know if it’s uptown or downtown, but away from here. Thanks a lot.
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