The US Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, concluded a two-day visit to Belize today.
Maria Otero is the most senior US official to visit Belize in recent memory and, significantly, Belize is one of only two stops she made on this trip - the other being in El Savador.
In a thirty minute press conference at the House Of Culture this morning, she explained why Belize and the United States are natural allies:..
Maria Otero, US Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights "My visit represents the priority that President Obama and Secretary Clinton have for our bi-lateral relationship in partnership with Belize."
"Our belief is in the United States and this why we have sent myself as a high level official is that our partnership with Belize is a very important one and is one that we value a great deal. My presence here serves to re-enforce that and to be able to also address future ways in which we will continue working together."
"We are also natural allies, with vigorous democracies with diverse immigrant populations and a shared commitment to building a peaceful prosperous future for our citizens. It is also an opportunity to recognize and to speak to the people of Belize about the high quality election that was just held in this country that was considered fair and credible and transparent throughout the world."
"I have been impressed by the caliber of so many of our dedicated public officials working hard in ministries hand in hand with the members of civil society to tackle some of the most difficult challenges that is facing Belize today. From corruption to gang violence to creating economic opportunity for all the members of the Belizean society."
"The United States is pleased that Prime Minister Barrow has prioritized these issue for the second term of his administration and we look forward to working together to tackle these complex challenges with concrete advancements and results."
"Our bi-lateral collaboration has resulted in significant achievements. The Belize Coast Guard has been an excellent partner with the United States. It has put US donated training and equipment to good use."
Otero's office is responsible for coordinating U.S. foreign relations on civilian security issues across the globe, including democracy, human rights, trafficking in persons, counter-narcotics, global criminal justice, and countering violent extremism.
The counter-narcotics profile put her in the hot-seat today after a weekend summit in Guatemala, where President Otto Perez Molina proposed the decriminalization of the consumption and transshipment of drugs.
Belize's Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington told us that will never work without a green light from the US, and today, Undersecretary Otero made it clear that, right now, the light is locked on red:
Maria Otero, US Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights "Our sense of that meeting is certainly our own position which continues to be the position that we have held. Is a position that does not believe that de-criminalizing drugs is the proper approach to dealing with it."
"This is the position that the United States has held and will continue to hold."
In her time here, Otero met with senior government officials including the police minister, as well as the human Trafficking Task Force and select NGO representatives, including UNIBAM's Caleb Orozco.
As you may have heard, the issue of human rights for Lesbian, Gay and Transgender persons is a global priority for the Obama administration - but today Otero said, the issue is not tied to support from the United States.
Maria Otero, US Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights "We see sexual orientation is one factor that we consider has to be respected. That is the core of what we believe that issue needs to be looked at in the context of human rights."
"There is no way in which the aid that United States is providing is conditioned by decision. Again, if one looks at the principle freedom that we have all signed on; your country and my country, which emerged from the very important declaration of the human and note that those human rights extend to all of the principle freedoms those individuals, need to have."
"That for us is the point of departure in addressing this concern."
Otero also visited the Yabra Community Policing Center.
US under Secretary of State conducts visit to Belize
This morning at the house of culture, Maria Otero, Under Secretary for the United States Government and coordinator for U.S. foreign relations, met with the Belizean media for a press briefing. Otero in her opening remarks touched on a number of issues including transnational crimes and the homosexual agenda.
Maria Otero This visit represents the priority that President Obama and Secretary Clinton have for our bilateral partnership with Belize. I have been impressed by the caliber of so many of your dedicated public officials working hard in the Ministries hand in hand with the members of Civil Society to tackle some of the most difficult challenges that are facing Belize today - from corruption and gang violence to creating economic opportunity for all the members of the Belizean society. The United States is pleased that Prime Minister Barrow has prioritized these issues for the second term of his administration and we look forward to working together to tackle these complex challenges with concrete advancement and results. Our nation shares common aspiration and common challenges including transnational organized crime, drug trafficking and threats to human rights for our most vulnerable population.
The media posed questions to Otero in regard to US foreign policy on countries that don't necessarily discriminate against homosexuals, such as Belize, but see the lifestyle as morally wrong.
Maria Otero I will comment by repeating the importance that we give to using the universal declarations of Human Rights as the basis of ensuring that dignity and freedom is available to every individual in a society and enables every individual to have the rights that are provided to all others, regardless of whether that persons suffers a disability, has a different sexual orientation, is a woman or has any other characteristics that sometimes causes a society to restrict the Human Rights that that person has. It is from that perspective that we see sexual orientation as one factor that we consider has to be respected and that is the core of why we believe that issue needs to be looked at in the context of Human Rights.
Otero was asked if the US would cut off financial aid to Belize as a means of coercing Belize into accepting their US policies.
Maria Otero There is no way in which the aids that the United States is providing is conditioned by decision. Again, if one looks at the principle freedoms that we have all signed on, your country and my country, that emerge from that very important declaration of the Human Rights and know that those Human Rights extend to all of the principle freedoms that individuals need to have. That for us is the point of departure in addressing these concerns. It is certainly one of the issues that continue to prevail in all societies, because this does not imply that for us in the United States, all individuals are given full freedom of their rights, we still have a lot of work to do in order to accomplish that. These are the principles that we believe are the most important to us as we proceed in our own society and other societies.
Some Central American Nations are discussing the decriminalizing of drugs- Otero was asked to respond to this.
Maria Otero Our sense of that meeting and certainly our own position, which continues to be the position that we have held is a position that does not believe that decriminalizing drugs is the proper approach in dealing with it. This is the position that the US has held and continues to hold. We don't believe that is the way to be able to address this issue. We note also that the countries in Central America agree with that decision, they also question whether decriminalizing is the approach that we can take to this issue.
The US demand for drugs is a real factor and with the trans-shipment of drugs through Central America, this creates a growing discontent amongst third world countries. The blame, Otero stated, is not to be laid on the US only but on other countries as well . Otero responded that drugs have become a global problem.
Maria Otero You know this issue of trafficking persons is a scourge that is present in every country, including the US and our efforts is to elevate the importance of that issue and to bring forth more action from all governments. We applaud the work that Belize has done in this area and the advances that it has made not only prosecuting and convicting criminals that are associated with trafficking the most vulnerable of peoples in the society, but also in being able to provide more protection to potential victims and being able to prevent some of the happenings by increasing public awareness and by engaging in an important way.
Otero says that Belize has made great strides in battling human trafficking and that the relationship between Belize and the US is very important, hence her visit.
Maria Otero There is no question that the threat drug trafficking presents is one that creates a shared responsibility, certainly in the United States and we believe that we need to work hand in hand with the Governments of Central America to be able to address it. As I have mentioned, we are putting forth hundreds of millions of dollars to all of the countries in Central America to help them build up their own capacity to address the issues through the Police forces and other institutions to be able to have access to the equipment and technology that can also help them to address this. It is important to note that consumption in the US of cocaine in particular has decreased, but what is of great concern is that the consumption has increased in many countries in South America in particular, but also in Europe. So we are saying that the problem is not a Central American one, but really a global transnational one.
The Under Secretary met with the Deputy Prime Minister in lieu of PM Barrow who is out of the country.