NEW YORK, May 8, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- On Monday, on a Columbia University panel discussing security policy alongside officials from Honduras, Mexico and Guatemala, Ecuadorian Ambassador to the US, Nathalie Cely, declared that maintaining trade programs, like the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA), is a "win-win solution" for the United States and its partners. Programs like the ATPDEA promote security in the Western Hemisphere and reflect President Barack Obama's call for a shift in US-Latin America policy that prioritizes economic rather than military solutions to the war on drugs.
The blue-ribbon panel, called "Ensuring Security & Stability in the Western Hemisphere," was moderated by Columbia University's Provost John H. Coatsworth. Panelists also included Ambassador Cely of Ecuador, Ambassador of Honduras to the United States Jorge Hernandez-Alcerro, Head of the Special Affairs Office for the Embassy of Mexico Ariel Moutsatsos, and Security and Human Rights Advisor to the Embassy of Guatemala Edgar Villanueva.
According to Ecuador's Ambassador Nathalie Cely, improving regional and national security has been a top priority for President Rafael Correa's administration, which has spent six times more on security than the last three administrations combined and ten times more now than in 2008. Ecuador continues to seek innovative ways to curtail the Latin American drug trade, including focusing on economic development through partnerships such as the ATPDEA, which provides duty free treatment for Ecuadorian products such as fresh cut roses, broccoli, tuna, and artichokes. These products support thousands of jobs for farmers, transportation, distribution employees vendors and consumers both in the United States and Ecuador. Economic diversification and the growth of the flower industry in Ecuador has created jobs for the poor and women heads of households, providing them with viable economic alternatives to drug cultivation.
Ambassador Nathalie Cely also reinforced that Ecuador helps stop the flow of drugs within its border regions through "economic inclusion and social investment". She said the ATPDEA, which is set to expire without Congressional action before July 31st, is of "fundamental importance in these efforts" and "very cost effective."
"The U.S. government has dedicated $25 billion to the drug war in 2014 alone. The ATPDEA costs merely $40 million per year, and has the added benefit of stimulating jobs and stability on both sides of the equator," Ambassador Cely informed the panel.
The Ambassador warned that Ecuador faces the gravest security challenges in its border regions.
"We cannot choose our neighbors," she said. But by focusing on "the frontier" Ecuador has reduced the temptation of drug trafficking by providing increased training and higher wages for alternative industries in areas where drug trafficking is most prevalent.
However, the Ambassador emphasized the need for the United States to hold up its end of the bargain by renewing mutually beneficial economic partnerships such as the ATPDEA, and continuing to tackle issues of drug consumption and addiction at home.
"Surprisingly, most Americans are unaware of the impact illegal drug consumption has on Latin American countries," said Ambassador Cely.
Sponsored by Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) Defense and Security Student Organization and the Latin American Student Association (LASA), the panel discussion explored the challenges Latin American leaders face and the strategies they have come up with to counter drug trafficking.
The panelists echoed Ambassador Cely's assertion that US collaboration with its neighbors in the region is essential to ensure success. Furthermore, the countries represented praised the new counter-narcotics strategy announced by President Obama, calling for continued efforts to tackle the drug problem comprehensively and look beyond military solutions.
"Without much debate, what you see is that all of our countries are in alignment. Let's try a holistic approach [to improving security]," said Ariel Moutsatsos, Head of the Special Affairs Office for the Embassy of Mexico.
"Honduras has spent more than 10 percent of our national budget on justice, security, and defense," said Ambassador Hernandez-Alcerro.
"The international community must be committed to long-term stability," added Villanueva. "In Guatemala, we are investing heavily to get our people out of poverty, and have reduced poverty by 9 percent from its peak."
The panel discussion is part of a series of events Ambassador Cely will be participating in this summer as part of the "Keep Trade Going" campaign to educate and create awareness about the importance of U.S.-Ecuador relations and the ATPDEA. To find out more about "Keep Trade Going," follow @keeptradegoing on Twitter or www.facebook.com/keeptradegoing.
These materials are distributed by BLJ Worldwide on behalf of the Embassy of Ecuador in Washington, D.C. Additional information is available on file with the Department of Justice, Washington, DC.
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