Good morning, and welcome! President Hernandez, Minister Diaz, General Ponce, Sergeant Major Molina: thank you for your leadership in hosting the 14th Central American Security Conference and the second regional conference for our Senior Enlisted Leaders.
I’d also like to thank our moderators for helping us navigate the challenging topics ahead of us. We’ve got a busy two days, and a lot of ground to cover.
I look forward to substantive discussion on ways to improve our collaboration, and I hope we’re all able to commit to delivering a finalized threat matrix at the Central American Regional Intelligence Conference in July. I’d also like to propose that we increase our interactions, perhaps virtually, so we share critical information throughout the year.
Before we get started today, I’d like to offer a few thoughts on the role of our military and security forces in countering gangs and transnational organized crime.
Maras and other criminal groups pose a real and serious threat to every nation in our neighborhood. They assault the rule of law and human rights with their brutal tactics and brazen disregard for human life. These organizations play by a different set of rules…they deal in intimidation and violence…they don’t respect our laws, our people, or our Constitutions.
But we do. Our respect for our laws, our people, and our Constitutions is the bedrock of our legitimacy as professional militaries and security forces. And against these illegitimate criminal groups, our legitimacy is our strongest advantage.
We’re all witness to this struggle Venezuela—the struggle between a legitimate leader and an illegitimate, criminal one—and a military that must decide what it stands for: its people, or a tyrant. And I think it’s worth us reflecting for a moment on these issues, together.
Our legitimacy starts with the oath each of us takes to protect our citizens and our constitutions. Upholding those oaths—no matter what—is our most sacred duty.
We reinforce our legitimacy in many different ways. We reinforce it by becoming more effective at delivering results for our citizens…by developing the talent of every single team member in our organizations… by collaborating across our different Services and agencies to keep our nations, and our neighborhood, safe.
But above all, we reinforce our legitimacy by the actions we take and the decisions we make….by always remaining apolitical, and by upholding and defending shared values like human rights, the rule of law, and sovereignty.
We reinforce it by following an ethical path every single day…by always doing the right thing—by honoring the oaths we took. Walking that ethical path builds trust—trust up, down, left and right within our organizations. It builds trust between our organizations. And it builds trust with the citizens we serve.
Our adversaries know the best way to undermine our legitimacy is through corruption. Corruption comes in many forms…a bribe… special privileges or concessions…‘no strings attached’ deals. It can come from many places…a criminal….or even another nation state.
Whatever form and whatever the source, corruption can be frustratingly effective. A single act of dishonesty or self-interest can unravel years of relationship building. It also breaks trust with our citizens.
We’ve seen what happens when corruption permeates the highest levels of government. We have only to look at Venezuela, and what Maduro and his corrupt cronies have done to that once prosperous nation, and that once proud military.
We have to fight corruption with the same urgency we bring to the fight against criminal organizations. To do that, we need to build strong, professional institutions and effective, integrated teams. And in doing so, we will rely on our greatest strengths: legitimacy and trust—and never straying from our moral code. These are the beacons that guide our way forward, together.