Honduran Defense Minister Marlon Pascua acknowledges his admiration for his country’s Military. In an interview granted to Diálogo during his visit to the U.S. Southern Command in March, the minister affirmed that the “formidable capacity of Honduran Military personnel for organization, planning, and execution” makes them a key element in the fight against gangs, crime, and drug trafficking, in assistance in the event of natural disasters, and in medical and social assistance to the population.
In addition, Pascua spoke about the importance of the ties of military collaboration that he maintains with the United States, Colombia, and his Central American neighbors.
Diálogo: What are the primary challenges you face as Honduran defense minister?
Honduran Defense Minister Marlon Pascua: One of our most significant challenges is the fact that unfortunately, Honduras has found itself caught up in a wave of generalized violence that has affected the population a great deal. The constitution of the Republic of Honduras establishes what are the responsibilities of the Armed Forces and the Secretariat of Defense, and one of them is to accompany any state institution that requests their support. [Another] of the responsibilities established is also the support that should be given to the Secretariat of Security in the fight against organized crime, drug trafficking, common crime, illegal arms trafficking, and human trafficking. In this case, due to the violence being experienced in the country, the Armed Forces have found themselves directly involved in the fight against violence in the country. In other words, bringing tranquility, peace, and security to the population is one of the most significant challenges that we have at this time.
Diálogo: What do you think is the reason for the problem with crime that you’re facing?
Minister Pascua: The violence being experienced in the country is not only the product of organized-crime operations, but is also generated by youth gangs themselves and in many cases, by the union of the two: youth gangs in collaboration with individuals dedicated to drug trafficking. There’s also common crime generated by activities engaged in by people with the aim of obtaining financing in order to participate in organized-crime operations.
Diálogo: I imagine that you’re referring to Operation Lightning. Are you continuing to work in the same way?
Minister Pascua: Work on that operation continues. Operation Lightning began in the city of Tegucigalpa, the capital. There, the most sensitive areas for common-crime activities were chosen. Two areas of the city were assigned to the Military, and one area to the National Police. Violence and criminal activity disappeared completely in the areas where the Military is working. Subsequently, we’ve also conducted operations in other sectors of the country and in San Pedro Sula, which is the second most important city in Honduras; in Juticalpa and Catacamas, in the department of Olancho; in Tela, in the department of Atlántida; and in Siguatepeque and Comayagua, in the center of the country.
This year, we’re increasing our participation in other sectors where a high level of crime has been identified. The results of the actions taken through Operation Lightning have been positive and very significant. The people themselves have expressed their pleasure and happiness that the Military has the opportunity to participate in crime-prevention operations of this kind.
Diálogo: How do you benefit from military collaboration with other countries?
Minister Pascua: For us, collaboration is very valuable, not only with the United States, but also with any other country that helps us to share the problems that we’re experiencing in Honduras. In this case, the United States is our largest partner; it’s the country that provides us the most support. We also receive support from Colombia, for example, and in this case, all help and all support is welcome. For us, it’s very important to exchange experiences, exchange information, and above all, have joint exercises that can allow us to be able to confront enemies we have in common, such as, for example, drug trafficking.
At the moment, we’re working on activities appropriate to our Armed Forces with other countries in the Central American region. For example, we work very closely with Guatemala, with El Salvador, with Nicaragua. We work with them on joint operations that allow us to provide security, especially along the border. Also on issues such as common crime, preventing illegal arms trafficking in the region, and also preventing drug trafficking. We also work with countries outside the continent, such as some European nations.
Diálogo: How do you evaluate the work done by your country’s Military?
Minister Pascua: I’m a civilian. In Honduras, the defense minister or the state secretary for national defense is a civilian, not like in other countries where it’s a professional military man, a career member of the military. I’ve had the pleasant surprise of discovering the Military’s capacity to be able to provide services to the population, and in this case, the capacity for organization, for planning, and for execution that the Armed Forces have is something that other state institutions do not have. I believe that we should take maximum advantage of that capacity in order to be able to offer services to the population, especially in relation to issues that signify a larger problem for a people like ours, which has enormous needs.
Diálogo: Could you tell us something about the participation of the Armed Forces in civic-military activities?
Minister Pascua: In 2010, we started the “Soldiers for Health” program, which consists in bringing medical services to the population, especially in our country’s most isolated rural sectors. It’s a matter of medical brigades that rely on the collaboration and the volunteer work of many individuals from the public and private sectors. There are many doctors, nurses, students from public and private universities who travel with the Military on the weekends to these remote places within the national territory to provide health services. We bring care and free medicine.
We also have the “Guardians of the Fatherland” program, in which we work with children and young people between the ages of 5 and 23: young people who are at risk in society, the risk of falling into the hands of gangs, youth gangs, or drugs. Each year, we involve 10,000 new young people, who later become instructors for other programs. We started that in Tegucigalpa, and it’s now being done all over the country.
Diálogo: What tangible results have there been from this program of reaching out to young people?
Minister Pascua: It’s impressive that in Honduras there are waiting lists of young people who want to perform military service, which is voluntary in our country. This is a direct result of the trust the population has in the Armed Forces, due to the work that they’re doing in the fight against crime and also in civic activities.