Interview with Brigadier General Adolfo Zepeda Martínez, Nicaraguan Army
When Brigadier General Adolfo Zepeda Martínez speaks about Nicaragua, he does so in an almost poetic tone. The head of the Intelligence and Counterintelligence Directorate of that nation’s Army tells of a “land of lakes and volcanoes” and traverses its geography, mentioning geographical locations by name, as if he were enjoying an imaginary trip through each part of his country. In April, during the Central American Security Conference (CENTSEC 2012), sponsored by the U.S. Southern Command, General Zepeda Martínez traveled to El Salvador to represent Nicaragua. On that occasion, during an interview granted to Diálogo, the military officer talked about the “Containment Wall,” a national strategy that seeks to keep drug traffickers within bounds, far from Nicaragua’s lakes, coasts, and borders.
Diálogo: On several occasions during the CENTSEC 2012 sessions, there were mentions on Nicaragua’s implementation of a home-grown initiative for the fight against drug trafficking. Could you explain to us what this is about?
Brigadier General Adolfo Zepeda Martínez: Nicaragua has developed an idea that we’re putting into practice and that we call the “Containment Wall.” It’s not a wall of stone andconcrete; it’s an idea. By means of this idea, we’re trying to keep drug-trafficking elements away from the coasts, so that they don’t spread across our borders. What we’re trying to do [with this idea] is to have controls along the coasts, at the border, and in our airspace, so that drug-trafficking elements or criminal elements are active as far as possible from our territory, because Nicaragua is neither a producer nor a consumer. Nicaragua is like a bridge that drugs cross by any of its routes, by land, by sea, or by air. So we’re trying to do our part. How can we do it? Isolating them, so that they don’t penetrate into Nicaragua, and that way other authorities with more resources, such as the United States, for example, can have more control at sea, in the air.
Diálogo: In practical terms, what measures are you taking to implement this idea?
Brigadier General Zepeda Martínez: Well, the commander-in-chief and the president have decided to create new units. Among them, we have created a battalion of Marines, who are going to have their base in Puerto Sandino. We’ll possibly be inaugurating it in the course of this year. This battalion is going to be in charge of developing a Marine force that can have better results along the coasts, on lakes and inland waters. Nicaragua is a country of lakes and volcanoes, and we also have inland waters. We have two large lakes: Lake Managua (Xolotlán) and Lake Nicaragua (Cocibolca). We’ve found that drug-trafficking elements penetrate our southern border using the waters of Lake Cocibolca to penetrate our national territory. This Marine battalion is going to support the inland-waters detachment, which is the one that is going to cover the lakes, in order to also be able to better confront the threats, not only along the coasts and at sea, but also on our inland waters. There’s going to be approximately 500 personnel. The subject of the land border is still pending, but we’re already developing the corresponding controls along the border. To the extent that the fight against drug trafficking is waged in Guatemala, in Honduras, in El Salvador, in Belize, we believe that these elements may want to shift to other territories. So we’re paying attention to that phenomenon and building up our strength in some places, in order to prevent these elements from penetrating into our territories from the north and from the south.
Diálogo: In protecting its borders, what kind of collaboration does Nicaragua have with its Central American neighbors?
Brigadier General Zepeda Martínez: We share quite extensive land borders with our sister Republic of Honduras, along the Coco River to Gracias a Dios Cape, and on the south with our sister Republic of Costa Rica, from Naranjo to San Juan de Nicaragua. We also have two extensive coastlines, on the Caribbean and the Pacific. On the land portion, we’ve moved forward on meetings of border commanders, within the framework of the relationship that we have with Honduras. These are meetings that take place periodically. Every two or three months, the commanders of Honduran border units and the commanders of Nicaraguan border units meet in a city, sometimes in Nicaragua, other times in Honduras. There they exchange information, agree on coordinating some of the operations at a location of interest, and establish lines of communication that have proved to be important for greater control of these borders, which are effectively porous borders in some ways, due to their extension and to the small number of personnel the Armies have available with few means of transportation.
Diálogo: Beyond Central America, how are you working with other countries in our hemisphere to counteract transnational organized crime?
Brigadier General Zepeda Martínez: The Nicaraguan Army is part of the Conference of Central American Armed Forces (CFAC), where we have different levels of cooperation, and we also have cooperation in different areas with the U.S. Southern Command, especially in the area of training for our officers, through CNIES [the Cooperating Nation Information Exchange System], in the transmission of information about the tracking of illegal movements by air and by sea, which can enable the interception or seizure of drugs along the coast, and following up on the possible illegal incursion of planes into our territory, among other collaborations that we have at the country-to-country level. This cooperation starts from the document that the Nicaraguan president signed with corresponding U.S. authorities, a document called “Fighting Illicit Trafficking at Sea.” This is a legal document, through which Nicaragua receives the support of the U.S. Coast Guard, by radio, or in whatever way may be already established; information is given to the Nicaraguan Navy, or vice versa.
Diálogo: Could you cite an example of joint operations with military forces from other countries?
Brigadier General Zepeda Martínez: At this time, we’re participating in Operation Martillo, which is being led by the Southern Command and JIATF-S [the Joint Interagency Task Force – South]. Practically all the Central American countries and others, even European ones, are participating in that operation. We’ve also been participating in that dynamic with the Southern Command when they invite us to take part in military exercises, such as Panamax, for example.
Diálogo: What concrete benefits do you take away from participating in conferences like CENTSEC 2012?
Brigadier General Zepeda Martínez: For me, it’s been a very positive experience. I’ve been able to listen to Military leaders, all the experiences that they have, at first hand, in person. We believe that from national results and operations conducted at the national level, if we’re successful with them, we can succeed in building up a good synergy that can make it possible to improve regional results. We believe and aspire to the idea that this effort should not only be a national effort, but should be transformed into a regional effort. General Douglas Fraser [the commander of the U.S. Southern Command] has said the same thing, that he hopes that this regional strategy can become a regional strategy to fight these illicit activities and be able to improve the results.