A School to Defeat Traffickers
The Counterdrug Intelligence School of the Americas opens its doors in Bogotá, providing a place for countries across the region to share best practices and training to confront the modern-day battle against drug traffickers.
During a visit to Bolivia in December 2011, Colombia’s Foreign Relations Minister María Ángela Holguín Cuéllar said that South America would be an “oasis in the world” if it were not for drug trafficking. For her, it is important to find new solutions, new strategies and be bolder in this fight.
“While a country of the region does well [fighting drug trafficking], another will do poorly, because it is a balloon effect. When you step on one end, the mass moves to the other,” she said, urging countries of the region to form a common front to combat drug trafficking. In this spirit, Colombia was selected to host the Counterdrug Intelligence School of the Americas (ERCAIAD, for its Spanish acronym) from 2012 to 2016 under the leadership of the Colombian National Police’s Antinarcotics Directorate (DIRAN). Academic organizers and security officials believe that in Bogotá, the school will further its reach to Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
A Common Problem
Holguín Cuéllar has said that her country’s success in controlling illegal coca crops and limiting narcotrafficking is forcing cartels to pick up operations in Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. In an effort to prevent shipments of cocaine from being detected, drug smugglers are using not only speedboats and fishing vessels, but they are building submarines that can cost $2 million and take more than a year to build, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
In Central America, Salvadoran government authorities have reported that one of the leading causes of homicide in the country is narcomenudeo, or small-scale drug trafficking, which leads to deadly turf battles between rival gangs over drug sales. “There is a great challenge for authorities in the coming years to look at what the system is and how the system works,” said Colombian Major José Alfredo Jiménez, academic coordinator of ERCAIAD, in an interview with Diálogo. Maj. Jiménez compared the similarities of the criminal organizations to those that operate in Colombia, Spain and Central America.
Criminals are also sharing technology with each other. In the second half of 2011, Guatemalan National Police dismantled six clandestine laboratories with the capacity to produce large quantities of synthetic drugs in San Marcos on the Guatemala-Mexico border. Maj. Jiménez said that Colombian cartels are teaching other drug traffickers how to process drugs in Central America. “It took authorities by surprise because they never imagined that the cartels or the organizations would process [the drugs] in their countries,” he said.
A Strong Foundation
Rafael Parada, project manager of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) of the Organization of American States (OAS), said that the drug school project is unique in the hemisphere. “It brings together different police commands in the region to receive training in counterdrug intelligence,” he said. “It gives us the opportunity to create a network of intelligence analysts in the region who can communicate, coordinate and share experiences or information on the subject.”
ERCAIAD was formed in 1998, when representatives from Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela had a vision of creating an international academic program in the fight against illicit drug trafficking in the region. Then the Andean Community Regional Counterdrug Intelligence School was established in Lima, Peru, in 1999 under the responsibility of Peru’s anti-drug police. From 2000 to 2010, the school trained nearly 1,500 police and law enforcement officers with the financial and technical assistance of the OAS and Peru.
The cornerstone in the fight against drug trafficking is strategic intelligence, according to Maj. Jiménez, who oversees training and specialization of police and law enforcement personnel in the areas of anti-drugs intelligence, narcoterrrorism and related crimes. The school works toward this end with the cooperation of Colombia’s DIRAN and the OAS’s CICAD.
CICAD’s Parada said Colombia was chosen to host the school on the basis of the successful proposal they presented, their credibility, and the prestige of the National Police. “Anyone that knows about the topic knows that they are the best in the region, together with the Carabineros from Chile [and] the Brazilian Federal Police; they are the main players throughout the hemisphere.”
Focusing on Solutions
In December 2011, law enforcement officers from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, Panama and Peru gathered at the new ERCAIAD school for a three-week workshop on different aspects of counterdrug intelligence. Maj. Jiménez explained that the participants discussed current trends in their respective countries and built scenarios of where illicit trafficking might be heading in the coming years. Some of the trends discussed were maritime drug trafficking, narcomenudeo, and clandestine drug laboratories in Central America.
“The commitment of the U.S. Government with the Government of Colombia has undeniably been the cornerstone from which to move forward with that problem, in the areas of advice, logistics resources, training, and in all subjects of intelligence,” said Maj. Jiménez. “Now Colombia, with its own resources, is assuming its role to pursue the same line in the anti-drug fight.”
Maj. Jiménez, who is also the academic coordinator of Colombia’s national counterdrugs school, underscores the importance of training. For him it is a way to be ahead of the criminals, because the race is “like a game of cat and mouse.”
Sources: Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, El Tiempo, InSightCrime.org, www.elsalvador.com