WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S.A. – Combatting Central America’s growing problems associated with narco-trafficking must include enhanced regional governmental cooperation, according to the NGO Council of Hemispheric Affairs (COHA).
The report, released on Aug. 16, also points to strengthened civilian authority, sustainable development and environmental protection as key elements in the fight against narcotics trafficking.
As a result of increasingly effective interdiction of supply routes from South America to the north through the Caribbean, “players in the illegal drug trade have shifted their focus to Central America,” the report, compiled by COHA research associate Lauren Mathae, states. “In turn, that shift has started to destabilize the ‘Northern Triangle’ nations of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.”
About 60% of narcotics produced in South America pass through Guatemala and its mostly unguarded border with Mexico. Meantime, the murder rate in Guatemala is now twice as high as Mexico’s, according to the report.
Central America’s role in narco-trafficking is expanding. The region is no longer just being used as a transfer hub; it’s become home to burgeoning production facilities.
In March, Honduran police found the country’s first cocaine processing lab, which could produce a ton of cocaine monthly, on a coffee farm north of the nation’s capital of Tegucigalpa, Mathae said.
“While drug shipments have increased, ineffective and underfunded security forces only serve to exacerbate the proliferation of Mexican cartels,” she said.
Governments throughout the region are starting to work together to strengthen their collective fight against narco-trafficking and improve security.
“The fight against the drug trade demands a multilateral effort, and cooperation between regional countries is fundamental,” Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla said at a media conference in Mexico City in August.
Chinchilla was in Mexico to discuss with President Felipe Calderón how the countries could partner in addressing regional security issues.
“Both countries are committed to doing all that is necessary to continue to fight the delinquency that threatens our nations,” Chinchilla said.
Member states of the Central American Cooperation System (SICA) have been working to develop 22 projects that were discussed during a regional security summit in Guatemala.
SICA is comprised of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, and associate member Dominican Republic.
The main areas of focus are prevention, rehabilitation, reintegration, prison management and institutional strengthening, said William Leiva, communications officer at SICA headquarters in San Salvador, El Salvador.
All 22 projects are expected to be ready in October, when they will be presented to the Central American Security Commission, Leiva said.
“The best that can be done to improve the situation in Central America is to work from a regional perspective, and that’s what the security strategy is doing,” he said. “Certainly, regional and national dimensions must be adequately coordinated, and there is no reason to think they will not be, since all Central American governments are involved and collaborating.”
Members of SICA and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) approved a joint declaration at a summit in San Salvador on Aug. 19. The declaration calls for coordinating efforts to improve regional economies, social development, public security, the environment and disaster risk management.
In addition to engaging in talks concerning a free trade agreement, the declaration stipulates Central American and Caribbean governments will develop strategies to combat trafficking in narcotics, weapons and people, as well as acts of terrorism.
“With the implementation of projects at a national level, we expect to have regional impact that allows [Central America] to become a safer place for its citizens,” said Luis Torres of the Democratic Security Unit at SICA.