A New Era of Engagement
By Dialogo October 01, 2012
In the days before General Alejandro Navas, chief of defense of the Colombian Armed
Forces, stepped onto a stage to address some 100 South American defense leaders, the
insurgent Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia bombed a bridge, set tractor-trailers
ablaze and prompted violent protests.
“It is indisputable that some criminal organizations, especially narcotraffickers,
employ any form of violence and terrorism possible to extend their business,” Gen. Navas
told attendees at the IV South American Defense Conference (SOUTHDEC), held July 24-26,
2012, in Bogotá. “We are left with no other choice than to unite and act together to break
down the most dangerous criminal phenomena we have encountered in the 21st century.”
Colombia has made great strides in the past decade to battle back insurgent groups
to a fraction of their previous territory, and to reduce coca production by 70 percent.
Other South American nations, such as Peru and Paraguay, have reduced the size of
insurgent groups that threaten democracy and citizen security.
In the conference’s opening address, Gen. Navas classified organized crime as one
of the “dark threats” that is evolving in the region. He said this requires the region’s
armed forces to also transform, taking on nontraditional roles. In evoking the conference
theme, Gen. Navas said, “The solution is in our hands … not in foreign theories or from
other continents. Information, collaboration, cooperation is the only way we can coordinate
against this threat.”
General Douglas Fraser, commander of U.S. Southern Command, a co-host of SOUTHDEC,
said the myriad new roles of armed forces calls for a “new era of engagement,” one that
welcomes regional defense strategies, such as the one created by the Union of South American
Nations, or UNASUR, while integrating existing ties with Central and North America.
Diálogo spoke with representatives from several nations in attendance at the
conference about the challenges faced by militaries in the region.
Peru’s Military strategy has changed drastically from the committees of
self-defense − citizen militias that proliferated to fight insurgents in the 1980s and
1990s. Now it relies on direct collaboration with communities along the narcotrade routes,
establishing a permanent State presence and building reliable sources of intelligence.
Admiral José Cueto, chief of the Joint Forces Command of Peru, emphasized in his
address that beating back the Shining Path guerilla threat in Peru was a result of the
Government creating more all-encompassing policies and countering ideology head-on. He said
such strategies need to be adopted across regional borders.
“Organized crime is transnational and does not have borders,” he told Diálogo. He
added that the region needs to work together “to make policies that provide mechanisms for
real action against this organized threat.”
Paraguay has experienced several recent successes against the Paraguayan People’s
Army (EPP, by its Spanish acronym), a guerrilla group within its borders, but still faces
what General Marco Aurelio Torales, chief of Joint Staff, describes as the “emerging threat”
of international drug and arms trafficking.
“We try to have a frank dialogue with [citizens] so that day by day we can confront
these emerging threats,” he told Diálogo, underscoring successes in preventing further
conscription into the EPP through logistics and intelligence support to public security
In Ecuador, drug trafficking has led to transnational organized crime along the
northern border. Lieutenant General Jorge Peña, chief of the Operational Joint Staff of the
Joint Command of the Armed Forces, said the crimes of drug trafficking, fuel smuggling, arms
trafficking and illegal mining are all related.
“Large narcotrafficking networks want to use and are using our country as a transit
country … and this is worrisome,” he told Diálogo. In discussing ways to collaborate, he
suggested working more closely with the U.S.’s Joint Inter-Agency Task Force-South (JIATF-S)
in Key West, Florida. “We want to have better contact and information from [JIATF-S] in
order to be better able to combat narcotrafficking and organized crime.”
General Daniel Castellá, chief of the Defense Staff of Uruguay, told Diálogo that
his country’s approach to defense has changed. “The concept of defense is not only for
Soldiers. Defense today is more encompassing; it is related to citizenry where all take
part,” he said.
The Government of Uruguay also recently committed to increase military expenditures
to fulfill a long-awaited modernization to match its widened role. In addition, the Armed
Forces are encouraging private investment to advance military technology.
Several countries have committed troops to the peacekeeping force led by Brazil in
Haiti. The result has been interoperability of regional forces and increased engagement with
citizens. Brazilian Air Force Lieutenant General Roberto Carvalho, deputy director of
international affairs for the Joint Staff of the Armed Forces, told Diálogo that his country
is sending “its best” to Haiti. “This gives them motivation, instruction, training and
knowledge,” he said.
Brazil’s Army is also taking on a lead role in coordinating the protection for
“upcoming events” of national importance such as the World Cup in 2014 and Summer Olympics
in 2016. Recent successful coordination efforts for the international conference Rio+20 and
the Military World Games demonstrated how the Army can collaborate with the Federal Police,
Military Police and the Federal Highway Patrol.
The Southern Cone, including Chile, is increasingly being used as a drug transit
area, leading to a rise in violent crime. Lieutenant General Hernán Mardones, chief of the
Joint Staff of Chile, told Diálogo that the Frontera Norte (Northern Border) strategy has
added police and Military posts in areas of the high plateaus where more than 95 unregulated
border crossings are known to exist. Chile is also training its forces through peacekeeping
missions from Haiti to the Middle East.
“Peacekeeping operations allow us in some ways to train our forces, to train our
men,” noted Lt. Gen. Mardones, who said 15,000 Chilean troops were ready within 48 hours to
respond to Haiti’s earthquake in 2010.
In his closing remarks, Gen. Fraser highlighted that interactions like those of
regional militaries in Haiti provide the “glue to address interagency, international
organizations” and bridge gaps that other government agencies cannot. The relationships that
are built and the interagency coordination transcend purely humanitarian roles. “We have a
common problem and a common enemy and our threat is nontraditional,” he said.