A Wall Against Drug Trafficking
By Dialogo October 01, 2012
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 the nation’s Army tells of a “land of lakes and volcanoes” and
traverses its geography, mentioning 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,
Brig. Gen. Zepeda 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: During CENTSEC 2012, there were references to Nicaragua’s
implementation of a homegrown initiative for the fight against drug trafficking.
Could you explain to us what this is about?
Brig. Gen. 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 and concrete; 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 remain as far as possible from our territory, because Nicaragua is
neither a producer nor a consumer. Nicaragua is like a bridge that drugs cross
through any of its routes, by land, by sea, or by air. So we’re trying to do our
part. How can we do it? By isolating them, so that they don’t penetrate 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
Brig. Gen. Zepeda: 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 inaugurate 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 through the waters of Lake Cocibolca to permeate our national territory. The
Marine battalion is going to support the inland-waters detachment, which is the one
responsible for covering the lakes, to also confront the threats, not only along the
coasts and at sea, but also on our inland waters.
There’s going to be a force of approximately 500 personnel. The subject of
the land border is still pending, but we’re already developing the corresponding
controls along the border. We believe that as the fight against drug trafficking is
waged in Guatemala, in Honduras, in El Salvador, in Belize, these elements may want
to shift to other territories. So we’re paying attention to that phenomenon and
building our strength in some places to prevent these elements from coming into our
territory from the north and from the south.
Diálogo: In protecting its borders, what kind of collaboration does Nicaragua
have with its Central American neighbors?
Brig. Gen. Zepeda: We share quite extensive land borders with our sister
Republic of Honduras, along the Coco River to the Cape of Gracias a Dios, and on the
south with our sister Republic of Costa Rica, from Naranjo to San Juan de Nicaragua.
We also have two broad coastlines, on the Caribbean and the Pacific. In the
framework of the relationship that we have with Honduras, we’ve moved forward with
regard to land during meetings between border commanders. These take place
periodically. Every two or three months, the commanders of Honduran border units and
the commanders of Nicaraguan border units meet in a specified location of common
interest to both, sometimes in Nicaragua, other times in Honduras. There they
exchange information, agree on coordinating some of the operations at a given
location, and establish lines of communication that have proved to be important for
greater control of these borders, which happen to be porous borders in some ways,
due to their length, to the small number of personnel the Armies have available
there, and the few means of transportation.
Diálogo: Beyond Central America, how are you working with other countries in
our hemisphere to counteract transnational organized crime?
Brig. Gen. Zepeda: The Nicaraguan Army is part of the Conference of Central
American Armed Forces (CFAC, for its Spanish acronym), in which we have different
levels of cooperation. We also collaborate 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 others at the
country-to-country level. This collaborative effort stems 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
Diálogo: Could you cite an example of joint operations with military forces
from other countries?
Brig. Gen. Zepeda: 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 effort 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?
Brig. Gen. Zepeda: For me, it’s been a very positive experience. I’ve been
able to listen to military leaders, all the experiences that they have, first hand,
in person. We believe that if we’re successful with operations conducted at the
national level, we can succeed in building a good synergy that can make it possible
to improve regional results. We hope that this effort doesn’t end at the national
level, but that it transforms into a regional effort. General Douglas Fraser
[commander, U.S. Southern Command] has said the same thing, that he hopes that this
strategy will become a regional strategy to fight these illicit activities and
improve the results.