Central America, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic agreed to create a security strategy to have greater impact on the fight against organized crime; gangs; drug, arms, and human trafficking. Such was the outcome of the first Regional Conference of Security Ministers and Secretaries held in Guatemala City in February, Guatemala’s Interior Ministry said in a statement.
Ministers and delegates from Belize, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico attended the meeting.
The first step will consist of strengthening regional cooperation mechanisms and communications channels, and then setting up technical roundtables to discuss in detail issues related to guaranteeing public security and strengthening the fight against transnational organized crime.
“America has a great challenge in the fight against narcotrafficking […], and the way to monetize the illicit handling of drugs must be attacked,” Jorge Luis Vidal, an Argentine expert in criminal intelligence and the fight against narcotrafficking, told Diálogo on March 19. “The key aspects for attacking this structure are strict control of borders and the creation of specialized financial investigation units. As such, the logistics of exporting narcotics are blocked, and the finances of these groups are attacked.”
Organized crime and narcotrafficking structures are dynamic, says the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) Global Report on Cocaine 2023, which highlights that the criminal landscape in Mexico is increasingly complex and fragmented.
“These criminal phenomena are not new. What is new is that we are confronting them regionally,” Guatemala’s Minister of the Interior David Napoleón Barrientos told Guatemalan daily Prensa Libre. “Each of the countries has its own strategies. We’ve discussed and shared them […]; the idea is to generate regional plans and protocols. This will be done by each country’s specialists at the roundtables.”
According to UNODC, authorities identified nine major organized criminal groups, where the Sinaloa Cartel can be described as a “network of alliances” of multiple specialized cells, each with a specific role in the supply chain.
“We have a serious problem that drags down the entire region in the outflow of narcotics to the United States or Europe. That’s why radars must be installed at borders and orderly controls of international transport routes must be established,” Vidal said. “It’s important for countries to have a national anti-narcotics agency that has access to all the information generated by the security forces.”
According to UNODC, cocaine cultivation shot up 35 percent in 2021, due to improvements in the process of transforming coca leaf into cocaine hydrochloride.
“Crime is transnational, and we have to be very coordinated as well,” Mexican Undersecretary of Security and Protection Luis Rodríguez Bucio told AFP during the conference. “We have to know who is answering the phone when we call another country.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, Salvadoran authorities have detained more than 65,000 people accused of belonging to or collaborating with gangs since the inception of its state of exception in March 2022.
“We have a huge joint effort with Guatemala […], it’s an effort that has allowed us to carry out more than 50 operations to locate and capture Salvadoran terrorists on Guatemalan territory,” El Salvador’s Minister of Justice and Public Security Gustavo Villatoro told Prensa Libre. “Of course, we have offered the countries of the region, mainly our neighbors, all the necessary collaboration to be able to successfully confront this scourge.”
According to InSight Crime’s 2022 Homicide Round Up, published on February 8, 2023, the region is one of the most violent in the world, despite not having formal armed conflicts. Of the countries that participated in the Conference, Honduras occupies the first place with 35.8 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants; Mexico comes in second with 25.2 murders, and Belize in third place with 25 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.