Central America Unites to Combat Drug Trafficking and Gangs
By Lorena Baires/Diálogo October 28, 2016Drug trafficking, money laundering, arms smuggling, human trafficking, and gang violence know no borders. That’s why the armed forces of Central America have outlined a joint strategy for stopping criminal organizations. This is an ongoing effort led by the Central American Armed Forces Conference. Representatives of the armed forces in the region meet annually at El Salvador's Regional Center on Training Against Transnational Organized Crime (CRACCT, per its Spanish acronym) to standardize criteria and share their greatest successes. Army officials from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua participated in the 6th edition of the Regional Seminar to Counter Transnational Crime from September 19th-30th. “Criminal structures change their ways of operating due to globalization. That’s why it is important to continue sharing information and experiences. This allows us to raise the level of effectiveness in the fight against crime,” said Artillery Colonel Rafael Antonio Díaz, CRACCT commander. The seminar was developed by El Salvador’s Special Forces Command, Air Force, and Navy. However, the Joint Group Cuscatlán, the Transnational Anti-Gang Initiative, and elite groups of the Salvadoran National Civil Police, such as the Anti-Narcotics Division, the Elite Division Against Organized Crime, and the Special Anti-Gang Unit also shared their experiences in the field. During the theory portion of the seminar, the elite Salvadoran combat groups explained the new modus operandi of gangs, drug-trafficking and illicit-smuggling groups. They elaborated on the substructures of these criminal groups, as well as the action mechanisms that together make them organized crime organizations. “The successful experiences gained by all of the countries are the key to squeezing the vice to stop these organizations,” said Transmissions Colonel Daniel Serrano, deputy chief of the General Army Staff of the Salvadoran Armed Forces (FAES, per its Spanish acronym). “Gangs and drug trafficking are scourges common to our countries, although each one has its own peculiarities,” stated Col. Serrano. “Sharing these experiences allows us to reduce the chances of it multiplying. These threats are borderless, and we must address them as such.” Special dynamics were carried out during the practical courses to combine procedures related to search, seizure and custody of evidence. The officers also established clearer channels for interagency cooperation and new methods for aerial and maritime interception. A region without borders Since borders do not exist for these criminals, sharing lessons learned and exchanging experiences are the key to consolidating and integrating border procedures. “El Salvador is fighting these gang structures head on, which is why there has been migration to rural municipalities in Guatemala,” said Lieutenant Bladimir Álvarez, representing the Guatemalan Armed Forces. “Our immediate mission is to strengthen the borders, so as to prevent criminals from evading justice.” A related phenomenon is that migration follows a pattern of searching for safer spaces to train in the use of weapons of war. “In Honduras, we have observed that gang members from El Salvador come here to train. The same thing happens with Salvadoran gang members who go to Nicaragua,” added Honduran Navy Lieutenant Denis Meléndez. “Jointly identifying these movements allows us to design more effective strategies for capturing them.” CRACCT will draft a list of recommendations for immediate joint application. Meanwhile, because of their complexity, the standardization of other lists that require more time continues. Already, 300 officers have been trained. These meetings help to share tactics and strengthen joint efforts in the fight against emerging threats. For FAES, the effectiveness of implementing these new strategies rests on the leadership of officers when leading their troops. That way, the contents and practice of this new regional exercise are multiplied.