Central American Armed Forces Conference Nations Agree to Step up Joint Operations
By Lorena Baires/Diálogo August 24, 2017The armed forces of Central America and the Dominican Republic will remain united in the fight against emerging threats such as drug and illicit arms trafficking. They will increase the number of joint operations for strengthening their information exchange as well as increasing the coordination and operational readiness of all binational and trinational military units. The agreement was reached between the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, all of which are member nations of the Central American Armed Forces Conference (CFAC, per its Spanish acronym), at the 36th meeting of the organization’s High Council held July 11th–14th in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. The protocol containing their operational commitments specifies that the armed forces shall focus on increasing their surveillance, reconnaissance, and identification of potential areas used for clandestine landings and unauthorized crossings at the borders, employing technicians, the latest technology, and canine teams to detect drugs, arms, and other illegal items. “Excellent results have been obtained by conducting coordinated operations on our shared borders. This has allowed us to reinforce vulnerable spaces on the borders that are threatened by various illegal activities,” said General Julio César Avilés Castillo, the commander-in-chief of the Nicaraguan Army. One example of the success achieved through this joint effort is Operation Jaque, which dealt a blow to the Mara Salvatrucha gang’s finances in El Salvador, thanks to the intelligence work conducted by Guatemala’s and El Salvador’s armed forces and other security agencies. From 2015 to 2016, along the coast of El Salvador, the Salvadoran Navy (FNES, per its Spanish acronym) detected a network of local fishermen who were providing night time assistance to a drug trafficking outfit that supplied the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico, and that moved cocaine from Ecuador to Guatemala. “The local outfits provided assistance moving illicit substances that were headed to the north of the continent,” Salvadoran Minister of Public Safety and Justice Mauricio Ramírez, explained to Diálogo. “There are several places where the drugs would be received, after which they would be moved via land routes, thereby continuing their journey northward.” As a result of this operation, 28 fishermen and another four people who had logistics roles providing supplies to the powerboat pilots were captured. A fleet of 14 powerboats, 10 outboard motors, GPS devices, tablet computers, cell phones, four vehicles, cash, and various weapons were also seized. These seizures were made possible thanks to the ongoing exchange of information that FNES maintains with its counterparts in the region, who send out alerts about the routes taken by suspect vessels. That is how they established that the drug traffickers had delivery points on the border between Guatemala and Mexico, as well as between El Salvador and Guatemala. Joint task forces The success achieved in exercises such as Operation Jaque is just one example of the improved results that CFAC nations expect. They also agreed to carry out more coordinated patrols, install new observation posts, and search people, vehicles, and merchandise at the borders. The officials underscored how the level of coordination reached during the “Meetings of Commanders of Military Border Units” proved decisive in organizing and directing these operations. The accuracy of the decisions made in those meetings raises the level of success for these strategies. There are plans to stop the illicit trafficking of arms and merchandise between Honduras and El Salvador using the Lenca-Sumpul Task Force, between Honduras and Guatemala using the Maya-Chortí Task Force, and between Honduras and Nicaragua using the Morazán Sandino Task Force. “The work done by our forces has resulted in the important capture of people linked to both petty and organized crime, drug seizures, and the prevention of crimes being committed against the civilian population,” said Army Brigadier General Fredy Santiago Díaz, the secretary of Defense for Honduras, and president of CFAC’s High Council. In November 2016, the nations of the Northern Triangle deployed the Trinational Task Force as part of an agreement to mount a common front against transnational criminal organizations. This task force brings together intelligence experts, special units, and justice agents from the three nations: 224 Honduran personnel [from the Lenca Task Force], and the same number of personnel from Guatemala [with the Maya Chortí Task Force], and El Salvador [soon with the Maya-Pipil Task Force]. The strategy is backed by the “Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle,” with $750 million in funding approved in 2015 by the U.S. Congress, which seeks, among other things, to raise the security levels in that region and to fight drug trafficking. Equipment deployed to face threats CFAC representatives acknowledge that, in order to improve the effectiveness of these agreements, their armed forces must be provided with modern vehicles and weapons. “In Central America, we are equipping ourselves to counter these transnational threats and to face off against them,” Army Brigadier General David Munguía Payés, the minister of Defense for El Salvador, stated. “We are working together.” Army Major General Williams Mansilla, the minister of Defense for Guatemala, agrees. He added that the beauty of integration is that we are stronger when we combine our resources together. That’s why we’re working as a region, to strive for our common welfare.” “For now, the armed forces are looking for alternatives to better equip the task forces, since the joint strategies being implemented are already helping to identify threats, challenges, and objectives for all of our nations,” Air Force Major General Julio Cesar Souffront, a representative from the Dominican Republic’s Ministry of Defense, summed it up. “It’s all about having the capacity for the accurate exchange of information that will help us counter this scourge.” Effectiveness during emergencies CFAC’s armed forces have recognized that one of the most important challenges to winning in the short-term is standardizing the humanitarian rescue units. For example, defining what kinds of humanitarian aid protocols and tools to use according to the threat being faced because, in the near future, it may be necessary to come together to provide relief to civilians in regional emergencies. The officials agreed to continue their military forces’ educational and training exchanges. The goal is to move forward in specialized professionalization at CFAC’s Regional Training Centers: make progress in Guatemalan peacekeeping operations, in the fight against transnational crime in El Salvador, in humanitarian aid in Honduras, in international humanitarian demining in Nicaragua, and on human rights and international humanitarian law in the Dominican Republic. At the close of the meeting, the building where CFAC’s offices will be housed was inaugurated. Thus, these partner nations ratified their commitment to working out agreements to fight drug trafficking, organized crime, illegal regional migration, criminal organizations, and gangs.