CENTSEC 2014 Kicks-Off in Guatemala
By Dialogo April 01, 2014
On March 12, during a patrol in the western Caribbean, crewmembers aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Tampa detected a suspicious go-fast vessel moving at a high rate of speed in international waters. A Customs and Border Patrol Maritime Patrol aircraft provided oversight of the suspected vessel and the Tampa's onboard helicopter launched to pursue the vessel.
Upon arriving on scene, the helicopter crew fired warning shots effectively stopping the vessel. A U. S. Coast Guard boarding team subsequently boarded the vessel and discovered 695 packages hidden inside the vessel's hull which later tested positive for cocaine. The estimated wholesale value of the approximately 1,500 pounds of cocaine is $23 million in the U. S.
This interdiction was part of Operation Martillo (Hammer), which is one component in the United States government's whole-of-government approach to countering the use of the Central American littorals as transshipment routes for illicit drugs, weapons, and cash. Operation Martillo is an international operation focused on sharing information and bringing together air, land, and maritime assets from the U.S. Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, and Western Hemisphere and European partner nation agencies to counter illicit trafficking. It’s also the theme for this year’s Central American Security Conference IX (CENTSEC 2014).
The conference is a venue to provide Central American Defense chiefs and the commander of U. S. Southern Command a forum to discuss issues and future strategy for Operation Martillo and to counter illicit trafficking activities in the region. And that’s why representatives of the armed and security forces from Belize, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, and the United States gathered in Guatemala City, from April 01 to 03.
The three-day event is co-sponsored by U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) in collaboration with Guatemala and the theme of this year’s CENTSEC is Operation Martillo Lessons Learned and Way Ahead.
“Operation Martillo efforts started in January 2012, when Central America, South America, the Caribbean, and other Western Hemisphere and European nations joined the United States to try to curtail illicit trafficking. The intention is to disrupt organized crime operations, especially on both coasts of the Central American isthmus. The numbers show that Operation Martillo has been very successful and a true transregional effort,” said General John Kelly, SOUTHCOM commander in his opening remarks. In his opinion, this year’s CENTSEC will help to shape the future of Operation Martillo and the domestic narratives of the participant countries.
Guatemalan Army General Israel Ortiz Ruiz, Chief of Defense of Guatemala, preceeded Gen. Kelly, saying: “We have come together here to discuss ways to combat this scourge that has been planted in the core of our societies [drugs], becoming a phenomenon that produces other evils. That’s why it’s so important that everyone is here at this conference, willing to contribute your best efforts to achieve our objectives.”
According to high-ranking participants at CENTSEC 2014 who spoke with Diálogo, transnational organized crime poses a threat and a challenge to the political and economic stability for all countries in this region, and Operation Martillo, at its core and central point, is a crucial and informative campaign against illicit trafficking.
But Gen. Kelly insisted that, even with all the successes obtained by these efforts, “we cannot rest because our adversaries, the narcotraffickers, do not rest. Martillo has been a success because of one reason: your participation and your partnership.” And he concluded: “Many countries represented in this conference today are suffering terribly because of the drug demand in the United States, and because of our inability to deal with this demand, and that’s why we will work with anyone who will partner with us trying to deal with this crime, the drugs, and what it does to our societies.”
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