Military officials from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, members of the Central American Armed Forces Conference (CFAC), held multiple meetings during May to coordinate joint patrols to protect the multinational borders of the Northern Triangle, region that encompasses all three countries.
“The meetings were focused on support for public security and coordination between the armed forces to combat and reduce organized crime and narcotrafficking,” Honduran Air Force Colonel Carlos Adonis Elvir Aceituno, Honduras’ representative to CFAC, told Diálogo.
These missions are carried out in accordance with the planning CFAC established for 2023, in which military personnel from the three countries participate on an ongoing basis to the coordination and defense of their respective borders against drug, arms, and human trafficking, among other major crimes.
According to a June 5 report by InSight Crime, an organization that studies organized crime in Latin America, the Honduran National Police indicated that the state of emergency, implemented in December 2022, “has enabled the capture of more than 100 members of criminal groups connected to gangs. They also said that the decrease in the homicide rate per 100,000 inhabitants last year was the greatest in nearly two decades, with a homicide index of 24 percent less than in 2021.”
The states of emergencies against organized crime imposed in El Salvador and Honduras brought with it increased mobility of military personnel along the common borders.
Thanks to the constant patrols and the great flow of information exchange between the commanders of CFAC’s military border units, service members were able to identify gang members and criminals in general, achieving their goal to detect and arrest.
“The activities of these groups [MS13 and Barrio 18] consist of drug trafficking, contract killings, money laundering, assaults, murders, cattle rustling, and extortion,” Col. Elvir said. “The increase in human trafficking is also controlled by criminal groups.”
CFAC’s joint and combined surveillance allow for the strengthening of actions against these groups. However, “they continue to look for different means to be able to enter the country illegally,” Col. Elvir said.
While InSight Crime indicated that coca crops have increased in Central America, and particularly pointed out to more favorable geographic conditions in Honduras for cultivation, Col. Elvir argued that the border areas are not as suitable. “Still [Honduras] could not be classified as a producing country, since the crops identified so far are not as extensive as in South America,” he added.
As of June 2023, the Honduran Armed Forces have discovered and destroyed almost 4 million coca bushes. Although drug processing centers were found in each destroyed plantation, they were not capable of producing large quantities of cocaine hydrochloride, Col. Elvir said.
According to Army Colonel Rubén Téllez, press director of the Guatemalan Ministry of Defense, joint patrols in border areas allow for these plantations to be found. In addition, “thanks to the presence and deterrence of the State on the borders, we can get closer to the population, which is beneficial to gather information and deny land space to organizations dedicated to narcotrafficking, smuggling, and related activities.”
For CFAC, it is of the utmost importance to control borders and also to join forces to face an enemy with great economic resources, Col. Elvir said. “The denial of land space, in this case the border, has a direct impact on the activities of criminal organizations,” Col. Téllez said.
The cooperation and support of neighboring countries and partners in the region are crucial to counter smuggling, conduct raids and captures, and to carry out operations against narcotrafficking. Among those, “the support of the United States is a strong and defining element,” Col. Elvir concluded. “it is an ally of the Central American region. The support of the United States in the fight against organized crime is always unconditional.”