Colombia: Armed Forces Will Continue Fight against Drug Trafficking
By Geraldine Cook May 06, 2016
The Colombian Armed Forces and National Police continue to fight drug trafficking. Cooperation with the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) is a key component of the drug fighting strategy.
On April 2nd, the Colombian Navy announced that it had seized more than one ton of cocaine and a submersible during operations conducted in the country’s Pacific coast. Investigators said that the seized cocaine was being transported to Central America aboard the “narco-submarine.” It is estimated that the drugs would have been valued at US$ 32 million if it had been sold in the international market, especially in the United States.
To discuss the drug problem that Colombian authorities are battling, Diálogo
spoke to General Juan Pablo Rodríguez Barragán, General Commander of the Colombian Military Forces, during the Central American Security Conference (CENTSEC) held in San José, Costa Rica, from April 6th-8th.
During his presentation at CENTSEC, General Francisco Álvarez, from Honduras, especially thanked Colombia. Why?
General Juan Pablo Rodríguez Barragán:
Colombia is a country that has been actively engaged in the fight against transnational crime and, specifically, the fight against drug trafficking. We have developed very effective coordination efforts and maintain direct coordination with Central America, with the countries in South America, with the United States. And in that fight against drug trafficking, really, what Colombia has done, is collaborate with our experience, share lessons learned, and also make all the technology and equipment we have available to the Western Hemisphere community, including Central America, South America, and North America, to fight this scourge of drug trafficking. I wish to commend all members of the Colombian Military Forces and our National Police because, last year, more than 240 tons of cocaine were seized. This is undoubtedly a record seizure. And that means that, evidently, the strategy applied by the Colombian Military Forces in coordination with the National Police, obviously with the support of the U.S. Southern Command, is a very effective strategy. What we have done with the countries of Central America and South America is to help through the exchange of experiences and with training during the last two years. Between 2014 and 2015, we trained more than 24,000 men from the various armed forces in Central America and South America who came to Colombia to receive this training that allows them to be much more effective in the fight against drug trafficking. It also imparts those strategies that have proven successful in the fight against drug trafficking. With that regard, I thank the countries of Central America because they have recognized Colombia, her Military Forces, her National Police, and that undoubtedly commits us to continue moving forward, supporting, and fighting without rest to neutralize the scourge of drug trafficking that causes so much harm to humanity.
Several countries are adopting the Colombian model of using the Armed Forces to work jointly with the Police. Now, with the Peace Agreements, are the Colombian Armed Forces going to step out of that policing function? What can you tell us about that?
In the first place, I would like to tell you that the Colombian model has been a successful model. It is a model that, fortunately, made it possible to defeat the terrorist threat to the Colombian state and to regain a large measure of security, of protection for all Colombians. Reinstating this rule of law is so important to maintain the democratic system in a society. That model has been a model of joint work among the Military Forces; a very well conducted joint and coordinated effort with our National Police, because our National Police has direct contact with the Military Forces. All activities are coordinated. And [it also is] an interagency task among all other agencies of the state, among them the Prosecutor’s Office, so that all issues of prosecution, which are so important in the subject of drug trafficking, can flow without any interruptions. So, I think that this is a model that we have to keep for the time being, because what we are going to do is sign an agreement to end the conflict with the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC), which has been one of the terrorist groups that has done the most harm to the country and that, thanks to the actions of the Military Forces and thanks to the actions of our Law Enforcement, was Militarily defeated; and the national government, not a moment too soon, has given them an opportunity from the political point of view, through the negotiations being conducted in Havana, to demobilize, to lay down their arms and move from illegality to legality, and return to being good citizens. In that respect, we, as Soldiers, have always supported that government decision. We have not been, nor will we be, an obstacle to peace. On the contrary, every day our Military and police build peace in Colombia. By virtue of that, going back to the question you pose, the model we have is a very successful model that we must preserve because, as I explained to you earlier, we are going to sign the end of the conflict between the FARC and the Colombian state.
And does that mean that peace has been built?
No. That does not immediately imply that peace has been built. No, peace still has some hurdles to clear, has some goals, and some objectives in which security plays a primary role. For now we have to maintain the same level of strength of our Military Forces, we have to maintain the same close coordination that we have had with the National Police, the military assistance that we have always given the National Police, and that coordination is what has allowed us to be successful. Once we have built that stable and lasting peace that all Colombians hope for, which I think is going to take more than a decade, at least, then we will be able to see and analyze what other model we can implement. But for the time being, this model has been a successful model.
And a permanent one?
Well, it requires some permanency because we still have some hurdles to clear regarding security with some violence-generating agents that the Colombian state must combat with the entire weight of the force and, logically, respecting human rights and international human rights, in order to reestablish security and strengthen the rule of law. In this fight against violence-generating agents, it is very important to maintain the close coordination that we have maintained with the National Police, to maintain the model that, until now, has been a successful model. We still have some hurdles toward which we are working, some criminal phenomena, such as extortion, drug trafficking, illegal mining, smuggling, weapons, explosives, and ammunitions trafficking. That is precisely where we have to maintain this joint model of Military Forces coordinating with our National Police and with the other agencies of the state so that, within a comprehensive solution, we can decidedly consolidate this stable and lasting peace.
When you talk about the FARC, are you also including the National Liberation Army (ELN)?
Yes, evidently, at this time, the government has officially announced the negotiation process with the ELN. We believe this is something that is very important to consolidate that stable and lasting peace. It is an opportunity that the ELN must take advantage of and that the national government has offered in hopes of achieving that objective that is so important for all Colombians. Then, we hope that those negotiations have a happy ending, a successful ending, and that we finally manage to end the armed conflict, not only with the FARC, but also with the ELN, and begin to build a stable and lasting peace; that is what all Colombians want.
Earlier, Panamanian Public Safety Vice-Minister Rogelio Donadío told us that one of Panama’s concerns is that the FARC, that are being suppressed in Colombia, are going to move to his territory. What do you have to say about that?
We have excellent coordination with the Republic of Panama, an excellent exchange, and, for obvious reasons, of brotherhood, we have been giving them all our cooperation in this case. Not just from the Military standpoint, but also from law enforcement. We work jointly at the border with Panama, where we have, joint bases with Colombian Law Enforcement and Panamanian Law Enforcement presence precisely to neutralize all these scourges such as drug trafficking and the presence of violence-generating agents in the region. These are, in some cases, materialized by criminal gangs and, evidently, in the Panama border zone, where groups that are part of the FARC have made their presence known in the past. This is a sector affected by drug trafficking activity. We have excellent joint work there, and we are going to support them so that, without a doubt, any pretense from violence-generating agents can be neutralized, not only in Colombian territory, but also in Panamanian territory, and more so with this close collaboration that we have, and this coordination with the police in both countries and with the inter-agency, because we believe that we are going to be very ready to respond to any threat that may appear in the border area.
this whole subject is very important Do what you have to do quickly, because what happened in Venezuela will happen here, with gangs and criminals, leaders in prisons have the people in fear and at their mercy and they’ve already overwhelmed the government’s ability to respond…live in Venezuela is terrible.