Colombia Augments Security Cooperation in Northern Triangle

By Dialogo
June 07, 2016




The governments of Colombia and the United States have entered into a cooperation agreement to promote improvements within the Guatemalan, Honduran, and Salvadoran Armed Forces based on the lessons learned by the Colombian Army to improve regional security and public safety and effectively combat drug trafficking and organized crime.

Following the “Colombia-U.S. Triangle Cooperation Action Plan for the benefit of Central America and the Caribbean,” launched in 2013, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos visited the Northern Triangle countries (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) in April to confirm interest in strengthening relationships, following up on ideas, and identifying new necessities.

Colombia and the United States already cooperate closely in the fight against organized crime in the Northern Triangle. The two countries conduct joint training and share information, and Colombia has a longstanding bilateral relationship with the United States. The cooperation between the partner nations has helped strengthen Colombia's Army as well as acquire skills and experiences that make it effective in drug enforcement and counter-insurgency, said Daniel Mitchell, Chief of Staff for the Ministry of Defense and director of International Affairs and Cooperation.

Reaffirming the agreement


In April, President Santos toured the Northern Triangle to confirm support for the strengthening of government forces and promised more dynamic and focused cooperation. The Triangle Cooperation Action Plan laid out a series of detailed and individualized strategies for each country, though there have been defense cooperation programs within the Northern Triangle since 2006.

Security officials review the requirements of these cooperation programs annually. Training for Military and police personnel depends on the size and capacity of a Military's ground, air, and maritime interdictions and its specific needs to respond to problems shared throughout the region. Citizen security, the optimization of Military and police specialties, organizational development, the fight against the global drug problem, and crime prevention and enforcement are all primary areas of action.

The agreement focuses on avoiding or stopping the “balloon effect” in Central America, said Juan Sebastián Jiménez, Cooperation Coordinator with the Colombian Ministry of Defense. "The effect seen in the efforts to eradicate the production and sale of illegal drugs in Latin America is analogous to what happens to the air inside a balloon when it is squeezed: the air moves, but does not disappear. The pressure applied to one side pushes the air to another side where there is less resistance.”

Training through Bilateral Cooperation Initiatives


In 2015, Colombian Military and police forces trained 741 Guatemalan, 782 Honduran, and 560 Salvadoran service members through bilateral cooperation initiatives that included:


Strengthening Military and police specialties (Guatemala - 29 percent, Honduras - 18 percent, El Salvador - 25 percent);

The fight against the global drug problem (Guatemala - 19 percent, Honduras 11 percent, El Salvador - 15 percent);

Organizational development (Guatemala - 25 percent, Honduras - 19 percent, El Salvador - 33 percent);

Citizen security (Guatemala - 25 percent, Honduras - 48 percent, El Salvador - 22 percent);

Criminal phenomena (Guatemala - 1 percent, Honduras - 3 percent, El Salvador - 5 percent).


So far this year, 24 Guatemalan service members have received training with an emphasis on the fight against global drug trafficking. The skills most requested by Guatemalan authorities are:


Supporting border control and security;

Advising on improving communications between units;

Training in ground, air, and maritime interdictions to improve military mobility when they attack a target;

Teaching government forces how to face the transnational criminal organizations that are using gangs to control territory and routes for their criminal operations;

Strengthening Naval patrol skills.


“In Guatemala, we have created an organizational structure and management model for the National Civil Police’s Planning Department for Specialized Management in Criminal Investigations," Mitchell said. "The absence of a strong criminal investigations unit was one of the greatest failures of the Guatemalan system, but now that unit has become one of the greatest achievements born from our cooperation."

In the mean time, support to Honduras has focused on:


Supporting eradication of drug trafficking and the elimination of criminal groups;

Advising state judicial officials on the extradition of significant drug traffickers;

Providing training in riverside areas to infiltrate the trafficking of illicit drugs into the country’s interior, and to prevent drugs from subsequently being shipped to the United States;

Teaching government forces to face the trafficking in drugs, weapons, and persons effectively;

Strengthening skills in identifying illegal landing strips and intercepting air fields and clandestine airplanes.


“In Honduras, we encouraged the operations of Criminal Forensic Laboratories under the Police Investigations and Exterior Community Inspections Division,” Mitchell stated. “Improving Honduran organizations was the first step in improving how crimes were handled. Now, the focus for this country has turned toward citizen security after the institutions were strengthened.”

With regard to El Salvador, so far this year, 23 Salvadorans have received training with an emphasis in the areas of citizen security and strengthening military and police specialties. The skills most requested by Salvadoran authorities include:


Supporting border control and security and training government forces responsible for ensuring public security;

Training in ground, air, and maritime interdictions to improve the mobility of government forces when attacking a target;

Improving the Navy’s patrolling capabilities;

Advising on how to control national airspace.


“In El Salvador there was a good deal of support for the creation of a cybercrime office because that problem had afflicted the country,” Mitchell explained. “Now organizational development is the priority. The percentage of aid is changing and the number of persons receiving training has been decreasing as we have grown these abilities in the country, which gives them greater autonomy. Ultimately, this is the point of this agreement.”

Triangular Cooperation


Triangular Cooperation, a type of development cooperation between an emerging donor country, a beneficiary country, and a donor from the U.S. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Development Assistance Committee, was established at the end of the 1970s and put into practice at the end of the 1990s. It is relatively new, and combines traditional, or vertical, cooperation -- such as the transfer of knowledge, experience or resources by a country at the same or greater level of development -- with South-South cooperation, which implies the exchange of resources, technology, and knowledge between developing countries in the global south, to provide cooperation assistance to one or more developing nations.

Triangular Cooperation helps supplement the existing ties between developing nations, especially in medium-income countries, and traditional donors. The purpose is to face developmental challenges and promote common interests through solutions that can be adjusted to each country’s needs. Colombia has taken important steps in managing cooperation so it can offer other countries its own experience and skills through the Triangular Cooperation system of development cooperation.

South-South Cooperation and Triangular Cooperation have become highly developed since they were given a new strategic direction in 2006, under Colombia’s Presidential Office on International Cooperation. Under these initiatives authorities cooperate to further regional development.
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