Colombia Prepares to Confront New Threats with Experience and Competency

By Dialogo
April 25, 2013

Interview with General Alejandro Navas Ramos, General Commander of the Colombian Armed Forces

Globalization and the challenges that Colombia is facing in this new era, especially the conflicts generated by drug trafficking, terrorism, and illegal mining, as well as the use of technology employed by the Armed Forces in the fight against transnational organized crime, are issues that General Navas addressed masterfully in an exclusive interview with Diálogo after his participation as guest speaker in the 8th Central American Security Conference (CENTSEC 2013), held in Panama City from April 16 – 18, 2013.

Diálogo: What are the current security priorities in your country?

General Alejandro Navas Ramos: Our Colombian reality has allowed us to move forward to the current international discussions about the so-called “new threats,” which have been identified and countered for over two decades by our forces: drug trafficking, organized crime in general, and terrorism. Likewise, we are confronting them from two fronts, as they affect not only the national security, but also citizen security, which our National Police play a crucial role in.

Criminal gangs, weapons trafficking, money laundering, illegal mining, and cyberterrorism are undoubtedly a high risk to national security. Moreover, it is imperative for our forces to support the current national government strategies aimed at resolving the armed conflict. We acknowledge that our role in this significant struggle is crucial.

Diálogo: What is your opinion about granting law enforcement powers to the Armed Forces in the fight against crime, gangs and drug trafficking?

Gen. Navas: The Armed Forces cannot be unaware of the challenges that new threats introduce. We have been performing academic exercises in each of our services, based on serious methodologies that have strengthened the idea that no military force should be isolated in their role of decisively countering the new challenges that our Latin American nations are confronting now.

Minimizing the problem of insecurity might represent a potential danger that may lead to instability, which in turn would generate a threat, a conflict in which the Armed Forces’ expertise and preparation in containment and eradication of threats would play a crucial role, as well as the possible effects for each of our countries.

Diálogo: In what way can regional cooperation contribute to the fight against illicit trafficking and crime, as well as to the exchange of military-police intelligence between your country and other nations in the region?

Gen. Navas: For a long time, my country and the services under my command have been constantly constructing bridges that allow information exchanges by means of prior cooperation mechanisms, which have been reinforced over time, while threats emerged such as illicit trafficking and crime, affecting the life or Latin American citizens.

Some mechanism, such as the Binational Border Commission (COMBIFRON), and the cooperation between partners in the rest of the continent have been enormously helpful in the construction of cohesive measures, both within and outside of their nations.

In regard to Colombia, we have consolidated specific mechanisms to achieve constant synchronization between police and military intelligences. Examples of this have been the blows against important FARC leaders and drug traffickers that have damaged our country with their illicit actions. Without the information exchange and the joint actions between police and military forces, it would have been much more difficult to obtain the positive results we have achieved so far.

Diálogo: What are the most important measures implemented by the Armed Forces Joint Command in the fight against drug trafficking? What more should be done to counter illicit trafficking?

Gen. Navas: Knowing with certainty that there is still a narco-terrorist and criminal dimension to the FARC; that drug trafficking is a direct threat to our democracy; and that the results of criminal actions prolongs instability everywhere in our country, I consider the new perspective of regional roles against drug trafficking to be of great importantance.

For example, Central America is working on a new regional approach to policies that aim towards this impending threat. It is widely known that our country is one of the leaders in the fight against drug trafficking, and our experience in this field has transcended our own borders.

It is important to mention that President Santos is not only committed to the current fight against drug trafficking, but also has led a series of initiatives to obtain international consensus regarding the new focus to manage drug issues. From experience, we know that one country alone cannot fight the biggest scourge that hits our countries.

Diálogo: How much of a security issue do you think the gang problem represents? Is being a gang member considered a crime in your country?

Gen. Navas: The issue of gangs is very different in each of the countries on our continent; besides, the term ‘gang’ has a dialectical connotation that would take a long time to discuss. However, in most of our countries we have these organizations, and it is well known that their actions are more and more violent and destabilizing. Gangs or ‘combos,’ as they are known in Colombia, have a very strong intimidating power. The ‘maras,’ as gangs are known in several Central American countries, also have the same effect; however, these gangs would not have their real power without the gray shadow that gives them air and supports their actions: drug trafficking.

In Colombia, we are confronting an armed phenomenon called criminal gangs or BACRIM, which have significant power. In many cases this power has been able to overwhelm the capabilities of our Police. Hence, we need the Military to help counter these gangs, based on our extensive struggle against the insurgency. It is important to mention that Colombia has a crime categorized as ‘conspiracy to commit a crime,’ which states that when several people conspire to commit a crime, each of them will be punished.

According to our nation’s penal code, those who commit criminal activities and belong to criminal organizations will be imprisoned and will have to face economic sanctions.

Diálogo: To what extent do the Armed Forces of your country use technology for countering transnational organized crime?

Gen. Navas: Technology in our times plays a fundamental role that, along with human talent, has enormous benefits in all spheres of knowledge, not only in our everyday life, but also in our Armed Forces.

For several years, one of our main challenges has been to innovate and be cutting edge in various technological processes that support our forces, as well as the nations that need them. Such innovation and technological advantages have been useful to carry out major tasks which contribute to the strengthening of national security and defense, air interdiction, intelligence increasingly precise technology, software –key tool to develop new methodologies–, capturing of satellite images, and using night vision equipment for air and land special operations. The acquisition and construction of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, which gave us significant deterrence power is the result of taking advantage of and maximizing technological resources at our disposal.