Colombian, Guatemalan Air Forces Collaborate against Drug Trafficking
By Julieta Pelcastre/Diálogo September 01, 2016To more effectively counteract the threat of transnational organized crime, mainly drug trafficking, a team from the Colombian Air Force (FAC, for its Spanish acronym) offered a training program on aerial surveillance to members of the Guatemalan Air Force (GAF). The training will strengthen the Central American country's air defense capacities. From June 13th to July 1st, a total of ten GAF members participated in the aerial surveillance basic training offered by the FAC’s Combat Air Command CACOM-1. The training took place at the GAF’s Central Air Command in Guatemala City. "The course is a support initiative between the United States and Colombia, in which the Action Plan on Regional Security Cooperation provides the Central American region with a series of consultancies for the different Armed Services: Marines, Army, and Air Force. Each country decides which courses it needs. U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) provides the logistics for the transfer of instructors, and Colombia provides the personnel," said Brigadier General Guillermo Alfredo Orozco Rodas, commander of the GAF, in an interview with Diálogo. The course The training offered to the second lieutenants of the GAF included two weeks of academic instruction and one week of practical training, during which they simulated illicit flight scenarios. They also used the radar located in Puerto San José, Escuintla, which is controlled by members of Civil Aviation and the Guatemalan Army. The participants, who make up the first air defense group to complete the training, were instructed in air-space control and surveillance procedures and protocols that are based both on the successful experience of the FAC, with respect to the control of drug trafficking and on the command and control structure of the institution. The officers were trained on how to promptly detect illicit aircraft and to work with the ground and maritime forces, and to alert other countries with which they share a border [Mexico and Honduras] in order to make a coordinated effort against drug trafficking. Colombian experience Through the U.S.-Colombia Action Plan, Colombia has intensified its efforts to export its experiences to countries in Central America, the Caribbean, and elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere that are impacted by the effects of transnational organized crime. This plan was announced in 2012 by President Barack Obama and his Colombian counterpart, President Juan Manuel Santos. With assistance from the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) and SOUTHCOM, the Action Plan has led to hundreds of training events to strengthen capacity since its creation in 2013. According to the latest 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report issued by the U.S. Department of State, the majority of cocaine [90 percent] that enters the United States passes through Central America. The report indicates that Guatemala continues to be an important transit country for illegal drugs, where transnational criminal organizations continue taking advantage of the porous borders between Guatemala and Honduras, El Salvador, and Mexico to smuggle migrants, narcotics, and other illicit products. Colombia is helping improve security in Central America. For Brig. Gen. Orozco, "The Colombian Air Force is a strategic ally for the Central American region. With the different courses, capacities, and assets, we can really continue to grow the process of air defense in Guatemala." After decades of armed conflict, Colombia was not just a victim. It also has felt the repercussions of the illicit trafficking of drugs, organized crime, and gangs. The challenges of struggling with these issues have allowed Colombia to export a resource that is new and possibly more valuable to the region – security. "The Armed Forces of Guatemala are benefitting from Colombia's accumulated experience to be able to implement and adapt specific programs such as air interdiction, training of crews, and aerial intelligence," indicated Brig. Gen. Orozco. With the development of these activities, the National Air Defense System Education Center, which is a part of CACOM-1, has established itself as one of FAC's internationally recognized schools. With this achievement, they have strengthened the institution's educational capacities at the Latin American level, as well as their bonds of friendship with the air forces throughout the continent, according to a FAC press release from June 30th. Guatemalan results "In addition to this inter-institutional work, there is also the work of state organizations and specialized units of the Ministry of the Interior, as well as international counter-narcotics agencies. Today, we have good results in the area of drug confiscation, which was really our challenge. Our motto is that we must continue protecting our society from the repercussions of criminal activity," said Brig. Gen. Orozco. Guatemala seized a total of 3,337 kilos over the first six months of this year. During the first nine months of 2015, security forces confiscated 7.25 metric tons of cocaine, according to the U.S. State Department. To continue strengthening the fight against drug trafficking, the Guatemalan Government will allocate three radars in 2017 that will help monitor illegal flights in the region. The Guatemalan authorities will be able to share information with countries that have similar equipment, such as the United States, Colombia, and Mexico. Cooperation The joint training promotes cooperation among military institutions in the Latin American region in the fight against international drug trafficking. "Although it is important to increase and maintain cooperation with Colombia, Guatemala has sustained a good relationship with Mexico. We hold bilateral meetings, and the GAF receives training in air force issues," said Brig. Gen. Orozco. The Cooperative Guatemala–U.S. Relationship "It is very important and hugely relevant because we maintain a close relationship with the United States in different fields of activity – not only in supporting the fight against drugs but also in humanitarian aid," said Brigadier General Juan Manuel Pérez Ramírez, chief of Staff of the Guatemalan National Defense.