Colón, a Model of Security in Panama

Colón, a Model of Security in Panama

By Dialogo
April 09, 2015




United States Customs authorities announced on March 24 the seizure of one ton of cocaine in a speedboat, which had actually been discovered five days prior by a border patrol plane that alerted the Panamanian authorities, who intercepted the vessel off the coast of Panama.

The action clearly shows the successful joint efforts between the security forces from both countries, and was coincidentally released to the media on the opening day of the Central American Security Conference (CENTSEC 2015), co-sponsored by the United States Southern Command and the Armed Forces of Honduras on March 23-27 in Tegucigalpa.

Diálogo
spoke with Rogelio Donadío, Panama’s Vice Minister of Public Security, and Omar Pinzón, Director General of the Panamanian Police, at the conclusion of CENTSEC about “Strengthening Regional Security Cooperation to Combat Transnational Organized Crime,” which was the main theme of the conference, as well as other parallel issues.

Diálogo:
As we saw here at CENTSEC, various countries in the region are turning to the Armed Forces to support the Police and other national security forces in the fight against drug trafficking. Does the fact that Panama does not have an Armed Force complicate the fight against drug trafficking, or is it not an issue?

Vice Minister Rogelio Donadío:
Well, right now the interesting thing in Panama is that we have four security sectors, of which three belong to the Ministry of Security and one to the Office of the President. But they have worked together to eradicate these problems and they’ve been able to coordinate and organize their efforts to achieve the short and medium-term targets that we have proposed, which is allowing us to reach the goal that we are working towards.

Diálogo:
What is that goal?

Vice Minister Rogelio Donadío:
When President Juan Carlos Varela took office, we wanted a security strategy for the country that would diminish the incidence of crime in Panama by 15%, including homicides, robberies, and theft. These objectives have been fulfilled over these last five years. There are other goals, as I have explained, that also contribute to decreasing insecurity in the countries in the region, which are access to potable water, access to education, access to affordable food. Those three objectives have also been worked on and they have also contributed to the decrease in crime and insecurity.

Diálogo:
Can it be said that the National Border Service (SENAFRONT) is a success story that can be used as an example for other countries?

Vice Minister Rogelio Donadío:
Yes, I believe so. SENAFRONT is a sector of the police security force that has been able to stop part of the trafficking of narcotics, people, and illegal immigrants along Panama’s border with Colombia and Panama’s border with Costa Rica, but this work has been done in conjunction with the Armed Forces of Colombia and has also been done in conjunction with the other security sectors in Panama. It’s been a success in terms of working together, working as a team, not just at the national level, among Panamanians, but also internationally, at the level of Panama with the Colombians and certain information as well as working with people from the Southern Command, because we have successfully stopped part of the entry of illegal trafficking of a variety of things along Panama’s borders.

Diálogo:
And how are these joint efforts carried out?

Vice Minister Rogelio Donadío:
At all levels. Through joint exercises with the Police and SENAN; information exercises with countries in the area, with Colombia and with Costa Rica; by exchanging information with the intelligence agencies of the United States. That has been part of the work that is being carried out on the border.

Diálogo:
You mentioned Panama’s National Aeronaval Service (SENAN). Why is so much said about SENAFRONT and so little about SENAN?

Vice Minister Rogelio Donadío:
Well, what happens is that in my case we talk mainly about the National Police, which is the security sector that gave rise to SENAN and SENAFRONT, which is the security agency that is most often talked about. We talk more about SENAFRONT because they have more people, but we also talk about SENAN. However, at the operational levels and/or results levels, the results have also come in that order. The more units you have, the more results you have. So, first we talk about the Police, then about SENAFRONT, and then about SENAN.

Director General of the Police Omar Pinzón:
I would like to add a little to what the Vice Minister just said. Indeed, Panama exercises its sovereignty in Defense and Security through a strategy based on what is allowed by the Constitution. For the Defense and Security of the country, the first sector is the National Police. Then there are two other constitutionally established sectors: SENAFRONT, which is the border service, and an aeronaval service, which is handled by SENAN. We’re three forces that are oriented towards different spaces, with successful results because these defense operations are targeting those crossing our territory, the passage of drug traffickers, the international trafficking of persons that Panama and the region have been suffering from quite a bit. These services exercise a function and that’s why I bet that Panama has been successful, despite our limited resources, in the fight against drug trafficking and in helping these people as well, because it’s our duty to assist them, because when we cross the border we find children and women and there are international treaties that say we have to provide them with that protection. So it is through this very focused set of maneuvers established by the president and carried out through the Ministry of Security that we’ve been able to counter this scourge.

Diálogo:
If you had to point to the most problematic region in Panama, which would it be?

Vice Minister Rogelio Donadío:
Colón. Colón is a city that has 16 streets and five avenues, which represents less than one percent of Panama’s total surface area, yet this incredibly small area has crime rates in excess of 15% to 18%. This small city was the most dangerous city in Panama. It is my understanding that the figures indicated that until a year ago, Colón was the third most dangerous city in the Americas. It’s a job that has been handled by the Police together with SENAN, patrolling the waters, and with SENAFRONT. In less than one year and in the first 90 days of this year, which end on March 30, Colón has gone from being the most dangerous place in Panama to being, perhaps, one of the safest places in Panama.

Diálogo:
And Darién?

Vice Minister Rogelio Donadío:
In Darién the rates of violence are lower, however there is a lot of trafficking, a lot of movement. What you see more of are the rates of drug trafficking seizures. But in terms of violence, Darién is not among the highest levels. That was the case in Colón a year ago, and now it’s the case in other places because of the balloon effect. If you squeeze a balloon, it gets smaller on one side, but the air goes to other areas. However, the National Police has also seen that the problem is growing in these areas, and they have taken a definitive stance.

Director General of the Police Omar Pinzón:
What the minister said is very true. Colón went from one of the most belligerent cities to a city that we now want to make a model, to serve as an example. We can’t say that there aren’t problems, because there are longstanding problems there, but the programs have been more potent because they’re social programs, social development programs. There are opportunities there. People are working, and that has helped us a lot. In the constitutional context, it’s a state strategy formulated by the current administration; the rates have dropped sharply after reorganizing the force for these events.

Diálogo:
And what is your opinion specifically about CENTSEC?

Director General of the Police Omar Pinzón:
Panama has always taken part in this conference. The last CENTSEC was even held in Panama. We’re marking our presence here because this is a source of policies, of strategies, of criteria that are very important to our decision-making process. This was a timely and productive conference for us. We were led by the vice minister and the approach that he took with the open dialogue was very attuned to the reality that our countries are experiencing, particularly since we are neighbors with a country that in one way or another is the largest producer of drugs and that uses our route as a link to the region. It also affects us because there is consumption and an internal war against gangs that wind up killing each other. Strategically and geopolitically, Panama is in a privileged position with respect to the rest of the world. We’re a country of services, and a legitimate platform is also being used or exploited by these groups of drug traffickers and terrorists.









United States Customs authorities announced on March 24 the seizure of one ton of cocaine in a speedboat, which had actually been discovered five days prior by a border patrol plane that alerted the Panamanian authorities, who intercepted the vessel off the coast of Panama.

The action clearly shows the successful joint efforts between the security forces from both countries, and was coincidentally released to the media on the opening day of the Central American Security Conference (CENTSEC 2015), co-sponsored by the United States Southern Command and the Armed Forces of Honduras on March 23-27 in Tegucigalpa.

Diálogo
spoke with Rogelio Donadío, Panama’s Vice Minister of Public Security, and Omar Pinzón, Director General of the Panamanian Police, at the conclusion of CENTSEC about “Strengthening Regional Security Cooperation to Combat Transnational Organized Crime,” which was the main theme of the conference, as well as other parallel issues.

Diálogo:
As we saw here at CENTSEC, various countries in the region are turning to the Armed Forces to support the Police and other national security forces in the fight against drug trafficking. Does the fact that Panama does not have an Armed Force complicate the fight against drug trafficking, or is it not an issue?

Vice Minister Rogelio Donadío:
Well, right now the interesting thing in Panama is that we have four security sectors, of which three belong to the Ministry of Security and one to the Office of the President. But they have worked together to eradicate these problems and they’ve been able to coordinate and organize their efforts to achieve the short and medium-term targets that we have proposed, which is allowing us to reach the goal that we are working towards.

Diálogo:
What is that goal?

Vice Minister Rogelio Donadío:
When President Juan Carlos Varela took office, we wanted a security strategy for the country that would diminish the incidence of crime in Panama by 15%, including homicides, robberies, and theft. These objectives have been fulfilled over these last five years. There are other goals, as I have explained, that also contribute to decreasing insecurity in the countries in the region, which are access to potable water, access to education, access to affordable food. Those three objectives have also been worked on and they have also contributed to the decrease in crime and insecurity.

Diálogo:
Can it be said that the National Border Service (SENAFRONT) is a success story that can be used as an example for other countries?

Vice Minister Rogelio Donadío:
Yes, I believe so. SENAFRONT is a sector of the police security force that has been able to stop part of the trafficking of narcotics, people, and illegal immigrants along Panama’s border with Colombia and Panama’s border with Costa Rica, but this work has been done in conjunction with the Armed Forces of Colombia and has also been done in conjunction with the other security sectors in Panama. It’s been a success in terms of working together, working as a team, not just at the national level, among Panamanians, but also internationally, at the level of Panama with the Colombians and certain information as well as working with people from the Southern Command, because we have successfully stopped part of the entry of illegal trafficking of a variety of things along Panama’s borders.

Diálogo:
And how are these joint efforts carried out?

Vice Minister Rogelio Donadío:
At all levels. Through joint exercises with the Police and SENAN; information exercises with countries in the area, with Colombia and with Costa Rica; by exchanging information with the intelligence agencies of the United States. That has been part of the work that is being carried out on the border.

Diálogo:
You mentioned Panama’s National Aeronaval Service (SENAN). Why is so much said about SENAFRONT and so little about SENAN?

Vice Minister Rogelio Donadío:
Well, what happens is that in my case we talk mainly about the National Police, which is the security sector that gave rise to SENAN and SENAFRONT, which is the security agency that is most often talked about. We talk more about SENAFRONT because they have more people, but we also talk about SENAN. However, at the operational levels and/or results levels, the results have also come in that order. The more units you have, the more results you have. So, first we talk about the Police, then about SENAFRONT, and then about SENAN.

Director General of the Police Omar Pinzón:
I would like to add a little to what the Vice Minister just said. Indeed, Panama exercises its sovereignty in Defense and Security through a strategy based on what is allowed by the Constitution. For the Defense and Security of the country, the first sector is the National Police. Then there are two other constitutionally established sectors: SENAFRONT, which is the border service, and an aeronaval service, which is handled by SENAN. We’re three forces that are oriented towards different spaces, with successful results because these defense operations are targeting those crossing our territory, the passage of drug traffickers, the international trafficking of persons that Panama and the region have been suffering from quite a bit. These services exercise a function and that’s why I bet that Panama has been successful, despite our limited resources, in the fight against drug trafficking and in helping these people as well, because it’s our duty to assist them, because when we cross the border we find children and women and there are international treaties that say we have to provide them with that protection. So it is through this very focused set of maneuvers established by the president and carried out through the Ministry of Security that we’ve been able to counter this scourge.

Diálogo:
If you had to point to the most problematic region in Panama, which would it be?

Vice Minister Rogelio Donadío:
Colón. Colón is a city that has 16 streets and five avenues, which represents less than one percent of Panama’s total surface area, yet this incredibly small area has crime rates in excess of 15% to 18%. This small city was the most dangerous city in Panama. It is my understanding that the figures indicated that until a year ago, Colón was the third most dangerous city in the Americas. It’s a job that has been handled by the Police together with SENAN, patrolling the waters, and with SENAFRONT. In less than one year and in the first 90 days of this year, which end on March 30, Colón has gone from being the most dangerous place in Panama to being, perhaps, one of the safest places in Panama.

Diálogo:
And Darién?

Vice Minister Rogelio Donadío:
In Darién the rates of violence are lower, however there is a lot of trafficking, a lot of movement. What you see more of are the rates of drug trafficking seizures. But in terms of violence, Darién is not among the highest levels. That was the case in Colón a year ago, and now it’s the case in other places because of the balloon effect. If you squeeze a balloon, it gets smaller on one side, but the air goes to other areas. However, the National Police has also seen that the problem is growing in these areas, and they have taken a definitive stance.

Director General of the Police Omar Pinzón:
What the minister said is very true. Colón went from one of the most belligerent cities to a city that we now want to make a model, to serve as an example. We can’t say that there aren’t problems, because there are longstanding problems there, but the programs have been more potent because they’re social programs, social development programs. There are opportunities there. People are working, and that has helped us a lot. In the constitutional context, it’s a state strategy formulated by the current administration; the rates have dropped sharply after reorganizing the force for these events.

Diálogo:
And what is your opinion specifically about CENTSEC?

Director General of the Police Omar Pinzón:
Panama has always taken part in this conference. The last CENTSEC was even held in Panama. We’re marking our presence here because this is a source of policies, of strategies, of criteria that are very important to our decision-making process. This was a timely and productive conference for us. We were led by the vice minister and the approach that he took with the open dialogue was very attuned to the reality that our countries are experiencing, particularly since we are neighbors with a country that in one way or another is the largest producer of drugs and that uses our route as a link to the region. It also affects us because there is consumption and an internal war against gangs that wind up killing each other. Strategically and geopolitically, Panama is in a privileged position with respect to the rest of the world. We’re a country of services, and a legitimate platform is also being used or exploited by these groups of drug traffickers and terrorists.






I think a majority of Colombians were very sorry for the murder of the ten military members and I also believe that the peace process is a circus. Those criminals who are in Havana are feeling old and what they want is to avoid justice to enjoy their huge fortune derived from drug trafficking and many other crimes.
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