Diálogo Magazine: Interview with Frank Abrego, director-general of the National Border Service (SENAFRONT)
By Dialogo October 28, 2010
1. In your opinion, what are the greatest security threats for Panama at
In security matters, for the Panamanian state, the greatest threats we are
currently facing are groups and activities related to narco-terrorism and
transnational organized crime, such as homicide, drug trafficking, arms trafficking,
gangs, and kidnapping, among others.
This negative influence on the country is the result of the presence of
criminal groups linked to narco-terrorist organizations, the actions of which
generate degrees of violence that are imitated by our common criminals, creating an
environment and climate of instability in our society.
2. Has the security environment in Panama improved or deteriorated during the
Considering that narco-terrorism is the chief patron and motivator of
criminal actions, we can issue a favorable judgment on the issue of security; the
actions SENAFRONT is pursuing on our borders have minimized the flow of substances
toward our cities, contributing to a progressive improvement of security in the
It’s our responsibility to sustain these operations in order to guarantee a
climate of tranquility for our citizens, on both our western border (Chiriquí and
Bocas del Toro) and our eastern border in the province of Darién and the indigenous
districts; this is all reflected in an increase in the perception of acceptance by
the inhabitants, in state and private investment, and in the stability of these
provinces, due to governmental encouragement and community support.
3. What specific measures have been implemented to combat illicit trafficking
in Panama, and above all, in the region of El Darién and San Blas?
With reference to the narcotics trafficking present in our area, we can
We have a new institutional strategy, based on changing from the dynamic of
fixed positions to highly mobile units, something that brings with it the
strengthening of preventive and repressive actions against transnational criminal
organizations, with improvement in human resources, training, equipment, and
We have increased our footprint in areas where these groups meddle in
Panama’s border zone with Colombia and Costa Rica, consolidating our areas of
interest through more frequent land and maritime patrols, reinforcing commitment to
the mission in our units with democratic security.
We have effectively linked our operations with the government’s message of
humanitarian and social support for the communities of difficult access situated all
along our border, limiting the vulnerability of these communities to an illegal
We are working on reengineering our interdiction team and improving our
units’ working conditions, for the purpose of increasing their capability and
4. How extensive is FARC infiltration in these regions?
Very conservatively, we can say that at present the rapprochement of these
narco-terrorist groups (ONT-FARC) with the border communities is latent;
nevertheless, we cannot rule out the possibility that there are some collaborators
who maintain this dependency, which in many cases results in an involuntary
commitment on the community’s part. SENAFRONT, following the policy of the
national government, carries out a variety of programs, such as proactive land and
river interdiction operations, in addition to rapprochement and aid operations,
together with the educational and health systems, and operations to negate attempts
at control and mass mobilization, all tending to counteract the influence and
objectives of these criminals, working intensely to reorient and reinforce the
population’s social responsibility.
5. What other measures are being taken to counteract this threat?
Complying with state policies on security matters is what really guarantees
democratic security throughout the national territory. Our institution adds dynamism
to each action directed toward bringing social peace and development to all the
border communities and establishing them in those communities.
Increasing coordination with the competent authorities, with the aim of
increasing legitimacy and bringing the direct transgressors and their collaborators
before the courts.
Strengthening our border commissions with neighboring countries, with the
aim of reinforcing actions to exchange information about these transnational
Increasing interaction with civil society, with the aim of achieving
territorial cohesion between the state and our remotest communities.
6. What have the results of this program been since it began? What more ought
to be done to improve the results obtained by this program up to the
The results are reflected in the progress that can be observed in the
different communities of the province of El Darién, the Kuna Yala Districts, Bocas
del Toro, and Chiriquí; on the other hand, the perception of tranquility in the
remotest towns or those with most difficult access in these provinces is constantly
increasing; finally, our units’ level of commitment to the tasks being pursued has
been our chief motivation.
We urge all inhabitants to become aware of the government’s intention to
fully protect its borders by means of SENAFRONT. The only thing left to do is to
firmly root the principle of our sovereignty and the continuation of all the
preventive-security, interdiction, and citizen-support operations.
7. Are there reports that FARC insurgents in Panama are violating human
Speaking of this group as such would be to give these narco-terrorists a
recognition they do not deserve. I can inform you that these lawbreakers have been
violating a great number of laws, not only those related to international
humanitarian law. Let’s remember that merely their illegal presence in our country
is a violation of our immigration regulations; let’s add to that carrying weapons of
war, drug trafficking, criminal conspiracy; and let’s not overlook the crime they
incite, which is the collaboration they receive from our nationals, in many cases
using minors, inciting them to infringe parts of our criminal law in supporting the
intentions of these narco-terrorist groups.
8. What is SENAFRONT doing with respect to this issue? Could you elaborate on
the kinds of human-rights abuses committed?
We’re increasing and specializing our personnel in counterterrorism issues
and international humanitarian law, with the help of the International Red Cross, to
educate the civilian population in order to create awareness in this regard and the
non-collaboration they could engage in with these transnational criminal
organizations. Our understanding is that the chief humanitarian right violated by
these groups is the recruitment of minors for illicit activities and human
9. Panama is a transit point for illicit trafficking, and narcotics
trafficking in particular, and there is growing concern that Panama is also
turning into a market for the consumption of illicit drugs. What can you comment
Panama is effectively a transit country, which makes us a vulnerable
territory for these activities, since we have a border with our brother country
Colombia. It is a fact that these criminal organizations navigate along and use our
coasts for rear-guard and logistics actions, making it easier for them to cover up
the movement of these vessels, the majority of which are ultimately headed for North
America. On the other hand, we are not ruling out the possibility that a portion of
these substances remains in our territory for local consumption, used as part of the
payment for these groups’ collaborators, who subsequently become distributors.
Nevertheless, the government’s strategy is directed toward creating barriers that
can reduce attempts at this supply and deny its utilization to those organized-crime
and narco-terrorist organizations, through the actions of the National Border
10. What measures are being implemented to combat this threat to the local
Increasing patrols and operations, implementing preventive measures
directed at the population, greater flow of information for intelligence work.
Specializing all our personnel in all the topics that have to do with this
Carrying out more and better coordination with the authorities, with the
aim of covering this problem better.