The Trident Naval Task Force (FTNT) of the Salvadoran Naval Force (FNES) ventures far off El Salvador’s Pacific coast to interdict transnational criminal groups that attempt to move cocaine from South America to the United States, oftentimes relying on the support and intelligence of partner nations.
“At the moment we continue to be the only naval force in the region that conducts operations beyond 200 nautical miles […],” Salvadoran Security Minister Gustavo Villatoro told the press on August 31. “We are aware of the homicidal violence that the business of these products [illicit drugs] generates in our communities.”
“This year, to date, we’ve seized more than 9.6 tons of different drugs. Of those, 7.3 tons were seized on the high seas by the FTNT,” Salvadoran Defense Minister and FNES Vice Admiral René Merino Monroy told El Salvador’s Canal 10 on August 29. “This puts El Salvador as one of the countries that makes the most effort and has the best results in the fight against narcotrafficking.”
Miles away, in Colombia, security and defense experts, such as members of the Association of Retired Colombian Military Forces Officers (ACORE), are keeping track and analyzing seizures in the Pacific to strengthen intelligence. Colombia is the country with the largest coca cultivation, with some 61 percent of the world’s total, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) World Drug Report 2022 indicates.
“Eighty percent of that cocaine leaves through the Colombian-Ecuadorian Pacific coast, and through Ecuador it leaves directly from Guayaquil, Esmeraldas, or Guayas by way of the Galapagos Islands, to Central America or the United States,” Colonel (ret.) Jhon Marulanda, president of ACORE, told Diálogo on September 5. “From Puerto Lazaro in Mexico to Chile, all the ports on the Pacific are being used to traffic people, cocaine, or illegal minerals.”
According to UNODC, most cocaine trafficking between 2016 and 2020 departed from Colombia along the Pacific coast toward Central America and/or Mexico, often by boat and/or semisubmersible, bound for the United States.
Bilateral relations between El Salvador and Colombia are marked by a high level of cooperation, the Colombian Foreign Ministry indicates on its website. On August 26, both countries, through their Attorney General’s offices, signed a joint work agreement to combat narcotrafficking, organized crime, and delinquency.
“Our naval force is making great efforts to prevent these harmful substances from being transferred to consumer markets,” Salvadoran Attorney General Rodolfo Delgado told the press. “The signing of this memorandum of understanding facilitates the exchange of information, to know who are the people involved in these types of criminal acts, to identify the members of criminal groups, and to share information so that other states, in this case Colombia, can carry out investigations based on the seizures we make in our country.”
Authorities hope that this exchange of information for the investigation of transnational criminal groups will help to improve the fight against narcotrafficking. For Marulanda, both countries must also keep the focus on “controlling the vast Pacific Ocean as key to reducing narcotrafficking worldwide.”
For its part, FNES continues to produce results. During Operation Poseidon II in late August, officers seized more than 3 tons of cocaine, the Salvadoran Security Ministry reported on August 26.
The first seizure, 2,300 kilograms of cocaine from an Ecuadorian and two Colombians, was made 450 nautical miles from the Port of Acajutla, Sonsonate department, Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele said via Twitter on August 19.
In the second seizure, 480 nautical miles from the Port of Acajutla, Sonsonate department, authorities captured two Ecuadorians with 1,350 kg of cocaine in a small boat, Bukele added on August 20.
“This work demonstrates the essence of this memorandum that we are signing, where authorities in El Salvador or Colombia can have joint information that allows us to arrest those responsible, and respond to this transnational crime,” Colombian Attorney General Francisco Barbosa said upon signing the agreement. “Here in El Salvador, just like in Colombia, the results speak for themselves. And that is an example of the shared work that we are doing in our Attorney General’s offices.”