Fishermen Help Panama’s National Aeronaval Service Fight Crime

Fishermen Help Panama’s National Aeronaval Service Fight Crime

By Dialogo
October 05, 2015

I believe collaboration is very useful, as long as it isn't between politicians or lawyers because they lose patriotism, we should help in the struggle as non-paid volunteers. That's how we don't lose the country.

Panamanian security authorities are working with civilians to develop a culture of prevention in which the population works with officials to ensure public safety, and have even extended these efforts to coordination with the country's fishers.

Through Fisherman’s Watch, a program intended to create close communication between fishermen and authorities, participants are encouraged to report suspicious situations that may involve theft or drug trafficking to law enforcement officials. The initiative, which started on November 20, 2014, is designed to operate similarly to Neighborhood Watch, a community crime prevention and educational program launched by the National Police in 1995.

Continuing training and education for fishers and their families have created an environment in which the community is actively involved with crime prevention efforts, according to Lieutenant Omar De León of the National Aeronaval Service (SENAN, for its Spanish acronym), the coordinator of Fishermen’s Watch.

“The fishermen have received training on a variety of topics, from basic security measures when navigating to family therapy to strengthen the relationships within the home. In less than a year, since we launched the program, we have had more than 50 percent of the fishermen become legal by obtaining a license through the Panama Maritime Authority or renewing their fishing permits at the Panama Aquatic Resources Authority, which are the two institutions working with us on this initiative.”

Fishermen help security forces with information

Fishermen primarily aid in the effort by maintaining alertness and sharing information.

“The idea is for them to monitor their beaches and report anything unusual using the 108 emergency telephone line. This program has led to reduced theft of engines and boats. We have given talks on preventing consumption of alcohol and illegal substances on ports and ships. There are fewer cases of searches for abandoned ships due to mechanical problems and, very importantly, we have reduced the entrance and exit of illegal substances through the country’s ports and beaches.”

In the Gulf of Panama for example, which includes the Las Perlas archipelago and Taboga Island, the program is active in 40 fishing communities; and so far, 4,050 fishers and their families have received training. Panamanian waters are a target for international drug traffickers who transport narcotics through Central America to Mexico, the U.S., and other destinations.

SENAN officials work continually to combat this scourge; since January 1, SENAN has conducted 32 operations in different coastal areas, resulting in the seizure of 12,000 kilograms of drugs, including more than 11,800 kilograms of cocaine and seven kilograms of heroin. Fishermen partnering with the program have cooperated by providing information, which has been very helpful in confiscations, according to Lt. De León.

Presently, Fisherman's Watch operates in six of the 10 provinces that make up the political divisions of the country’s territory: Panamá Oeste, Colón, Panamá, Los Santos, Herrera, and Coclé. And authorities expect the other four provinces to join the program in the coming months.

Program improves the lives of fishermen

The initiative is having a positive impact for fishermen, said Daniel Bravo, the Fishermen’s Watch citizen coordinator in his community on Saboga Island.

“A fisherman’s life is difficult," added Bravo, who has been fishing for approximately 50 years. "At sea, you have to fight many things, like bad weather and mechanical failures on the boats, among other things. But under this new program, everything has changed. Now we feel safer, not only because we speak often with SENAN officials, but because they have also taught us about prevention and security measures at sea. We are more confident and we know how to report anything unusual.”

Moreover, the common interests shared by security officials and fishers have worked to the latter's benefit. Under one component of the program, authorities help participants maintain their boats -- which they use to earn a living -- in good working condition, in part so that the fishers can maintain their vigilance. Such assistance is crucial to SENAN's efforts to fight drug trafficking.

“Our purpose is to work every day to build a better country, and to do so we need the population on our side,” Lt. De León said. “These communications between the people and the authorities must be stronger and stronger, and this is what we are achieving with each fishing family that participates in Fishermen’s Watch.”