Diálogo interviewed Colombian Army General Luis Fernando Navarro Jiménez, commanding general of the Colombian Military Forces, during the South American Defense Conference 2021, in Miami, Florida, August 17-18.
Diálogo: What are the main regional challenges that South American countries must overcome together with the United States?
Colombian Army General Luis Fernando Navarro Jiménez, commanding general of the Colombian Military Forces: I believe cooperation is fundamental to combat common threats. Threats might be more prominent in some countries than in others, but eventually, they cause problems in the region, because each of them manifest itself differently.
From our perspective in Colombia, we see narcotrafficking as one of the main threats. We believe that it continues to be the main destabilizing element in the region, because the entire narcotrafficking value chain, from illicit crops to chemicals for those crops, to labs that process cocaine base paste, ultimately results in cocaine hydrochloride.
This product, which starts out not only in Colombia but also in different countries, creates big problems in terms of illegal economies. The same traffic generates corruption, breaks the social fabric in the regions where it takes place, and triggers a ramification that extends throughout the region. But in the end, there is just one origin; and then the mafias and arms trafficking emerge — in short, a number of problems related to the issue of narcotrafficking.
Another major challenge we face is natural resources management. The region is very rich in natural resources, both mineral and plant. There is great biodiversity too, and it is a very important challenge that we have to face. So protecting water, the environment, biodiversity — it is an issue that has already become part of national security in Colombia.
Diálogo: Two topics discussed at this conference were the challenges in the space domain and cybersecurity, as well as their effects on national security. What is Colombia doing to address these challenges?
Gen. Navarro: The topics discussed were crucial, because there is a great chance that this space domain will give us better access to communications. It may help us control in a much more efficient and timely manner phenomena such as illegal mining, which threatens forests and natural parks. So we have a great opportunity there.
The topic of cybersecurity and cyberdefense is a very important task, because it is the new theater and domain of war. We have great challenges there as well. We are already seeing how countries are preparing to defend their infrastructure, to defend their economic assets, to defend companies’ capacity. We have also seen how groups have manipulated social media to spread chaos and disorder. In Colombia, we saw how some promoted violent acts through the irresponsible use of social media.
So we also have challenges here. We are working on adjusting regulations; we are working hard on training. In the Military Forces, we are going to create a cybersecurity specialty, and obviously this will compel us to make very specific, highly structured plans for managing resources and the budget.
Diálogo: What role has the Army played during the COVID-19 pandemic to assist civil authorities?
Gen. Navarro: We are working in the context of Operation San Roque. We are carrying out the vaccination plan, and we are making very good progress. We are assisting with security in remote areas of the country, by allocating our available resources such as vehicles, airplanes, helicopters, and both naval and riverine elements, so that vaccines can reach the most remote areas in the country. Another very important challenge is vaccinating our own men and women. I think we have achieved that, and we are on the right track. It is a national goal to continue with vaccination efforts.