On July 14, 2021, U.S. Navy Admiral Craig S. Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command, visited Guatemala and met with Lieutenant General Juan Carlos Alemán Soto, minister of National Defense, to talk about continued cooperation in security matters and future engagements between regional partner nations’ militaries. To learn more about that meeting and discuss other relevant issues, Diálogo spoke with Minister Alemán Soto in his office in Guatemala City.
Diálogo: What work initiatives did you adopt in your meeting with Admiral Craig S. Faller? What ongoing support does U.S. Southern Command provide to your ministry’s security efforts?
Lieutenant General Juan Carlos Alemán Soto, Guatemalan minister of National Defense: We decided to follow up on the issues that we’ve been working on together, such as the fight against transnational organized crime, the strengthening of security cooperation in the region, risk management training, and the institution’s support to the population in the fight against the pandemic. We also delved into improvements in our platoon sergeants’ training program and upgrades of active task forces. Concerning the support received from Southern Command, I can mention equipment, training, and education for the three forces that make up the Guatemalan Armed Forces in matters of cooperative security and risk management.
Diálogo: How do the Guatemalan Armed Forces and National Police coordinate joint efforts to combat crime, especially narcotraffickers?
Minister Alemán Soto: There is constant interagency coordination that enables us to harmonize the necessary actions to provide security, both for the State and the population, when this support is required. In the specific case of actions against narcotrafficking, it is our deployment throughout the national territory, as well as the quality of our human resources and our transport capabilities (especially air transport), that in many cases enables us to be the first responders to these illegal activities. Coordination is essential, since it allows us to combine both institutions’ capabilities, providing the competence and legal power to carry out the pertinent prosecution procedures, a power that rests with the National Civil Police and the Office of the Attorney General.
This year , narcotrafficking activities in the country have decreased due to our personnel’s dedication and the sound leadership of their commanders, as well as the presence of U.S. units in regional waters. However, it is undeniable that, despite the air defense support, more resources are necessary in this area in order to have interdiction capabilities that would be on an equal or superior footing with the aircraft that the criminal organizations use. Military leaders keep their personnel constantly motivated to continue the challenging operational rhythm in the constant surveillance of potential landing strips. Concerning security, communities’ participation, whether voluntary or involuntary, in supporting criminal organizations threatens their security and the exercise of their rights, since by protecting these illegal activities, they also become accomplices of the illegal act, and the payment, whatever it may be for these loyalties, always translate into a sort of slavery.
Diálogo: What is Guatemala’s current participation in U.N. peacekeeping missions?
Minister Alemán Soto: The State of Guatemala has representation abroad through 175 men and women who take part in nine peacekeeping missions in the different existing roles. Our 21st Special Forces contingent was recently relieved of duties in the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO, in French), a contingent that has been there for 15 years. There is very good communication between the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and our military attaché at the U.N. permanent mission, always seeking to expand our participation in these missions, including plans for deploying engineering units and military police on request.
Diálogo: How are the Defense Ministry and its military forces preparing to respond to natural disasters?
Minister Alemán Soto: Aware of the different risks and threats to the country due to our geographic location, the government envisions increased disaster reduction capabilities in Pillar 3 of the Government General Policy. For this reason, in the past two years, there was an increase in the Army’s Permanent Force, including an increase in two companies of the Humanitarian and Rescue Unit, to become the Humanitarian Rescue Battalion, with a permanent presence in Petén (north), in the capital city (center), and in Suchitepéquez (southern coast), to enable the State to respond to natural or man-made disasters in more than one place at the same time.
Diálogo: What initiatives came into being during your tenure as minister of National Defense to facilitate gender integration in the Guatemalan Army?
Minister Alemán Soto: Women’s participation in leadership, by appointing them to different administrative and operational positions according to their military rank, managing material and human resources for the purposes set out in the Political Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala. The participation of women in the representation, prevention, and resolution of conflicts and peacebuilding has been more prevalent in the different stabilization and peace enforcement missions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, serving as section commanders in the operational area, military police in the ranks of officers and troops, staff officers, [and] military observers in countries such as Sudan, Congo, and Colombia.
Through the National Defense General Staff, guidelines have been issued for brigades, commands, services, and military units to program workshops, seminars, and conferences with the aim of promoting gender equality [and] eradicating discrimination and abuse against women. In all calls for application, [we] encourage women and men participation under equal conditions, based on specific role requirements. According to the profiles of the positions, there are no distinctions between men or women for filling them, as long as they meet the position’s requirements.
Diálogo: What measures were taken in recent years to strengthen transparency among members of the Guatemalan Armed Forces?
Minister Alemán Soto: We have strengthened the implementation of the Integrated Defense Planning and Management System (SIPLAGDE, in Spanish), a system aimed at promoting transparency and accountability in Defense actions that relate to budget execution. We have adopted the Defense Management Analysis Methodology, a cost analysis system that allows the Army Command to make better-informed decisions when these have medium and long-term financial repercussions. Officer personnel undergo constant training so that they are thoroughly familiar with SIPLAGDE, and this same system is under continuous review, with U.S. government support.
We constantly monitor compliance with national laws related to budget administration, especially in acquisition processes, such as the State Contracting Law, which reports all the actions that this ministry takes on the Guatecompras portal, an open-access portal that allows the population to monitor public spending.
Diálogo: What message do you have for the defense ministers and commanders of the hemisphere’s military and security forces?
Minister Alemán Soto: To remind them that, as representatives of each country’s armed forces, we have the obligation to always seek the optimum use of our resources and capabilities to benefit the population. This requires close communication, coordination, and cooperation among countries, in order to develop these capacities regionally and thus enable a collective response to our common threats, threats for which there is unanimous consent that we can only fight them with the cooperation of the countries involved.