Honduras: A United Central America Against Organized Crime is Needed

Honduras: A United Central America Against Organized Crime is Needed

By Dialogo
May 17, 2016




During a recent presentation on Information Operations at U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), Honduras pointed out that just in the last two years, security forces found and destroyed seven drug labs in Honduras. Many of these were found in the region of Colón and processed cocaine.

These types of seizures are part of the efforts undertaken by the Honduran government and Armed Forces to reduce the number of homicides in the country.

To talk about this and other related topics, Diálogo
interviewed Major General Francisco Isaías Álvarez Urbina, chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Honduran Armed Forces, during the Central American Security Conference (CENTSEC 2016) which was held in San José, Costa Rica, from April 6th-8th
.

Diálogo:
During your presentation, and in one of the panels at CENTSEC, you thanked the United States and Colombia. Why?

Gen. Álvarez:
First, because we are partners both as Armed Forces and as nations, and we are very grateful for the support these two great countries – as well as other countries – have offered us. We could say the same about Chile and Brazil... But we have been closer to the United States and Colombia, mostly due to some agreements we signed with these countries that include a commitment and agreement to provide technical assistance related to infrastructure, equipment, cooperation, and personnel training and education. More specifically, we are working together in the fight against organized crime and other transnational threats. It is worth mentioning that we have had an agreement with the United States since 1954, and have counted on the commitment of the Colombian government and Armed Forces to our country. This is a very special recognition we make towards all those who leave their own country to be here with us – and we have quite a large number of Military personnel and police advisors providing this type of support here – given the expertise they have in fighting organized crime with very positive results.

Diálogo:
So what you are telling us is that the Colombian Military are actually training the Honduran Armed Forces?


Gen. Álvarez:
We have a training agreement, so there is an exchange of students from different educational levels and from the educational centers we have, i.e. Military, academic, and training centers. We offer training for their officers and some type of exchange program to train their Special Forces. This is all a result of agreements and treaties we have signed with the countries with which we cooperate for this type of assistance.

Diálogo:
The Commander of the Military Forces of Colombia, General Rodríguez Barragán
, believes the Colombian model of fighting criminal organizations is a model that can be exported. Do you also believe in this model where the armed forces work together with your country’s National Police to fight drug trafficking?

Gen. Álvarez:
Each country has its own way of doing things, its own way of legislating, its own way of carrying out any required actions. And, of course, we have our own. We know that Colombia has had great results with the model they implemented which, thankfully, has at least led the country into signing some peace treaties. This is great for Central America, but as a matter of fact, there are other threats that haunt us. We hope this same model – which has been so successful for them – can also bring results to the other countries. Each country has their own truth, their own reality. It is a matter for each country to consider and review this model proposed by Colombia and which has worked very well for them, and we, in our own country can testify to its positive results, but this does not mean that all the other countries will necessarily think of it the same way. But we really should think about the model’s strengths; we have worked with this plan and obtained good results against organized crime in our country. We managed to lower the number of homicides. In one year, it has gone down 10 percentage points, and that is a major aspect to consider. Sure, we have major threats, but we also have great challenges and hurdles ahead of us. In fact, as the Armed Forces, we are doing exactly that: targeting our efforts towards these challenges.

Diálogo:
Can you talk about one of the methods you used to lower the homicide rate in Honduras so much in one year?


Gen. Álvarez:
This activity results from the strategy designed by the government of Honduras through the development of an interagency security force that joins together all agencies involved in combating crime, organized crime, and drug trafficking. Plan Morazán was set into motion by bringing together all counter drug-trafficking activities in a coordinated way and managed by this force. Of course, our country’s president is determined to make sure this plan is carried out together with the Defense and Security Council, which is made up of the three branches of government, the Office of the Public Prosecutor, the ministers of Security and Defense and their directors, as well as the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, which meets every week. We are constantly meeting to see whether these objectives are being met and if our goals are being reached. In other words, it is an interagency commitment. This interagency force has six national agencies which are responsible for combating organized crime. In addition to the Public Security Forces, the National Police, and the Armed Forces, which are represented there, we count on the judicial branch, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, and the investigation authorities, so that we are all working and contributing together to the same efforts. All this has contributed to having the matters of crime and combating crime in the forefront of our minds. It is not just one single institution doing it, but all of us together. Through this interagency security force, we have attempted to create, or at least to propose judicial reforms that may benefit a larger part of the population when they are threatened by this type of crime. It will also contribute to putting an end to crime in general by adopting measures or amending sections of the legislation, or even proposing new legislation to face these criminal activities. That is what has taken place in Honduras. We have created judges to hear special crimes – such as extortion – and we created a system of judges with national jurisdiction. All these judicial measures and types of legislation have greatly enhanced our ability to combat crime.

Diálogo:
Is there anything else still that needs to be done, Gen. Álvarez?

Gen. Álvarez:
We will continue this fight, and continue to lower the crime rate. Organized crime and drug trafficking are real giants, and we are not saying we have surpassed these giants. We have overcome many hurdles, we have moved forward in this fight, but we are not done yet, there is still a lot to do. We can only hope that after this period, the success of those involved in combating crime gives rise to more favorable conditions in which the state may engage in further efforts to improve the country’s social conditions. Some of these efforts are already being undertaken, but we need to work more in improving healthcare, education, and other social aspects to have a more equitable society instead of just having to concentrate on fighting crime.

Diálogo:
Are you satisfied with the exchange of intelligence between Honduras and other countries, especially your neighboring countries?

Gen. Álvarez:
We always hold a very positive conference, which, actually, has always brought about significant results. It is the Conference of the Central American Armed Forces and Armies (CFAC), which is very good. At CFAC, we not only build confidence among the different countries and among the different armed institutions, but we also share information and training among the countries and their armed forces. Special centers have been implemented to train and prepare for natural disasters, and also to be able to carry a message of peace from Central America to the other countries through the international missions we participate in. This is why there is an environment of cooperation among the institutions and the countries of Central America. After all, we do have a unique issue, which is that we have to face many threats, and we can only do this in a united way. So we now have a system to exchange information, and we have finally moved away from the myth of mistrust. Now, there is trust among the countries. In fact, we conduct joint border operations, each on their side of the border, but we patrol together. We exchange not only information, but we constantly meet in order to discuss and assess threats that concern us all in Central America, because we know that if the countries work together, Central America will prevail in this fight.
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