Honduras and the United States Disrupt Organized Crime
By Julieta Pelcastre/Diálogo May 10, 2017From April 23rd to June 3rd, highly trained U.S. Army instructors are teaching the Joint Operations and Procedures to Counter Transnational Organized Crime course to experienced officers and non-commissioned officers of the Honduran Army, Navy, and Air Force. The course is being taught with the goal of increasing their response capability in the fight against drug trafficking and transnational organized crime. This course is part of the U.S.-Colombia Action Plan (USCAP), a blueprint for cooperation between U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) and the Colombian Ministry of Defense on joint regional security for Central America and the Caribbean. The course maintains continuity with the current process of updating personnel training for the Honduran Armed Forces and National Police. “This course has been increasing the capacities of our land, air, and sea forces in the fight against transnational organized crime. It’s a threat that impacts our country and the entire region. The United States is an important ally for us in this battle,” General Gustavo Paz Escalante, chief of Operations of the Honduran Armed Forces, told Diálogo. “In recent years, this training and skill-building program has been stepped up in Latin America. Honduras is one of the most frequent and systematized places for this kind of cooperation,” Eugenio Sosa, an expert on security and violence issues and a faculty member at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras, told Diálogo. “These activities are the result of a deep, longstanding, and historic relationship between the United States and the Honduran Armed Forces,” he added. Officers and non-commissioned officers will be trained on weapons handling and on best practices for counterintelligence, human intelligence, technological intelligence, communications, tactical leadership, security, patrolling, physical training, logistics, and civil affairs. They will also conduct exercises such as mock land, air, and sea interdiction, to leverage joint and combined military actions that can help block criminal activities related to transnational illicit trafficking. Learning to disrupt During these exercises, participants will make practical use of intelligence, logistics, and the operational part of their training in order to ensure the effectiveness of the operations. The field simulations will rely on existing security regulations in order to get the best results. The annual course, previously called Operations and Procedures to Counter Transnational Organized Crime, has been taught in Honduras since 2014. The U.S. government has instructed and certified more than 120 members of the Honduran Armed Forces through the specialized training. “Thanks to this training and to the information exchange and the equipment donated by the U.S. government, we have disrupted a series of criminal gangs and have lowered crime levels,” Gen. Paz assured. “Three years ago we were ranked number one among the drug-receiving nations of Central America. Today, perhaps, we wouldn’t even come in fifth… Drugs are being trafficked less in Honduras,” he stressed. According to the 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report published by the U.S. Department of State, the volume of cocaine that passed through Honduras and on to U.S. territory in 2015 was reduced by 40 percent from 2014. “As well as recognizing the substantial efforts that Honduras has made in reducing the transfer of drugs through the country, the authorities must ensure that new routes that might involve Honduras or the Northern Triangle (comprising El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) are probably not opening up because drug trafficking groups have the capacity to reinvent their own routes and their own procedures,” Sosa indicated. In addition to the cooperation it receives from the United States, Honduras has the support of Guatemala and El Salvador through the Tri-national Task Force, a tripartite security apparatus that reduces drug trafficking, organized crime, and common criminal activities in the border zone they share. Support also comes from Nicaragua through the Morazán-Sandino operations, a security effort by both countries along more than 950 kilometers of shared borders. Ongoing training “In order to dismantle criminal organizations, it is vital that we strengthen our relationships with the United States., Colombia, and the nations of the Central American region,” Gen. Paz underscored. “These training sessions are a strategic piece for closing the borders to drug trafficking.” When the students in the Joint Operations and Procedures to Counter Transnational Organized Crime course finish their training and skills building, they will be evaluated and certified so that they can put what they have learned into practice in any of the nation’s forces (air, land, and sea) with the goal of assisting in those military operations. Since 2014, the U.S. military has trained more than 2,000 members of the Honduran Armed Forces in different areas. One example was the course on Vehicle Maintenance for J-8 Jeep Operators taught to marines from several naval units in order to increase the useful life cycle of the vehicles. This training was given by SOUTHCOM’s Technical Assistant Field Team from April 4th to 10th. As part of the training and skills building strategy to counter crime syndicates, the Honduran Armed Forces are revitalizing their Foreign Language Center “to develop our members’ English language skills in order to have more opportunities to take courses that are taught only in that language,” Gen. Paz said. “This USCAP training program has bolstered the efforts of the Honduran Army, Air Force, and Navy to cover more and more protected spaces in our land, air, and sea defenses,” Gen. Paz stated. “The big challenge for our Armed Forces and the country is keeping up these protective shields,” Sosa concluded.