The Guatemalan Air Force has a core engine driving the success of its missions – human capital. The institution’s human potential is apparent every day – during strenuous humanitarian aid days, while assisting in the fight against transnational organized crime, and in the suppression of forest fires. Brigadier General Jorge Ruíz Serovic, Guatemalan Air Force commander, seeks to strengthen Guatemalan aviation’s human capital.
In a conversation with Diálogo during the Central American Air Chiefs Conference held December 12th and 13th in Tucson, Arizona, Brig. Gen. Ruíz discussed the process of developing aviation in his country, as well as doctrine and principles for facing future challenges, especially the challenge of security threats and the importance of international cooperation as a way to ensure peace in the Western Hemisphere. Diálogo: Why is Guatemala’s presence in this Central American conference important? Brig. Gen. Jorge Ruíz Serovic: I am here to represent the commander of our Air Force.
Our presence is important to us because we want to confirm that it is essential for Guatemala to collaborate in the fulfillment of the Joint Interagency Task Force South’s mission in the fight against transnational organized crime, since this is a scourge that affects not only the United States but also every one of the partner nations in the southern region. We want to deepen our bonds of friendship with air force commanders from throughout the region in order to facilitate communication among air forces and the exchange of information. In the future, we are thinking about participating in the interoperability among air forces in order to carry out joint exercises against transnational organized crime.
In this conference, I am seeing faces of friends and acquaintances; I saw personnel from other air forces because we have previously participated in other bilateral meetings, and that facilitates (relationships) a lot, especially because of how we Latinos are, the fact that we are people who make friends easily. Having met each other previously allows us to save time when we need to set up some kind of exchange. This allows us to eliminate a lot of barriers that normally exist when two people or two commanders do not know each other. Having met each other previously allows us to expedite any paperwork as well as carry out exercises in a more fluid manner.
Diálogo: Which are the most important security issues facing Guatemala? Brig. Gen. Ruíz: We have two fairly important issues: the vulnerability of our airspace due to aircraft involved in transnational crime and, at the same time, the porous nature of our borders in places where we do not have a constant presence. And because a huge part of the border is a jungle, people enter and exit without us having much control or much supervision over it.
So, what we have is that drugs, arms, and undocumented people are passing through these areas. On an international level, these illicit businesses are very large. Terrorists can even pass through because of the lack of control that we have in our countries. That is why the strength of a chain is not measured as a whole but rather by its weakest link. So we have to keep in mind everyone who participates in this chain. Diálogo: From Guatemala’s perspective, what is the importance of regional cooperation programs for the regional fight against transnational organized crime, for example? Brig. Gen. Ruíz: Transnational organized crime, as it says in the name, is transnational; it transcends borders.
Today, a country cannot fight transnational organized crime alone. They have money, logistical capabilities which they manage at a global level, and countries like ours do not have very big budgets to be able to face them. So you need a very big intelligence logistics apparatus, and in the particular case of the air forces, to have aircraft and mechanics for maintenance to be able to face them. In our case, to face them in the airspace. That is why what you can achieve in this type of meeting is very important – such as proposals and agreements – because we definitely cannot do anything alone.
It is important for the United States to see where we are coming from on this issue. During the meeting, I brought up a topic that could become a huge problem – the way the maras (gangs) are and how they are operating. The maras do not depend only on drug trafficking; they are independent of drug trafficking. They are already in my country and have begun committing acts of terrorism.
This is a new factor within the formula of criminal organizations. We have to see how this factor functions, what the variables are, and how it will affect the future not only in Central America but also U.S. national security. Because everything that happens in our countries comes back to the United States. This is evident with immigrant trends that exist; they come and go, passing freely through our countries because we don’t have the capacity to contain people who come and go from south to north. So collaboration, communication, and exchange of information are vital for all of our countries. That is why we consider the United States asking for our opinion and perspective to be a good thing to confront the issue of transnational organized crime.
Diálogo: Why is it important for Guatemala to belong to the System of Cooperation among the American Air Forces (SICOFAA, per its Spanish acronym)? Brig. Gen. Ruíz: The Guatemalan Air Force represents Guatemala in SICOFAA. It is very important because we are in constant communication, and when a country has a problem and especially in countries like ours where the problems are mostly natural disasters like earthquakes, rains, hurricanes and all of that, the SICOFAA system comes in immediately to help us. As members of SICOFAA, we have supported other nations like El Salvador and Costa Rica. Likewise, we have been supported by other air forces like that of Mexico, which collaborated with us to control forest fires.
The Mexican Air Force has the experience and the air assets to provide that kind of support. SICOFAA is important since it also allows us to deepen our bonds of friendship and exchange experiences, especially experiences that go beyond dealing with transnational organized crime, such as, for example, experiences training pilots and maintaining aircraft. There is a very large sphere in which all the members of SICOFAA collaborate with each other.
Diálogo: Do you think that it is important to have this type of regional international cooperation system for countries in the region? Brig. Gen. Ruíz: It is definitely important. It allows us to organize ourselves and immediately respond the moment any of SICOFAA’s members request it. This response can be in cases of natural disasters, man-made disasters, training, and even in consulting. Diálogo: As commander of the Guatemalan Air Force, what is your most pressing challenge? Brig. Gen. Ruíz: The most pressing challenge are the members of the Guatemalan Air Force. Human capital is the most important thing. Their principles and values are important, as is their training.
It doesn’t matter whether or not you have aircraft, whether or not you have infrastructure – that can be done from one day to the other. You can buy aircraft from one day to the other but an officer, an airman, all the people involved in fulfilling the mission of the Air Force – you don’t do that from one day to the next. It is very important for us to have people committed to the country and the principles and the values of the institution. Diálogo: Would you like to add anything? Brig. Gen. Ruíz: Difficult times are ahead in which everyone’s collaboration will be required, both SICOFAA members and the U.S. Southern Command. We are being plagued by transnational organized crime, which is not just drug trafficking. It has affected all the nations, made us poorer and brought extreme violence to our countries. We need to join efforts to be able to move forward because we will not be able to do it alone; we do not have the budget, and sometimes we lack the capacity.
It is good to see how other countries, with their perspectives, have managed to be successful and analyze if that can be reproduced in other nations. Lastly, it is important for us to continue maintaining this friendship and relationship among Latin American partner nations.