Interview with Major General César Adonay Acosta Bonilla
By Dialogo May 29, 2012
In April 2012, military and civilian leaders from 13 Western Hemisphere countries met in San Salvador for the Central American Security Conference. The event, sponsored by the U.S. Southern Command and the Salvadoran Armed Forces, joined other efforts to strengthen cooperation and counter organized crime in the region.
The local host, Major General César Adonay Acosta Bonilla, head of the Joint General Staff of the Salvadoran Armed Forces, took a break to speak with Diálogo about the challenges Salvadoran Military personnel are facing, the violence generated by drug gangs, and his country’s contribution to international peace.
Diálogo: What is your primary challenge as head of the Joint General Staff of the Salvadoran Armed Forces?
Major General César Adonay Acosta Bonilla, Head of the Joint General Staff of the Salvadoran Armed Forces: We have two primary challenges: continuing the institutional development and professionalization of the Armed Forces, in order to be more effective in executing our missions, and effectively or more effectively executing the plans related to the support given to public safety in the fight against crime. Today, the challenge is also to look for ways [in which] we can integrate these efforts at the regional level, among the Armed Forces, which this forum is in fact about. That’s a challenge in the sense that each country has its unilateral strategies, but our challenge is how to integrate all these strategies around a common objective: fighting transnational organized crime.
Diálogo: How do you think that this coordination that you mention can be achieved among the armed forces of the countries of Central America, South America, and the Caribbean?
Major General Acosta: A forum like this, like the Central American Security Conference, seeks precisely that, to exchange ideas, approaches, strategies. The key is then how to link those efforts together for the purpose of this grand objective. Consequently, I think that having harmony among our legal frameworks and willingness to join together to unite our efforts is a very important strategy on the basis of which we can develop different plans to fight this plague.
Diálogo: Do examples of that cooperation that you mention already exist?
Major General Acosta: Of course. In fact, we’ve acknowledged the efforts of General [Douglas] Fraser, whom we recognize as a leader in this, for having the initiative to integrate these efforts, and Operation Martillo is a clear example of seeking this integration of strategies so that our countries can enjoy a greater level of stability that can serve the cause of peace, democracy, and having a more favorable climate for national development.
Diálogo: Could you say more about the Salvadoran Armed Forces’ participation in Operation Martillo?
Major General Acosta: Operation Martillo began in January, in the Atlantic, while our coasts are on the Pacific. There’s willingness, a desire –in the first place, on the part of the Salvadoran government, to be a part of these efforts. Now the main effort in the Pacific must take its turn. As a country and as the Salvadoran Armed Forces, we’ve already worked out a plan to support this initiative and to integrate these efforts that we’re talking about. We’ve coordinated a way in which we can participate in Operation Martillo with General Fraser, so that it can bear the expected results that we all hope for.
Diálogo: Salvadoran Military personnel play a very active and varied role in their country’s life, and in addition, they participate in peace missions in very distant nations from our continent. Could you tell us about the group that will leave soon for Afghanistan?
Major General Acosta: Among the major experiences of working jointly –that we’ve conducted shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States, Operation Iraqi Freedom, to which we sent 11 contingents (from 2003 to 2007), stands out. That was a very valuable experience in several senses. First, because we integrated our efforts in favor of world peace, and we worked very well with the U.S. Army, and second, because it enabled us to professionalize our forces through the experience we gained in the operations. We successfully executed the mission that we had in Iraq, and we’re now preparing our second contingent that’s going to Afghanistan, and we’re very happy to do so, as a country and as Armed Forces. We’re going to continue there as long as necessary.
Diálogo: How close is the link that exists today between gangs and drug trafficking in El Salvador? What is the Military’s strategy for combating this phenomenon?
Major General Acosta: Yes, in effect, the phenomenon of gangs and drug trafficking in El Salvador has a special nuance, because they mix. We recognize that the region is a drug-trafficking corridor, but this drug activity moving from south to north in our countries generates incalculable levels of violence. Gangs become a phenomenon in which there’s also a fight to control the market and the territories, which generates violence. It’s for this reason that we’ve confirmed a local situation in which gangs traffic in weapons, and what we call the retail drug trade, which is a generator of violence, takes shape.
Conscious of this, our president ordered the participation of the Armed Forces in decided and direct public-safety support to the National Civil Police, starting on November 6, 2009. Along those lines, various efforts have taken shape. On one hand, with the Zeus Command we’re deployed in 33 areas with the highest crime rates, and more than two years after the start of that effort, the results have been very positive. On the other hand, we’re also conducting operations in support of public safety in the border area, through the Sumpul Command. What we also want at the 62 unauthorized border crossings that we’re covering, is precisely to eradicate and prevent drug trafficking, prevent smuggling, prevent all kinds of illicit goods that might circulate by way of the border. Finally, we have the San Carlos Command. Since we realized that crime orders were originating from correctional institutions, we decided to take partial control of the correctional institutions. Currently, the correctional institutions have taken back that mission, but as the San Carlos Command, we’re continuing to provide security and protection to the correctional institutions.
And since 1993, we’ve been supporting the National Civil Police through what we now call the Joint Community Support Groups, which are task forces made up of police officers and soldiers who are in the communities, providing security in order to have there be better levels of security in the different communities.
Diálogo: At present, in what way do they collaborate with military personnel from other countries in the region?
Major General Acosta: Fortunately, in Central America we have an entity called the Central American Armed Forces Conference, where there is a sincere dialogue among the Armed Forces, and we’re also uniting our efforts to fight crime.
One of the ways to do that is the constant coordination that we have among the commanders of border units. We have monthly meetings among commanders; for example, the commander of a Salvadoran border unit meets with the commander of a Honduran border unit and with another commander from a Guatemalan border unit. They meet and coordinate efforts among the border units in order to be able to conduct patrols aimed at locating and apprehending groups of criminals who try to engage in illicit activities. This generates a climate of trust and cooperation among the countries in order to confront the different challenges that we have with transnational threats.
Diálogo: If you had the chance to do something more to improve the situation in regard to drug trafficking and transnational organized crime, what would you do?
Major General Acosta: As we’ve said, the problem is regional, or the problem is global, and it needs global solutions, First, it’s necessary to look at the origin of this phenomenon. We know that there’s a production base and a consumption base. Between the production base and the consumption base, there’s a route that unites these two phenomena. I believe, then, that structuring a hemispheric strategy aimed at this situation would be interesting to implement because we have strategies to combat the phenomenon of drug trafficking, the phenomenon of organized crime. There’s a strategy to combat it, but I believe that it’s necessary to work hard on a strategy aimed at eradicating production and also aimed at consumption. If there’s production, there’s going to be consumption, and if there’s consumption, there’s going to be production. When the two come together, they generate violence. It would then be necessary to seek ideas or strategies for this part also.
Diálogo: Is there anything more that you would like to communicate to Diálogo’s readers?
Major General Acosta: I wanted to thank the Southern Command for its presence here [at the Central American Security Conference] and to reaffirm, in the name of the Salvadoran Armed Forces, our willingness to be a part of all efforts that might be generated or carried out so that we can have a better hemisphere, so that the Americas can truly be continents of peace, security, and democracy.