Interview with Rear Admiral Homero Luis Lajara Solá of the Dominican Republic
By Dialogo January 04, 2012
On October 1, 1979, Homero Luis Lajara Solá did not hesitate to predict his future. Neither the rigors of the entrance exam for the Dominican Navy nor his youthful inexperience held him back when the dentist asked him, “And what are you here for?” “I came to be the boss here,” he answered.
Thirty years later, the day that he took command of the General Staff of the Dominican Navy, Lajara Solá received an unexpected visit. “I came to greet you because you warned me many years ago, and I know that you’re going to do well,” the dentist told him.
The heir of a “genetic” vocation for military life, Lajara Solá, now a rear admiral (upper half), is proud of having risen through the ranks to take command of a military branch, the same post held by his father several decades before. “A unique case,” he affirms.
Only two months after the publication of his book La Armada del Milenio: Bitácora de una Nación [The navy of the millennium: Compass mount of a nation], a summary of the Dominican Navy’s history, the admiral spoke with Diálogo during the 2012 Caribbean Nations Security Conference (CANSEC), which took place in St. Kitts and Nevis and was attended by defense and security leaders from 17 nations in the region.
Diálogo: In your presentation at CANSEC 2012 you referred to the specific threats that the Dominican Republic is facing: murder-for-hire, illegal migration … Could you explain this a bit more for us?
Rear Admiral (Upper Half) Homero Luis Lajara Solá: In the past, people fought for ideals. Now, the enemy doesn’t have ideals, only the ruthless search for money, whatever the cost and however it is acquired. There are no rules of engagement; that’s why the war is more savage.
We have the malignant phenomenon of murder-for-hire, which arose in recent years and has had an enormous impact on the roots of our society. We weren’t prepared for a situation of that kind, in which hitmen come to carry out commissions, chiefly in relation to drug trafficking, which is the axis around which all criminal activity revolves. Ninety-five percent of crimes are linked to drug trafficking.
In the Dominican Republic, when the DEA [U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency] started working with us, there was a limited focus on preventing the Dominican Republic from being a bridge across which drugs could reach the United States. Subsequently, a new phenomenon appeared; payment in kind, leaving part of those drugs in the country. That was the start of small-scale trafficking, and they started to exploit violent situations in the family, at work, assaults without scruples, such as killing you to steal your cellphone, or that a member of the military, who is trained to defend your country, might become involved with that malignant tentacle of drug trafficking and act as an infiltrator in order to provide information or support to particular drug-trafficking networks, as has happened in our country.
In the Dominican Republic, we also have the problem of illegal migration. There are Dominican nationals and nationals of other countries who come into the country and leave illegally for Puerto Rico in fragile vessels known as ‘yolas.’ Previously, someone who made an illegal trip in a ‘yola’ was in search of a better future; now, people deported from the United States in drug cases try to get back to American territory in those vessels in order to resume their drug-trafficking activities.
The forceful response of the Dominican Government, and the Ministry of the Armed Forces, has been key. The overarching drug-trafficking cases are where they should remain forever: in prison and with their assets seized.
Diálogo: You frequently speak about the “multi-purpose military” and about the role of the military in today’s society. Could you explain to us what this refers to in your country’s particular case?
Rear Admiral Lajara Solá: In addition to the constitutional missions of the Armed Forces, which are the country’s integrity and sovereignty, we’re struggling with emerging threats such as drug trafficking, organized crime, terrorism, and human trafficking, and also training our personnel to preserve the marine environment and provide humanitarian aid to nations that need it … That’s what I call the multi-purpose military. We have to be versatile and justify our reason for being in peacetime and at times of conflict.
Diálogo: You’ve said that technology is key in the fight against organized crime and drug trafficking, and as an example, you mentioned the Dominican Maritime Operations Center, created with the support of the U.S. Southern Command. What does that center consist of?
Rear Admiral Lajara Solá: In the Navy, we have the Maritime Operations Center, which really has naval aviation functions, because as an island, we focus on the aspects of maritime surveillance and aerial surveillance, due to our geographical position and the way in which the drug traffickers like to act.
At that center, we have available technological platforms such as CNIES [the Cooperating Nations Information Exchange System], which enables us to share information with allied nations. Thanks to that system, we’ve been able to detect illicit flights in our airspace, with support from the U.S. Southern Command.
We also have the OTHTIS system [Over-the-Horizon Tactical Information System], which makes it possible to communicate with the Navy’s interceptor boats via satellite; the HARRIS system, which allows us to know which Navy ship we’re communicating with, where it is, and how far away it is; and the AIS system [Automatic Information System].
AIS, which is a requirement of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), has been very useful for us. According to IMO rules, every ship with more than 500 tons of displacement is supposed to install a receiver that is connected by satellite to our operations center and provides data such as the type of ship, the outfitter, the type of cargo, the captain’s name, the origin, and the destination, which helps identify maritime traffic in the region. If you see a vessel that doesn’t have the AIS system, well, that vessel needs special attention from intelligence and operations personnel.
At the same time, with the new system that will replace CNIES, CSII [Collaborative Sensor and Information Integration], technology is becoming ever more integrated into this battle.
Diálogo: During the conference, you offered your country as a possible regional maritime operations center, building on the experience you have in that field. Could you go into greater depth on that topic?
Rear Admiral Lajara Solá: We have direct orders from the president, Dr. Leonel Fernández Reyna, through the defense minister, Lieutenant General Virgilio Pérez Féliz, to publicize the fact that regional bodies have our constant and absolute support to strengthen regional peace and security, which are the foundation for the development of our countries.
In the arena of the CARICOM countries, we’ve proposed to them that we will be the spokespersons for the Dominican political determination that integration entails evaluating what we have and uniting the components in order to form a powerful entity in the fight against drug trafficking and organized crime, preserve the environment, and be ready to respond to humanitarian needs.
During the conference, I showed a photo of a speedboat that left Puerto Rico with $1.2 billion dollars. JIATF-South informed us that the boat was approaching our territorial waters, we coordinated with the U.S. Coast Guard, with the American customs service, and when the boat reached our 11 nautical miles, we took the case, and the result was a successful interception with a seizure turned over to customs. This was done with interceptor boats donated through the “Enduring Friendship” program with SOUTHCOM.
That was one of the examples that we wanted to share with the CARICOM nations; that’s why I said at the conference that training, the donation of equipment, and personnel who know how to use that equipment equal success, especially when we also have the exchange of information, trust, and transparency.
Diálogo: What is the significance of collaboration with military forces from other nations for your country?
Rear Admiral Lajara Solá: In the U.S. case, General Douglas Fraser’s vision since he arrived at the Southern Command has brought a special dynamism to bilateral and multilateral relations, to the hemispheric commitment to regional security. That kind of military policy first of all encourages countries to participate; second, when you provide results, more support arrives, as in our case; and third, we’re creating the strategy of the future in order to get ahead of the problem, as the military personnel that we are.
We’ve also been offering for some time the Las Calderas Naval Base, in Baní, in the southern part of the country, for conducting joint exercises. It’s a bay that’s set aside by law for military use. Training and any needed repairs of naval units from allied countries can be conducted there. This would minimize costs and optimize the use of time, resources, and the plans that exist to attain operational readiness of the military, defense, and police forces in the Caribbean region.
At the same time, we have a series of agreements, including the bilateral agreement with the United States that allow aircraft to enter our airspace in pursuit of drug traffickers. We have a quite extensive training agreement with Colombia; we have the Tradewinds exercises with the Caribbean countries; we participate in the Panamax exercise; we work with the United States, South America, Central America, and the Caribbean in UNITAS; and we have two traditional exercises with Curaçao, through the Dutch Government, and Martinique, through the French Government.
With this vision, we continue to improve our capacities, skills, and coordination, as they are called, and our joint and combined operations, in order to continue in 2012, attaining more objectives and above all, obtaining safer seas and the regional peace and stability that can enable the economic, political, and social development of our countries.