Latin American Naval Forces Join Together to Fight Drug Trafficking

Latin American Naval Forces Join Together to Fight Drug Trafficking

By Julieta Pelcastre/Diálogo
November 23, 2016

Navy, maritime service, and coast guard officials from 18 Latin American countries recently agreed to increase cooperation to effectively combat illicit drug trafficking by sea. Representatives from Australia, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Spain, the United States, France, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the United Kingdom, and the Dominican Republic came to an agreement at the XX Multilateral Maritime Counter Drug Summit, held in Cartagena, Colombia from October 25th-27th. The summit, led by the U.S. Coast Guard, with the support of the Colombian Navy, brought together experts on drug trafficking. The 130 participants agreed to analyze the creation of intelligence fusion centers to establish the capacity to share information in real time and ensure the ability to react. “That is why we require greater integration, centralization and exchange of information,” Captain Orlando Enrique Grisales Franceschi, director of the Colombian Navy’s Counter-Drug Office told Diálogo. These centers gather intelligence from operational activities and integrate information compiled from various state sources as a result of the exchange among agencies from each of the countries. “Undoubtedly the complement of this operational result has to be effective judicialization to be able to assemble information that can identify and create mechanisms for capturing criminal organizations,” said Néstor Alfonso Rosanía, director of the Center for Peace and Security Studies in Colombia. Security officials also presented the results of their efforts in the fight against drug trafficking so far in 2016 and the trends and characteristics of trafficking by sea. The Colombian Army, Navy, Air Force, and National Police have confiscated more than 340 metric tons of cocaine, of which 146 metric tons were seized by the Colombian Navy alone. Authorities in Costa Rica and Panama confiscated 13 and 18 metric tons of cocaine respectively. “In the last 12 years, there has been an exponential average production of 900 metric tons of cocaine in the Central and South American region; 90 percent of these drugs are transported by sea,” said Capt. Grisales. “In the specific case of the Caribbean, 80 percent of cocaine transiting the region is by sea.” Transnational criminal organizations have increased the amount of cocaine transported by sea from South America to Central American countries, mainly Guatemala and El Salvador, as well as to the southern coast of Mexico. They use cocaine-trafficking corridors in the Pacific Ocean, according to the report Illicit Maritime Cocaine Trafficking Events 2009-2015, issued in 2016 by the International Maritime Analysis Center for Counter Drug Trafficking. According to the experts who participated in the summit, the use of go-fast boats continues to be the main means of sea transport for cocaine in the Caribbean. Smaller vessels such as dinghies, canoes, chalupa boats, semi-submersibles and sailboats, which transport an average of 5 to 10 metric tons per trip, are also used. “It is essential for all of the region’s navies to understand that the fact that we seize a large quantity of cocaine does not imply the dismantling of the organizations,” Capt. Grisales emphasized. “At the tactical level, we will always be at their heels.” During the summit, security officials reported that transnational criminal organizations are investing a lot of resources in innovation and the use of devices shaped like torpedoes, which can be submerged when towed by other vessels. They also are using georeferenced buoys to leave drugs adrift in a certain area of the ocean to be recovered at a later time. To coordinate illicit activity from land, they also are using Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to transmit their positions, S.O.S. alerts and other information. “We are now at the second phase of the Triangle Cooperation Action Plan to help Central American and Caribbean countries improve their methods or their capacities,” Capt. Grisales said. “Any strategy should have a balance between goals and capacities.” The Triangle Cooperation Action Plan was signed in 2013 by the U.S. and Colombian governments. It promotes the development of Caribbean and Central American armed forces on the basis of the experiences of Colombia. Its goal is to improve regional security and efficiently combat organized crime and drug trafficking. “It is obvious that collaboration between the navies of all the countries to allow us to anticipate the actions of drug traffickers is needed. The Caribbean already has great cooperation with the United States through joint patrols. We need to expand actions in the Pacific, which is where a huge quantity of cocaine is being moved,” Rubén Sánchez, researcher at the National University of Colombia said to Diálogo. “Thus the presence of the United States becomes important because it has the assets and the facilities to carry out what is proposed in alliance with the other countries.” During the maritime summit held in Colombia for the fourth time, that country’s Navy carried out a maritime interdiction exercise. Ninety troops participated, along with a frigate unit, a helicopter and a Defender-class rapid-response unit. In the exercise, the Navy tried to demonstrate how complicated it is to detect a vessel and detain it. “We are faced with a transnational crime that is highly changeable, with a large capacity for adaptation, and for which a concerted response is required,” Sánchez said. “It is difficult to end this phenomenon. We have an advantage, and that is that the attention paid to illicit activity at sea has taken on the same relevance in each of the countries; the effort against this phenomenon has become more homogeneous,” said Capt. Grisales. “These types of forums permit us to strengthen our bonds and our trust because to a certain extent, they allow us to get to know and identify ourselves to the authorities and people involved in the fight against crime.”
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