Meeting the Standards of Today’s Armed Forces
By Dialogo May 08, 2013
Interview with the Minister of the Dominican Republic Armed Forces, Admiral Sigfrido Pared Pérez
“The Dominican Republic shares borders with Europe,” Admiral Sigfrido Pared Pérez, Minister of the Caribbean country’s Armed Forces, says figuratively to explain the enormous security challenge that the coming and going of five million tourists visiting the island each year from the Old Continent and other corners of the globe entails. In an interview with Diálogo in Panamá, during the 2013 Central American Security Conference (CENTSEC), Admiral Pared Pérez referred to this challenge, as well as others confronting the armed forces today.
DIÁLOGO: Admiral Pared Pérez, do you think that the joint efforts between the Armed Forces and Police are a model that the Dominican Republic can follow?
Admiral Sigfrido Pared Pérez, Minister of the Dominican Republic Armed Forces: We have a very particular situation in the Dominican Republic: recently – when I say recently, I mean in the last 15 years – specialized border security corps were developed; one to work on the Dominican-Haitian border, one for Dominican ports (using the Port Facility Security Code), and the other for airports. They are all military. Each of them is led by a general from the relevant branch: in the case of airports, the Air Force; in the case of ports, the Navy; and in the case of borders, the Army.
DIÁLOGO: What is the goal?
Admiral Pared Pérez: As in other countries, the combination of threats that take place all along the Dominican Republic’s borders has forced nations, such as our own, to interconnect or relate defense and citizen security. Try to link them both to create these specialized corps to enforce the law and try to diminish citizen insecurity, a prevalent issue in urban areas. I have always said that defense is an element that moves from border areas to urban centers. Public security, on the other hand, works the other way around: it goes from urban centers towards the borders. The military has used this combination to respond to these current threats, which are called new threats, but in reality are 30 years old: drug, weapon and human trafficking, and smuggling, in other words, a great deal of crimes that take place on all borders. For this reason, the military has been forced to take a step forward in order to combine these citizen defense and security environments. And we have created a task force called Ciudad Tranquila (Peaceful City) or CIUTRAN, a battalion-sized unit that helps the police patrol towns at night, especially in Santo Domingo and Santiago. We have also created units, such as DEPROSER (Defend, Protect, Serve), these are quick response units that are focused more on countering drug trafficking to assist the Office of Drug Control. These units are strategically located in different parts of the country so that when a drug incursion takes place, this quick reaction unit can arrive before any other unit coming from Santo Domingo.
DIÁLOGO: This is similar to what MINUSTAH troops are doing in Haiti…
Admiral Pared Pérez: Exactly, but obviously giving support to the National Police because we know that there is a law enforcement legislation separated from a military legislation in the Dominican Republic. The Constitution empowers the president to rely on the armed forces in crucial times. I have always said that public safety is a law enforcement element. Now, when citizen security or insecurity surpasses normal levels in cities, it becomes a national security issue, because it alters the life of the Dominican people. If crime increases drastically in a city, and people tend to remain at home during evenings, it affects the normal behavior of citizens. So, the armed forces come in to support the police.
DIÁLOGO: Do you think this is the main challenge in terms of national security?
Admiral Pared Pérez: Yes. The main challenge for all the armed forces is to manage the combination of both aspects to respond to the expectations of citizens, since we have armed forces for defense, and for conventional war. However, we have a war of international crime, which is a threat to all governments. In other words, all governments are worried about drug trafficking operations in the Caribbean, about weapons trafficking in the Caribbean, about human trafficking in that area. For that reason, they are using at least one sector of the armed forces to support law enforcement issues. The Dominican Republic has a particular situation: the fact that it is the only country in the world that shares borders with Haiti, a country that has a lot of difficulties, not only economic, but also institutional. Nevertheless, we have a maritime border with the northern area of South America, where drugs come from. In a matter of two or three hours, a go-fast may enter Dominican territory. And we also have a border with Europe. Why? Because the Dominican Republic is the leading tourist market in the Caribbean, five million tourists visit us every year.
DIÁLOGO: Five million?
Admiral Pared Pérez: Five million. So what happens, then? That in the eastern part, where tourism is bigger, there are direct flights to and from the whole world: from Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Russia. We have 18 weekly flights from Russia. Direct flights from Germany, Switzerland, Sweden… we have direct flights from all countries. This means that with such wide tourist affluence it causes drug traffickers to try to smuggle drugs through tourists or suitcases. Likewise, we have a shipping container storage center in the Dominican Republic. Multimodal Caucedo Port manages about 1.4 million containers a year. That is this port alone, without even mentioning Haina port, which handles about a million as well. So, we handle about 2.5 million boxcars in the Dominican Republic, which has forced the Multimodal Caucedo to acquire x-ray equipment. A security unit is also being created, which will only focus on this port. We have had several cases of shipments weighing 500; 600; up to 1,000 kilos that have been seized in Europe thanks to our communications, our warning to them about boxcars having left our ports with such cargo onboard. So, we had to join all military efforts towards the demands of the Dominican citizenry.
DIÁLOGO: In addition to the purchase of the Brazilian Super Tucano aircraft, what else is being done regarding technology use to counter drug trafficking?
Admiral Pared Pérez: We have Brazilian Super Tucanos, we have new coast guard ships, and 12 Dominican Coast Guard boats that have been upgraded, two of which are new. We have also acquired different radars.
DIÁLOGO: Also from the United States, right?
Admiral Pared Pérez: Yes. That will help us to have more control. We also have C-4 [aircraft]. We are going to integrate the whole communication system and the command and control system to better adapt it to the needs and demands of today’s armed forces.
DIÁLOGO: Admiral, what do you think of Operation Martillo?
Admiral Pared Pérez: Those operations are mainly performed by the DNCD [National Drug Control Office], along with units from the United States Southern Command and the DEA. The Armed Forces work as support only, along with naval units. We obviously assume control of the maritime domain, but always in response to the requirements that come from the Southern Command or other partner nations.
DIÁLOGO: How do Dominican citizens see the fact that a military service member, and not a civilian, is defense minister?
Admiral Pared Pérez: In the Dominican Republic, there are lots of discussions about this topic. There is even a new armed forces bill being discussed in Congress. And we have also met with deputies and senators, because it is their wish to have a civilian defense minister in the Dominican Republic. That is not only the wish of a political sector in the country, but also of most military forces. A civilian minister of defense would be a politician who could hold more even-leveled discussions with the president on what the priorities of the armed forces are. This is not the case of the military. The military takes orders and they are more vertical; they cannot discuss and question budgetary considerations with the president, while a civilian minister could. And congressional representatives are also considering that a new government with a civilian defense minister can be initiated starting in 2020, making the minister of the Armed Forces position a Joint Chief of Staff or a Joint Force Commander of the forces.
DIÁLOGO: What do you think of conferences, such as CENTSEC?
Admiral Pared Pérez: It is of crucial importance for us to participate in these regional conferences because, like I have always said, countries cannot fight against organized crime on their own. Countries have to do it in a joint way, on common grounds and with close relationships. For communication to be viable, military commanders and intelligence chiefs must know each other. Countries should try to make communication as feasible as possible to have those close relationships help provide information free of bureaucracy.
All the steps taken by the international community in honors of national peace, security and stability are important, to the extent where we can observe security in multiple dimensions and in all its most diverse settings, greetings.