Nicaraguan “Retaining Wall” Keeps Drug Cartels at Bay
By Dialogo May 13, 2013
Interview with Army General Julio César Avilés Castillo, Commander in Chief of Nicaragua’s Armed Forces
After his participation at the Central American Security Conference (CENTSEC 2013) in Panama City, on April 18, Army General Avilés Castillo met with Diálogo to discuss the vast exchange of cooperation and information between his country and the other nations in the region, as well as of the great work done by the Nicaraguan Armed Forces to keep drug cartels and transnational organized crime away from their borders.
Diálogo: What are Nicaragua’s current security priorities?
Army General Julio César Avilés Castillo: Well, we have been clear at this Central American Security Conference that our country, like in the rest of Central America, is affected by northbound drug trafficking. For us, the main threat against national security is drug trafficking.
If drug trafficking settles in our country, it would undermine Nicaraguan society and its institutions. This way, our government and its different institutions are working on an action plan, on a national strategy called a “Retaining Wall,” which is the largest operation involving the forces in the national territory’s borders.
When we talk about borders, we are referring to land borders, and sea borders in the Pacific and the Caribbean. We are talking about our airspace surveillance and strengthening by means of strong units along the coasts of our country.
This way, the most strategic moves are to contain, capture, and divert the course of drugs to the best of our ability, avoiding their transit through the main urban areas.
The largest drug seizures within the national territory have taken place in the geographic spaces of the border areas, so we are fulfilling the goals of our strategy in a highly efficient way. We are exerting pressure on isolated areas, so that drugs cannot enter our main territory and urban centers, and with that we avoid the level of damage, the level of violence that exists in other countries.
There are no drug cartels in Nicaragua. Just last year we captured about seven tons of drugs, but apart from that, from 2010 to 2013, 130 tons of drugs have been seized by the Nicaraguan Army, in addition to drug seizures by the Police, at least inside our territory. The majority of them are made in border areas.
There is good interagency coordination in our country, which is part of our strategy. There is law enforcement; there is legal support allowing us to make sure there is no impunity, especially for those involved in breaking the law.
This way we consolidate not only operational, but also legal actions that allow us to ensure a firm strategy in the country.
Diálogo: How does Nicaragua contribute to cooperation and intelligence exchanges with the rest of regional countries in order to counter transnational drug crime?
Army Gen. Avilés: We have strong cooperation with our neighbors, in the context of the Central American Integration System, the SICA, and the Security Commission. There are also open channels of communication in the context of the Central American Armed Forces Conference, which is currently headed by Nicaragua, as well as with all those nations that are affected by drugs in one way or another. whether it be drugs departing from northern South America or from the Central American region towards the rest of the world, from the north of our continent to the Caribbean or other regions, like some European countries.
The information exchange is classified by levels. First, there must be great fluency in information exchange at a national level. Second, we have an cooperation level where information must also be promptly exchanged in the context of the Central American region, through SICA and the instances created there, or through the CEFAC.
There is a similar situation in other countries, beyond the Central American region, in the Caribbean, in northern Central America, in Mexico, the U.S. and Canada or Europe; European countries such as Russia, which are now concerned about drug trafficking efforts to move drugs across Africa and Europe towards the Russian Federation.
I believe that Nicaragua and all countries must be willing to exchange and have a flow of information to ensure a level of awareness of the actions conducted by criminal organizations that are trying to use our territories, break our laws, affect our security levels; in other words, the actions of each nation are good, but collective action to confront this scourge is better.
Diálogo: How does Nicaragua use technology to counter drug crime?
Army Gen. Avilés: This is one of the most complex elements. It is evident that technology is constantly evolving: communication systems, surveillance and radar systems, etc.
Drug trafficking has an immense economic power and capacity to grow vast extensions of crops. We are talking about 150,000 or 200,000 hectares producing over 1,500 tons of cocaine annually. We are talking about billions of dollars [needed] to perform this; an amount necessary to transport this enormous amount of drugs to their final destination. We are talking about figures that reveal the amount of drugs that are being produced in countries where the drugs are consumed the most.
We are facing a powerful enemy with the capacity to invest and transport [the drugs] in different ways. By land, air and sea; with the capacity of undermining everyone in the system.
There is a very important element here that extends beyond technology, and it is the [moral] values that everyone should have, the values of those components that fight this, the Police and Military components. I hope that the value and sentiment for what we do assures stability, peace, internal order, and security for our countries and fellow citizens.
The use of technology is very restrictive. It has high costs, and really becomes advantageous only to those who have it and by means of those advanced technological systems have the capacity to obtain information. Technology should be facilitated to those of us who lack it, so that we can have more efficient and forceful operations.
we have to fight drug trafficking