Nicaragua’s Containment Wall against Drug Trafficking

Nicaragua’s Containment Wall against Drug Trafficking

By Dialogo
July 14, 2015

Law for the complete seizure of physical assets and bank accounts for nurseries and rehabilitation centers as well as support for combat forces.

Though there is a current focus on the Northern Triangle countries of Central America ̶ Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras ̶ because of the positive results of the cooperation between the Armed Forces and law enforcement agencies in reducing the violence stemming from drug trafficking and gang activity within their borders, their regional neighbors are also doing their part to keep this violence from seeping across their boundaries.

Such is the case of Nicaragua, which has taken a strong stand against drug trafficking in the form of a presidential policy calling for a “containment wall” against this threat, not by building a wall per se, but rather by building their naval capabilities to withstand the threat and capture it at sea so it does not permeate on land.

To support the Nicaraguan Navy’s efforts in building such an embankment, U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), through the Office of Security Cooperation in Managua (OSC-N) has agreed to work jointly with them to refurbish close to 20 Eduardoño-type fast-boats over the next three years.

Eduardoño is actually a Colombian shipyard that pioneered the construction of different models of sporty go-fasts in the region, designed for a variety of uses, including fishing, diving, pleasure, and patrols, but the general style of vessel has adopted this name, becoming a genericized trademark.

The vessels being refurbished were seized by the Nicaraguan Navy during various counter drug operations at sea. So taking them from drug dealers, rebuilding and repowering them, and using them against the drug networks themselves is a success story in and of itself.

“It’s a message to the ‘narcos’ themselves: This is your boat, and now we are using it to combat you,” said Alberto Michell, founder and principal designer at Naviego Marine, the Nicaraguan shipyard responsible for the refurbishment project.

So far, three boats have been refurbished, and they’re currently undergoing testing on Nicaragua’s waters. “We’ve customized them according to the needs of the end user – the Nicaraguan Navy. This direct involvement changes the dynamics,” he added, as he showed Diálogo
what goes into refurbishing each boat or panga
, as they are known locally in Nicaragua.

“After we’re done with them, they weigh about 5 tons, so we add on about 5,000 lbs. to the hulls, between kiln-dried plywood and fiberglass overlays, and 5,000 additional lbs. of state-of-the-art communications, propulsion, and navigation equipment, allowing each finished boat to reach speeds of about 35-48 knots at sea,” added Michell.

The job done on each, which may be 32, 38, or 45 feet long and 8 feet wide at their widest point, is an amazing transformation that begins with stripping the original boats down to the bare hull, and building customized modern naval marvels outfitted with tactical and operational capabilities to find and go after the best-hidden criminals at sea.

The Nicaraguan Navy is very committed to this collaboration. “The Navy inspects the job we’re doing and has a say in the entire process,” explained Michell.

According to U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Roberto Colon Cruz, Navy Section Chief at the OSC-N, and responsible for the project’s oversight, “This will increase their operational capabilities, the lifespan of their boats, and their security.”

“We’ve already seen results with one of the fast-boats,” said Nicaraguan Navy Captain Jeraldo Fornos, commander of the Naval Base in Corinto, located about 155 kilometers northwest of Managua, on the Pacific coast.

He told Diálogo
that when the first delivered fast boat was put to the water to be tested, it came upon another such vessel that was transporting drugs, so it’s maiden voyage actually produced a gain for Nicaragua and for the regional fight against drug trafficking.

“Nicaraguan Navy operators out testing the boat were able to seize a criminal fast-boat and capture 76 kilos of cocaine aboard it,” added Capt. Fornos.

To reinforce the commitment of cooperation between the United States and Nicaraguan militaries and further strengthen the relationship between the two, SOUTHCOM’s Command Sergeant Major William B. Zaiser not only visited the refurbishing facility, but also met with senior officials from the Nicaraguan Navy to discuss not only the projects that USSOUTHCOM supports, but also the value of a professional non-commissioned officer corps.

“Our engagements in the region are very important,” said the Sergeant Major. “The Nicaraguan Navy goes out as far as they can to pursue drug boats and execute counter narcotics operations, showing great conviction. We know they’re committed to the fight,” he commented.

“We are professionals,” added Capt. Fornos. “We don’t get into politics, and we have a very successful, positive professional relationship with the United States Military.”

As he showed the Sergeant Major one of the finished refurbished boats, docked in the base’s pier, Capt. Fornos highlighted the importance of this effort. “The important element in this fight is the ‘containment wall’ we’re building to keep drug trafficking from entering our territory. The three [refurbished] boats have given us positive results so far.”

He explained that depending on how many boats are refurbished, close to seven will be deployed in Pacific waters, while close to a dozen will be deployed in the Caribbean, where there is a higher traffic of drug boats transporting illegal merchandise from south to north. “Drug trafficking is a well-organized enterprise; it’s protected, so if we’re looking to be successful, we must be constant in our fight,” he emphasized.

“When [the operators] go out against drug trafficking they are hungry for a capture,” assured Capt. Fornos. “We go out on what we have available, we know the sea and the routes the narcos
use. But communicating with the plane to guide us, to give us their position is a key part of it.”

The collaborative endeavor doesn’t only involve the refurbished boats, however. It is a complete package that also includes operational, logistical, maintenance, and communications training.

In fact, in early July, both Nicaraguan and U.S. military partners were scheduled to take the three finished boats and others they use specifically for counter narcotics operations to sea, where they will participate in a two-day communications training to facilitate communications between land, sea, and air, and ultimately increase the rate of seizures.

“This is the least we can do for our people. It [drug trafficking] is a disease that we have to fight jointly,” concluded Capt. Fornos.