Naval forces from the Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) join efforts to conduct multinational maritime patrols within the 200 nautical miles of their respective sea boundaries. Since 2015, the partner nations work together to halt narcotrafficking structures attempting to take drugs northward.
“What we do is extend to maritime zones the same operations that each country’s naval units perform to protect maritime boundaries together and prevent transnational crime,” Captain René Merino, chief of the General Staff of the Salvadoran Naval Force (FNES, in Spanish), told Diálogo. “We all patrol in close coordination, each in our own territorial waters.”
The naval forces also exchange information or receive alerts in real time from Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF-South), located in Key West, Florida. JIATF-South is one of U.S. Southern Command’s (SOUTHCOM) three task forces.
“The work with JIATF-South allows us to unify our efforts, coordinate information and asset support, and optimize our resources in the fight against the transnational threats affecting the region,” said Vice Admiral Juan Pardo Aguilar, commander of the Guatemalan Navy (MDNG, in Spanish). “That’s how we manage to have operational successes together.”
Each of the Northern Triangle nations counts with a senior officer at JIATF-South who works with liaisons and unit procedures. As such, success rates in the various interdiction operations within each jurisdictional maritime space increase.
From Puerto Cortés Naval Base in Honduras, officers of the Honduran Naval Force (FNH, in Spanish) conduct patrols in the Caribbean Sea alongside MDNG. Through these joint efforts, they fight narcotrafficking, arms trafficking, human smuggling, and other unlawful acts that impact the region, especially in the border Motagua River Basin area. All operations are conducted within the framework of the Central American Armed Forces Conference and organized during multilateral meetings to coordinate agendas and resources required of each member country.
Top-level training and equipment
Northern Triangle naval forces improved the level of their tactics thanks to support from the U.S. military. The northern partner nation shares its knowledge and specialized equipment to fight emerging threats at sea.
The Salvadoran Naval Force checks on all suspicious vessels within its jurisdiction in support of multinational
“U.S. Southern Command donated 11 Boston Whaler-type vessels and equipment such as night vision systems, life jackets, satellite global positioning systems, etc.,” Vice Adm. Pardo said. “We also have the support of an aerial platform for maritime interdiction operations when needed.”
In 2017, ongoing efforts to halt the emerging threats at sea proved positive for El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Consistent training and collaboration with international agencies and partner nations allowed for improved operational skills.
MDNG seized nearly 12 tons of cocaine with a market value of $300 million along its coasts, representing 73 percent of the drugs seized nationwide. FNES closed out 2017 with 7 tons of cocaine seized, while FNH seized 11 tons of drugs—4 tons of cocaine and 7 tons of marijuana.
The geostrategic positions of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador place them as major transit routes—on the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans—for illegal narcotics heading to North America.
According to the three nations’ naval authorities, 80 percent of vessels departing from South America to destinations in North America use the Pacific Ocean, while 20 percent travel through the Caribbean.
FNES and the Special Naval Force of MDNG rely on the Combat Information Center to organize the various naval operations against organized crime. The specialized agency manages the flow of real-time notifications at all levels to the teams at sea. Teams also receive alerts from JIATF-South on possible suspicious vessels in their territorial waters.
“The tactical and operational level that we reached increases our security levels, our societies’ trust, and the confidence of the international community,” Capt. Merino said. “We successfully interrupted the transport of drugs that, otherwise, would have reached Guatemala, Mexico, or the United States.”