Operation Patria Shields Panama against International Organized Crime, Local Drug Trafficking
By Dialogo December 03, 2015
Panamanian security forces launched Operation Patria
(Homeland) from October 20 through November 30 to combat transnational organized criminal enterprises and domestic drug trafficking.
A Joint Task Force consisting of special National Police units, the National Aeronaval Service (SENAN), the National Border Service (SENAFRONT), and the Institutional Protection Service (SPI) led the security initiative, which took months of planning and included a blockade on the country's Pacific and Atlantic coasts.
By using patrol boats to keep both coasts under constant surveillance, the Joint Task Force's 315 members forced drug traffickers to navigate as far as possible from the Panamanian coastline to avoid law enforcement officers, according to Commissioner Ramón López, SENAN's national director of operations and chief of Operation Patria.
“Based on statistics we have from previous years, we realized that during the last three months of the year, there is an increase in the volume of drugs moving through the region,” López explained. “Along the chain of accomplices that drug traffickers place in different countries to ensure the drugs arrive at their final destination in North America, we noticed that the accomplices were no longer being paid in cash, but instead in drugs. These drugs remain in Panama and represent a clear danger that we want to eliminate completely.”
All units provided boats for the operation, with SENAN giving six vessels, including interceptors and patrol boats, while SENAFRONT provided two boats to patrol the Atlantic and two for the Pacific. The National Police provided one boat to patrol each ocean.
“Only logistics of this magnitude, including human and technical resources, made it possible to maintain the blockade operation at sea 24 hours a day for the 40 days the operation lasted.”
In conjunction with the coastal surveillance, authorities deployed security forces to two indigenous Kuna Yala communities on the Atlantic coast to inspect vessels that arrive in the sector’s ports. Police have interdicted drug smuggling vessels in the region in recent months.
A successful operation
The coastal surveillance and patrols paid off with significant drug seizures and arrests.
As of November 23, security forces had seized more than three tons of drugs, primarily cocaine, Commissioner López reported. Eighteen Colombians, 14 Panamanians, a Dominican, a Venezuelan, and a Jamaican were arrested on drug offenses.
involves an extra effort and successful coordination in deploying the country’s government forces and in encouraging these forces to keep working day after day to improve the country’s security record,” Panamanian Minister of Public Security Rodolfo Aguilera said during an October 20 news conference. Security authorities plan on conducting a similar joint operation in 2016, he stated.
“The challenge we are facing after this successful operation is to try to maintain this sort of comprehensive surveillance on our coasts and borders so it can be permanent,” Commissioner López said. “To do this, we must continue to modernize, and always be ready, at the right place and the right time to make arrests.”
Cooperation and coordination are crucial in the fight against transnational criminal enterprises and domestic drug trafficking, according to Commissioner López.
“We were united before, but now the communication ties are even closer, and that is something very important in the fight against organized crime, which never sleeps and has partners everywhere.”