Panama Faces an Old Threat Anew

Panama Faces an Old Threat Anew

By Dialogo
April 19, 2016




On April 1st, a cloud of thick black smoke darkened the skies around Panama City. It was the result of the Panamanian Police incinerating 6.3 tons of cocaine, 2.5 tons of marijuana, and 3.8 kilograms of heroin; since January 1st, Panamanian law enforcement authorities have destroyed almost nine additional tons of drugs, primarily cocaine, that they seized from narco-traffickers, according to data released by officials.

Drug trafficking groups often transport illegal drugs that are produced in South America through Central America before delivering them to the United States and Europe, according to a recent United Nations report. In 2015, Panama seized a record 58 tons of drugs. Panamanian authorities estimate that they have seized 462 tons since 2000.

To talk about current issues related to drugs and other relevant issues in the country and the region, Diálogo
spoke with Rogelio Donadío, Panama's Vice Minister for Public Safety, during the Central American Security Conference (CENTSEC) held in San José, Costa Rica, from April 6th-8th
.

Diálogo:
The new commander of the National Border Service (SENAFRONT), Cristian Hayer, assumed the post on February 15th. What do you expect from him?

Vice Minister Rogelio Donadío:
We expect that he will continue to protect our borders and, above all, combat organized crime in all its facets: drugs, human trafficking, and to protect national sovereignty, because, at the end of the day, we have problems, above all, in the South, where criminal organizations want to come closer to the border with Panama and set up permanent camps that are used to manufacture drugs, to cultivate cocaine plants, marihuana plants... So, what we have entrusted Commander Hayer with is to very jealously protect the territory and to protect against drug trafficking and any type of organized crime that there might be along that border.

Diálogo:
Is the fight against organized crime and drug trafficking still SENAFRONT's priority?

Vice Minister Donadío:
Yes. Above all, along both borders, at the border between Panama and Colombia, and at the border between Panama and Costa Rica. It is an inescapable issue. Aside from that, there also has to be a component of prevention, an element that provides social assistance and creates a civic component for the people; a component that works for the benefit of the population, because oftentimes, this component of security is the entire government of the Republic of Panama. They are the ones who often provide for health, education, and to a certain extent, the way in which the population can coexist in peace, and that, the original priority, is the fight against organized crime, as well as the civic actions that have to be brought to a population so as to prevent those populations from being infiltrated by organized crime, by the money there is in organized crime.

Diálogo:
Can the fall of the FARC in Colombia signify a threat to Panama?

Vice Minister Donadío:
In fact, we think so, because there is a possibility that not all of them will demobilize through fragmentation or the elimination of people engaged in organized crime; an armed group is going to be left over. They will demobilize in Colombia, but they are going to continue their business, above all, those earning the most money. And among the possibilities, which are not remote and are very real, is that they will move their business to the Colombian border, where Venezuela, where Ecuador, where Peru are, but also where Panama is. In other words, it is a fact that we believe they may mobilize to Panamanian territory and continue their criminal activities.

Diálogo:
Are there coca leaf fields in Panama already?

Vice Minister Donadío:
We have found coca leaf fields in Panama, but we have found more marijuana leaf crops. However, we have been eradicating them. The advantage we have had in comparison with when these problems began in the years between 2002-2005 is that, during those years, there was a permanent criminal presence in Panamanian territory. The arrival of SENAFRONT permanently kicked them out of Panamanian territory. Now, because the border is so wooded and is so large, they somehow come in and conduct their activities, but not permanently. Then, of course, there is cultivation, but practically none of cocaine. There is a small part they have used to cultivate marijuana, which began to be eradicated at the beginning of the year. However, since we eradicated it up to now we have not seen any more marijuana or cocaine fields.

Diálogo:
And what is the importance of continuing to work with the United States and other countries in the region in this fight against drug trafficking and other threats?

Vice Minister Donadío:
Well, organized crime is a crime that makes quick decisions, that mutates, that does not ask, that does not respect sovereignties, that does not respect laws. However, we are the guardians of the constitutions and the laws of our countries, and each country also must defend its sovereignty. In order to take action in the territories in which they are active, we must join together, we must communicate with each other, we must trust one another, and be loyal to one another to strengthen solidarity, strengthen even the context of how we are going to act in a given case. That is the only way to combat organized crime that is active in the entire territory, from Colombia and much farther away, all the way to the United States. There is no way to combat that if we do not join together. There is no way to combat that if we do not coordinate, if we do not get organized, if we do not have effective, timely, and true communication. There is no way to combat that if we do not have a legal framework in all our countries. We are looking to work together and create an integrated network when these types of events occur, like here at CENTSEC, so that the legal framework can be applied respecting the countries’ sovereignty and respecting the way in which each one of us sees the solution to the problems created by organized crime.

Diálogo:
Could you tell us about “Operación Candado”?

Vice Minister Donadío:
“Operación Candado” is like the continuation of “Operación Patria”
. As a result of it, there have already begun to dismantle the camps that were being used by the FARC. “Operación Candado” has to do with the fact that, somehow, we have to protect our coastline and our waters along the border with Colombia, both on the Atlantic and the Pacific coasts. If we make that impenetrable and optimize the watercraft, the criminals will not reach our coastlines and will instead pass by on the outside.
Excellent work. I hope everything continues to be well organized to be able to fight every kind of crime, keep it up, looking for a solution to everything.
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