Panama’s Minister of Public Security (MINSEG) Juan Manuel Pino Forero has been focusing on very concrete actions to provide border security by land, sea, and air; combat narcotrafficking; eradicate illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing; and eliminate transnational criminal organizations.
Minister Pino spoke with Diálogo about his national and regional efforts and interinstitutional work as key to combat criminal networks.
Diálogo: What are the interagency results of the Regional Center for Air Naval Operations (CROAN) in combating narcotrafficking at sea? How is U.S. Southern Command’s (SOUTHCOM) Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF South) integrated into CROAN?
Panama’s Minister of Public Security Juan Manuel Pino Forero: Through close cooperation with different agencies and allied countries, the CROAN has contributed to different operations against narcotrafficking at sea, through command and control tasks of assets deployed in the area during these operations and apprehending people and seizing their illicit cargo.
On the other hand, we maintain a close relationship with JIATF South, with which we coordinate swift and direct operations, allowing us to implement and execute actions in real time, focused on combating narcotrafficking at sea, with our liaison officer of the National Air and Naval Service (SENAN) in this center.
Diálogo: What is the success of the binational bases guarded by units of the National Border Service (SENAFRONT) and the Colombian Army, as a joint strategy against criminal organizations on the Darién Gap border?
Minister Pino: Panamanian security forces and Colombia’s military and public forces established a joint strategy in the border area of both countries, with police surveillance posts for Panama and intermediate operation bases for Colombia, to disrupt criminal activities in this border region.
Panama and Colombia have strengthened cooperation ties in security matters since the Binational Border Commission, which lead to the creation of a unique border security model in the region, such as the La Olla, Alto Limón, and La Unión posts, followed by the Regional Border Command Meeting, whose success is based on joint work, cooperation in intelligence, operations, leadership, and command and control.
Strategies aimed at disrupting the operations of organized crime that used these routes for narcotrafficking in the border include strengthening joint land operations, territorial control in areas of difficult access, campaign creation for the prevention and care of the environment and natural resources, contributing to regional effort in the fight against narcotrafficking, and actions related to irregular migration, in order to prevent the commission of crimes related to this matter, as well as humanitarian aid to the migrant population.
Since their creation, these binational bases have had different tangible and intangible results, such as affecting transnational organized crime, captures, seizures, actions that have crushed the criminal activities of groups on the border for the benefit of both countries, which helps the development of the region both nations share.
The bilateral effort carried out in these posts has human talent trained in security and defense, and supports the government policies of both countries, with guidelines focused on public security. These models of joint border security are an example of struggle that is justified in the effectiveness of their action plans as in the reduction of narcotrafficking on land, due to controls in the border area — despite being extensive and porous. The simple fact of joint action exerts a direct pressure on the planning of criminal organizations.
Diálogo: Between November and January 2023, Panama carried out the Mercury IV humanitarian exercise with the support of the U.S. Embassy and SOUTHCOM’s Joint Task Force Bravo (JTF-Bravo). What other humanitarian exercises are planned?
Minister Pino: This exercise in cooperation with JTF-Bravo brought humanitarian assistance to the hard-to-reach indigenous communities of the Ngäbe-Buglé Comarca, by bringing together the capabilities of the Panamanian State and planning Phase I (November 30–December 14, 2022) and Phase II (January 20–February 7, 2023), both with air and land transfers of modular classrooms, modular agro-distributors, and food bags from the Panama Solidarity Plan. Phase III is currently being planned (May 2–4), which will consist of air transport of health personnel, medicines, and supplies to the community of Mina Zorra, Ngäbe-Buglé Comarca.
Likewise, SENAN, together with SENAFRONT, is coordinating to carry out the Keel-billed Toucan humanitarian assistance and disaster response exercise in the communities of the province of Darién to be held May 8-21, 2023, with the support of JTF-Bravo. The purpose is to carry out personnel and cargo transport operations from the Nicanor area to the binational Advanced Surveillance Posts (PAV), humanitarian aid operations, troop relief in the PAVs, and training of Special Forces Brigade personnel, for the sustainable development of the region and to strengthen the operational and tactical capabilities of SENAFRONT.
Diálogo: What does the Pacifying my Neighborhood (Pacificando mi Barrio) program consist of?
Minister Pino: This program is part of the strategy to take weapons off the streets with the aim of reducing crime rates by exchanging weapons and ammunition for vouchers redeemable in stores, supermarkets, and restaurants. The program is a national government effort, through the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of Government, and local governments.
Diálogo: In October 2022, Panama fined a Chinese vessel for violating national and international fishing regulations. How is SENAN working to combat IUU fishing?
Minister Pino: SENAN through different operations jointly and individually, monitors, patrols, guards, and preserves marine fauna in our jurisdictional waters. Our presence helps to deter and prevent IUU fishing fleets from committing the same offense.
We conducted Operation Trident (April-August 2022) where SENAN, in coordination with the competent authorities, executed three campaigns with navigation days both in the Caribbean and in the Pacific and positioned surface units, air, and special forces, in quadrants identified for patrolling and surveillance at sea, which extended from the territorial sea to the exclusive economic zone. We also carried out Operation Acrux (May-June 2022) and Operation Becrux (January-April 2023), where SENAN, in coordination with the Panama Aquatic Resources Authority and the Panama Maritime Authority, intensified the control of illegal vessels and organizations and carried out operations to contain the exploitation of aquatic resources.
Diálogo: Panama’s vessel registry withdrew its flag from 136 ships linked to state-owned National Iranian Oil Company since 2019, due to suspicions that they may be linked to the financing of terrorist groups. How does SENAN contribute to this national effort for the benefit of maritime security?
Minister Pino: SENAN, faced with the detection and knowledge of this type of anomaly, collaborates closely with the authorities to prevent, combat, and eradicate illicit arms trafficking at sea, through cooperation and exchange of information with countries and agencies that are fighting against the same scourge.
Diálogo: What’s new between Panama and the Missouri National Guard under the State Partnership Program?
Minister Pino: SENAN and other security agencies are currently in the planning and training stage for Panamax Alfa Zero 2023, which objective is to train members of security forces in strategic aspects that will primarily determine the actions to be taken in various scenarios to deal with a crisis resulting from a possible attack on the Panama Canal.