Diálogo interviewed Brigadier General Miguel Ángel Rivas Bonilla, deputy head of the Salvadoran Armed Forces’ Joint Chiefs of Staff, during the Central American Security Conference 2021, which took place in Panama City, June 22-23.
Diálogo: What are the advances of the Territorial Control Plan (PCT, in Spanish) in the fight against transnational criminal organizations?
Brigadier General Miguel Ángel Rivas Bonilla, deputy head of the Salvadoran Armed Forces’ Joint Chiefs of Staff: The PCT has facilitated improvements in the country’s public security conditions, and it allows us to have a force that’s integrated with the National Civil Police and the Office of the Attorney General. The plan has helped reduce crime levels significantly, not only in homicides, but also in other types of security threats.
We are currently carrying out Phase 2 with many advantages, despite budget constraints. The first phase dealt with the most affluent and commercially active municipalities throughout the country. As of June 2021, the homicide rate was 2.8, as compared to June 2019, when it was 7.6. Congress approved loans aimed at obtaining better resources and carrying out other efforts to continue with the plan. We established an integrated joint command to give attention to other municipalities that have a criminal threat and assist them in parallel with the plan. We have community support groups throughout the national territory, which are working together with elements of the armed forces and the police.
Diálogo: What does the Military Security Special Brigade (BESM, in Spanish) contribute to the national effort in the fight against narcotrafficking?
Brig. Gen. Rivas: The BESM, as an institutional support unit, is the brigade that commands the “SUMPUL” task force, which operates at 197 border crossing points to secure those that are not authorized. The BESM has six companies to confront the activities of transnational organized crime, such as narcotrafficking and illegal migration. This command receives a lot of U.S. support.
Diálogo: How does El Salvador integrate with neighboring countries to combat security problems in the area?
Brig. Gen. Rivas: We integrate in different ways to combat transnational organized crime on our borders. One of them is through the Conference of Central American Armed Forces, where we build relationships based on mutual support and trust, a highlight of which is transnational border patrols. We have joint agreements with Honduras and Guatemala, where we carry out combined efforts with police participation to share information with the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL).
Diálogo: What kind of international cooperation does the Trident Naval Task Force (FTNT, in Spanish) receive for interdiction operations?
Brig. Gen. Rivas: The FTNT receives a lot of cooperation from the U.S. military, especially U.S. Southern Command. The FTNT coordinates operations with our liaison officer at Joint Interagency Task Force South, from where information is shared and narcotrafficking activities are monitored. In addition, we carry out narcotrafficking control activities in open waters to protect our 200 miles of territorial sea. FTNT operations have been very successful, and they are possible thanks to a joint effort with the Naval Force, the Police, and the Office of the Attorney General.
Diálogo: What new cooperation agreements are the armed forces executing with the United States?
Brig. Gen. Rivas: We have a complex range of cooperative efforts. For example, in the field of education, our soldiers have received training at the [William J. Perry] Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, and the Inter-American Air Forces Academy, among others. In the field of military cooperation, they support us with equipment for aircraft, vessels, vehicles, etc. A very significant recent donation was that of four MD 530 helicopters, because this helicopter fleet will overhaul our fleet of old MD 500s that are deployed to support the United Nations mission in the Republic of Mali.