Seizing a ‘Transformational Moment’ in U.S.-Central America Relations
By Geraldine Cook April 08, 2016
Security officials discuss the importance of cooperation at the Central American Security Conference (CENTSEC).
In the late 2000s, Costa Rica went through what its former Deputy Minister for Justice and Peace Max Loría called “a crisis” when the homicide rate reached a record 11.5 killings per 100,000 residents, and cocaine seizures by the anti-drug police spiked. Yet crime never reached the levels seen in parts of the region. Even without a military, however, Costa Rica is tackling crime in the same way as its neighboring countries: by investing heavily in security and trying to equip the police with heavy arms. This is one of the reasons why Costa Rica decided to co-host this year’s Central American Security Conference (CENTSEC) on the second week of April.
Costa Rican President Luiz Guillermo Solís Rivera was present for the opening ceremony. He thanked the United States for its support helping his country fight “the new threats, and to build a region where our countries can work together to create a hemisphere that is a beacon of peace, prosperity, and partnership in an increasingly insecure world.” President Rivera also said that his government, “is working with local municipalities to develop programs including conflict resolution and providing opportunities and job training for young people, …but Costa Rica’s security problems are largely due to the issues related to drug trafficking in the region.”
Because drug trafficking is a pan-regional problem, the theme for this year’s conference is “Promoting Security Cooperation against Transnational Threats”. During his opening remarks, U. S. Navy Admiral Kurt W. Tidd, commander of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), co-sponsor of the conference, said, “I’m excited to be here for my first CENTSEC. While I’m still fairly new to the position of Commander of U.S. Southern Command [SOUTHCOM], I’m by no means new to working with our partners in this vital part of the world. From what I know, and from what I’ve learned over the past few months, I see tremendous opportunity to build on the significant progress we’ve made and continue to make confronting transnational threats.”
SOUTHCOM’s commander also said that the goal of the United States is to identify new, innovative opportunities to enhance security cooperation, improve interoperability, and better support partner nation efforts against new and old threats. “Let me know what obstacles remain, what we can do better, what still needs to be done, and what SOUTHCOM can do to help,” he added. “Our commitment is to being an equal and trusted partner.”
CENTSEC is a multinational forum that brings together defense and security leaders from the United States and Central America to develop a common understanding of the operational environment; exchange ideas and perspectives; and identify opportunities to improve bilateral and multilateral security cooperation. Representatives from the armed and security forces of Belize, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama; senior U.S. government representatives; and observers from regional organizations are in attendance at this year’s event.
Following Adm. Tidd, Costa Rican Minister of Public Security Luis Gustavo Mata said that his country and other participating nations were interested in hearing everyone’s thoughts on improving regional cooperation. “It’s important to break down barriers to information sharing and improved interoperability.” Minister Mata also reinforced the enduring strength of U.S.-Central America relations, building on the progress that has been achieved thus far, and identifying new opportunities for cooperation.
“From our end,” responded Adm. Tidd, “we’ve already taken some initial steps to improve SOUTHCOM’s support to our government colleagues and to our partners throughout Central America. I’ve tasked our Joint Task Force Bravo to look at improving our common understanding and information sharing, so that we can better address the destabilizing operations, corruptive influence, and transregional reach of criminal networks.”
On the topic of expanding the partnership efforts throughout the region, Adm. Tidd said that, “it’s time to seize a transformational moment in U.S.-Central America relations and be creative and bold in our ideas.” His goal for this year’s CENTSEC, he said, “is to identify additional opportunities to enhance our support to all of you, to find new ways to work together, whether by repurposing a multilateral exercise to improving our collective interoperability, or refocusing our ongoing Operation MARTILLO, or redoubling our information sharing efforts.”
According to SOUTHCOM’s new commander, “We are bound together by common hopes and a shared vision of a better future where our children can go to school without fearing the violence of drug traffickers and gangs, where our institutions are strong and resilient and impervious to corruption. This is both the promise and the potential of our shared home, and one that we look forward achieving together. This is our home, and we all have a shared responsibility to protect all of our citizens.”
Brazil should be included in this program here…But, oh!, how everything this corrupt, communist dis-government supports does no good…naturally it wasn’t interested in something so important for all of us…I have high hopes that everything will change here in my country.