Salvadoran Army Colonel Roberto García Ochoa, commander of the Special Military Security Brigade (BESM, in Spanish) and the Sumpul Command, spoke with Diálogo during a visit to BESM headquarters in San Salvador, where he addressed his mission, challenges, and participation in the national effort to counter narcotrafficking.
Diálogo: What is BESM’s mission?
Salvadoran Army Colonel Roberto García Ochoa, commander of the Special Military Security Brigade and the Sumpul Command: BESM was created in 1992 and is one of the institutional support units of the Salvadoran Armed Force. BESM is responsible for protecting El Salvador’s 233 miles of land border and [serving as] Military Police, as a subsidiary body to manage military justice. BESM provides support to the National Civil Police (PNC, in Spanish), according to the Territorial Control Plan, in citizen security missions, based on information and intelligence exchange, and it also coordinates joint patrols in places known to have criminal activity. BESM also collaborates on other tasks such as supporting the civilian population and reconstruction in cases of natural disaster.
Diálogo: What is BESM’s contribution in the fight against narcotrafficking?
Col. García: We provide support to the government’s Territorial Control Plan with our units of the Marte Task Force and the Sumpul Command, which counter narcotrafficking activities as part of their missions. BESM has many duties and proven results, since we capture criminals and carry out seizures daily. The Sumpul Command conducts patrols and border checks day and night to counter drugs and arms smuggling, vehicle theft, human trafficking, and any type of smuggling, maintaining control over nine authorized and 142 unauthorized border crossings.
Diálogo: El Salvador is part of the Northern Triangle. How does BESM work with the military forces of bordering nations to counter security problems in the area?
Col. García: We are members of the Central American Armed Forces Conference, and as such we attend the Commanders’ Meeting of the Northern Triangle Border Military Units. Because I am the Sumpul Command commander, I meet with Honduran and Guatemalan counterparts to exchange crime-related information about human trafficking, narco-activity, smuggling, and any other crimes committed on the border. We also share real-time information for our combined operations.
Diálogo: What is BESM’s most important project?
Col. García: We want to have a military police force with more agents, better resources, and larger deployments to continue to better support our commanders in everything related to military police and military justice work. We also want a Sumpul Command with better military and technological equipment, such as drones, night vision equipment, and others, to counter narco-activity, human trafficking, smuggling, and other crimes more effectively. The U.S. Army supports BESM, especially in training Military Police agents.
Diálogo: What information strategies are used on the border to work with residents in the area?
Col. García: Members of the Sumpul Command maintain contact with people in border communities, many of whom are organized in associations, to get to know the civilian population’s needs and understand how crime affects their daily life. We also coordinate civilian-military actions, such as medical, dental, and legal services, etc., with military units working in border areas, and we also work with the U.S. Embassy and its civil affairs staff, town halls, and nongovernmental organizations to provide health care for people who live in border areas. Sometimes, local residents report illicit narcotrafficking activities or other crimes, and with this information we work jointly with PNC to eradicate crime in these areas.