Technology and Cooperation, Key Elements in the Fight against Crime
By Dialogo June 12, 2013
Interview with Lieutenant General Hellmuth René Casados Ramírez, chief of the Guatemalan National Defense General Staff
The use of technology for the integration of the Guatemalan Control and Surveillance System, the cooperation with other countries in the hemisphere in the permanent fight against transnational organized crime, as well as the quest for a solution to reduce the rate of violence in his country were some of the concerns that Lieutenant General Hellmuth René Casados Ramírez, chief of the Guatemalan National Defense General Staff, mentioned in his exclusive interview with Diálogo during the Central American Security Conference (CENTSEC) in April 2013 in Panama City.
Diálogo: Please tell us what the current security priorities are in Guatemala.
Lieutenant General Hellmuth René Casados Ramírez: Within our Guatemalan Army’s scope of action, we establish current national goals such as those identified by the government plan. Basically, there are covenants that refer to the fiscal pact, the zero-hunger pact and the security and justice pact. Furthermore, we have identified the democratic and justice security axis, and this is where the Guatemalan Army, according to an institutional mandate, must provide for internal and external security, according to section 244 of the Constitution, and respond to concepts entailing national sovereignty. We are making all efforts to materialize these objectives institutionally for the wellbeing and security of our citizens through adequately managing our defense.It is as a consequence of this that we are participating in this regional security meeting in Panama City.
Diálogo: How can the cooperation and intelligence exchange between your country and the rest of the region continue to fight against organized crime?
Lt. Gen. Casados Ramírez: This meeting has confirmed all the objectives we have set to continue generating the well being and security that our country needs, in addition to being aware that it is a transversal axis that involves regional and international spheres when it comes to identifying threats, through which we have identified that 55% of violent homicides in Guatemala are generated by drug trafficking. Another important percentage has to do with society’s search for opportunities for dialogue, negotiation and agreement, to prevent these issues from becoming violent scenarios that affect society as a whole. Therefore, we have come to confirm our willingness to continue cooperating in plans that have already been agreed to, in relation to the threats that have been widely identified. Transnational crime, organized crime go beyond borders and affect our economies, the free development of individuals, of nations, and in this sense, one of the best solutions is to continue on the level of cooperation, identification, intelligence, and technology so that these threats do not generate violent events such as those currently taking place in our countries.
Diálogo: Several Latin American countries are conferring law enforcement powers to the Armed Forces. What is your opinion regarding this issue? Do you believe this is a solution for Guatemala?
Lt. Gen. Casados Ramírez: Yes, we are convinced that we have professional Soldiers serving the security and defense of the country. Regarding these type of threats, we are also aware that civil security forces are in charge of the leading effort, as well as having the responsibility to provide citizen, public and national security to the country.
As our institutions generate forces, they become professionals; meeting minimal force standards, in terms of the amount of people necessary in their police teams, in their official media teams, hence generating their own leadership. The Constitution directs us to support this effort. Therefore, even though it is true that they might be interpreted as police tasks, what we do is support them in their public procedures, so they can conduct their law enforcement tasks with security anywhere in the country, while being supported by us.
Diálogo: What are the most important measures taken by the Guatemalan Armed Forces to counter crime?
Lt. Gen. Casados Ramírez: As I mentioned before, the main measures are covered in these current national goals, which are the government plans. Therefore, in Guatemala we have meetings headed by our president and Commander-in-Chief of the Army Otto Pérez Molina, who directs us, establishes the necessary supervision and requirements for the proper use of units in any field, with an interest to preserve human rights in any procedure, in any operation, so that society may interpret it as a benefit not only at a personal level, but also at a national level. So this year we would like to stabilize the country, to lower at least by 20% the rate of violence generated by any factor: drug trafficking, organized crime, gangs, hired gunmen, transnational crime, and all its derivatives.
Diálogo: Regarding gangs, are these considered a security problem? Is it illegal to be a gang member in Guatemala?
Lt. Gen. Casados Ramírez: Not necessarily. It depends on the interpretation you give the issue. For example, we have a social problem that is part of the same preventive security being developed by the Ministry of Interior, with the support of the Ministry of Defense.
We have seen that our adolescents, pre-adolescents, and young people in general, are used to perpetrating violent crimes, such as hired gunmen. In order to belong to Mara 18 or Mara Salvatrucha, and be accepted as such, a young person must kill, for example, a public transport driver or his assistant, criminalizing that way the act of being in a gang.
I believe that we should continue working on preventive security in Guatemala, which means that we must rescue our young people, take them back from the gangs engaged in drug smuggling. There is also a market funded by harmful products and directed towards our Guatemalan youth, hence increasing the level of violence. So we do not necessarily criminalize young people, but there are gangs that are aimed at breaking the law. I hope we can change this social problem.
Diálogo: How is technology used by the Armed Forces helps to counter organized crime? We know about the purchases of Super Tucanos and some radar.
Lt. Gen. Casados Ramírez: The Guatemalan System of Control and Surveillance, known as C4I, is a very ambitious Command and control, communications and intelligence project of modern features that allow us control over domestic flights in Guatemala through radar, mainly acquired in Spain. The main fixed and rotary wing aircraft fleet in Central America is ours, and we need to accept that everyone who has aircraft and wants to conduct domestic flights must have a navigation plan, a record, flight controls, which many times are illicit or used for drug trafficking towards the interior of the country.
So yes, it is an ambitious project: the purchase of Super Tucanos from Brazilian manufacturer Embraer is moving forward, and we will soon have a technology and trainingexchange. However, Guatemala has several town halls – we have 336 municipalities that are integrated with a system of local cameras to prevent crimes. So, through the Ministry of Interior and its investigation and research institutions, we have been able to advance in this sort of investigation, as well as in wiretapping methods, regulated and supervised by the judiciary and operated by the Prosecution in Guatemala.
Diálogo: Is there anything else you would like to add for our _Diálogo_readers?
Lt. Gen. Casados Ramírez: Yes, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to participate, to give thanks for the invitation, and also thank the sponsorship that General Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command, has given us. It is very beneficial and has generated concrete, positive results, which should be replicated by all of us in our countries, since we are multiple entities. I must also thank the people and the government, mainly Panama’s Ministry of Security for hosting us in this beautiful city and giving us the opportunity to observe such an advanced operation in the Panama Canal, as well as to share time with their fellow citizens.