Timely Information Exchange and Cooperation: Key Elements in the Fight Against Organized Crime
By Dialogo May 28, 2013
Interview with Lieutenant General César Adonay Acosta Bonilla, Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Salvadoran Armed Forces
By adjusting existing plans and designing new ones to combat crime efficiently, El Salvador has been able to curb its violence rate. Diálogo interviewed Lieutenant General Acosta Bonilla, who paused his busy schedule during the 2013 edition of the Central American Security Conference (CENTSEC) in Panama.
DIÁLOGO: What are your country’s prioroties to effectively confront the scourge of organized crime?
Lieutenant General Cesar Adonay Acosta Bonilla: To begin with, I think that as a country and as the Military, our priority is to neutralize crime, which is dramatically affecting the development of our country. When I say crime, I make reference to gang violence, drug trafficking, illicit weapons trafficking, which are preventing the country from being stable. So, our involvement to support the Civil National Police is one of our priorities: to be more efficient, so we can eradicate this menace.
The second priority I would like to mention is that we, as the Military, are determined to reach the highest level of preparedness, because the Salvadoran government and people have trusted the Military to provide this support. Therefore, we have to be ready with our training, our organization, our equipment, so that we can provide support for the Civil National Police, and pave the way for the country to find the best options for its development.
DIÁLOGO: How can cooperation and intelligence exchange between El Salvador and other countries contribute to countering transnational organized crime?
Lt. Gen. Acosta Bonilla: Cooperation is very important in this regional effort to combat transnational organized crime, because it allows all that channeling of information to flow between the countries, as well as the continuous coordination between countries to confront transnational organized crime in a united way. Therefore, it is not only an important issue, but also a priority in the regional field for cooperation to be closer through coordination and information exchange. Because information exchange has to be timely; it has to take place at the right time and location, so that the decisions it fosters are the right ones.
DIÁLOGO: Do you consider that granting law enforcement powers to the military would be a better solution to counter organized crime in El Salvador?
Lt. Gen. Acosta Bonilla: The reason why the Salvadoran Armed Forces are – temporarily – committed to support public security is because crime has reached alarming levels, which have even overwhelmed police capacities. I think that the government wisely and successfully decided that the military, which enjoys high credibility and acts with professionalism, was the most adequate and prompt solution to the problem. And this has been proven. After three years of being dedicated to this mission that our president assigned us, we still have that level of trust from citizens.
The population expresses the need for the military to remain in that role on a daily basis, because that way we can perform our preventive tasks. Our 24/7 presence in different areas of the national territory inspires trust among the population. Our government has seen that, so there is still a need [for our presence]. Because when the situation returns to normal and there are better levels of stability set in the country, other decisions entailing the use of the military will be made. In general, because I don’t know the realities of the other countries, I believe that this is what is forcing the other countries, the different governments, to make these decisions. If crime has become a threat to the security of our countries, exceptional measures should be taken.
DIÁLOGO: We heard that, unlike the other two countries of the Northern Triangle (Guatemala and Honduras), the level of crime in El Salvador has gone down. The fight has given very good results. What are the important measures that you have taken to counter crime?
Lt. Gen. Acosta Bonilla: Regarding the military, we have revised and updated plans, and made them more efficient. Our organization has also been evaluated and has proven to work. Besides, all the experience we have gathered while working for the last three years has also served as a guide for plans to be more effective and efficient.
Furthermore, we have to recognize what is called “the truce”; an agreement that has been made between the two major rival gangs in order to avoid killing each other. I think this has also helped. With all these elements, it is worth it to continue evaluating to see what other projects, what other elements can be incorporated into this national project to reduce crime. So we return to the first question on our priorities. Neutralizing crime is one of our priorities, both the government’s and ours as the military. Therefore, we believe that with our presence, we will continue to evaluate what we are doing to extract good conclusions and perform positive actions in the future.
DIÁLOGO: Is it a crime to belong to a gang in El Salvador?
Lt. Gen. Acosta Bonilla: I passed the Gang Prohibition Act, in which the organization and the existence of these criminal groups is prohibited; therefore, there is a penalty under certain regulations; there is prosecution of those individuals who break the law. So, the Gang Prohibition Act is clear: the existence of this type of criminal structures is not allowed.
DIÁLOGO: How does El Salvador use technology to counter illicit trafficking and organized crime in general?
Lt. Gen. Acosta Bonilla: Technology is important to confront this plague because transnational organized crime has many economic resources; they have modern equipment, so we also have to use technology in a sound way, so that we can detect and intercept them, hence avoid their evolution into a regional threat, since they are, indeed, becoming a threat to the stability of the hemisphere.
DIÁLOGO: Would you like to add anything for our Diálogo readers?
Lt. Gen. Acosta Bonilla: In the context of the 8th Central American Security Conference, I would like to thank U.S. Southern Command for having the leadership and availability to integrate us as a region and help us to gather efforts so organized crime does not progress and become the tormentor of our people. I believe that the region has become conscious of the need to confront this menace; to make every effort necessary to achieve better living and development conditions for our people.