In early 2016, Nicaraguan Army General Julio César Avilés, commander-in-chief of the Army, and Honduran Army Major General Francisco Isaías Álvarez Urbina, chief of the Joint Staff of the Honduran Armed Forces, signed a working protocol creating the Sandino-Morazán Joint Task Force. This represented one more step in the fight against transnational organized crime by Central American countries. To discuss this and other matters, Diálogo spoke with Maj. Gen. Álvarez during the 2017 Central American Security Conference (CENTSEC) in Cozumel, Mexico, last April.
Diálogo: What is your main challenge as chief of the Joint Staff of the Honduran Armed Forces?
Major General Francisco Isaías Álvarez Urbina: One of the main challenges faced by any chief of staff is having a force that is capable of confronting threats. It’s having a force that is capable of efficiently completing its missions. That’s what we’re working on – guiding our forces so that they can confront threats. Of course, you have to study and understand the threat in order to develop forces and capabilities to be able to operate.
Diálogo: Are you referring to transnational organized crime?
Maj. Gen. Álvarez: Yes, and I think it’s not just in Honduras. It’s a very big threat, especially drug trafficking. Looking at drug trafficking in and of itself, it’s the head of the beast, very powerful, with lots of financial resources. It transcends the territory of any single state; it has no borders. Its financial resources enable it to influence the authorities, to buy people’s wills… So I think we’re facing a very strong opponent. It’s a force that must be fought with resolve. Soldiers confronting the drug-trafficking threat have to know what they are facing. They must also reject any temptation that might come from this monstrosity.
Diálogo: And do you agree with Admiral Kurt Tidd, commander of U.S. Southern Command, and with other CENTSEC participants that this is a common challenge that all nations have and that they must work together to fight this scourge?
Maj. Gen. Álvarez: Yes. I believe that we all share the same view, and we are also glad that there are nations interested in this joint struggle. The Northern Triangle, comprising Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, presented an initiative at the highest level, with our shared responsibility to face any threats. It is our people who are suffering. So they have a responsibility. So a concern was aroused at the highest level. We assume that concern, which is then conveyed to our institutions. We train ourselves to confront it, and indeed we are confronting it. We have mounted a united front, not only in Central America but there are also other countries with shared responsibilities on this issue of drug trafficking that are working with us. Colombia is a great help to Central America. The United States is a great help to Central America. Canada is a great help. Brazil is a great help to us. That’s why I think that it is precisely these meetings that allow us to see how big the threat we are facing is. [We must] be aware of the global perspective. It’s larger than what we can perceive as a state or as a country. And we can draw lessons from that to confront it in the best way possible.
Diálogo: How is this struggle going in Honduras?
Maj. Gen. Álvarez: In Honduras, we are doing this as a joint operation. We created an interagency task force in which we in the Armed Forces are just cooperating with those forces, with our soldiers, and with our resources. That’s where we are. But in reality, it’s not exactly the Armed Forces running this in Honduras. The struggle is being fought by a national interagency security force in which all state institutions associated with our justice officials are involved. What’s happening, I think, is that people see a visible and highly credible face in the Armed Forces. But we cannot underestimate the hard work that is being done by our justice officials, such as public prosecutors at the Office of the Attorney General, judges, the investigative bodies of the state, and the National Police.
Diálogo: In 2016 you held bilateral meetings with Nicaraguan Army General Julio César Avilés Castillo, chief of the Army, in which you formalized compliance with the agreements for conducting coordinated operations in border zones. Can you talk a little about that?
Maj. Gen. Álvarez: We have agreements with all of the nations with which we share a border, in order to confront that threat in all spheres, from the political sphere to the economic sphere and the national security sphere. Military forces are operating at the border, on the international frontier, in order to keep not-so-nice people from crossing over from one country to another. So that is the agreement that we have with these countries. With Nicaragua, we have reached some similar agreements within the framework of the Central American Armed Forces Conference (CFAC, per its Spanish acronym), which Nicaragua is also a party to so that we can conduct certain operations. We carried out Operation Sandino-Morazán in the first, second, third, and fourth phases. As needed, we exchange information. That’s something that we do within the framework of CFAC, not only with Nicaragua. We do it with Guatemala and El Salvador as well. I mean, that’s part of the trust-building effort –patrolling and conducting operations in border zones. Each on their own side, so that the people in the area can also feel that they are being supported by the security and defense agencies.
Diálogo: What is the importance of Mexico co-hosting this security conference for the first time?
Maj. Gen. Álvarez: Look, we see it as a very good thing. Just today Minister Díaz Celaya, the Honduran minister of defense, was saying that “we hope that Mexico will be an integral part of CFAC.” It’s extremely important when the government and the armed forces can join these regional bodies to fight these threats. So Mexico is always welcomed. We have always looked at Mexico, and also Brazil, as having tremendous potential for cooperation. We already have that in the area of education. Here, as I was saying, we must join forces to confront this common threat.