The William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies turns 25 this year, and there’s nothing better to celebrate its silver anniversary than to bring back something cherished by all: in-person graduation ceremonies.
Following two years of virtual programming due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Perry Center conducted the first 2022 in-person course and graduation ceremony on May 13, for students of the Strategic Implications of Human Rights and Rule of Law course. On May 27, the second in-person graduation ceremony celebrated the achievements of students of the 2022 Combating Transnational Threat Networks (CTTN) course at the Abraham Lincoln Hall Auditorium, the Perry Center’s headquarters within the National Defense University (NDU), with whom it maintains an academic relationship, at Fort Lesley J. McNair, in Washington, D.C.
“I know the in-person graduating ceremonies are very important for the students, especially coming from abroad,” said Jeffrey J. Murphy, acting director of the William J. Perry Center. “With this ceremony, they transform from being students to alumni. And it’s that network of support from here on out that will be so important going forward. I look forward to all the help they will bring in the future and that they reach back to the Perry Center as a trusted partner to help them as they return to their jobs.”
Forty-four students from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay, and Peru started the 2022 CTTN online phase, on April 25. “This is my second course on combating transnational threats. For me, the Perry Center is a place of much knowledge and much interaction, especially with colleagues from countries in the hemisphere, where we can have the direct views of those who are interacting with the problems in these places,” Luiz Guzmán, of the Jalisco state Prosecutor’s Office in Mexico, told Diálogo.
The resident phase kicked off May 16, and the timing could not have been more appropriate. According to new research by British risk analysis firm Verisk Maplecroft, the region’s role in transnational narcotics trafficking, and the continued strength of sophisticated drug trafficking organizations and gangs, are the key factors underpinning Latin America’s risk profile, British daily The Guardian reported. As such, the Perry Center’s CTTN course focused on analyzing the transnational organized crime phenomenon and the illicit activities transnational criminal organizations engage in. The course also assessed defense and security threats posed by these and other illicit networks, evaluated current national, regional, and international strategies and policies to combat them, as well as ways to improve effective governance, conceptualizing new approaches to combating international organized crime in Latin America.
“We really need to team together because not one nation can do this alone. It’s critical that we, through allies and partners, counter these threats — which are insidious and so pervasive — together. This requires a multinational approach. Gathering peers from different countries so that they can work together to build solutions for the future. That’s the benefit of this and other courses here at the William J. Perry Center,” said U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General Michael T. Plehn, NDU president, during his speech at the May 27 graduating ceremony.
CTTN Course director, Professor Celina Realuyo, explained that the course had to be revamped this year because of all that has happened during the pandemic. “Unfortunately, transnational threat networks such as transnational organized crime, human trafficking, drug trafficking, and cyber have actually increased during COVID. While governments have been so focused on trying to respond to the humanitarian, health, and economic crisis; we’ve actually left a huge vacuum for transnational criminals to operate. So, it’s important to gather the experts from the region together to create their own network of good against the network of the bad.”
Speaking of the importance of the course, Brazilian student Augusto Carlos Rocha de Lima, who is a prosecutor for the Organized Crime Unit and coordinates the Anti-Money Laundering Lab in Rio Grande do Norte state, said: “We deal with fighting the First Capital Command, the Red Command and other local criminal factions on a daily basis. These topics are very present in the CTTN course. This is actually what led me to come here.”
According to U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General Andrew A. Croft, U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) Military deputy commander, a key speaker at the May 27 graduation ceremony, countering transnational threats is one of the SOUTHCOM’s lines of efforts the Perry Center supports — the other being building partnerships. “Our professional military education, whether it’s done here at the Perry Center or in some other school, is one of our most important methods of building relationships with our partner nations over time, because they learn our culture and our values, which are very similar, but they understand what the United States is about, and they learn about the country as well. And that ties us together through generations and through the different changes in politics. It transcends all of that, which is really wonderful,” Lt. Gen. Croft said.