In Central America, a caiman is much more than a dangerous reptile—it’s also the name of an anti-narcotics course of the Honduran Navy (FNH, per its Spanish acronym). The Trained Commando in Maritime Interdiction and Counter Trafficking course (CAIMAN, per its Spanish acronym) prepares the best marines in special operations.
The objective: train elite military service members to combat international organized crime and illicit drug trafficking by land or sea. The training takes place in the Naval Training Center (CAN, per its Spanish acronym) of the Puerto Castilla Naval Base in the bay of Trujillo, Honduras.
The 2017 edition of the CAIMAN course, offered by a team of 23 members of the U.S. Navy Special Forces and CAN, included international students for the first time—four service members of neighboring countries participated in the exercise. In September 2017, 35 marines, including two from the Salvadoran Navy and two from the Navy of the Army of Nicaragua, completed the CAIMAN course.
The introduction of [marines] from the region to the course falls under the agreements of the Central American Armed Forces Conference (CFAC, per its Spanish acronym), since we share the same threats,” FNH Lieutenant Milton Roldán Meza Sanchez, commandant of CAN, told Diálogo. “This training will be a united front to face them.”
Threats to the nation
Organized crime, specifically drug trafficking networks, threatens Honduras’s maritime borders. With 700 kilometers of shoreline along the Caribbean and almost 150 kilometers along the Pacific Ocean, Honduras is an important transit country for cocaine shipment.
According to the U.S. Department of State 2017 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, the vast majority of cocaine transported through Honduras is done by sea. In 2016, approximately three or four metric tons of cocaine passed through the country monthly.
Operations against drug trafficking are high risk and require marines with special skills who have passed a selective and rigorous training. In Honduras, that meant creating a consolidated, high-level training course. Military members who complete the CAIMAN course acquire technical and tactical knowledge that allows them to effectively face illegal operations and drug trafficking.
The CAIMAN course creates experts in land and sea operations. Before they can take the course, marines are subject to a rigorous selection process that consists of medical, psychological, and polygraph examinations, among others.
“To train elite [service members] who will fight and complete high-risk missions against organized crime and drug trafficking, they have to be trustworthy,” said Lt. Meza. “Not everyone passes this process, and at the end, only those who qualify go through the course.” Another prerequisite for the CAIMAN course is prior training in the Basic Marine Skills Course (CABIM, per its Spanish acronym), in which participants are certified in skills such as weapons mastery and swimming.
To graduate from the course, marines go through a rigorous training divided into three phases: physical strength, tolerance and resistance, and operations. “The student increases physical resistance through an intense four-week physical program, and that [is] the first phase. Later, for 86 hours, they are exposed to hostile environments and extreme weather conditions to develop their survival skills, which is the second phase,” explained Lt. Meza. “The third phase centers on preparing missions, and the instructors focus the training on assigning a mission, either in urban or fluvial operations.”
Through navigation, naval traditions, martial arts, shooting techniques, mechanized weapons operations, maneuverability of motorboats or rapid response units, as well as beach reconnaissance, students demonstrate their high level of training. They are then put to the test to solve problems as if on a real mission.
The eight-week training is demanding. It was created under the same training model used by U.S. Navy Sea, Air, and Land Teams (SEAL).
At the end of 2012, a SEAL team mobilized in Honduras for six months to work with Honduran troops to create a special anti-narcotics operations course. The CAIMAN course grew out of this collaboration between the two countries' naval forces, which SEAL continue to support.
“The support of the United States is permanent. That’s why the Navy Special Forces worked on strengthening and training the Honduran Navy troops,” Lt. Meza said. “The professionalism that has always characterized U.S. soldiers motivated us to improve.”
For Edgardo Mejía, security analyst and professor at the National Police University of Honduras, the CAIMAN course reinforces FNH's position at the forefront of personnel training. The participation of SEAL, concluded Mejía, “reflects confidence in the country and in the fact that our troops are able to reach the level they have.”