International criminal networks are one of the biggest challenges to Latin American and Caribbean security. Their crimes cross over borders, impacting the stability of the region. Time is of essence for these countries to unite and coordinate joint measures to fight against drug and weapons trafficking, illegal mining, terrorism, and cybercrime.
The sentiment was unanimous for the more than 60 participants—military, police, and defense and security experts from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and the United States—who took part in the “South American Regional Seminar on Countering Transnational-Transregional Threat Networks (T3N).”
The William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies organized the event in Lima, Peru, September 26th–28th. Participants discussed regional strategies for countering security problems and the role of military forces in that struggle.
“The illicit networks have too much money, they are very sophisticated,” said U.S. Army Lieutenant General Joseph P. DiSalvo, the military deputy commander of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM). In order to eliminate T3N, he said, “We have to be able to share information quickly, share intelligence and process it quickly, make sure we are linked locally—to the specific country where the criminals are—and regionally in order to effectively disintegrate the network.”
Lt. Gen. DiSalvo shared with participants his concerns about corruption, one of illegal tactics most used by T3N to commit crimes. He called on the participants to take urgent steps to wipe out corruption in their countries. “The hardest thing is how to reduce the levels of corruption.”
“Corruption is corrosive,” said Navy Captain Víctor Gonzáles Jáuregui, a legal advisor to the Secretariat of the Peruvian Navy General Command. “Unless we establish policies to heavily fight corruption, it’s going to be hard to eradicate organized crime.”
Threats to regional security
During the three-day conference, representatives of South American nations shared lessons learned and reviewed their national and regional strategies to keep criminal activities from expanding. “The crimes that Peru experiences—and Ecuador, Colombia, and Chile too—are the same that Panama is going through. We need to work together and remain united to confront these threats,” said Colombian National Police Major General William René Salamanca Ramírez, commander of the southwestern region. In his opinion, the seminar is an excellent opportunity to share knowledge with other countries that are in the fight against criminal organizations, and to come up with government strategies to combat it.
According to Maj. Gen. Salamanca, one of the most effective strategies in Colombia is interagency cooperation. For instance, military and police forces work together to combat this scourge. “The crime map in Colombia has made us work much more closely to deal with crime,” he said.
“The problems of organized crime and drug trafficking are problems common throughout Latin America,” said Brazilian Military Police Lieutenant Colonel Alexandre de Vasconcelos, undersecretary of the Department of Public Order for the state of Ceará. “In Brazil, the criminal organizations that run drug trafficking have been growing strong,” he said. For instance, the First Capital Command and the Red Command—two of Brazil’s strongest criminal organizations—are nurturing the creation of new crime groups in the country, he said. “In all, we have about 93 crime groups operating in Brazil devoted to drug trafficking, human trafficking, and financial crime operations against people of the countryside and other nations, such as Bolivia, Paraguay, and Colombia.”
A shared strategy
“We all experience the scourges of crime. For example, in witnessing Brazil’s problem with its jails [where internal conflict among crime groups exists], we feel that we’re on a similar path,” said Buenos Aires Provincial Police Captain Jorge Rodríguez, head of the Special Operations Unit for the Criminal Intelligence Superintendency. “That problem is an early warning, and their experience helps us prevent it,” he added. Capt. Rodríguez stressed that international networks to fight international organized crime are the only way of combating T3N 100 percent. “The only way to win is to fight them together; to have a shared strategy.”
“What does it take to have a regional strategy?” participants asked themselves. “It’s a matter of coordination, and systems that require better coordination,” Capt. Rodríguez answered. “We need better systems in which we can coordinate not only the operational aspect but also the intelligence. I think we’re very close to achieving that.”
Uruguayan Army Colonel Heber Cappi Menchaca, a researcher in the strategic area of national defense, indicated that in addition to adopting procedures, one of the strategies is to follow a set of international norms that must be developed simultaneously and applied uniformly throughout the region. In his opinion, transactional organized crime “is a multifaceted problem” that can be stopped through regionally coordinated efforts.
“These networks are very good tools, but we need to boost them,” said Chilean Navy Rear Admiral Arturo Fuenzalida, head of academics at the Navy’s Center for Strategic Studies. He also said that Chile wants to share its experience in order to improve lawful networks, enabling them to counter illicit networks.
During the seminar, participants delved into inclusive security promotion in the Americas and cybersecurity. “Women can offer another kind of leadership, empathy, and a different form of reasoning for international peace and security,” Tamara Lasic Valiñas, a strategic issues researcher in Argentina, said. “Women today are entering into new positions in various fields, and the military is not immune from that,” she added. The institutional change in the Argentine Armed Forces is evident, she said, because 17.7 percent of military personnel are female.
Armed forces officials and security specialists reaffirmed their commitment to working together to win the battle against T3N. “Colombia, Paraguay, Argentina, and Chile, in general, are all worried about these transnational threats and their growing incursion into our territories, because these threats have no capitals, respect no borders, and have no nationality,” said Capt. González. “What interests them is being able to obtain the greatest illicit profits.”
Participants came away with the proposals they analyzed and the words of Gen. DiSalvo, “The approach we are taking right now is a regional approach; it’s the only way we are going to be able to take them down.”