El Salvador and Guatemala Strengthen Common Border Surveillance

Shared intelligence increases surveillance effectiveness and reduces crime.
Lorena Baires/Diálogo | 11 February 2019

Transnational Threats

Guatemala and El Salvador share a 200-kilometer border of mountains and forests that facilitates the criminal activities of transnational threat networks. (Photo: Gloria Cañas, Diálogo)

Salvadoran and Honduran armed forces improved and strengthened their surveillance strategy in their 200-kilometer border to prevent trafficking networks that smuggle humans, weapons, drugs, and other illicit goods from taking advantage of unofficial border crossings. Both armies deployed more infantry battalions and increased binational operations since November 2018.

Police and military units conduct checks on vehicles in open areas to detect small loads of drugs and stolen goods. (Photo: Gloria Cañas, Diálogo)

“Every month, both countries deploy units that work along the border, particularly in areas where we know organized groups smuggle weapons or drugs,” Salvadoran Armed Force Brigadier General Juan Guzmán, commander of the Tomás Regalado 2nd Infantry Brigade, told Diálogo. “Our checks and patrols help disrupt these groups’ criminal activities.”

Presidents and border unit commanders of the Northern Triangle hold binational or trinational meetings to coordinate patrols. “We work in an operational environment that facilitates interagency operations, reducing situations that would affect our citizen’s everyday lives,” said Guatemalan Army Colonel Mario Hernández, commander of the Maximiliano Aguilar Santamaría 3rd Infantry Brigade.

The 12th Northern Triangle Border Military Units Trinational Meeting, held in El Salvador’s Santa Ana department in November 2018, helped evaluate results and exchange intelligence on the operations being conducted. “Thanks to that assessment, patrols allowed us to identify that local drug dealing not only supplies our countries locally, but also contributes to moving the drugs to Mexico,” Brig. Gen. Guzmán said. “A small amount remains in our country, while the rest moves toward the north.”

El Salvador and Guatemala implemented 23 patrols in 2018. For 2019, coordinated units from both countries will be responsible for more than 30 operations to protect citizens. 

Real-time information

Salvadoran and Guatemalan service members patrol the border, where smuggling networks try to move drugs, weapons, and other illegal goods with the help of locals. (Photo: Gloria Cañas, Diálogo)

Undocumented migrants traveling to the United States is a reality that Guatemalan and Salvadoran service members face on a daily basis; they stop human traffickers on routes that wind through both countries. Since the migrant caravans started in October 2018, military units have become a strategic support for public security and immigration authorities.

“We work in coordination with the Civil Police [PNC, in Spanish] and the Migration and Foreign Affairs General Directorate [DGME, in Spanish]. Our presence at unofficial border crossings enabled us to collect and exchange information about how human trafficking networks operate,” said Brig. Gen. Guzmán.

The common objective for PNC, DGME, and both countries’ armed forces is to exchange information in real time. That was arranged at the 3rd Northern Triangle Security Ministers Meeting, which gathered officials from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala in January 2018 in El Salvador.

“We suggested a defined stance and position toward our partner, the United States, in the sense that we need to recognize the correlation of responsibilities as a region,” Guatemalan Minister of Government Enrique Degenhart told Diálogo. “Regional security is an integrated responsibility, because what happens in a country also affects the security of others.”

Brig. Gen. Guzmán and Col. Hernández acknowledged the support of U.S. Southern Command with continuous training, equipment donations, and health programs. “We’ve been trained in urban combat and instructed in the use of special communications equipment, individual and group weapons maintenance, and armored vehicle maintenance. Also, Guatemalan and Salvadoran officers had the opportunity to train in specific fields in the United States,” they said.

“We are committed to countering criminal groups, no matter who they are, because it’s important for both countries to have the same strategic lines. Our interagency coordination helps us have a much quicker response,” Mauricio Ramírez Landaverde, Salvadoran minister of Justice and Public Security, told Diálogo. “The armed forces of El Salvador and Guatemala are committed to raising coordination levels and gradually increasing the number of binational patrols. We both consider it crucial to stop human, illegal goods, and drug trafficking,” he concluded.

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