Guatemalan and Honduran armed forces bolstered security operations to attack narcotrafficking head-on and fight gang-based crime on their shared border. This strategy is part of the 2018 bilateral agenda agreed upon on January 18th in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Guatemalan Army Colonel Juan Antonio Montoya Flores, the Guatemalan military attaché for Military, Naval, and Air Defense; and retired General Fredy Santiago Díaz Zelaya, Honduran minister of Defense, led the presentation.
“During the meeting, military leaders agreed to increase border security, information exchanges, and protocol development,” Guatemalan Army Brigadier General Alan Castro, commander of the 2nd Infantry Brigade, told Diálogo. “[The intention is to] generate interagency communications to obtain timely information to fight transnational crime and gangs jointly and head-on.”
Service members strengthened cooperation in main coordinated operations both armed forces conduct against crime to ensure peace and security for the population, such as contact, roving, and ambush patrols. Other military commitments agreed upon included educational training exchanges.
High strategic value
“The Central American region is going through complex times in the area of crime. Honduras [and Guatemala] are no exception, and it is therefore necessary to conduct joint crime-fighting operations,” Gen. Díaz told Diálogo. “These kinds of meetings allow us to design and implement cooperation strategies to conduct operations aimed at improving our security levels.”
“The [approximately 256-kilometer] border between Honduras and Guatemala is among the five most dangerous border regions in Latin America, where organized crime does high-profit illegal business,” Brig. Gen. Castro said. For criminal organizations, borders are highly strategic for their business. In turn, military operations seek to reduce the field of operations of these criminal structures from one country to the next in areas that are not controlled by civil authorities.
“Thanks to actions taken by troops from the various interagency teams involved in security, there are now acceptable levels of border security in those regions,” Gen. Díaz said. “People have a high degree of trust in the security units deployed, which is important because by filing complaints they get directly involved in crime-fighting.”
Great results and challenges
The joint efforts and information exchanges between Honduran and Guatemalan military units through the Maya-Chortí Joint Task Force yielded great results, according to the Honduran Secretariat of National Defense (SEDENA, in Spanish). The elite force, established in 2015, belongs to the High Level Group on Security and Justice comprising El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The group’s objective is to prevent organized crime, international terrorism, and the illegal trafficking of persons and firearms in the region.
According to SEDENA, military troops conducted 885 patrols and set up 253 mobile checkpoints in 2017, arresting 50 people connected to drug trafficking. They also seized 10 tons of chemical precursors. “The main result is that organized crime [already] lacks the freedom of action needed to carry out its illegal activities,” Brig. Gen. Castro said.
Gen. Díaz and Brig. Gen. Castro agreed that the increase of confidence-building measures, the timely exchange of information, and the acquisition of technological equipment are essential to minimize criminal activities. Likewise, they stressed the importance of strengthening relations among the three nations that make up the Northern Triangle (Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador) to consolidate security on their borders.
Since November 2017, the nations of the Northern Triangle have been pooling their resources through the Tri-national Task Force to fight organized crime and gangs jointly and head-on. The task force also carries out intelligence and counterintelligence activities while maintaining respect for each state’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Honduras and Guatemala have held to a long-standing security agenda. “The actions a single state takes against organized crime are limited and do not constitute a definitive solution to these problems, which is why they can be dealt with only through a shared agenda at the regional level,” Brig. Gen. Castro said.
“Currently, the bilateral crime-fighting cooperation between Honduras and Guatemala is comprehensive. Thus, it meets our needs to counter these present and future threats,” Gen. Díaz added. “Historically, our bonds of cooperation have been ongoing, and our expectation is to improve them even more.”
Similarly, tactical exercises conducted by their troops, “are becoming acts that transcend the international level,” Brig. Gen. Castro concluded. “They alter the fate of citizens [in other countries] who will never know that a private who is on patrol along the international political border saved their life or their health by restricting the freedom of criminal structures whose operational networks span from North to South America.”