Guatemala and Mexico Update Border Security Strategy

The armed forces of both nations planned land, sea, and air patrols on their common border.
Julieta Pelcastre/Diálogo | 12 January 2018

International Relations

Members of the Guatemalan Armed Forces conduct reconnaissance, security, and interdiction operations against illicit shipments passing through the country’s border with Mexico. (Photo: Guatemalan Army)

In the fourth quarter of 2017, representatives of the Guatemalan and Mexican Armed Forces held the fourth Local Meeting of Border Commanders at the headquarters of the Mexican Army’s 36th Military Zone in Tapachula, Chiapas. Commanders planned the joint mission to reinforce security operations against transnational organized crime along the two nations’ border.

“We seek to receive ongoing feedback through the review, coordination, planning, and joint efforts between both militaries,” said to Diálogo Guatemalan Army Colonel Carlos Arnoldo Álvarez Valdez, commander of the Mountain Operations Brigade. “[We want] to minimize the impact of these common threats on people in both countries through periodic meetings in which the successes of our joint operations can also be made public.”

Through prior coordination with the appropriate authorities in their respective countries, military leaders manage operations for Guatemalan and Mexican personnel to cross the sea border, when pursuing a suspicious target or one close to the neighboring country’s border. Attendees pledged to improve existing security protocols and increase military units’ capacities to deal with border issues.

“Border commanders from the Guatemalan and Mexican armies, navies, and air forces planned a strategy for land, air, and sea patrols that both countries will roll out in the coming months,” Guatemalan Army Brigadier General Walter Orlando Sánchez López, commander of the 5th Infantry Brigade, told Diálogo. “We updated our communications procedures to coordinate more quickly and effectively.”

According to Brig. Gen. Sánchez and Col. Álvarez, Mexico’s border is vulnerable, given its highly porous nature. Such porosity enables a continuous flow of criminal activities, like narcotrafficking, arms trafficking, human trafficking, and contraband. “It’s a factor that limits the ability of our armed forces and law enforcement to operate,” Col. Álvarez said.

“These kinds of face-to-face meetings give us the opportunity to go further as a nation and region. The agreements reached concern the efforts the Guatemalan government makes in the Northern Triangle, along with El Salvador and Honduras,” Brig. Gen. Sánchez explained. “These threats affect us all. Our work needs to be combined to have strategic coverage.”

According to the U.S. Department of State’s 2017 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, Guatemala is a transit route for South American cocaine and heroin headed for the United States. The report indicates that Mexico is the main transit country and distribution source for illegal narcotics bound for the United States.

“It’s worth noting Mexican cartels move into our territory to control logistics routes to smuggle drugs northward,” Col. Álvarez said. “They also exert pressure to maintain control over society and encourage acts that limit the state’s presence and make the area ungovernable.”

Guatemalan and Mexican service members exchanged information and planned operations during the fourth Local Meeting of Border Commanders in Tapachula, Mexico, to minimize criminal activities on their shared border area. (Photo: Guatemalan Army)

Substantial advances

Within the framework of the agreements reached, Guatemalan service members highlighted the advances made in the area of security in their shared border zone. “The relationship with the Mexican Armed Forces’ high command is a resounding success. It [the high command] makes decisions to coordinate operations, intelligence information or our counterintelligence relationships, and our own needs,” Brig. Gen. Sánchez said.

Each of the Guatemalan and Mexican military forces has 18 contact patrols that meet at designated points along the border and walk together through a predetermined sector to conduct surveillance and law enforcement operations. In 2017, the patrols paved the way for approximately 1,500 support operations by the Guatemalan Army in the border area.

“Among the most substantial advances, the presence of soldiers in areas on the Guatemalan side of the border where there was no government services since the country’s internal armed conflict, stands out,” Col. Álvarez said. “Coming back to reincorporate into the community and support our people—with all the affection, appreciation, and compliments of the population for our troops—is an invaluable achievement,” Brig. Gen. Sánchez added.

Strict surveillance

In these strategic operations against criminal organizations, Guatemala brought in additional personnel from the Tecún Umán Interagency Task Force, established in mid-2013 to bolster surveillance and security operations and step up the interdiction of shipments passing through the border region. Guatemala’s Special Naval Force also conducted operations in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in support of these security operations.

“Our oceans, rivers, and roads are key to shipping narcotics northward across the continent. That’s why it’s necessary to maintain a strict coordinated surveillance,” Brig. Gen. Sánchez said. “Transnational organized crime has its own resources and manages its own information. They know we’re after them, that we’re denying them freedom of action, and that we have coordinated border security operations at the national, bi-national, and regional levels.”

For the Guatemalan Armed Forces, it’s important to operate in accordance with established protocols and procedures. “Always based on our laws and regulations and respect for human rights. We feel proud of our work and our contribution to peace not only in the region but also for the security of all Latin Americans,” Brig. Gen. Sánchez concluded. The border commanders’ next meeting will be held in the first quarter of 2018, in Guatemala.

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