The Honduran Armed Forces and the Nicaraguan Army have renewed their commitment to working together to protect the border that unites them. Meeting in Managua in late July, Major General Francisco Isaías Álvarez, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Honduran Armed Forces, and General Julio César Avilés, the commander-in-chief of the Nicaraguan Army, signed a Working Protocol to approve the rollout of a new phase of Coordinated Operation Morazán-Sandino, which both military organizations have been conducting for three years.
Operation Morazán-Sandino began in 2014 for the purpose of creating a secure environment in the border region between Honduras and Nicaragua. These Central American nations share a 966-kilometer border stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the end of the Coco or Segovia River in the Atlantic Ocean.
“Joint task forces are set up to conduct these operations but they are temporary in nature,” Infantry Colonel Jorge Cerrato, a spokesman for the Honduran Armed Forces, explained to Diálogo. “The operation is activated periodically, generally for no more than 15-day periods, when there is a desire to do something with a greater impact in the area.”
After conducting the first phase in 2014, two operations were conducted in 2015 and two more — phases four and five — in 2016. The sixth and most recent phase of the operation was completed in 2017, from the end of June to the beginning of July.
“There are fewer problems on our border with Nicaragua than on the other borders, but our obligation is to remain on alert in order to preserve the stability of the area,” Col. Cerrato said. As a result of the latest operation, the authorities captured a dozen people for various crimes and arrested a small number of unauthorized migrants. They seized cash, weapons, munitions, and marijuana plants, as well as processed marijuana. The authorities of both nations also reported the seizure of wood and more than 80 head of cattle. In addition, three illegal border crossings were disabled and a clandestine landing strip was destroyed.
A rugged border
The two nations have set a goal of conducting at least one operation of this kind per year, but it is expected that one more operation will be conducted before the end of 2017, which does not mean that the border will be unprotected until the next mission. “There are permanent patrols for fighting petty crime and organized crime in those sectors,” Honduran Military Justice Lieutenant Colonel Santos Nolasco, a spokesman for Honduras’s National Inter-Agency Security Force (FUSINA, per its Spanish acronym), told Diálogo. “FUSINA has security units all along the border. In recent years the country has taken measures to strengthen its land, air, and maritime shields, and the monitoring is constant.”
According to Lt. Col. Nolasco, the greatest threat on the border with Nicaragua is not drug trafficking, given how traffickers are looking to move most drugs by sea. “On our border with Nicaragua, what keeps us most busy is the contraband of natural resources and the movement of unauthorized migrants, which, it should be noted, has decreased by more than 50 percent relative to the previous year.”
The border shared by Honduras and Nicaragua is mostly rugged, rich in a diversity of flora and fauna, which explains why there is so much contraband in bird species that are at risk of extinction. “We frequently seize exotic birds, such as scarlet ibis and parrots,” Lt. Col. Nolasco said. “We hand the animals over to the Honduran Institute of Forestry Conservation, whose staff takes charge of caring for these specimens and providing them veterinary care before releasing them back into their natural habitat.”
According to the Honduran Armed Forces, there are long-term operations to fight petty crime and organized crime in those sectors, and they confirm that communication channels with Nicaraguan service members remain open. “There is always an exchange of information and experiences to be more effective,” Lt. Col. Nolasco indicated. “These renewed efforts have had good results for controlling criminal gangs that are looking to operate in that sector and for guarding against contraband and tax fraud. Success in that region is owed to the high degree of cooperation and coordination between our two nations.”
Honduras keeps joint task forces on its borders with El Salvador and Guatemala. Col. Cerrato did not rule out the possibility of one day establishing a task force with Nicaragua similar to the Lenca-Sumpul or Maya-Chortí task forces that already exist.
“It’s possible that we might consolidate. It all depends on the need,” Col. Cerrato said. “The activation of Operation Morazán-Sandino has served to bolster the trust-building measures between our two nations and the scenarios are always being evaluated.” In their respective press releases, the armed services of both countries were in agreement that, “coordinated operations will continue to be planned and conducted in order to increase the security levels in border sectors for the benefit of the people of both nations.”