Honduran Navy Tackles Organized Crime

Intense confrontations turn service members into experts on weapons, boarding, river boating, and urban operations.
Kay Valle/Diálogo | 26 July 2017

Capacity Building

The Honduran Special Naval Force will comprise combat divers, with expertise in missions to board and capture suspect vessels, to fight drug trafficking and organized crime. (Photo: Honduran Navy).

The Honduran Navy (FNH, per its Spanish acronym) wants to become a model for the region in the fight against organized crime. According to Navy Captain Héctor Manuel Tercero López, the chief of staff of Naval Operations in Honduras, the goal will be achieved through ongoing training. To this end, a group of 255 FNH officers and warrant officers has finished an elite series of courses at the Naval Training Center located at Trujillo Bay, Honduras. The service members were trained by specialized instructors from the U.S. Navy, Colombia, and Chile.

A group of officers and warrant officers take a break during a course at the Naval Training Center. The specialized course instructors are from the U.S. Navy, Colombia, and Chile. (Photo: Honduran Navy).

“The purpose of the training was to raise the level of operational readiness and personnel training. These missions are high-risk in combating drug activity and other crimes,” Capt. Tercero confirmed for Diálogo. “That’s why, through these courses, the outcome will be more efficient and effective missions as we confront contingencies.”

“One of the most serious threats to the integrity of the state, national security, and especially citizen safety, is that posed by drug trafficking in particular, and organized crime in general,” stated Allan Fajardo, a security analyst and sociology professor at National Autonomous University of Honduras. “The threat is such that it must be dealt with comprehensively, that is, not only by the police and the justice system in general but by all of the state’s institutions and citizens.”

Fajardo believes that law enforcement’s fight against criminal acts involves extraordinary circumstances that require extraordinary responses. This implies the involvement of the military, and it is why FNH must become a truly impenetrable shield.

According to the 2017 U.S. Department of Defense report, International Narcotics Control Strategy, the great majority of cocaine transported through Honduras is done by sea. “The Caribbean Sea is the place where most drugs enter. However, organized crime activity has also been identified in the Pacific Ocean. In its maritime patrol and enforcement activities [in the Pacific], FNH has seized 24,000 kilos of cocaine from 2010 to June 2017,” Capt. Tercero added.

Courses for strengthening the fight

Officers and warrant officers are selected for training based on a selection process that includes trustworthiness and the periodic purging of Navy staff to prevent corruption. Some of the courses taught to the elite corps include Specialized Basic Marine Training, River Operations, Military Diving, Urban Operations, Maritime Law, Amphibious Attack Boat Operations, Boat Seizure Resolution, and Identification of Suspect Vessels.

“The most important thing is that these officers will have a multiplying effect. From what they have learned, they will train other service members in their home units in order to strengthen the maritime shield implemented along the coasts,” Capt. Tercero assured.

“The advantage of reinforcing the Navy is that it will allow the state to exercise real control over the maritime borders,” Fajardo said. “The United States, Colombia, Chile, and Mexico have demonstrated that the navy can be a very effective tool for controlling assigned territorial spaces,” he added.

A Honduran Navy unit patrols the Pacific coast of Honduras. (Photo: Honduran Navy).

Elite units

The intense training has one purpose - to equip both Marine Corps battalions with new elements. Capt. Tercero said that in the near future, it will be expanded to three squadrons. “A third Marine Corps battalion will be created but it will be located on the Pacific coast.”

“The possibility of creating and reinforcing a third battalion will allow us to exercise control over both of our southern sea borders; they can’t focus all of their efforts on the Caribbean,” Fajardo said, regarding the change. “Organized crime operating in the Pacific acts without leaving a trace and that must be combated,” he added.

“From within the Marine Corps, a new force will emerge. The Special Naval Force (FEN, per its Spanish acronym) will begin stepping up our fight against organized crime and drug trafficking, and it will be created at the end of 2017. As in other countries, it will function as a certified professional force,” Capt. Tercero said. “It will start out with 100 personnel, and will have a maximum of 200.”

FEN’s mission

FEN will be headquartered at the Puerto Castilla Naval Complex, located 415 kilometers from Tegucigalpa. Tantamount to the Army Special Forces, this force will serve as support for the Office of the Attorney General and the Technical Criminal Investigation Agency, institutions focused on the fight against organized crime and drug trafficking.

FEN’s mission will be to capture and board vessels suspected of drug trafficking, or of being used for organized crime. “Given their role, this elite corps must have a different, unique status, even in their personal lives,” Fajardo indicated. “There has to be technologically advanced equipment, cooperation and a tight bond with elite law enforcement units in order to face down a well-equipped enemy that is not about to give up.”

Capt. Tercero explained that these joint task forces are operating at a regional level. Honduras, as a member of the Executive Committee of the Central American Armed Forces Conference, is conducting operations with other nations in the region. The nations of the Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) have three joint task forces that operate on a permanent basis: Morazán-Sandino (Honduras and Nicaragua), Maya-Chortí (Honduras and Guatemala), and Lenca-Sumpul (Honduras and El Salvador).

“We feel a great sense of gratitude towards our partner nations, especially the United States, for supporting us with specialized training so that we can accomplish our mission of achieving peace and safety,” Capt. Tercero stated. “FNH is conscious of the great responsibility that reinforcing the maritime shield represents, and above all, supporting the citizens through the ongoing fight that has continued against these drug trafficking and organized crime threats,” he concluded.

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