Admiral Luis Gerardo Alcalá Ferráez, chief of the Mexican Navy General Staff, believes that experience gained in recent years demonstrates the importance of international cooperation and coordinated work, in addition to the trust among partner nations to counter transnational criminal organizations.
Adm. Alcalá participated in the XVIII Inter-American Naval Conference (IANC) in Cartagena, Colombia, July 23-26, 2018. Adm. Alcalá spoke with Diálogo about his participation at IANC, international cooperation, and the Mexican Navy’s most notable technological projects, among other topics.
Diálogo: How important is Mexico’s participation at IANC?
Admiral Luis Gerardo Alcalá Ferráez, chief of the Mexican Navy General Staff: IANC is one of the most important forums to exchange opinions and experiences in the maritime field with the commanders of all the navies of the Americas. To be part of this forum matters to Mexico, mainly because maritime hemispheric interests are common, but also to take part in the important decisions made at this event. As part of the North American bloc with diverse cooperation mechanisms for security and as a Latin American nation, Mexico becomes an important north-south bridge to facilitate agreements between IANC participants.
Diálogo: The conference’s main topic was the responsibility of the region’s navies to counter narcotrafficking and related crimes. Why is it important for naval forces to get together to counter these challenges?
Adm. Alcalá: The main role of the armed forces is to defend sovereignty and the national territory. When it comes to narcotrafficking, which transports great amounts of drugs and carries out illegal activities at sea, experience shows that we can only reduce and interdict maritime areas to prevent narcotraffickers from viewing the sea as an attractive option to smuggle their cargo through international cooperation. A common understanding of issues helps identify opportunities to improve future coordination.
Diálogo: How does the Navy operate jointly with other national forces to counter these challenges?
Adm. Alcalá: Mexico is privileged to coordinate with authorities of the three government branches to guarantee the rule of law at sea and national coastal areas. We have many cooperation agreements, but information exchange is the area where we advanced the most. We created networks and built trust among countries to exchange operable information that allows the navies to, for example, follow and capture a suspicious vessel navigating anywhere in the hemisphere by making that information operational. We also conduct training exchanges and personnel instruction to obtain and provide other nations and partner nation forces with the best practices we earned through experience.
Diálogo: What’s the Mexican Navy’s contribution to naval forces of the region in the fight against narcotrafficking?
Adm. Alcalá: A strong willingness to work and cooperate. We provide information and training, but what’s really worth mentioning is the strong willingness and conviction that coordinated action is our only means to find a more effective and efficient response to disrupt or minimize illicit activities of any kind at sea. Narcotrafficking is rampant, and only a naval presence can prevent it it, as well as piracy and excessive pollution, among other issues. A coordinated navy presence with information exchanges and interoperability will make it possible to dissuade people who want to use the sea for illegal purposes.
Diálogo: In the last six years, the Mexican Navy developed more than 50 technological projects. What are your institution’s most relevant advances?
Adm. Alcalá: The command and control system and the system of technical data linkage are important to me. We have some other specific projects, such as a fire control system to reduce our dependency on other countries, and an air-surveillance radar.
Diálogo: What projects enable the Mexican Navy to contribute to the fight against narcotrafficking cartels?
Adm. Alcalá: The command and control and air surveillance systems integrated to the monitoring system allow us to not only operate but also create an operational panorama, so all the units in the area of operations also have access to information. For example, generating a common image from knowing the targets other units detect allows units to have situational awareness, while decision makers on the ground receive the information to conduct operations with more precision, because it’s perfectly clear to us what unit should be sent, where, and when.
Diálogo: Cooperation between the naval forces of Mexico and Guatemala is carried out through the Border Area Board of Military Commanders of both countries. How does it work?
Adm. Alcalá: Surveillance is a shared responsibility, and we want to ensure that those who cross the border do so for legal purposes. That’s how the idea of the board of commanders came out. There is a high-level annual meeting to evaluate the border situation and consolidate operational strategies at the conceptual level. The border commanders meeting is held at least three times a year in one of the two countries, and military commanders of the region with some observers from general staffs take part in planning the time and place for parallel operations, which are carried out in a coordinated way.
Diálogo: What kind of joint and combined operations does the Mexican Navy carry out with the United States to counter the activities of transnational criminal organizations?
Adm. Alcalá: U.S. cooperation is very important. The United States helps with resources and equipment to increase capabilities, and with deep respect for our sovereignty and laws. With the Mérida Initiative, a plan was set out for both nations to share responsibility. The list of particular aspects is long; there are operations of maritime interdiction, information exchange, technological support, training, and a deep respect for sovereignty—U.S. personnel does not participate in our operations; they do it outside the jurisdiction area with their units beyond 200 nautical miles, which enables us to expand the coverage area.
Diálogo: What kind of initiatives does the Mexican Navy promote to strengthen the inclusion of women and equality?
Adm. Alcalá: At the Navy, we are convinced that women should participate under equal conditions. It’s not a slogan. Some time ago, it was said but not done; women participated in parades with weapons they could not use. Today, policies are established and enforced, by which women are recognized as equal. We have policies to avoid sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Our only demand is that they demonstrate their abilities. Our training schools are open to women; we have the first crews in our line and patrol ships, all graduates of the Military Naval School. There are women pilots, women in the marines, in operations against narcotrafficking, and in traditional corps such as medics and nurses, where they’ve been for a long time and excelled.