In the words U.S. Navy Admiral Kurt Tidd, commander of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), a historic event took place from April 23rd-25th, on the island of Cozumel, in Mexico’s Mayan Riviera. The country works directly with U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM), and has sent observers to SOUTHCOM’s Central American Security Conference (CENTSEC), for years. In 2017, however, they offered to co-host the event.
The problems with drugs, violence, and human trafficking in Mexico are no different than those in other countries in Central and South America, and the Caribbean. Therefore it is not surprising that Mexico took on a principal role during 2017’s CENTSEC, as per the sentiments of the representatives who spoke to Diálogo at the conference.
Mexican Army General Salvador Cienfuegos, secretary of National Defense; Mexican Navy Admiral Vidal Francisco Soberón Sanz, secretary of the Navy; and U.S. Air Force General Lori Robinson, commander of NORTHCOM, co-hosted the event. The purpose of CENTSEC is to provide an executive level forum for SOUTHCOM’s commander and the Central American defense and security chiefs to discuss the way ahead for regional security efforts and strategies. This year’s theme was Cooperation Initiatives to Strengthen Regional Security.
“The evolving security challenges in Central America are threatening the security beyond the region and demand a unified approach. We have so much in common. We share a similar heritage. We cherish and uphold the same principals, and we are united by a vision of a better future for all our nations. A future where our citizens are safe, where our institutions are strong and impervious to corruption, where our nations are free from the insidious threat of criminal networks and extremism,” said Adm. Tidd during his opening remarks.
“We are certain that the results we achieve in this conference will be seen in the short term in the specific actions that will strengthen the security and development that Central American society needs,” said Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos, adding that Mexico and its Armed Forces will join efforts to develop initiatives to confront the various threats that have an impact on the Americas. “We are convinced that through joint efforts, and working as a team toward the same objective, we’ll be able to contribute directly to the well-being and progress of our nations.”
Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama participated in the event, while Canada, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, the United Kingdom as well as the Central American Armed Forces Conference, the Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas, and the Inter American Defense Board attended as observers.
After each participating country briefed on the security of their respective nation, there were three round tables spread across two days. Round Table 1, “Regional Cooperation to Combat Transnational Threats in Central America,” was moderated by Dr. Richard Downie, former director of the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies (WHINSEC). Round Table 2, “Military Support to Civil Authority and Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief,” was moderated by Dr. Javier Ulises Oliva Posada, coordinator for the National Defense and Security graduate course at the National Autonomous University of Mexico; and Round Table 3, “Cooperative Initiatives to Strengthen Regional Security,” was moderated by Dr. Leonardo Curzio, a Mexican political analyst.
All three round tables highlighted that it is imperative to set action protocols between all participant countries and create strategic alliances to better combat transnational and transregional crime networks. “All countries stated that our common enemy is transnational organized crime, which respects no borders, and it is towards this objective that all of our efforts must be focused with an absolute respect for human rights,” said Dr. Curzio after the third panel of experts.
“The U.S. military is looking for ways to enhance cooperation with its Mexican and Central American partners to address the security challenges that threaten the stability in the region,” said Gen. Robinson during her closing remarks. “At U.S. Northern Command, we recognize that transnational organized crime does pose a challenge to stability of all the countries in the region,” she added. For that purpose, Gen. Robinson said NORTHCOM is working closely with Mexico and SOUTHCOM to counter the challenges.
“The threats facing Central America require close cooperation for joint solutions. Challenges in the region include drug trafficking, organized crime, border security, gangs, and migration. CENTSEC 2017 allowed interaction between countries that share common problems but have different realities, reaching agreements that will allow them to inhibit threats through security institutions,” said Adm. Soberón. “With these actions, the Mexican Army, Navy, and Air Force contribute to strengthen cooperation and coordination bonds among countries in our hemisphere,” he concluded.
After the conference, the participating countries hold multilateral and bilateral discussions to define specific steps to achieve the objectives defined during CENTSEC 2017. The next Central American Security Conference will be held in El Salvador in 2018.