Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador are pooling their resources through the Trinational Task Force in their joint head-on fight against gangs and organized crime along the 600-kilometer border between the three countries.
The trinational force was launched November 15th in the city of Nueva Ocotepeque, Honduras, during a ceremony attended by presidents Juan Orlando Hernández of Honduras, Jimmy Morales of Guatemala, and Salvador Sánchez Cerén of El Salvador.
The main objective of the tripartite security unit is to maintain government control and public order. This will foster a climate of peace and security in the border communities, neutralize criminal gangs, impede the movement of criminal groups in the border area, and reduce the level of drug trafficking, organized crime, and petty crime, among other crimes in the region.
The force brings various interagency teams involved in security. “This new effort is represented by 224 Honduran agents (from the Lenca Task Force), and the same number of agents from Guatemala [from the Maya Chortí Task Force] and El Salvador (with agents from the Maya-Pipil Task Force joining soon), with intelligence specialists, special units, and agents from the justice department,” Infantry Colonel Lenin González, director of public relations for the Armed Forces of Honduras, told Diálogo.
The tri-national force will develop several operations, among them providing intelligence and counterintelligence actions, establishing checkpoints, carrying out short-, medium-, and long-range land patrols on foot and in vehicles, and attacking a limited set of targets, such as drug trafficking operation centers and clandestine drug-manufacturing labs.
The security unit also will conduct surveillance of critical areas, as well as raids. The force will coordinate aerial operations, and control the lines of communication on land and at sea. It also will prepare and prosecute legal cases and request support from the judicial branch, with the support of a public prosecutor assigned to each task team, and it will issue arrest warrants.
“The Trinational Task Force places the emphasis on cooperation between our countries, and it is respectful of our state sovereignty and territorial integrity. Strict compliance with every one of our domestic laws and international law, and respect for human rights take precedence over everything else,” Col. González said.
In recent years, the countries of the Northern Triangle have experienced an increase in the levels of violence. This trend is driven by multiple factors, such as gangs and their impact on criminal activities, including homicides, extortion, and drug trafficking whose operations have been transferred to this region, while at the same time increasing their activity.
“What we are doing is perfecting our land border defenses. We know that the war we are winning against crime has, and will continue to have, reactions and repercussions, but we cannot go back, because we are fighting for what is right, which is protecting the life of each person who belongs to our nations,” President Hernández said on the day the new security force was established.
Guatemala’s president indicated that this political initiative “is a reflection of the trust that characterizes our binational relationship and it establishes a road map that will govern how these agreements are operationalized.” Together with presidents Hernández and Morales, President Sánchez highlighted the heavy blow suffered by organized crime and drug trafficking.
On August 23rd, the presidents of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala met in El Salvador, where they signed a joint declaration establishing the Trinational Task Force on the initiative of the Honduran president.
The trinational force is just one of many security actions undertaken during the last several years through the Central American Armed Forces Conference and the Maya Chortí Force, comprising police, soldiers, and members of the Attorney General’s Office, the Supreme Court, and Immigration.
“For us, this new effort represents a huge achievement because it is part of a Central American integration aimed at creating new mechanisms for dismantling crime syndicates and integrating the three countries’ border security procedures,” Infantry Colonel Luis Alonso García Gutiérrez, commander of the Lenca Task Force of Honduras, told Diálogo.
“Three countries are operating without borders, and without distrust or envy, because we know that if we work together and coordinate with each other, we will be more successful and see better results,” Col. García said.
Authorities blame gangs for the high homicide rates in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. The Honduran government estimates that the three countries combined have between 70,000 and 100,000 gang members. It also estimates that last year more than 17,000 violent deaths were registered in the three countries. The majority of the violence was driven by transnational and street gangs.
The transnational gang MS13, and its rival, Barrio 18, mainly operate in Central America’s Northern Triangle. According to a report by the UN Refugee Agency published on July 1st, these gangs have brought a silent war to the region.
“Just like the problem of drug trafficking, the transnational gangs and the street gangs are a threat that neither knows nor respects borders. The exchange of information, intelligence, and technology, and conducting joint operations will be the most important tools that this trinational force will have,” Col. García stated.
Representatives of each country’s task force are talking regularly and coordinating efforts, making joint plans and combining their forces to face these challenges. “One of those challenges is to be able to conduct mirrored patrols (tandem surveillance) along the length of the border. However, the greatest challenge is the blind spot in Central American borders where criminals can cross over,” José Misael Rivas Soriano, dean of Legal and Social Sciences at Nueva San Salvador University in El Salvador, told Diálogo.
Another challenge is geography. There are inaccessible areas that can be used by gangs as hiding places. Crossing over land is impossible, because of the unreliability of communication channels. Each country’s laws and economic conditions also have an influence.
“We are here to achieve this for our society. We are ready, and we ask for the support and trust of the people in this new joint effort,” Col. González said. “There is a lot of positivity and optimism surrounding the results we will be seeing.”