GUATEMALA CITY– Gen. John Kelly, commander of the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), praised all 14 countries for participating in Operation Martillo, a multinational effort to disrupt transnational criminal organizations by limiting their ability to use Central America as a transit zone.
“Martillo has been a success … because of your participation, your leadership, and because of your partnership,” he said at Central American Regional Security Conference (CENTSEC 2014) that was held in Guatemala City from April 1-3. “We couldn’t do this without you; and looking ahead, we’ll be relying on each other more and more to capitalize on our strengths in this fight.”
CENTSEC 2014 marked the first time the annual meeting of regional defense and public safety leaders focused on a single, multinational operation.
Operation Martillo includes Canada, Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panama, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.
However, representatives from Chile, the Dominican Republic and Mexico also attended CENTSEC 2014, where the results and future of Operation Martillo were reviewed.
Guatemalan Chief of National Defense Maj. Gen. Rudy Ortiz supports Operation Martillo, saying international narco-trafficking is “a generator of other ills” that has “planted itself at the core of our societies.”
“We should support every initiative and operation aimed at dismantling criminal organizations [and] improving control along our borders, territorial waters and airspace to prevent these delinquents from using our national territories for their illicit activities,” he said at the conference.
During the first day of CENTSEC 2014, the U.S. State Department provided an update on the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), a broader security assistance effort that includes governmental agencies, international partners and help from the public and private sector. One of main objectives of CARSI, which has received US$642 million in U.S. funding since 2008, is to support Operation Martillo. CARSI helps the region’s law enforcement agencies and security forces in their fights against crime and narcotics.
Kelly and Ortiz also met with representatives of the Guatemalan human rights NGO Grupo Apoyo Mutuo (Mutual Support Group) and Guatemala’s ombudsman for human rights.
“People like us that wear the uniform of our country are in the business of protecting human rights,” Kelly said. “Conceptually, I don’t think any rational and decent man or woman on the planet can disagree with human rights as being fundamental to the way we treat each other and our citizens.”
U.S. Air Force Col. Willie Berges, chief of SOUTHCOM’s Political Military Affairs Division, also briefed attendees on the Cooperative Sensor and Information Integration (CSII) system, a new information-sharing mechanism that allows countries to selectively share radar and sensor data on suspected air, sea and land traffic while collaborating during counter-illicit trafficking operations.
The second day included an update on Operation Martillo by U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Stephen Mehling, the commander of JIATF-South.
“Before Operation Martillo, we were conducting several iterations of bi- and multi-lateral operations around the [region],” he said, adding the operation is “a great neighborhood watch for the Western Hemisphere.”
Mehling said Operation Martillo is a team effort.
“To me, it’s trust, interoperability, innovation, communication and that individual actions just displace the problem, so we need to make sure that we do this collectively,” he added before a moderated discussion about Operation Martillo was held.
CENTSEC’s final day included an executive discussion among senior leaders and delegation meetings.
Between the launch of Operation Martillo in January 2012 and the end of January 2014, the effort confiscated 278,611 kilograms of cocaine and 27,556 kilograms of marijuana during its 444 events that led to 620 arrests and 205 seized vessels.
Operation Martillo has removed more than US$5.6 billion in narcotics and equipment from the global drug trade.
Operation Martillo’s success continued in March, when crewmembers aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Tampa seized 680 kilograms of cocaine with a wholesale value of US$23 million from a go-fast boat moving swiftly across the Caribbean Sea.