Operation Martillo targets illicit trafficking in Central America

Thirteen nations partner with the United States in joint operation aimed at ending illicit trafficking along Central America’s coasts.
By César Morales Colón for Dialogo—29/02/2012 | 29 February 2012

Sailors man the No. 1 hose aboard the guided-missile frigate USS Ingraham during a simulated emergency flight quarters drill. Ingraham is on a five-month deployment in the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility supporting Operation Martillo. (Courtesy of Walton Ciferri, chief gunner’s mate, U.S. Navy)

MIAMI, U.S.A. – Latin American, Western Hemisphere and European nations have teamed with the United States in an effort to curtail illicit trafficking routes on both coasts of the Central American isthmus.

The joint effort, named Operation Martillo, intends to disrupt organized crime operations by limiting their ability to use Central America as a transit zone, said Gen. Douglas Fraser, commander of the U.S. Southern Command.

“Illicit trafficking jeopardizes the safety and well-being of citizens of every country and has a negative influence on regional and national security,” Gen. Fraser said in press release. “Working with our partner nations, we intend to disrupt [narco-traffickers’] operations by limiting their ability to use Central America as a transit zone.”

Belize, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panama, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States are participating in the operation, which started in the middle of last month according to José Ruiz, spokesman for the U.S. Southern Command.

“Many of these partner nations have been working with the U.S. for many years already, but this operation allows us to have a very specific focus” Ruiz said. “We have set together the mechanism that we need to share equipment, skills and information to disrupt the trafficking in the region.”

Ruiz highlighted the collaborative nature of the operation, with nations focusing on driving away illicit activity from Central America, a region that has suffered from the surge of trafficking on its shores.

“These activities have brought others that have been damaging to Central America such as organized crime and violence,” Ruiz said.

Similar international operations in the region have succeeded in thwarting illicit trafficking.

In 2011, international and inter-agency cooperative efforts resulted in the disruption of 119 metric tons of cocaine, with a wholesale value of US$2.35 billion. These efforts also enabled the interdiction of US$21 million in bulk cash destined for traffickers in Central and South America and US$16 million worth of black market goods.

For Operation Martillo, the U.S. Navy has deployed Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates USS Ingraham, USS Elrod, USS McClusky, and USS Nicholas, which are conducting Combating Transnational Organized Crime operations, while Patrol Squadron 1 is providing aerial patrol support while forward-deployed to El Salvador.

“Our ships and aircraft have unique capabilities to detect and monitor criminal activities in the maritime domain, especially tracking the movement, by sea and air, of illicit materials intended for the United States,” said Rear Adm. Kurt Tidd, commander of the U.S. 4th Fleet.

U.S. forces will collaborate with partner nations in several ways, Tidd said.

“The countries are using their forces to target [the traffickers],” he added. “Our forces are in direct support of those partner nations, helping with surveillance capability and engaging in coordinated operations to interdict this traffic flow.”

The operation will continue until illegal trafficking on Central America’s coasts has been eradicated, Ruiz added.

“The intent is to reach the objective,” he said. “[Operation Martillo] will last as long as it needs to last to have successes finding drug trafficking going through the region and impeding their ability to profit over this.”

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