Panamanian President Meets With SOUTHCOM, Interagency Leadership

The Panamanian leader and SOUTHCOM’s leadership met for the first time.
U.S. Southern Command Public Affairs Office | 11 January 2019

International Relations

Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela (center) speaks during his visit to JIATF South. U.S. Navy Admiral Craig Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command (left), and Coast Guard Rear Admiral Pat DeQuattro, JIATF South director, hosted the visit. (Photo: Sheri Grabus/U.S. Army)

Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela visited the Joint Interagency Task Force – South (JIATF South) in Key West, Florida, on January 4, to meet with U.S. Navy Admiral Craig Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), and other SOUTHCOM leaders and partners. The trip was Varela’s first to JIATF South as Panama’s leader and provided an opportunity for President Varela and Adm. Faller, who took command of SOUTHCOM in November 2018, to meet for the first time.

Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela rings the JIATF South joint operations center (JOC) floor bell alongside U.S. Navy Admiral Craig Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command, and U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Pat DeQuattro, JIATF South director (left). Ringing of the JOC floor bell marks a recent drug seizure by U.S. law enforcement partners. (Photo: Sheri Grabus/U.S. Army)

President Varela saw firsthand how JIATF South coordinates with interagency and international partners to illuminate transnational organized crime networks and support interdiction and apprehension by U.S. and partner nation law enforcement agencies. The multinational, interagency organization conducts detection and monitoring operations throughout their joint operating area to facilitate the interdiction of illicit trafficking in support of U.S. and partner nation security.

Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela and U.S. and international leaders in front of a static display of a self-propelled semi-submersible, located outside JIATF South. (Photo: Sheri Grabus/U.S. Army)

In 1999, JIATF South, originally located in Panama, was merged with JIATF East to form the agency that exists today. “The relationship between Panama and JIATF South has withstood the test of time”, said Adm. Faller. “We’re here today because relationships only get better and stronger by working together, as evidenced by our daily collaboration at JIATF South and years of co-hosting Panamax, our largest multinational exercise”.

Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela exchanges gifts with U.S. Navy Admiral Craig Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command, during a January 4, 2019 visit to JIATF South. The visit cemented an already steadfast and long-lasting partnership between the United States and Panama that is committed to increasing security for all countries in the Latin American and Caribbean region. (Photo: Sheri Grabus/U.S. Army)

President Varela was eager to visit the facility where a Panamanian officer is one of 25 military officers from 20 partner nations who serve on the team. Each country provides valuable contributions and shares in the successes of countering transnational crime and strengthening regional security. 

“There’s a change in the security of citizens as a result of the increase in narcotics-trafficking groups competing for distribution networks,” President Varela said, describing the concern shared by countries working together to counter the threat. “An increase of 60,000 hectares in coca production (in the region) is affecting all our countries. The efforts of JIATF South are critical for our countries, which are unaccustomed to confronting such sophisticated and well-armed criminal networks.”  

President Varela’s first trip of 2019 signified the strength of the bilateral relationship between the United States and Panama. SOUTHCOM is one of the nation’s six geographically-focused unified commands with responsibility for U.S. military operations and security cooperation in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America.

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