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.
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.
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”.
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.