The new commissioner of Panama's National Border Service (SENAFRONT), Cristian Hayer, is determined to build on the law enforcement agency's successes in fighting organized crime, drug trafficking, and guerrilla groups.
Hayer's primary concern is addressing the new threats posed by the signing of the peace accords in Colombia and the use – though still on a small scale – of Panamanian territory for the illegal cultivation of coca, which is cocaine's main ingredient. One of SENAFRONT's successes has been Operation Candado , which Hayer, who took charge on February 15th and previously served as the agency's deputy commissioner under Frank Ábrego, helped direct. The initiative resulted in the dismantling of camps that were used by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia's (FARC) Ever Ortega Company, who is led by a guerrilla known as "Silver."
Working in cooperation with partner nations' security forces has been a key component of SENAFRONT's strategy, and that aspect will continue, according to Hayer. He said he has an excellent relationship with Colombia's Armed Forces, and Panama and Colombia will continue to work together to develop the best approaches to fight organized crime, drug trafficking, and other threats. Panama also will maintain its close relationship with the United States, which provides support, including training, to the Central American nation.
Strategy against the FARC
SENAFRONT has a strategy in place with Colombia in the event the Andean nation's government signs a peace agreement with the FARC. Once the FARC demobilizes, it is very likely that drug trafficking will be spread among small groups, Hayer said.
Consequently, it is essential to “maintain patrols along the border with Colombia to prevent our territory from being used for illicit activities,” he added. “We’re going to have a lot of small drug trafficking groups in operation, small drug lords. We are already taking action because we are going to minimize drug trafficking through Panama.” Narcotraffickers often use Panama as a transshipment point for cocaine and other drugs.
One of SENAFRONT's highest priorities continues to be fighting organized crime. “SENAFRONT’s success has come through constant patrols," Hayer stated. "Before SENAFRONT, we only took care of the local populations; the guerrillas would come right up to the station and shoot at us. So we started to walk the trails, confiscating, destroying camps, and recovering our national territory."
How SENAFRONT came to be
Created in 2008, SENAFRONT oversees both of Panama's land borders with Colombia and Costa Rica. After the fall of Manuel Antonio Noriega in 1989, the Armed Forces that operated around the Panama Canal operates were reorganized. A variety of their functions were passed on to civil institutions and the rest were assigned to four forces: the National Police, the National Air Service, the National Maritime Service, and the Institutional Protection Service.
In the 1990s, several FARC fronts entered into Panamanian territory and even carried out attacks on civilians. As a result, the Panamanian authorities created a strategy to ensure the safety of the residents of Darién, the province bordering the Colombian department of Chocó and home to the Darién Gap, one of the two remaining tropical rain forests in the Americas.
The National Police maintained a zone throughout the area. In light of the incursions, the Panamanian government created an office to unify the efforts to protect Panamanians and their territory, which gave rise to the National Border Directorate, or DINAFRONT. Subsequently, the security institutions were reorganized and the government created SENAFRONT, which initially operated under the Ministry of Government and Justice, and later under the Ministry of Security, which continues to oversee it.