The war against narcotrafficking cannot be fought alone, it’s a joint effort that goes hand in hand with the fight against human trafficking, money laundering, illegal fuel trafficking, and illegal fishing, among other related criminal activities. The goal of Admiral Gonzalo Nicolás Ríos Polastri, commander of the Peruvian Navy, is to fight transnational organized crime through interagency, joint, and combined operations, as well as training and resource optimization, among other actions.
Adm. Ríos took part in the XVIII Inter-American Naval Conference (IANC), held in Cartagena, Colombia, July 23-26, 2018. The officer spoke with Diálogo about his participation in IANC, the armed forces’ duty to combat narcotrafficking and related crimes, and international cooperation, among other topics.
Diálogo: How important is Peru’s participation in IANC?
Admiral Gonzalo Nicolás Ríos Polastri, commander of the Peruvian Navy: The Peruvian Navy considers it very important to attend IANC. We’ve participated since the beginning and witnessed its important evolution over time, addressing topics of common interest with solutions from different perspectives, including national perspectives. IANC is a great opportunity for face to face interaction among naval leaders; it enables us to share ideas about common topics, and creates a platform for important regional and bilateral agreements. The topics addressed here allow us to share complex situations that have a direct impact on our nations and represent a great responsibility for our navies.
Diálogo: IANC’s main focus is the responsibility of regional navies to counter narcotrafficking and related crimes. Why is it important for naval forces to come together to counter these scourges?
Adm. Ríos: Narcotrafficking and its multiple variants operate in different geographical spaces, under navies’ areas of responsibility—maritime and aquatic environments in general, such as navigable rivers and lakes. This makes addressing the issue timely to be aware of how each naval force acts according to their national laws, and find ways to cooperate to have safer aquatic environments, in light of such a harmful problem as narcotrafficking.
Diálogo: The Peruvian Navy’s operations dealt significant blows in the fight against drugs. What kind of combined and joint operations do you carry out to be successful?
Adm. Ríos: We organized to use the Navy’s resources fully, not only those directly linked to coast guard operations, but also other combined elements that might strengthen control in areas of interest. Peru has about 14,000 kilometers of navigable rivers and almost 3,000 km of riverine borders with Brazil and Colombia. All these areas are prone to criminal activity such as narcotrafficking and other related crimes.
We fight against narcotrafficking, but we know that in doing so, we also fight against human trafficking, money laundering, illegal fuel trafficking, illegal fishing, etc. All these illicit acts create networks that merge. Fighting against one means fighting against all, and to achieve this we need to work in an organized way. We make all means available to interdiction teams in joint action with other armed institutions in the country, and in cooperation with partner nations through binational agreements, especially in the case of countries with common border rivers. Information exchange with organizations, mainly intelligence, vital to confront these illicit activities, is also imperative.
Diálogo: How does the Navy contribute to naval forces of the region in the fight against narcotrafficking?
Adm. Ríos: It contributes with naval means to control maritime traffic, such as patrols, ships, fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, and highly trained interdiction teams to conduct adequate control and neutralization once crimes are detected. Just as important is sharing our own intelligence information with other regional agencies, so that the information is used in a coordinated way to capture criminals far beyond our borders, in interagency cooperative operations. We had many success stories in this respect.
Diálogo: One of the Navy’s responsibilities is to counter illegal mining. What joint and combined actions do you carry out to eradicate this type of criminal action?
Adm. Ríos: We counter illegal mining particularly in rivers, not only because it promotes illicit money, but also because of the environmental damage mercury generates, which toxic effect ends up in the human [food] chain. We coordinate work with units of the Coast Guard, Marine, and Special Operations Forces in parallel to ground operations other agencies handle. Under our national legislation we execute direct operations of immediate destruction actions against elements used in illegal mining.
Diálogo: In late January 2018, the Navy consolidated its position among Latin American leaders of naval innovation with the inauguration of the Center of Scientific Research and Technological Development. What’s the added value of this center for your institution?
Adm. Ríos: What we did was open a physical infrastructure area, but the Navy carries out technological research and innovation for more than two decades, with important outcomes. We are very proud of our naval researchers and the integrated contribution of the Peruvian academic system with national university researchers. This enabled us to create a very positive symbiosis, which combined efforts facilitated important projects such as our command and control systems, electronic warfare, and the modernization of automation and weapon systems, among others. At the moment, we work on innovation for cyberdefense and cybersecurity and on creating up-to-date systems for platforms that are loosing logistics relevance.
Diálogo: Lieutenant Commander Casandra Silva Gurrionero is the first Navy woman to command a coast guard unit. How are inclusion and gender equality promoted and strengthened?
Adm. Ríos: Indeed, this is the first time a female officer commands a maritime patrol unit, the BAP Río Cañete. However, a few years ago we had female officers leading riverine interdiction units in the Amazon. The Peruvian Navy creates opportunities for growth and development for every officer and personnel, whether they are men or women, and intends for each member to have equal opportunities for development.
Diálogo: What kind of combined operations do you carry out with the U.S. Navy?
Adm. Ríos: We have a wide range of activities in the operational, academic, training, logistics, information exchange, and support fields wit the U.S. Navy. We currently have in place several important cooperation programs and operational exercises, such as the SUBDIEX program, in which we send a submarine unit to the United States every year for operational training; the SIFOREX bilateral antisubmarine training exercise, which is carried out in Peru, as well as aeronaval pilot training and instruction, and information exchange and mutual support programs. The Peruvian Navy shares values and works successfully together with the U.S. Navy and other organizations, based on the mutual trust and integration achieved.