Regional Bloc against Transnational Crime

An international seminar analyzes Central American security challenges and their possible solutions.
Geraldine Cook/Diálogo | 7 July 2017

Participants at the Central American Regional Seminar on Countering Transregional-Transnational Threat Networks. (Photo: William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies)

Central American leaders are looking for specific solutions to eradicate transnational security threats in the Americas. How to confront them? How to set up 'good networks'? What strategies and mechanisms are needed to fight them? These were some of the questions posed at the Central American Regional Seminar on Countering Transregional-Transnational Threat Networks (T3N), held from June 20th to 22nd in Antigua, Guatemala.

Organized by the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, the seminar was attended by more than 80 military and security professionals from Belize, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama.Canada, Colombia, Mexico, and the United States attended as observer nations.

“We are facing traditional and nontraditional security threats,” said Major General Williams Mansilla Fernández, the Guatemalan minister of Defense, during the opening ceremony. “We have attacks on our cyber security, corruption, money laundering, natural disasters, terrorism, transnational organized crime, gangs, drugs, illegal arms trafficking, and their related problems.”

Cyber attacks and the convergence between terrorism and transnational organized crime were analyzed in the dissertations by experts in the field. The agenda also included interagency and regional cooperation, the fostering of inclusiveness in security, and the policies needed to neutralize these security problems.

“Without development, there is no security, and without security, there is no development,” Maj. Gen. Mansilla said as he welcomed the 11 nations participating in the seminar. He emphasized that development and security must both be linked to national and regional strategies so that 'evil networks' can be destroyed.

“Not one country has all the resources necessary to degrade the [threat] networks; the networks are too powerful,” said U.S. Army Lieutenant General Joseph P. DiSalvo, the U.S. Southern Command military deputy commander. “Therefore we have to work together to attack them, one bite at a time. It’s a big elephant out there. You can’t do it all in one effort, you have to get some pieces of the network with the regional approach and eventually you will degrade the network.”

The leaders of allied nations in Central America understand that they need allies to defeat the T3Ns. “[We must] study the lessons learned on how other countries confront these threats,” said Dominican Navy Captain Bienvenido Maite, the director of Doctrine and Planning for the Dominican Navy. Those lessons offer them perspectives on how to face their struggle against T3Ns domestically, he explained. Drug trafficking, human trafficking, illegal immigration, and civilian crime are the most widespread security issues on that Caribbean island.

Honduran Army Colonel José Ramón Munguía Díaz, the academic vice president of the Defense University of Honduras, during his presentation on national crime-fighting strategies. (Photo: Geraldine Cook/Diálogo)

Common scourges

T3Ns impacts the nations of Central America's Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador), participants said. “We have to balance our measures for countering these security threats in our region,” said Honduran Army Colonel José Ramón Munguía Díaz, the academic vice president of the Defense University of Honduras. The Northern Triangle, Col. Munguía indicated, is considered 'the death triangle' due to the number of homicides it generates. From 2004 to 2016, nearly 200,000 deaths were recorded in the region. “I'm coming away with some new ideas, a new perspective on what this operational environment is like and how the fight must be waged in the multinational context,” he added.

“Being that organized crime is of a transnational nature, the fight against it must also be transnational,” said Guatemalan Air Force Brigadier General Jorge Roberto Ruíz Serovic, the deputy minister of Defense and Planning Policy for the Ministry of Defense. “The budgets that transnational crime has are quite large and often exceed the budgets of the countries themselves,” he added. Brig. Gen. Ruíz indicated, moreover, that his country has several bilateral agreements with the nations of the region for jointly confronting T3Ns. “This allows us to exchange information, training, and mutual aid. Some of us are strong in certain aspects and weak in others, and that's how we complement each other.”

El Salvador has also joined the regional effort against crime. “Criminal organizations are continually changing their modus operandi,” said Salvadoran Army Colonel Raúl Israel Tolentino Sánchez, the chief of staff executive officer of the Special Forces Command. One of the strategies that his country developed for combating T3Ns was the creation of task forces, he said. “We have to come together and make coordinated efforts to develop new strategies for overcoming the enemy,” he said. His call to fight T3Ns was most timely. “It means creating a single regional bloc to combat transnational crime.”

New threats

“We're worried about terrorism,” said Belize Defense Force Major Roberto Beltrán, second in command of the Support and Services Battalion. “We know the situation in the Caribbean regarding ‘foreign fighters’ who are coming back from the Middle East. They can get to Belize with their Caribbean passports. Maj. Beltrán underscored Belize's regional cooperation, in particular, the work they are doing with Mexico. “Mexico is a great ally with which we exchange information and conduct cross-border operations.”

Nor has Panama escaped the criminal activities of T3Ns. “Panama is an attractive place for transnational organized crime to penetrate,” said the Panamanian National Police Major Joel Hurtado an advisor to the Technical Secretariat at the Ministry of Public Safety. Consolidating new networks that might share intelligence and information was one of the benefits yielded from the seminar, he said, since T3Ns “has no borders.” Maj. Hurtado called on entities responsible for law enforcement to maintain “communication, cooperation, and the exchange of information,” as these are tools that allow them to more efficiently fight the enemy.

After three days of discussions, participants concluded that they will be able to defeat T3Ns only through regional cooperation. “We have to take advantage of the synergy we have with trust and cooperation between our organizations in combating T3Ns,” said Maj. Gen. Mansilla during the closing ceremony. Likewise, he invited participants to confront these threats together and to make maximum use of their institutional resources. “[We must] work in a united way in good networks,” he concluded.

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