Success against transnational criminal networks is “shared success,” said U.S. Navy Admiral Kurt W. Tidd, commander of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), during his opening remarks to ministers of defense, chiefs of General Staff, and other conference participants at the 2018 Central American Security Conference (CENTSEC), held in San Salvador, May 9th-10th.“[Success] it’s all of us working as one team, across time, space, and geography; united in our resolve. Bringing our different strengths to bear. Working as one.”
“CENTSEC will mark a starting point to deepen cooperation between our countries to counter the threats that transnational organized crime pose to the security of our region,” said David Munguía Payes, Salvadoran minister of Defense, during his speech welcoming military and defense leaders to his country. “Transnational organized crime is an interconnected activity that constitutes a serious threat to the security of our countries. We need to nurture and preserve these close relationships we have with our allies which allow us to cooperate and share information,” added the minister.
Under the theme “Leveraging Regional Networks to Counter Shared Threats,” participants from Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, the United States, Nicaragua, and Panama analyzed threats to security in Central America. The goal was to forge bilateral and regional alliances, laying the groundwork for new cooperation mechanisms that allow for information to be shared in real-time. Canada, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, the Central American Armed Forces Conference, the Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas, and the Inter-American Defense Board attended the conference as observers.
SOUTHCOM sponsors the annual Central American security forum to foster dialogue between defense and security leaders and examine threats to regional stability, particularly gangs and narcotrafficking. The event also seeks to create new regional cooperation mechanisms. This is El Salvador’s third time hosting CENTSEC.
Regional cooperation mechanism
“CENTSEC is of vital importance because of the problems we face, such as narcotrafficking, human and arms trafficking, and illegal immigration. These are becoming region-wide threats, especially in the Northern Triangle,” said Army Colonel Alejandro Valentín Chang Barrios, from the Guatemalan National Defense General Staff’s Department of Intelligence. “We need to be aware that the work our military leaders carry out will shape the course of future generations because the threats are stronger and have more significant resources, including funds. This awareness will allow us to join to take integrated and interagency actions to counter threats and minimize their future effects.”
CENTSEC drew particular attention to the participating countries’ interest in sharing information, improving cooperation, and engaging in the fight against crime. The 2018 conference outlined a system to prioritize security threats in the region using information shared among participating nations. The system will serve as a framework to guide initiatives and improve combined and interagency collaboration to combat transnational criminal organizations.
“CENTSEC is a regional forum to understand and think through problems experienced in this part of the continent, and it is of vital importance for the countries in attendance,” said Mexican Army Brigadier General David Rivera Medina, secretary general of the 13th Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas. “It is important to work together because, in addition to sharing borders and a region, we also share problems that are common to each country. We need to continue to get behind these kinds of events that allow for exchange of experiences, strengthen each other, and get better results,” said Brig. Gen. Rivera.
Noncommissioned officers join in
For the first time, the 2018 edition organized a concurrent seminar for Central American sergeant majors to analyze security threats in the region and define their role in fighting crime. Senior noncommissioned officers (NCOs) from partner nation armed forces participated in some of CENTSEC’s events and also had the opportunity to share experiences, exchange knowledge, and stress the importance of having a highly trained corps of enlisted personnel.
“CENTSEC is important because it allows us to exchange knowledge and experiences. We need to share information at a regional level because we face the same threats,” said Army Sergeant Major Marco Tulio Alfaro Gerónimo, from the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Force of El Salvador. “We NCOs experience situations that threaten our countries firsthand. Since we have strategic insight into the threats and command the troops directly, we can better explain the mission, significantly increasing our ability to counter threats.”
CENTSEC concluded with a sense of unity for the creation of combined and interagency initiatives designed to achieve regional security and defeat transnational criminal organizations. “Together, we can [do it],” Admiral Tidd reiterated during the closing ceremony. “We are bound together by common hopes and a shared vision of a better future. And tomorrow, by working together, we will make that vision a reality.”