More than 5.7 million people in the Western Hemisphere are affected by natural disasters each year. Within the region that encompasses the Caribbean, Central America and South America, approximately three-quarters of the population are estimated to live in at-risk areas for health disasters, and one-third lives in areas highly exposed to hazards such as earthquakes and landslides. Adding to these threats, each country within the region also faces the impact of narcotrafficking. These dangers call for Marine Corps assistance that, at times, involves several countries’ forces working together. Integrating multiple Marine Corps units to confront these diverse challenges cannot take place for the first time after a disaster or in the midst of a hunt for a narcotrafficking group. That is why the region’s Marine Corps have regular meetings at all levels to collaborate on sharing information and training.
Marine Leaders Meet
Marines have a long history of working and training together to mitigate natural disaster conditions and the threat of narcotrafficking in the region. Since 2001, top-ranking Marine leaders have gathered every two years for the Marine Leaders of America Conference (MLAC), a relationship-building forum in which commandants discuss issues of common regional concern. During the last MLAC, held August 29 to September 2, 2011, in Lima, Peru, Marines discussed techniques and lessons learned from peacekeeping operations, humanitarian aid and disaster relief operations.
Marine leaders from Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Uruguay and the United States participated in the 2011 MLAC. Leaders agree that this type of collaboration is key for security cooperation. Brigadier General Héctor Julio Pachon Cañón, commandant of the Colombian Marine Corps, told Diálogo that during the MLAC conferences “joint and combined strategies are designed and integrated to combat transnational crimes that affect the entire hemisphere.” General James Amos, commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, told Diálogo, “Standing alone, none of us has all the answers to these complex challenges, but together we can combine our unique experiences for the mutual benefit of all.”
The 2011 MLAC also addressed common security threats, such as narcotrafficking in the region, which extends beyond producer countries to the entire region, taking the form of violence and shadow economies that undermine economic growth. “We all agree that narcotrafficking is simply a threat that does not respect borders,” Peruvian Admiral Luis Ramos Vargas said. “It [narcotrafficking] does not limit itself to Peru, Colombia and Bolivia; all of the countries in the region end up becoming transit countries, places where the drugs are stashed in order to then be transported to Europe, the United States and Asia.”
Although regional Marine Corps have varying missions, the qualities inherent in Marine units assist greatly in providing security and augmenting the forces of the counterdrug authorities in the region. “The Marine Corps are very flexible units for their capability to deploy quickly, and can be a very useful tool for states,” said Captain Gerardo Priguetti, commandant of the Uruguayan Marine Corps. In Colombia’s case, working alongside other components of the National Navy, “[Marine Corps units] shows tangible results such as the interdiction of great quantities of liquid and chemical compounds used for the production of cocaine, as well as the confiscation of several tons of cocaine hydrochloride ready to be imported to other countries,” said Brig. Gen. Pachon Cañón.
“This [conference] allows us to see, to open our minds to the realities of other Marine Corps,” said Capt. Priguetti. “These meetings allow us to help and to see different viewpoints to common problems.”
Marines across Central America, South America and the Caribbean are going a step further, by also having a meeting among the senior enlisted leaders to consolidate their efforts against these security threats. Marine Corps senior enlisted leaders representing Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and the United States met for the first time ever from April 4–7, 2011, at the Senior Enlisted Marine Leaders of the Americas Conference (SEMLAC) at the Círculo de Suboficiales military base in Bogotá, Colombia.
SEMLAC is set to become a regular event, conducted at various locations throughout Central and South America, to forge strong relationships working toward regional security. The event was co-hosted by the Marine Corps of Colombia and the U.S. to provide senior enlisted leaders a forum to discuss regional security cooperation and training against the region’s threats.
The meetings of Marine Corps leaders have provided multiple benefits in military collaboration: Professional exchanges among naval infantry forces in the region have increased, Marine Corps training programs have improved as a result of the collective lessons learned, and the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) has received enhanced naval infantry support.
Sources: www.marina.mil.pe, U.S. Marine Corps, Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs