The United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) recently installed in Nicaragua and Honduras solar panels with one day of battery storage capacity - new assets in the fight against transnational organized crime and drug trafficking.
"This renewable energy system is supporting critical communication equipment which is necessary during combined counter narcotic missions," said David Wilde, Operational Energy Program Manager for SOUTHCOM's Office of the Command Engineer.
The photovolataic (PV) solar energy systems will provide energy for operating radios and equipment at surveillance posts located in remote areas where power sources are scarce or unavailable. When placed on the roofs of surveillance posts, the panels increase the available energy capacity from 400 watts to 7,000 watts, which is stored in accumulators.
In addition to installing the solar technology, SOUTHCOM trained with the Nicaraguan and Honduran Armed Forces on using and maintaining it.
"The supplied equipment is extremely “user friendly” and requires minimal maintenance, but it is important for the users to understand the functionality for optimal use."
Many energy analysts consider such systems - along with wind, hydropower, and biomass systems - the energy sources of the future, since unlike petroleum, coal, natural gas, or uranium, these sources are renewable and don't create significant amounts of pollution or waste.
A valuable tool against drug trafficking
The solar panels will help both countries fight organized crime and drug trafficking.
For example, in Nicaragua, the renewable solar power system – worth $85,000 – was installed at the Nicaraguan Naval Military outpost in Cayo Miskito, one of a few keys located in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region of Nicaragua's Caribbean. The area has become a key corridor that transnational criminal organizations use for trafficking weapons, people, and drugs from South America into Mexico and North America; it's also a hot spot for illegal fishing.
The other, larger energy system will be used to support the Honduran Navy at a counter-narcotics operation center in the heart of Gracias a Dios.
"Operational energy is a necessary component of the bigger mission, said Wilde. "Without energy technology, reliance on fossil fuel becomes necessary and is nearly nonexistent in these extremely remote locations. Our military forces must become more expeditionary in nature and will require a smaller logistical footprint in part by reducing large fuel and energy demands, reducing demand, expanding supply, and building an energy-secure force will mean a military that uses less energy, has more secure energy sources, and has the energy resources it needs to support these and like missions."
The installations are part of the ongoing cooperation between the Nicaraguan Navy and the United States.
“In this regard, the United States’ assistance has been valuable, relevant and timely for our fight against drug trafficking,” said Orlando López Selva, an international relations analyst at the American University in Nicaragua. "All of the technical assistance the U.S. has given to Nicaragua has increased the coverage, surveillance capacity, and efficacy of law enforcement agents.”
“It is clear that the governments of Nicaragua and the United States are working toward the same goals and are moving in the same direction. For more than two decades, agreements have been in place that were signed at the highest levels of the Military and the police.”
Such cooperation has helped improve Nicaragua's security infrastructure. For example, in August 2014, the United States donated to Nicaragua equipment to build an operational center and two maritime interdiction vessels -- resources worth about $4 million, according to the website La Tercera. And in both 2013 and 2014, SOUTHCOM provided 12 Phantom thermal vision binoculars, worth more than $36,000, which security forces can use at night or in low-light conditions, according to Nicaraguan daily Última Hora.
Security forces from the two countries have also participated in joint training exercises. For instance, in May 2013, five Nicaraguan Sailors trained with U.S. Military forces in Florida on the maintenance and operation of maritime vessels, according to Honduran online magazine Estrategia y Negocios.
Nicaragua makes major drug seizures
Nicaragua has in recent years achieved several important successes in the fight against international drug trafficking. For instance, in December 2014, the Nicaraguan Navy seized 560 kilograms of cocaine in support of Operation MARTILLO -- a joint effort among 14 partner nations to counteract drug trafficking in coastal waters along the Central American isthmus.
The multinational operation, launched on January 15, 2012, consists of forces from the United States, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, Belize, Colombia and Canada, as well as the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Spain and France.
“The Nicaraguan Navy has conducted successful drug seizures in spite of our limited resources,” said Pedro Trujillo, the director of Guatemala's Political and International Relations Research Institute.
“In short, both Washington and Managua seek agreement in their best interests when it involves perennial threats against the security of both nations that arise in this natural, Mesoamerican corridor that connects the North and the South,” López said.
"SOUTHCOM realizes the value of energy security across the Area of Responsibility, and is committed to investing in many renewable energy and conservation initiatives as a result of the increased energy/fuel cost and unreliable host nation power," concluded Wilde.