USCAP, a Regional Strategy against Transnational Threats

Central American and Caribbean armed forces are increasing their operational crime-fighting capabilities.
Lorena Baires/Diálogo | 2 March 2017

San Salvador was the setting of the planning seminar for the Joint Action Plan on Regional Security Cooperation 2018, led by the United States and Colombia. (Photo: Gloria Cañas).

Thanks to the U.S.-Colombia Action Plan (USCAP), a joint regional security cooperation program between U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), and Colombia’s Ministry of Defense to support Central America and the Caribbean, several partner nations are sharing experiences on how to counteract transnational threats that disrupt regional stability and security.

The plan began in 2012, and since then Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, and the United States have been holding annual meetings. On February 18th, the first planning workshop for the USCAP 2018 conference series was held in the Salvadoran capital. Two simultaneous sessions were held, one for law enforcement agents and the other for members of the armed forces.

“Colombia is contributing its extensive experience, its knowledge, and its lessons learned to those states that need it to raise their level of security and defense. That is why we are addressing all of the training needs of Central America and the Caribbean in order to increase their operational capabilities,” Brigadier General Jorge Hoyos, director of International Relations for the Colombian Army, said at the beginning of the workshop.

One by one, military representatives talked about their requirements. The common denominator in Central America and the Caribbean was the need for training to counteract drug trafficking, smuggling, and transnational crime.

“When nations present their needs, we propose which ones we are able to assist with. Even though there is no limit to these requirements, there is a sequence. The beneficiaries start with basic training and later they undergo specialized courses as they move on to the instruction phase,” Brig. Gen. Hoyos added.

This regional effort is a joint initiative between SOUTHCOM and Colombia, whose Armed Forces bring professionalism, tactical capabilities, and training on drug trafficking to the partner nations of Central America and the Caribbean. The region gets special support to refresh their combat capabilities and confront other transnational problems.

According to Brig. Gen. Hoyos, USCAP has benefited approximately 200 soldiers per member country. This success is measured in the field through the results obtained. A follow-up plan exists for each training session in which the capabilities learned are analyzed to see whether they helped reduce the risks. For example, to analyze whether drug seizures go up or if crime rates go down in the cities.

Field results

One USCAP country that has had very good results is the Dominican Republic.

Brigadier General Orison Olivense, rector of Education for the Dominican National Police, acknowledged that taking part in 66 activities enabled them to raise their forces’ level of professionalism.

“We have reached another level with regard to criminal investigations, crime prevention, and counternarcotics. For instance, we participated in polygraph training and this led to us having our own department that now uses that tool for investigations. There is no doubt that we have made progress and strengthened our abilities,” Brig. Gen. Olivense told Diálogo.

This Caribbean nation has sent 1,200 men to USCAP workshops. This year, it plans to participate in at least 35 activities to acquire more abilities in using investigative systems against cybercrime and organized crime in order to exchange more information with other police forces globally.

“The security of the Dominican Republic can no longer be seen as a domestic matter, but a global one,” Brig. Gen. Olivense said. “We want our police to be more globalized, with the same systems that are used all over the world.”

El Salvador is also enjoying the fruits of training offered jointly by Colombia and the United States. Colonel Jorge Alberto Miranda, operations chief for the Salvadoran Armed Forces Joint Staff, emphasized the impact that the knowledge acquired by more than 500 men and women has had in carrying out operations against drug trafficking in mangrove zones.

“Our Navy has dealt heavy blows to the drug-trafficking rings that try to use our coast or our mangrove zones to move shipments of cocaine. As evidence of this, last year we hit a record number of seizures – over nine metric tons valued at more than $250 million on the black market,” Col. Miranda detailed as he concluded his presentation on their requirements.

El Salvador is now looking for training on airplane maintenance and the use of special instruments in its Air Force. One advantage to this requirement is that El Salvador and Colombia employ the same aircraft models.

United against threats

“All of us have the same problems, some more than others. USCAP offers support in a unified way because we are trying to improve our abilities together. One example of this is that the region has made substantial progress in its efforts to combat drug trafficking, but as with everything, it won’t stop. That’s why the training has to be ongoing,” Brig. Gen. Hoyos summed up.

One of the joint actions taken directly between Colombia, the United States, and other countries in the region is Operation Martillo (Hammer), in which the Joint Interagency Task Force-South and the air forces and navies of partner nations coordinate their air and maritime detection, monitoring, and interdiction efforts in order to detect and disrupt transnational organized crime elements that take advantage of the vast coasts and sparsely populated areas in the interior of Central America.

Among its other efforts, USCAP also supports the complementary development of capacity building efforts through the Central America Police Reform Project. For instance, the Colombian National Police provides training and assistance on issues such as community policing, training for police academy instructors, and the development of study plans in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Panama.

To complement Colombia’s police training, the United States trains partner nations’ attorneys general on the full spectrum of law enforcement. Both countries are working to identify new areas of cooperation, and they are committed to coordinating their efforts with partner throughout the hemisphere.

USCAP will continue to focus on four key areas: drug trafficking, fighting international organized crime, strengthening institutions, and promoting safer communities. The United States and Colombia are also developing complementary security assistance programs and operational efforts for supporting partner nations throughout the hemisphere and internationally impacted by the effects of transnational organized crime.

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