Weakening Illicit Trafficking in the Region Can be Done

Joint efforts in Central America prove best to weaken organized-crime networks and terrorism.
Lorena Baires/Diálogo | 2 March 2018

International Relations

Major General David Munguía Payés, Salvadoran minister of national defense, talks with U.S. Army Lieutenant General Joseph P. DiSalvo, military deputy commander of U.S. Southern Command, before the conference at the Strategic Studies College, held January 30, 2018, in San Salvador, El Salvador. (Photo Gloria Cañas, Diálogo)

Real-time cooperation among Central American and U.S. armed forces is key to increase security levels and combat transnational trafficking networks, said U.S. Army Lieutenant General Joseph P. DiSalvo, military deputy commander of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM). The officer discussed the importance of the Central American region for the United States at a conference held on January 30, 2018, at the Armed Force of El Salvador’s (FAES, in Spanish) Strategic Studies College (CAEE, in Spanish) in San Salvador.


“The northern tier [El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras] in general is extremely vulnerable to the scourge of illicit networks,” Lt. Gen. DiSalvo said. “The only way we will degrade illicit networks is by formulating and elevating a coherent strategy that synchronizes […] actions across the north tier.”


He addressed a group of Salvadoran officers training to lead public policy missions related to national security and defense at the 27th National Security and Development Course held at CAEE. Lt. Gen. DiSalvo also stressed the importance of SOUTHCOM–FAES joint efforts for regional security.


“El Salvador does a fantastic job even down to the squad level with several of their task forces in support of Plan Salvador Seguro [Safe Salvador],” said to Diálogo U.S. Army Colonel Elliot Harris, defense attaché at the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador. “This year [2018], we are working to develop their staff joint planning processes at the operational level.”


“Lt. Gen. DiSalvo's speech focused on two main topics. First, military support to law enforcement, specifically in the respect for human rights and on having an exit plan to eventually withdraw the military from that role,” said U.S. Air Force Major Daniel Gifford Bloom, political-military affairs officer at SOUTHCOM. “Second, he addressed ways to have success in a resource constrained environment, which can be achieved through taking advantage of NCO [noncommissioned officers] development, increased jointness in the armed forces, integrating gender perspectives, and respect for human rights.”


SOUTHCOM's vision guides FAES toward designing proposals to organize joint efforts. “We analyze shared problems to design common solutions,” Salvadoran Army Colonel Roberto Artiga, director of CAEE, told Diálogo. “We identify risks and threats in a coordinated manner; this is why SOUTHCOM's perspective is very important for us. It allows us to identify how we can join this effort.”


“El Salvador has a long history of strong partnership with the United States. The Salvadoran Armed Force deployed to Iraq with the Cuscatlán Battalion and ran combat missions with distinction as part of the coalition from 2003-2009,” Col. Harris said. “The Salvadoran military remains a steadfast partner today, supporting efforts to counter threat networks, and SOUTHCOM’s support is important to the success of those efforts.”


The strategic geographic locations of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras place them along trafficking routes from South America to North America, both in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Naval authorities from these countries estimate that, of all vessels that leave South America, 80 percent use the Pacific Ocean toward North America, while 20 percent use the Caribbean Sea. Criminals then disembark and change means of transportation from sea to land.

Officers and professionals who participate in the 27th National Security and Development Course at the FAES' Strategic Studies College learn skills to lead public policy missions related to national security and defense. (Photo Gloria Cañas, Diálogo)


“El Salvador has become the most significant and effective contributor to maritime interdiction efforts in the Eastern Pacific,” Col. Harris added. “Over the last several years, their efforts have disrupted the networks by forcing narcotraffickers in the eastern Pacific to significantly adjust their routes and patterns of behavior.”


One of the big challenges facing Central American armed forces is fighting trafficking networks with limited resources on sea and on land. This can be overcome if these armed forces embrace cooperation in joint exercises with strategic partners like SOUTHCOM. “Once we hit our stride, it will endure; the hardest part is hitting our stride,” Lt. Gen. DiSalvo added.


“Everyone is resource constrained,” the officer said. “[But] if militaries embrace the imperatives of gender integration, respect for human rights, jointness, and NCO development, you can’t help but optimize effectiveness and efficiency.”


The CAEE course participants come from private and government entities in El Salvador and have different academic and professional backgrounds. This diversity allows them to share and increase their level of knowledge, the quality of national security policy proposals, and also drives the country's development.


Leaders and advisors should know how to interpret the interests of the entire population and translate that into a national project that identifies with the essential goals to raise the level of security in the country and the region. The knowledge gained should be such to be able to face, overcome, or slow down any obstacle to security of the population.


“In this course, officers conclude their training with a national security policy initiative whose application involves the region,” Col. Artiga said. “SOUTHCOM's experience applies in these proposals because counteracting the emerging threats that we currently face is a shared effort.”


Conferences foster interest in joint efforts and the desire to learn and apply innovative tactics to reduce transnational criminality. “I hope that these visits increase gradually because they are a great academic aid to improve the content of the curriculum we offer,” Col. Artiga added.


The FAES' Strategic Studies College gives courses since June 30, 1993, in San Salvador, El Salvador. It is a post-graduate higher education center dedicated to training strategic leaders who can evaluate current and future challenges and propose advanced solutions to improve the security and defense climate of the country and the region. “SOUTHCOM's visit raises the level of knowledge that we offer, and that allows us to produce better proposals for the country's security and defense,” Col. Artiga concluded.

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