Defence IQ explores some of the key stimuli for security enhancement in Latin America and the Caribbean, as threats ranging from illegal fishing to narcotrafficking continue to demand an effective, multi-agency response…
Joint Interagency Task Force South has become well known in the region as the U.S. Southern Command’s multiservice, multiagency task force that coordinates security efforts. Based at Naval Air Station Key West (Truman Annex), Key West, Florida, the task force conducts counter illicit trafficking operations, intelligence fusion and multi-sensor correlation to detect, monitor, and handoff suspected illicit trafficking targets, as well as promoting security cooperation across international authorities to defeat the flow of illicit traffic.
Analysts from the likes of the DEA, FBI and CBP are stationed among the task force. Meanwhile, 13 countries currently have Liaison Officers based at JIATF-S, including Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Honduras, Mexico, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Venezuela.
For the past four years it has been leading Operation Martillo (‘Hammer’), coordinating partner nation efforts to stop illicit trafficking routes in the coastal waters along the Central American isthmus. This operation has seen the seizure of 693 metric tons of cocaine and $25 million in bulk cash, detained 1,863 suspects and 581 vessels and aircraft.
Joint Task Force Bravo is one of two task forces under United States Southern Command and is headquartered at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, 10 miles south of the city of Comayagua. It operates a forward, all-weather day/night C-5-capable air base and has actively organised multilateral exercises for partner nations. In recent years, JTF-Bravo has been deeply involved in coordinating counter transnational organised crime but has also proved valuable in assisting with humanitarian relief when Caribbean and Latin American nations have been hit by natural disasters.
In 2016, the task force provided Medical Readiness Training Exercises (MEDRETEs) in the Mosquita Coast of Honduras and Nicaragua, and in Costa Rica. It supported firefighting efforts in Tela, Honduras and in the Darien Province, Panama, and assisted humanitarian efforts to Haiti following October’s Hurricane Matthew.
Aside to MEDRETEs, JTF-Bravo has marked its presence in the region thanks to its rapid helicopter support and its use of Military Working Dogs and handlers, which have been instrumental in the detection of narcotics and explosives.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 800 to 900 tonnes of cocaine are produced annually in Latin America, and approximately one third of this is destined for Europe. The bulk of this cocaine is transported across the Atlantic on maritime vessels, mostly concealed within containers or on cargo vessels, fishing boats and yachts.
The UNODC is now well known for its involvement in combatting the illicit drug trade and international crime, fulfilling its mandate to assist Member States in their individual efforts. It does this through the provision of statistical data and analysis, educational programmes, technical expertise and support, and the promotion codes of conduct and standards when bringing criminal cases to court.
Since 2014, the UNODC has been undertaking its Regional Programme in support of the Caribbean Community’s (CARICOM) Crime and Security Strategy, having noted that the Caribbean’s geographical position provided the underpinning for some of the region’s criminal trade owing to its location “between major drug-producing countries in the south and major consumer markets in the north.” For this reason, the Caribbean remains extremely vulnerable to the threats posed by illicit trafficking and organized crime. Given the figures, it is no surprise that cocaine trafficking has been at the core of the UNODC’s efforts in this region.
The Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre – Narcotics (MAOC (N)), is an EU-funded organisation based in Lisbon, Portugal. As an initiative undertaken 7 EU Member Countries: France, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Portugal and the UK, the Centre provides a forum for multi-lateral cooperation to suppress illicit drug trafficking by sea and air, including efforts in the Latin America/Caribbean region.
MAOC (N) is effectively a law enforcement unit that operates with military support coordinated through maritime and aviation intelligence. It boasts resources and trained personnel ready to respond to the threat posed of illicit drug trafficking by maritime and air conveyances. This has included involvement in seizures in and around the Caribbean as smugglers attempt to transit narcotics, weapons and other illegal products across the Atlantic towards Europe. From 2007 to July 2016, MAOC (N) supported the coordination and seizure of over 116 tons of cocaine and over 300 tons of cannabis.
Its model, working practices and operations are said to be conducted in a format which aims to ‘minimise bureaucracy, whilst maximising operational activity’.
Like MAOC (N), the Seaport Cooperation Project (SEACOP) is an EU initiative that aims to strengthen cooperation in addressing maritime trafficking in the Eastern Caribbean. Its work involves capacity-building in countries on the transatlantic cocaine route, doing this through the establishment of specialist maritime intelligence units in seaports and sensitive coastal areas, and supporting greater international cooperation and information exchange.
SEACOP also reinforces capacities in seaports by supporting the setup of Joint Maritime Control Units (JMCU) within selected countries. This project provides specialist training along with the equipment and IT tools necessary to effectively combat illicit maritime trafficking.
The SEACOP project was specifically launched as a response to countering crime along the Cocaine Route but has a tandem goal of enhancing the image of Spain and Europe abroad, being led in its implementation by FIIAPP (La Fundación Internacional y para Iberoamérica de Administración y Políticas Públicas), a Spanish public international cooperation entity.
The Sistema Integracion Centroamericana (Central American Integration System) is the institutional framework of ‘Regional Integration in Central America’, created by Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. Belize and the Dominican Republic have since joined this initiative.
The System includes a group of Regional and Extra Regional Observers (e.g. Qatar) who are responsible for a number of goals, including the consolidation and promotion of democratic governments, the promotion of human rights, and the establishment of a working regional security model “based on the reasonable balance of forces, the strengthening of civilian authority…and the eradication of violence, corruption, terrorism, and drug and arms trafficking.”
Recent activities include working with police officers in El Salvador to improve basic intervention for controlling people and vehicles at borders, and with District Attorneys in the Dominican Republic to instil proper crime scene techniques during drug trafficking and money laundering investigations.
The Conferencia de las Fuerzas Armadas Centroamericanas (Conference of Central American Armed Forces) is a specialised international military body established to contribute to the security, military development and integration of the Latin American region. It promotes peace, democracy and development processes, and assists the local population in disaster and peacekeeping within the framework of the United Nations, and in accordance with the legal framework of each country.
Activities include the holding of meetings for the likes of intelligence, logistics, education, health, civil affairs, and armed force personnel.
The Deputy Minister of the Dominican Republic Armed Forces recently described CFAC as symbolic of the fact that the military’s outreach is “mature and has kept us working side by side in the area of operations and intelligence, in strengthening relations through the exchange of instructors, officer and cadet participation in schools and academies, and in the establishment of regional centres in partner nations supported by the existing strengths of those countries.”
The annually-held Caribbean Basin Coastal Surveillance and Maritime Security Summit (CABSEC) was established in 2013 and is dedicated to enhancing interagency cooperation throughout the Hemisphere. Owing to the expanding consolidation of security measures, the forum is now co-located with the South American Security Summit (SAMSEC).
Recognising that regional security relies heavily on the equipment and platforms to enforce it, CABSEC delivers briefings and networking sessions between state ministers, end-users – military, police, coast guard and other security forces – and solution providers from the commercial industry. By inviting industry professionals to sit in on strategic and diplomatic talks, the Summit promotes a stronger understanding of the real threats, challenges and budgets, therefore helps those who build the aircraft, the software, and other operational elements to better fit the mission requirements.
CABSEC covers all regional security concerns, from illegal fishing to offshore energy security, and has already become a key meeting in the calendars of decision-makers. The next iteration will take place on March 21-23, 2017, in Panama.