The cooperation follows an agreement signed on February 12 by Panamanian Security Minister Rodolfo Aguilera and his Costa Rican counterpart, Luis Gustavo Mata Vega, who signed the memorandum of understanding during a binational security meeting in Panama’s Bocas del Toro Province.
The goal of the joint effort is to crack down on organized crime groups that transport drugs and various types of contraband and engage in other criminal enterprises, such as human trafficking.
“The idea is to monitor migration routes for criminals,” Aguilera said during the binational security meeting.
Sharing information is a key component of the binational effort. Security forces from the two countries are sharing information about criminal suspects from their respective computer databases. By mid-2015, the two countries plan on establishing a joint task force to fight drug trafficking and other organized crime.
Both countries are fighting the same criminal activities; Aguilera pointed out drug trafficking, smuggling merchandise from the Colón Free Trade Zone, illegal trade in agricultural and livestock products on both sides of the border, as well as weapons smuggling as common issues that deserve prompt attention.
Neither country has a standing Army. For public safety, Costa Rica relies primarily on its Public Security Force, which operates under the auspices of the Ministry of Public Security. Panama’s Public Forces – which include the National Police, the National Aeronaval Service and the National Border Service – provide security in that country.
Since January 1, Panamanian security authorities have seized 10.4 tons of drugs in the border region and throughout the country. In 2014, they confiscated 39 tons of drugs; between 2009 and 2014, the security forces seized 209 tons of drugs, most of which would have been transported to the United States. The Panamanian National Police has also seized 342 firearms that did not have the necessary permits.
“There is a black market, operating in parallel to the market for transferring second-hand weapons, which we view with concern, and we must attack that activity as soon as possible along the border,” said Aguilera, who assured both countries are working to exchange information regarding the documentation for weapons that are transported across the border.
Authorities are planning on building a binational security post in Paso Canoas, an international city shared by Chiriquí Province in western Panama and Puntarenas Province in Costa Rica. The idea is to duplicate the positive experience that Panama has had along the Colombian border, where since 2014 Panamanian and Colombian authorities have shared a surveillance post in the Colombian locality of La Unión.
Comprehensive development in Paso Canoas
In addition to working together to improve security along the border region, the two countries also are strategizing to encourage comprehensive development in Paso Canoas in order to provide economic opportunities for the civilian population. Officials from Costa Rica and Panama intend to meet in the months to come to formulate a strategic plan for development in the area.
Officials from Costa Rica’s Customs, Migration, and Police forces, in addition to representatives from the Andean Development Corporation, will participate in the meeting, Aguilera said.
“This re-design is arduous work, and we certainly cannot do it alone,” he said.
Mata Vega said he hopes the binational effort will lead to clear, specific policies to help Costa Rica and Panama cooperate effectively in their fight against organized crime.