QCOSTARICA – Costa Rica’s director of the Fuerza Publica (Costa Rica’s national police force), Juan José Andrade Morales, said during an interview with Diálogo-Americas.com that Central American Militaries and police forces should increase ways in which they work together to combat drug trafficking throughout the region.Andrade also spoke about these issues at the Central America Regional Leaders Conference – an event organized annually by the U.S. Southern Command’s (SOUTHCOM) Army component, U.S. Army South (ARSOUTH) – from March 8th-10th at the Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
Delegations from U.S. partner nations El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Belize, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic convened with representatives of the U.S. Department of Defense and other interagency members to “to analyze drug-trafficking activity, and how drug trafficking affects the region,” Andrade said.
Delegates also discussed the counter-narcotics “role of police forces from countries that have no armed forces (such as Costa Rica* and Panama**), and the Armed Forces’s role in fighting drug trafficking.” They also discussed how emerging threats impact the safety of the civilian population.
Each delegation was given the opportunity to share the issues it faces in fighting the drug trade. In the case of Costa Rica, securing the 330-kilometre southern land border it shares with Panama is a major challenge. Andrade said having the two countries’ police forces work together has been crucial, considering neither nation has a Military.
“This has allowed for us to work hand in hand at all levels” with 24-hour coordination between the neighboring nations’ police services through intelligence sharing, Andrade stated.
“As a country, we’ve been insisting that besides the Armed Forces, National Police forces also join in this dialogue table,” Andrade told Diálogo-Americas.com from his office at the Public Ministry, in San José. Members of the Central American Armed Forces Conference (CFAC) and the Commission of Police Chiefs of Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean have been “making very important efforts,” he stated.
“It’s most important to stimulate this joint [dialogue] table where all of us, regional civil police forces and Armed Forces, which at the end of the day are working on the same team, can meet jointly to analyze the issue … it’s important to add police leaders to the Military officials’ discussions.”
El Salvador, Honduras, and Panama sent police representatives to the Central America Regional Leaders Conference, but the conference would be useful to other countries too, Andrade said, proposing that regional Military and police forces deepen their ties by meeting outside these types of conferences.
Armed Forces and police officials should meet annually to discuss the best ways to fight drug trafficking, Andrade stated. “Costa Rica is part of the commission of Central American Chiefs – we’ve even presided over such an important organization – and we’re also being invited to the CFAC meeting when there are issues of citizen safety, such as the issue of drug trafficking.”
SOUTHCOM is a proponent of Armed Forces and police forces working in cooperation to improve security. “The Southern Command has always been the great motivator of these gatherings […] they’ve been very much interested in the topic,” Andrade said. “They’ve been inviting police and Armed Forces leaders and have been motivating the region’s countries regarding cooperation in drug-trafficking issues.”
Costa Rica has seen an increase in the trafficking of cocaine produced in South America. Andrade estimated that about 2,000 more tons of cocaine will be trafficked in and through Costa Rica in 2016 compared to 2015. Much of this cocaine ends up in the United States and Europe.
In 2015, Costa Rican authorities seized 16 tons of cocaine, US$3.7 million dollars in cash, and 1,350 guns. Costa Rican security forces also dismantled 100 local drug dealing groups, 34 that trafficked internationally.
* Costa Rica’s Constitution has forbidden a standing military since 1949. It does have a public security force, whose role includes law enforcement and internal security. For this reason Costa Rica is the headquarters for the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and also the United Nations‘ University for Peace.
** Panama abolished its army in 1990, which was confirmed by a unanimous parliamentary vote for constitutional change in 1994. The Panamanian Public Forces include the National Police, National Borders Service, National Aeronaval Service, and Institutional Protection Service, which have some warfare capabilities.