By Dialogo January 17, 2011 Two Romanians accused of being members of an extensive cocaine-trafficking ring, coordinated by the leaders of the Medellín cartel in Colombia, have been detained, the Romanian public prosecutor’s office specialized in the fight against organized crime (DIICOT) announced on 14 January. “The top level of this organized-crime ring is in Colombia and is made up of the leaders of the Medellín drug cartel, the brothers Miguel and Víctor Mejía Munera (called ‘the twins’),” DIICOT specified. The two Romanians, Nadolu Constantin and Iosif Catalin, were responsible for sending the cocaine to Romania from Ecuador, the public prosecutor’s office indicated. A Colombian working with them, Víctor Manuel Porto Sánchez, is wanted on drug-trafficking and homicide charges, the Romanian public prosecutor’s office indicated. The suspects are accused of having participated in the organization of a cocaine shipment sent by sea from the Ecuadorean port of Guayaquil to the Spanish port of Algeciras (in southern Spain), and then to Italy and the Romanian port of Constanta (in eastern Romania). The investigation was carried out by the Romanian public prosecutor’s office with help from U.S. officials from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Spanish, Italian, and Ecuadorean authorities.
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By Dialogo March 02, 2011 The military will take to the streets of Honduras to patrol with the police in joint operations, for the purpose of combatting the high crime rate, official sources announced on 28 February. “President Porfirio Lobo has ordered the Armed Forces and the Ministry of Security to conduct joint operations, and we’re going to take the necessary measures to carry out those orders,” the top military commander, Gen. René Osorio, said at a press conference. Lobo called a meeting bringing together the presidents of the judicial branch, Jorge Avilés, and the legislative branch, Juan Orlando Hernández, as well as Osorio and the ministers of defense, Marlon Pascua, and security, Oscar Alvarez, among other authorities, in order to make decisions for the fight against crime. “The president has been clear that Defense should support the Ministry of Security, and we’re going to continue with the actions that have been taking place since last year, but they’re going to increase,” Pascua said. In the face of the crime wave Honduras is confronting, Lobo resolved to call the meeting upon his return from a trip to South Korea, Singapore, and Kuwait.
In Peñalolén, Chile, the community began with three neighborhood watch committees aligned with local government agencies in 2005. Today, the number of committees has grown to 166 for a community of 216,000. Norma Maray, manager of the Citizen Security Unit for Peñalolén, told Diálogo the growth in community groups has helped cut the rate of victimization by nearly half in five years. That means fewer home invasions, muggings and other criminal acts in the community. The municipality aims to underscore the idea that citizen security is both a right and a civil duty, according to Maray. It is the idea of a shared responsibility among the citizens and the state, with the state providing the needed support for citizens to organize. The citizen groups meet with local officials and police to create action plans; the municipality then conducts training and provides equipment and technology. The plans contain elements of crime prevention ranging from youth programs and community alarms to ensuring areas in a neighborhood are well lit and surveillance cameras are set up as crime deterrents. As citizens take back their neighborhoods, they are more inclined to interact with one another in shared community areas, as opposed to seeking shelter within their homes and keeping to themselves. The increase in communication helps promote vigilance as social networks form. Maray said the result is not that the community members take justice into their own hands, but that they deter criminals. Community groups in Chile and Guatemala primarily work with the police by providing information about their surroundings. “Citizens are not going to go out and capture criminals, [citizens] are not patrolling,” explained González. The groups achieve three goals: They create an interconnected society, provide an extension of police resources by reporting on matters of security, and serve as a system of checks and balances for police actions or follow up on the information provided. “The citizen becomes, in some way, supportive of police actions. And in addition, becomes a type of comptroller of the actions taken [by police],” said González. As criminal activities threaten the region’s security, citizens in Guatemala, Chile and the Dominican Republic are rising to meet the challenge. Tougher action by security forces has helped some, but simple community-driven vigilance and communication is also helping to reduce crime. Thousands of neighborhood citizen watch groups are forming across the region, working hand in hand with their local governments to bring security back to communities. “On the topic of security, everyone from the president of the nation to the child in the community must be included. It is not only a topic for the police forces,” said former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe during an August 2011 conference in El Salvador about the role of mayors in public safety. The former president and local mayors discussed sustainable plans for security, including a security tax, a measure that proved successful in Colombia. By Dialogo January 01, 2012 Recognizing that citizens’ perceptions of the state are largely based on interactions with the police, the Dominican Republic’s National Police trains its officers to become community leaders. A Colombian police officer delivered the initial training, funded by the U.S. Embassy, according to Colonel Teresa Martínez, commander of the Dominican Republic’s National Police. “The training showed us how to empower the communities and it taught us to see ourselves as agents of security,” Col. Martínez explained to Diálogo. The training provided guidance to enhance interactions between police and citizens, ultimately seeking to eliminate the lack of trust in the state. “We don’t want citizens doing the work of the police, but rather, given the lack of human and other resources, that citizens simply commit themselves to the topic of security and to support their authorities,” said Col. Martínez. Experts like González and Maray, who gathered at a community security seminar organized by the Institute of the Americas in June 2011, agree that the effort to overcome crime is gaining momentum and bolstering citizens’ confidence in the state. Experts in attendance at the seminar underscored that even though the threats to citizen security vary from Guatemala to Chile, communities are most engaged when citizens trust the state. Community engagement is a powerful factor that boosts the work of security forces and supports democracy. “Trust is gained in the sense of the interactions had, the attention [given], and the approach that the police has with the population,” added Col. Martínez. Sources: www.elsalvador.com, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Latin American citizens are faced with myriad sources of violence from drug cartels, gangs, narcotraffickers, insurgent groups and opportunistic criminals. Although figures from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2011 report show global homicide rates are stable or decreasing for most of the world, Central America’s homicide rate is on the rise: The total number of homicides in the Americas ranks No. 2 in the world, second only to Africa. The approach of turning to community groups is not a new one, but it has gained increased attention as a low-cost alternative employed to address crime. Donaldo González, spokesman for the Guatemalan National Civil Police, told Diálogo that the police have worked with community groups for several years. About 700 citizen community security groups have formed in that time thanks to assistance from the National Civil Police prevention unit. Their impact has been to leave citizens feeling more secure and supportive of democratic institutions, as opposed to calling for a return to military control. Community Bonds
By Dialogo January 01, 2013 The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Government of Mexico signed a memorandum of cooperation in August 2012 that vows to aggressively address the continuing problem of illegal methamphetamine production. Mexican Attorney General Marisela Morales Ibáñez and General Commissioner of the Mexican Federal Police Maribel Cervantes Guerrero made the announcement with DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart. The memorandum “enhances our intelligence sharing and joint training efforts,” Leonhart said. U.S. and Mexican officials enjoy a strong cooperative relationship that includes information and intelligence exchange, joint chemical control efforts, and training and resources for meth lab dismantling. The signing of the memorandum “is an unprecedented event because both of our countries are signing the very first international instrument that will help fight the manufacturing of synthetic drugs in clandestine laboratories,” Morales said. Cervantes noted that the memorandum will strengthen her agency’s collaborative approach. “The Mexican Federal Police will make every effort to increase timely coordination and exchange of information,” she said. Mexico has experienced a dramatic increase in seizures of clandestine methamphetamine labs and precursor chemicals, up nearly 1,000 percent between 2010 and 2011. This increase has led to a rise of methamphetamine seizures at the U.S. border. In 2011, seizures of meth in the United States’ southwest border totaled 7,338 kilograms, more than twice the amount seized in 2009. The U.S. State Department has set aside $12 million in Mérida Initiative funding to support Mexican Government efforts to safely secure clandestine labs, gather evidence and destroy chemical precursors. Sources: U.S. Embassy in Mexico, Ágora
T he Amber Alert system shows results in Mexico Amber alert rescues Mexico’s Amber Alert system has helped authorities rescue 105 children who were reported missing since its introduction in 2012, authorities said. Brazil is moving towards adopting the system as well. The Brazilian Congress is considering an initiative which would introduce the Amber Alert system into the country. About 10,000 children a year disappear in Brazil, and about 15 percent are found, according to the Movement for Creating the Amber Alert in Brazil. Amber alerts have helped authorities rescue children throughout Latin America. Among the rescues: • On Nov. 28, 2013, security forces in Mexico rescued Celeste Nohemí Pérez Méndez, a 13-year-old girl from Guatemala. Security forces found her in the town of Puerto Madero, Chaipas, six weeks after relatives reported her disappearance from Sector Méndez, a village in Guatemala. • On April 15, 2013, Salvadoran security forces rescued Valeria Hernández de Jesús, 4. Security forces found her after Mexican authorities issued an international Amber Alert. Security forces found her more than 1,200 kilometers from her home. By Dialogo January 31, 2014 How Amber Alert began Not every case of missing child triggers an Amber Alert. Before law enforcement authorities issue one, • A law enforcement agency must have confirmed that the child was abducted. • The child must be at serious risk of death or injury. • Authorities must have enough information to issue an alert. This would include the description of the child, including the child’s age. Alerts could also include the name and physical description of a suspected kidnapper, and, if available, the type of vehicle and license plate the suspect is believed to be using. • The child must be below 18 years of age. • The parents or legal guardians of the missing child must file a report with law enforcement authorities. While Amber Alerts help authorities find missing juveniles, they do not apply to cases in which adults have been kidnapped. For example, in Mexico, Los Zetas, the Sinaloa Cartel, La Familia Michoacana (LFM) and other transnational criminal organizations have kidnapped tens of thousands of people since December 2006, when the federal government sent the military after the drug cartels. From December 2006 to December 2012, during the administration of President Felipe Calderon, relatives of victims reported 26,121 kidnappings, according to the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH). From January to June 2013, relatives of kidnapping victims reported 751 abductions, 122 more than were reported during the same period the previous year, according to the National Public Security System (SNSP). The number of kidnappings has surged dramatically since 2007, when 438 abductions were reported in Mexico, according to Reforma. One of the more notorious kidnappings in recent years occurred in 2008, when LFM operatives kidnapped and killed Fernando Marti, the son of businessman Alejandro Marti. The kidnappers killed Fernando even though his father had paid a ransom of $2 million. The Amber Alert system has helped security forces rescue 779 children in El Salvador, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic between 2002 and 2013. “As time goes by, clues, evidence, or any other circumstances that may allow us to locate the victims are lost. Therefore, the first few hours are critical for authorities,” said Mexico City deputy prosecutor Sulma Eunice Campos Mata. Amber Alerts immediately notify the public that authorities are looking for a missing child, she said. Campos Mata, who is part of a unit which provides services to crime victims, said that locating missing children quickly is crucial to ensure their safety. The Amber Alert system is a cooperative effort between law enforcement authorities and the press, including newspapers, TV news stations, radio news agencies, websites, and Twitter. When an Amber Alert is activated, security officials ask the media to broadcast that a child is missing. The alert usually includes the name of the missing child, a detailed description, and a photograph of the boy or girl authorities are looking for. Some of the rescued children were allegedly kidnapped by organized crime operatives who planned to use them for human trafficking. Some were abducted by sexual abusers. And some were taken by relative involved in custody disputes. Amber Alert criteria Amber Renee Hagerman, 9, disappeared while riding her bicycle near her grandparents’ house in Arlington, Texas on Jan. 13 1996. FBI agents and hundreds of volunteers from the community searched for the girl. Four days after Amber was last seen, authorities found her body in a drainage ditch near the home of her grandparents. She had been killed, officials said. During the search, some neighbors called Texas radio stations and suggested that the media issue special alerts when a child is reported missing. Following Amber’s death, Texas and other states developed Amber Alert systems. Latin American countries adopted Amber Alerts as well. The United States federal government invested $20 million into a national Amber Alert system in response to a law signed by then-President George W. Bush in April 2003. States used their funds to develop and enhance their local notification systems. Today, every state has an Amber Alert system.
The theme of this year’s South American Defense Conference (SOUTHDEC), “Civil-Military Cooperation in Support of Regional Security,” seems to have been created specifically for the co-host of the event – Chile – together with the United States Southern Command. The country is internationally recognized for excellence in the use of its armed forces during activities such as disaster relief and has become a reference for other countries in this regard. At the end of the conference, held in Santiago August 12-14, Diálogo had the opportunity to speak with the Chief of Staff of the Chilean Armed Forces, Rear Admiral José Miguel Romero about this and other subjects. Diálogo: What are your immediate goals as the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Chilean Armed Forces? The Joint Chiefs of Staff contributes to the integration process of the state defense systems, linking the strategic and political action fields with the operational-strategic environment, in tasks such as homeland defense, the employment of forces, international cooperation, civil population support and contributions to development with its competences. Such actions must continue being integrated under the coordination of the Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, something I am particularly dedicated to, as well as guaranteeing the institutionalism of subsidiary support given by this Joint Chiefs of Staff, in coordination with the Armed Forces to provide support to civil institutions in charge of risk management and humanitarian crisis. In the field of international cooperation, we will continue providing support with the delivery of capabilities to various Armed Forces, to which Chile relates, in close relation with foreign policy objectives as set by the Government. Diálogo: Currently, what is the main challenge for the Armed Forces of Chile? In order to fulfill the tasks that are imposed by law, the Armed Forces are developing certain joint activities and other specific activities. The former are integrated under a common command, while the latter are those exclusive to each of the branches. Among joint activities coordinated thorough the Joint Chiefs of Staff are operation planning and development, forces’ training and instruction to conduct joint exercises, logistical planning in areas that are of common interest for the three institutions, the development of joint instruction programs at the level of war academies and/or at the international level, and command and control joint systems, etc. Previously mentioned capabilities, regulated since 2010, must continue to be developed and regulated so that the joint action of the Armed Forces constitutes a solid operations doctrine to be developed. Diálogo: How do you see civil-military cooperation in the support of regional security? Coinciding with the foreign policy set by the Chilean government, the Joint Chiefs of Staff coordinates several interaction events with the Armed Forces that are conducted with regional Armed Forces. First, we can mention the creation of the binational peacekeeping force “Southern Cross” with Argentina, which is ready to deploy at the request of the United Nations, in order to fulfill missions related to peacekeeping operations around the world. On the other hand, the Joint Chiefs of Staff has coordinated the supply of Chilean Armed Forces’ instructors to Central American countries (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Jamaica) so they can conduct military training. As a result of these efforts, I can conclude that Chilean cooperation in the region is increasing, and it is a priority for the political level, which ultimately makes the decisions on national defense in our country. Diálogo: What countries currently have Chilean participation in peacekeeping missions? What are the basic differences between these missions? To start with, armed conflict solutions have a comprehensive character, since not only the military and police components must be considered, but also the participation of civilians in justice, health, public works, civil registry, elections system, education, finance, and even enterprise. As part of this international task, Chile approved the national policy for state participation in peacekeeping operations, considering the use of the force if necessary, with the aim of achieving a secure and stable environment in the armed conflict area. Through the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Chile is currently conducting missions in Bosnia-Herzegovina (Althea), under the European Union control, where the main effort is aimed at the instruction of Bosnian agents and the consolidation of their capabilities. Also, it is intended to maintain the means that support deterrence capabilities, hence maintaining or restoring a secure environment. Our country has a total of 15 forces deployed. In Cyprus (UNFICYP), efforts are aimed at solving humanitarian problems and preventing the continuation of confrontations, therefore maintaining the military status quo. In this case, the joint combined unit is made up of the Argentine Task Force and a Chilean unit with 14 members. In the case of the mission in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP), we sent two military observers to monitor the fire lines agreed for almost six decades of conflict. In the Middle East (UNTSO), two Chilean forces have the mission of supervising the truce or cease fire in Palestine. Finally, the mission our country has in Haiti (MINUSTAH) is the largest in terms of personnel, with 423 members. National officers of our Armed Forces, Carabineros and the Chilean Investigation Police serve as its headquarters in positions related to strategic planning and decision making, logistics, and maritime operations. Moreover, it has presence with an infantry unit and its logistical support for long and short range walking and motor patrolling, checkpoints, and security convoy. There is also a combined binational engineers company with Ecuador, aimed at the construction and repair of roads, area and debris clearing, excavation and clearing of drainage systems, contention walls for rain water, construction materials transport for NGO, and improvements on United Nations bases. Finally, there is a helicopter unit with daytime and nighttime reconnaissance operation, with support to land units not only from Chile, but from other countries, rescue operations, air medical evacuations, civil and military authorities transport, as well as reconnaissance flights. Although it has no assignment at the moment, I must mention the Chilean-Argentine Joint Combined Peacekeeping Force “Southern Cross,” with land, air, and naval components, and the goal of deploying in full or in modules, on demand of the UN, depending on both countries availability. Diálogo: What collaboration programs do the Armed Forces of Chile have with those of other countries in the region? With Argentina we hold several integration protocols that transcend the Southern Cross Binational Task Force. Furthermore, we have support protocols in case of catastrophe and natural disasters that allowed us to work on certain cases, such as the deployment of an Argentine hospital in Chile, after the earthquake of February 27. I have already talked about the support coordinated by this Joint Chief of Staff for Central American nation, as well as the support conducted by instruction teams of our Armed Forces. We also conduct several exchanges among specialists, academic professionals and Armies, namely Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, and even the United States of America. Diálogo: Do you consider Chile the best prepared country in the region, in terms of disaster relief? Why? I don’t think we can say we are the best prepared nation, since all countries in the region have their own experiences and potential. This was proved recently, with the shared experiences of participating nations at the South American Defense Conference, SOUTHDEC. It is very useful to obtain experience through the vision and experience of other countries. We benefit from the experience of the friendly nation’s defense community. What we do is to combine efforts, information, and establish the systems that are more appropriate for each country, considering that an emergency situation, a natural disaster, a catastrophe, is different in each country, depending on their idiosyncrasies, legislations, or support possibilities that are available. Chile has always had to deploy its full potential in order to respond to natural disasters and catastrophes. And its intervention has improved due to lessons learned, and our management capacity: of civil organizations in charge of the response, and the subsidiary support of the Armed Forces permanently coordinated by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, improving its protocols day by day. By Dialogo August 21, 2014 Our grand armed forces. Hooray for Chile, for always being a generous country. The Armed Forces have always, always protected and helped our nation, because my nation was born from our Army.
In Colombia, for example, the cocaine barons’ main icon was Pablo Escobar (1980-1990); his luxuries included sponsoring soccer teams, using planes for advertising, building affordable housing in the lower-income areas of Medellin, using the press to portray himself as a victim of persecution, and many others. What takes place, in fact, is large-scale bartering. They take advantage of the extreme deprivation in poor communities, such as in the favelas (slums) within Rio de Janeiro, and buy support from those poor populations at a bargain. If that does not sound familiar, let’s look at some of the most classic cases. Of course, technology accompanies the process, and cyberspace is often used for those practices. The most critical phase usually takes place when financing drugs is used as a way to provide authenticity for illegally obtained power. The main actions usually include hiring lawyers, recruiting people from Human Rights organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), financing political campaigns, and the ensuing election of mayors and members of parliament. Finally, after more than two decades, there are still people in Medellin who lay flowers at Pablo Escobar’s grave every day. In Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, young drug dealers still spray paint walls with graffiti of Rogério Lengruber’s initials and those of other gang leaders who have been dead for over a decade. By Dialogo December 21, 2015 Congratulations to Colonel (R-1) Montenegro for the excellent approach to narco-populism. Excellent overview of what is happening in Public Security, especially in the State of Rio de Janeiro. Organ system failure that seeks to provide stability, favoring and making space for traffickers to occupy the State’s vacancy. Organized crime occupies the spaces where the government is absent in many different ways and always with a lot of creativity. With minor variations, some of the activities have found a scenario that is quite fertile for replication in Latin American countries. The context is usually adorned with the same ingredients: indifference to poverty, decline of the elite, demoralized politicians, social contrasts, corruption, and government inefficiency. This phenomenon, which is now called narco-populism, deserves to be studied from a multidisciplinary perspective by professionals with different viewpoints. A flawed interpretation by less enlightened individuals and the gains of unethical opportunists make this scenario a direct threat to democracies that are still in the process of consolidation. In Mexico, “Chapo” Guzman is still seen by a significantly large part of the population as the great “sheriff” of Sinaloa for having distributed “confiscated” land, food, and construction materials. The drug-trafficking leaders in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas have been financing funk parties (rave-like dances), medical treatment, home repairs, Christmas presents, fireworks for New Year’s Eve, soccer tournaments, etc. since the 1990s. At some events, people sing songs praising drug trafficking, sex, and hostility against the police with the connivance of corrupt elements within law enforcement. This scenario is favorable to drug traffickers who purport to be the “messiahs of the poor,” an opportunistic revision of the Robin Hood character. Among disadvantaged populations, they profess to be providers of wealth and instant justice and even claim to be mediators for family issues. This is just one of the features that characterize the failure of a democratic, rule-of-law state. *Sampaio Task Force Commander during the pacification of the Alemão and Penha Slum Complexes in 2011 and 2012. M.S. in Military Sciences. Only by understanding the meaning of narco-populism can Latin American countries correctly choose effective actions to fight this scourge and encourage the population to adopt the right attitude. There are other similar activities that still continue, including the systematic use of violence, targeted killings, infiltration, blackmail, extortion, threats to their direct enemies, and impressive escapes from prisons with the use of helicopters or underground tunnels.
“Crime will be punished in a clear and decisive fashion,” Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said on May 17th. “With the security forces and the rest of the state, we are making every effort (…) to dismantle these criminal organizations.” Operation Agamemnon’s first seeds were planted more than three months ago when an undercover police officer infiltrated the farm where Clan Úsuga stored its drug shipments. For nearly 12 weeks, the officer toiled as a day laborer at a nearby plantain plantation, collecting fruit and slowly earning the trust of his co-workers. The seizure represents possibly the most important strike against Clan Úsuga’s finances and confirms the partial success of Operation Agamemnon, a nationwide effort against the criminal organization that started in February 2015. Since then, authorities have killed or captured more than 800 Clan Úsuga operatives, seized more than 32 tons of cocaine, destroyed more than 100 drug laboratories, and confiscated over $64 million in assets, according to Antioquia’s Police Commander, Colonel Wilson Pardo Salazar. In one of the largest and most significant drug seizures in Colombia’s history, the National Police confiscated 9.3 tons of cocaine, valued at around $250 million, as part of Operation Agamemnon on May 15th. Roberto Vargas Gutiérrez, who reportedly is Clan Úsuga’s second-in-command, allegedly owned the cocaine, which police confiscated during a raid at dawn on a farm near the port town of Turbo in the department of Antioquia. The seizure was the result of surveillance and undercover work that culminated with a raid carried out by more than 50 police commandos who received aerial support. “This is one of the most resounding blows against organized crime,” General Jorge Hernando Nieto, the National Police’s director, said in a press conference after overseeing the operation’s final hours from a command center near Turbo. The officer learned that about three times a week a truck carrying food – and between 100 and 250 kilograms of cocaine – would arrive at the farm. The officer was told by the other laborers that the cocaine belonged to Vargas Gutiérrez, who goes by the alias “Gavilán,” and Clan Úsuga was desperately buying as much cocaine as possible to ship internationally to offset the criminal organization’s financial losses caused by police interdictions throughout Colombia. The setbacks have forced Dario Antonio Úsuga, Clan Úsuga’s leader who goes by the alias “Otoniel”, to offer heavy rewards for the deaths of the police commanders in charge of leading Operation Agamemnon, according to police intelligence. The government has pledged to increase the pressure and ultimately destroy organized crime gangs like Clan Úsuga. On the night of May 14th, Gen. Nieto ordered law enforcement to converge on the farm. At about 2 a.m. the next morning, the swarm of police commandos descended onto the property in a Black Hawk helicopter and rushed towards an underground hideout where the 9.3 tons of cocaine had been stockpiled. By Dialogo May 20, 2016 Plan into action In the days leading to May 15th, the undercover officer sent a message urging his superiors to move, since the criminal band was planning to send a 1.6-ton cocaine shipment to Central America in a boat called the “Niña Adriana.” In preparation for the assault, the Police sent a surveillance plane that recorded the comings and goings of the drug traffickers and the unloading of the cocaine from the food trucks, according to Police.
By General Francisco Javier Cruz Ricci, commander of the Colombian Army’s 6th Division* July 25, 2017 Trained on how to confront and stop criminal activities which have impacted Colombia’s general welfare, social progress, and economic interests for more than 50 years, the soldiers of the Colombian National Army set their combat equipment aside to plunge into turbulent waters, which on March 31st carried away houses, cars, electric poles, and entire families who lost the battle against the mud and giant rocks. The first to arrive in the area devastated by the mudslide that night were soldiers from the 27th Combat Services Battalion, “Simona de la Luz Duque de Alzate.” From their base of operations in Mocoa, Putumayo, they saw from a distance how the Sangoyaco and Mulato rivers and the Taruca, Taruquita and San Antonio tributaries burst their banks and added to the floodwaters. It was then that the soldiers, stirred by the bravery of their unit commander, Lieutenant Colonel José Alexander Pedraza, left their lodgings in the middle of the night to rescue children, elders, and whole families who, hanging from trees and clinging to sticks and rocks, cried out to be saved by the men in uniform, who that day faced off against the scariest battle that they could ever have imagined. Amid the rocks, mud, collapsed buildings, and fallen trees, the soldiers rescued 116 people who had survived nature’s fury. The avalanche destroyed 17 neighborhoods in the capital of the Putumayo department between 11:00, on the night of March 31st, and 2:00 on the morning of April 1st. At that hour, endless rain began to fall, and later, in the dead of night, the magnitude of what was happening could be seen when the force of the floodwaters subsided and a sense of desolation, sadness, and impotence began to take hold of the humble residents of Mocoa, who, unclothed and bruised, some unconscious and others in panic, suddenly found themselves without anything. That was a moment of absolute crisis experienced in a southern department of Colombia, which for many years had suffered from a lack of public investment, as well as the degradation of its patrimony. The grave situation, caused by torrential rains, became known around the world. The emergency At around 5:00 in the morning, nationwide alerts were activated and the National Risk Management System and disaster response entities, as well as the Colombian Red Cross, Colombian fire brigades, and civil protection agencies, deployed from Bogotá to the department of Putumayo. In record time, with the support of Colombian Armed Forces aircraft, which also made health professionals and their team of humanitarian assistance and disaster prevention available, they continued the evacuation, rescue, and debris-removal efforts to rescue the missing and recover the dead. It was a heroic first-response action performed over two days by the 1,200 soldiers who were strategically located in the area to aid, protect, and care for the victims of the mudslide. Their professional training focused on protecting the lives of citizens, allowed these soldiers to successfully calculate the risks of the mudslide. To care for the victims of the tragedy, temporary shelters were set up, controlled by military units in the region. Some 2,000 people were cared for in the shelters made up of tents which were quickly set up. They received immediate medical, psychological, spiritual, and specialized care. That action allowed them to control the chaos and reduce the victims’ level of stress, who, in spite of their suffering, found a ray of hope in the shelters. The disaster destroyed a large part of Mocoa, affecting 300 families, leaving 329 dead (120 of whom were minors), another 70 missing, and 32 unidentified bodies. Heroes in reconstruction The environmental disaster was an unexpected tragedy which, in addition to taking lives, cut off the departments of central Colombia from the south of the country for the first five days. The torrential rains swept away a bridge which connected the capital of Putumayo with the municipality of Pitalito Huila, another Colombian department. During the stabilization phase, the bridge was replaced with an ACROW modular military bridge. In less than 10 hours, with support from the National Highway Institute, the National Infrastructure Agency, and the Colombian National Army engineers, the flow of water and vehicular access were restored. In a joint effort, they re-established traffic along the main road in record time so that cargo vehicles, public transportation, and personal vehicles could travel to Ecuador and Peru without any problem. These multi-mission heroes from the recently created Comprehensive Action Command of the Colombian Army also led the logistics strategy to receive and distribute equitably and in a controlled manner the 2,093 tons of non-perishable food, water, milk, personal hygiene supplies, mattresses, pillows, clothing, and kitchen supplies that were put together by the Mocoa Mayor’s Office, the Colombian Red Cross, and the National Police in order for victims to receive the aid in time. One of the shelters that received the largest number of affected individuals was the Technology Institute of Putumayo. Military engineers had to rebuild an access road so that personnel could reach the victims. The Colombian National Army also removed debris and detonated 15 boulders in the Sangoyaco and Mulato rivers and the Taruca and Taruquita tributaries. That operation was conducted with support from military geotechnical engineers who traced and verified the flow of the rivers in the area around Mocoa to identify and prevent any hazards. With support from Colombian Army Aviation and approximately 120 soldiers, pipes were transferred from Bogotá to build the new aqueduct in Mocoa. In that operation, 38 helicopter trips were made to deliver 480 tubes to carry out the large project. A multi-mission army ready for new challenges All of these actions were made possible thanks to the professional training of a large group of Colombian National Army officers, non-commissioned officers, and soldiers attached to the Disaster Prevention and Response Battalion. Years prior, before arriving in Mocoa, these Colombian Army heroes were present in countries like Haiti and Honduras, providing humanitarian aid during various international emergencies as well as in Puerto Salgar, Cundinamarca, another region of Colombia where months before, a tragedy similar to the one in Mocoa had happened and where the brave soldiers of that institution also participated in the relief effort. During the total reconstruction of the 17 neighborhoods in Mocoa, Putumayo, which bore the brunt of nature’s fury, the Colombian National Army will also have the mission of inspecting and paving six kilometers of roadway in order to restore the highways. Rigid pavement will be used, to leave Mocoa better off than before, and to reinforce the region as an Amazon territory that is safe, visible, and interesting to the world at large. New challenges As part of the transformation process, the Colombian Army’s 6th Division, which has jurisdiction over the departments of Caquetá, Putumayo, and Amazonas, is meeting new challenges in the area of national defense and security. It has top-level technology and the capacities needed to deal with organized crime and illegal armed groups in general, which attempt to violate public safety through drug trafficking, illegal mining and deforestation, and other criminal activities that impact the general welfare of Colombians. With the support and capabilities of our military engineers, the Colombian Army is improving roads and completing water management and drainage projects, as well as drilling and compaction on some stretches of secondary and tertiary roadways within its jurisdiction. In this transformation phase, the recently created Humanitarian Demining Battalions has been charged with conducting non-technical studies to find and destroy explosive devices and anti-personnel mines, with the purpose of protecting the civilian population and ensuring socio-economic development in communities torn apart by violence from narco-terrorist groups. The heroes of the Colombian Army have been efficient; their results, exceptional. They have shown leadership in critical situations caused by natural disasters, and they have provided differential recovery and stabilization responses involving their military units specialized in search, rescue, and recovery under the direction of other units specialized in open-air demolition and the installation of structures, such as military bridges. Thanks to our service members’ effectiveness, today we are able to speak of peace reigning far and wide over the 6th Division’s jurisdiction, where our service members’ efforts, commitment, and courage have clearly been demonstrated. As a result of their hard work, the homicide rate has dropped to its lowest level in 40 years – something that would not have been possible without the courage and drive of our heroic service members, with whom we are creating a better nation. *Brigadier General Francisco Javier Cruz Ricci, of the Colombian Army Engineers, is the commanding officer of the Army 6th Division with jurisdiction over the departments of Caquetá, Putumayo, and Amazonas. *Brigadier General Francisco Javier Cruz Ricci, of the Colombian Army Engineers, is the commanding officer of the Army 6th Division with jurisdiction over the departments of Caquetá, Putumayo, and Amazonas.
By Yolima Dussán/Diálogo May 31, 2019 Representatives of armed forces of 18 nations met at Cartagena Naval Base, Colombia, on May 8 to deliver the results of the Orión Naval and Riverine Campaign III carried out in the first quarter of 2019. The campaign’s mission is to disrupt transnational narcotrafficking networks in the Caribbean Sea, the Pacific Ocean, and border rivers in the region. Orión III featured eight combined operations in the territorial waters of each participating country. The Colombian Navy, with the cooperation of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) coordinated the exercise. Authorities seized 48.3 tons of cocaine, 19.7 tons of marijuana, 1 ton of coca paste, and arrested 160 alleged narcotraffickers. Multinational operation “This campaign has yielded significant results for us,” U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Pat Dequattro, director of Joint Interagency Task Force South, told Diálogo. “We value the effort and success of the 18 countries. We hope to include more agencies and other forces.” The armed forces of Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, The Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, and the United States joined the Orión III Campaign, while three countries participated as observers: Argentina, Canada, and Chile. Colombian Navy Vice Admiral Gabriel Alfonso Pérez Garcés, commander of Naval Operations, elaborated on the work conducted with SOUTHCOM. “With their help, we made a triangular cooperation plan for maritime and riverine interdiction and intelligence with several countries in the region, where we had mobile groups and generated better results in coordination, communication, and consolidation of operations,” he said. “The U.S. commitment is direct and permanent,” Vice Admiral Evelio Ramírez Gáfaro, commander of the Colombian Navy, told Diálogo. “Participating nations think of Orión as an effective and efficient operation. We know that more people will join.” Results “Here we fight against transnational enemies. We are happy to provide surface units and to prevent criminals from using the sea,” Vice Admiral Juan Randolfo Pardo Aguilar, commander of the Guatemalan Navy, told Diálogo. “We expect to participate with more units and equipment.” Since 2018, the Orión campaigns have seized 94 tons of cocaine and 27 tons of marijuana, valued at more than $3.3 billion. This result has a direct impact on consumption and lowers the supply in countries where the drugs would have been distributed. “Most of the drugs leave from Ecuador; that’s why operations were focused on the Pacific. Our country is greatly affected,” Ecuadorean Navy Rear Admiral Amílcar Villavicencio Palacios, commander of Naval Operations, told Diálogo. “This is a well-designed operation in the strategic, legal, and operational aspects.”