By Roberto López/ Diálogo January 30, 2017 It is reassuring to know that Minister Bethancourt recognizes the “benefits of having a permanent cooperative relationship with countries like the United States and Colombia.”I would have liked the Minister comments on the impact of U.S.-provided capacity building. Did U.S. capacity building help increase the number of “officials educated and trained in security” he places in “positions at ministry headquarters and its subordinate offices, as well as in intelligence organizations”? A total of 68.4 metric tons of drugs were seized by Panamanian security agencies in 2016, a record for the country, Alexis Bethancourt, Panamanian minister of Security told Diálogo on January 19th. He stressed the importance of international cooperation to defeat drug trafficking. Large quantities of drugs produced in South America are introduced into Panamanian territory via the coasts and then transferred by land, where the majority of seizure operations occur. “Operations are conducted throughout the country and we have had positive results at sea, on the coasts, and on the borders but the most effective [operations] have been on land,” explained Minister Bethancourt. Central America is one of the key regions where criminal organizations transport their illegal shipments. They use the countries of the isthmus as their principal drug-trafficking routes. “Because of its geographic position and its logistical and maritime platforms, Panama represents one of the main links for drug-trafficking routes,” said Commissioner Belsio González, director of the National Air and Naval Service (SENAN, per its Spanish acronym). The number of seizures in 2016 surpassed the 2015 record of 58.1 tons of drugs. In 2014, a total of 39.2 tons were seized, according to figures published by the Ministry of Security. Of the total amount of drugs seized in Panama in 2016, SENAN confiscated 29.1 tons, González reported. SENAN operates in the air, the sea, and on land along the country’s 1,690-kilometer Pacific coast, the 1,160-kilometer Caribbean coast, and in close to 1,600 islands. Another component of the Security Force, the National Border Service, operates along the borders of Costa Rica and Colombia and seized 2.3 tons along the 555 kilometers under its control. The rest of the drugs (37 tons) were confiscated by the National Police of Panama. Intelligence work Commissioner González told Diálogo that in 2016 SENAN conducted 74 operations with positive results. Meanwhile, Bethancourt highlighted the importance of both domestic and international intelligence work in planning operations. “That is why actions like ‘Operation Homeland’ and ‘Operation Shield’ served to collect and verify pertinent information that could contribute to the work of developing a security strategy,” he said. Bethancourt added that planning allows for “efficiency and effectiveness for Panamanian security institutions.” The fight against drug trafficking cannot be done alone For Panamanian authorities, international cooperation plays a crucial role. Minister Bethancourt and Commissioner González don’t just concur on this — they also emphasize the benefits of having a permanent cooperative relationship with countries like the United States and Colombia. Both officials stressed that improving and strengthening international collaboration and bonds of friendship translate to support when confronting the global threat represented by drug trafficking in the different countries. Commissioner González said that cooperation in the air and sea environments, particularly in Western Hemisphere countries, is highly important, “especially since the fight against drug trafficking cannot be fought alone [by a single country]. It is necessary to use resources to systematically engage in cooperation and the constant and secure exchange of information.” To achieve active cooperation and teamwork in the fight against international crime, Panama has agreements and memorandums of understanding with countries such as Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, the United States, Honduras, and Peru. New equipment and training According to Bethancourt, another crucial factor for achieving good results is finding officials educated and trained in security, and placing them in positions at ministry headquarters and its subordinate offices, as well as in intelligence organizations. The minister also noted the “importance of improving technological equipment and providing training to people working to confront this scourge, as well as integrating officials from the Public Ministry district attorneys’ offices specialized in drug crimes who are looking for work that is more flexible and has better results.” In the past few years, institutions such as SENAN have increased seizures and criminal apprehensions and have sent more individuals responsible for illicit maritime traffic to the justice system. “Through the execution of a dynamic of strategic operational targeting, SENAN has confronted historical challenges affecting the financial-logistical system of drug-trafficking terrorist groups, stripping them of large drug shipments that are the engine driving their finances,” explained Commissioner González. At the end of their discussion on the importance of maintaining fluid communication and constant cooperation among investigative bodies within their country and with other nations dedicated to combating this illicit activity, the two Panamanian officials agreed to jointly engage in a decisive battle against the scourge of drugs in the region.
By Gonzalo Silva Infante/Diálogo March 06, 2018 The Peruvian Navy (MGP, in Spanish) began 2018 dealing blows to illegal mining in the Madre de Dios jungle region, in the southeast of Peru. Through the General Directorate of Captainships and Coast Guard, MGP conducted several operations on the Malinowski River, near the Tambopata national reserve, from January 8th-10th. During patrols of the river and its tributaries, coast guard units detected illegal mining activity.“We made an operations plan,” said to Diálogo MGP Lieutenant Junior Grade Jonathan Novoa Cabrera, assigned to the Coast Guard Captaincy of Puerto Maldonado, the capital of the Madre de Dios region. “We located the spots, and members of both the Navy and the Attorney General’s office entered by foot from the Malinowski River.”The operations were successful. Units destroyed a clandestine mining campsite, 15 suction pumps, 17 engines, six mining rafts, and a chainsaw.MGP reinforcementsIllegal mining in the vicinity of the Tambopata reserve dates back many years. The National Service of Natural Protected Areas (SERNANP, in Spanish)—a subordinate body of the Peruvian Ministry of Environment—detected illicit activity in the reserve in early 2000. By 2015, the criminals had invaded the reserve itself, prompting SERNANP to request MGP reinforcement.“In this scenario, and with the requirements from the Ministry of the Environment, through SERNANP, the Navy entered the Tambopata National Reserve permanently,” MGP Captain Eduardo Silva Marzuka, head of the Coast Guard Operations Command, told Diálogo. “They envisioned a two-part strategy: tackle illegal mining itself around the Malinowski River, and cut off illegal smuggling of supplies, fuel, and chemicals through the rivers.”To put the plan into action, MGP created a unit dedicated to eradicating illegal mining in the area of the Tambopata Reserve. The group, whose personnel alternates twice a month, set up at Las Palmeras base in the town of Mazuko, on the edge of the reserve. The unit also counts on the support of the Puerto Maldonado Coast Guard Captaincy.“The operations area is made up of the Inambari River and the Malinowski River,” Capt. Silva said. “It also [includes] the other Madre de Dios and Tambopata rivers, where operations against illegal mining are also carried out.”Devastating activityMGP destroys equipment used for illegal mining as soon as it is confiscated. (Photo: Peruvian Navy)Illegal mining has a huge impact on the Peruvian environment. The deforestation that results from the activity devastates the Amazon rainforest, and the use of mercury in the extraction process pollutes rivers and harms the population.According to the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP), an NGO of the United States, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador, Peru lost an estimated 143,500 hectares of forest in 2017. The Madre de Dios region, the MAAP indicated, is one of the main deforestation zones.With the increase in the price of gold on the international market, illegal mining became more mechanized and industrialized. The work of MGP evolved to detect campsites and destroy equipment used, as well as monitor the transport of chemical supplies and fuel used in this activity.“In the Inambari [River], the illegal transport of fuel is something that goes from Puno [city in the southeast of Peru] to the town of Mazuko every day,” said MGP Chief Warrant Officer 2 Ronald Sierra, assigned to Las Palmeras base. Jungle operations are not only demanding, but also risky. “On one occasion there were shots from breech-loading arms,” CWO 2 Sierra said about the January operations.Successful effortsWith MGP presence, invaded areas reduced notably. Although deforestation continues in Madre de Dios, MAAP indicated that forest loss in 2017 was the lowest in five years. According to data from the Tambopata Reserve, 95 percent of the areas invaded, or 721 hectares, were recovered.In 2017, MGP destroyed 11 campsites, 431 mining rafts, 26 dredges, and more than 1,000 different pieces of equipment, such as engines, suction pumps, and generators, among others, in the Madre de Dios region. The Navy also seized more than 23,000 gallons of fuel and arrested 35 people.“This is quite a considerable effort because we have dedicated a group of people to permanently combat [illegal mining] in the Tambopata National Reserve,” Capt. Silva concluded. “That means travel expenses, equipment that we implement all year long […] because our goal is to completely free [the area] from illegal mining.”