COZUMEL, Mexico, April 27, 2017 —
"It takes a network to defeat a network," a U.S. Southern Command official stressed as representatives of 14 nations gathered here to address ways to confront the transnational security threats in Central America.
Even though the April 24-25 Central America Security Conference was a military-hosted event, the security threats transcend the defense realm and require a whole-of-government approach, Army Col. Barbara Fick, chief of Southcom's political-military affairs division, J5, said in an interview with DoD News.
"With most of the challenges -- be they security, even humanitarian issues or disasters -- you need a network," she explained. "It needs to be across borders and across institutions. It has to be transnational. It has to be interagency. The 'friendly network' is critical for all of the challenges."
Fick described CENTSEC 2017, which was hosted by the United States and Mexico, as an "executive-level discussion" to foster dialogue, strengthen cooperation among the allies and promote an interagency approach within and among the partner nations.
"We have to collaborate across that whole stretch, and it's not always going to be only military collaboration, because we can't all stretch one entity that thin," she said. "We have to interweave internally and then weave it further another layer externally."
Tailoring U.S. Support to the Region
In addition to the U.S. and Mexico, representatives from the seven Central American nations attended the conference, plus observers from Canada, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic and the United Kingdom.
The meeting allowed the U.S. hosts -- Southcom Commander Navy Adm. Kurt W. Tidd and Air Force Gen. Lori J. Robinson, the commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command -- to hear firsthand the varied challenges facing the individual nations, Fick said.
Those concerns include drug smuggling, human trafficking, violent gang activity and the transnational organized criminal networks that support the illicit activities, she said.
"These networks cross through and over Latin America, through and over the United States, and they touch the perimeters of our countries and our regions and our continents," she explained. "If we're not aware of those networks and what they're doing, we can't counter them."
The information from the conference will allow the United States to tailor tools in support of a nation's security efforts to that country's specific needs, she said.
The U.S. already has a number of initiatives to support security, drug interdiction and building partner capacity in the region, she said. Those efforts, she pointed out, are working to strengthen capabilities and hone skills of the Central American partners as those allies confront the well-financed and well-equipped transnational criminal groups.
'Creative' Solutions Needed for Evolving Threats
At the conclusion of the meeting, the Central American participants outlined at a news conference the threats in the region and the points of consensus between their delegations and other participating nations.
“The criminal element mutates constantly and stays ahead, so we have to be resourceful and creative, and that’s precisely what these meetings aim for," Guatemala's chief of defense, Maj. Gen. Juan Manuel Perez, said.
The participants noted the importance of a regional strategy to achieve shared security goals and highlighted the support from the United States in countering the threats, Southcom spokesman Jose Ruiz said. They also stressed the need for holistic regional and government approaches to address social factors allowing criminal networks to thrive, Ruiz added.
“Transnational crime has surpassed the capacity of some of [the nations] to counter them due to the many resources, mostly financial, [the networks] have," El Salvador's minister of defense, Lt. Gen. David Munguia said, adding that the countries agreed that they must exhaust all available means to counter the threats.
(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)