PANAMA CITY, Panamá – Defense and public-security leaders from the United States and Central America took part in the Central American Security Conference (CENTSEC) June 24 to discuss ways to strengthen regional cooperation in support of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts.
Panama’s Ministry of Public Security co-hosted this year’s CENTSEC with U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), which sponsors the annual conference.
“The Americas are top priority for the United States. This is our home. It’s our neighborhood. We share so much. Values at the top of that list,” said Navy Adm. Craig Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command. “The Americas were designated in the international security strategy as a vital national interest to the United States, and we are validating that care and the importance of this relationship by being here today.”
Security leaders and delegations from Belize, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Colombia, Mexico, and the United States are scheduled to be in attendance. They were joined by officials and subject matter experts from the Coordination Center for the Prevention of Disasters in Central America and the Dominican Republic (CEPREDENAC).
Representatives from Canada, France and the United Kingdom joined the forum virtually.
“From COVID, to climate change, to irregular migration, to transnational criminal threats, we must deliver results for our citizens. They’re counting on us, and they’re counting (on) us to do it in a way that’s legitimate, that respects human rights,” said Faller.
Faller, Panama Minister of Public Security Juan Manuel Pino, and U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Western Hemisphere Daniel Erikson addressed the group of leaders during a ceremony officially marking the start of the day’s multilateral discussions.
This year’s CENTSEC included panels on lessons learned during last year’s disaster relief operations following hurricanes Eta and Iota, ways to strengthen regional humanitarian assistance activities, and the region’s collaborative support of ongoing efforts to address the root causes of irregular migration.
SOUTHCOM’s support of U.S. foreign disaster assistance to Central America in the aftermath of hurricanes Eta and Iota included the delivery of more than 1.2 million pounds (540 metric tons) of aid and the rescue of 852 storm victims.
“We saw last year in hurricanes Eta and Iota the importance of regional response and longstanding relations, and the tremendous impact of over seven million people being displaced in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Colombia. And here in Panama, people are still suffering from that impact. Our collective response made a difference,” said Faller.
The command also worked closely with Central American security partners during the COVID-19 pandemic, funding more than 310 projects and donating more than $25 million worth of much-needed field hospitals, medical equipment, medical supplies, and protective equipment to support the region’s response to the health crisis.
SOUTHCOM sponsors CENTSEC to promote and facilitate dialogue and cooperation among regional security partners focused on challenges of mutual concern and shared goals.
Panama last hosted CENTSEC in 2013. Due to the global pandemic, SOUTHCOM hosted CENTSEC virtually in 2020.