SAN JOSE, Costa Rica – Regional collaboration opportunities to address 21st century challenges was the theme this year as defense and public-security leaders from the United States and Central America took part in the Central American Security Conference (CENTSEC) Feb. 8.
Costa Rica’s Ministry of Public Security co-hosted this year’s CENTSEC with U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), which sponsors the annual conference.
“There are many security challenges in our hemisphere that rightly demand our attention, so I am personally grateful that through your presence here today you have chosen to make CENTSEC a priority,” said U.S. Army Gen. Laura Richardson, commander of U.S. Southern Command. “Your collective presence demonstrates the power of partnership! Our nations were born out of similar circumstances: a desire for self-government, a strong sense of sovereignty, and a yearning for democracy.”
Thirteen nations participated with security leaders and delegations from Belize, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Colombia, Mexico, France, Canada, United Kingdom, the Royal Netherlands, and the United States 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), the Conference of Central American Armed Forces (CFAC), Inter-American Defense Board, and the Inter-American Defense College.
Richardson, along with Costa Rican Minister of Public Security Jorge Luis Torres, 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. The day before, Richardson along with Minister Torres attended a Women’s Peace, and Security event held by SOUTHCOM.
The panels for this year’s CENTSEC included plenary sessions on critical infrastructure protection in the cyber domain, climate change and environmental security, and human rights.
In her opening remarks, Richardson referenced those topics and referred to malign nation-state actors such as China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea along with cyber-criminal groups as increasingly conducting global and regional operations below the threshold of armed conflict.
"They use gray zone techniques to establish access, steal sensitive data, and attempt to influence government and private industry, which violates your sovereign nations and highlights the vital role governments play in safeguarding its citizens and their data,” said Richardson.
SOUTHCOM sponsors CENTSEC to promote and facilitate dialogue and cooperation among regional security partners focused on challenges of mutual concern and shared goals. These SOUTHCOM-sponsored conferences are an opportunity for defense and security leaders to strengthen cooperative ties among regional forces, engage in candid dialogue on pertinent issues, evaluate challenges impacting regional security, share successes and lessons learned, and explore ways to enhance security cooperation to build on prior successes.
Costa Rica last hosted CENTSEC in 2016.
Richardson arrived in Costa Rica February 6 for bilateral meetings with senior Costa Rican government leaders before joining Costa Rica’s Minister of Public Security Jorge Torres to co-host CENTSEC.
During a bilateral press conference hosted Feb. 7 by Costa Rican President Rodrigo Chaves, Richardson announced a series of U.S. funded security assistance donations aimed at supporting Costa Rica’s unwavering efforts to disrupt violent transnational criminal organizations whose violent activities are responsible for countless deaths and unspeakable suffering.
Richardson told Costa Rican journalists the donations to the Ministry of Public Security “reflect the United States’ steadfast commitment to Costa Rica as a longstanding security and democratic partner.”
Among the donations announced by Richardson included a security operations command and control system that will support the Ministry of Public Security’s goal of establishing a modern and secure network for use in counter-narcotics operations and other critical missions.
Additionally, two unmanned aerial systems, each with three long-endurance Puma drones, which will support the detection, tracking, and disruption of narcotics trafficking and other criminal smuggling activities, as well as border security missions.
Lastly, a donation of patrol aircraft sustainment resources to the Air Vigilance Service which will fund the purchase of essential parts, tools, software and services to support the maintenance and operational readiness of patrol aircraft vital to the accomplishment of the organization’s mission.
These donations in total will equal an amount of $13.7 million.