Commander of U.S. Southern Command, Adm. Kurt W. Tidd,
Opening Ceremony, Central American Security Conference
May 9, 2018, San Salvador, El Salvador
Good morning…buenos días. Estimados generales payes y nunez…distinguidos participantes e invitados…vecinos y amigos: bienvenidos a CENTSEC!
I’d like to offer warm welcome to the following groups: The defense and security chiefs from Central America…our partners from Colombia, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and within the US Government…as well as representatives from multiple regional organizations.
I’d also like to thank everyone for all the hard work in making this conference a success. Events like this involve a lot of work—late nights, constant coordination, juggling many responsibilities. Most of this happens behind the scenes, and it’s because of our hard working action officers that these conferences are executed so flawlessly. Please join me in giving them all a round of applause.
General Payes, General Nunez: thank you for the gracious hospitality you’ve shown all of us. And a sincere thank you to our panel moderators, Dr. Jose Cruz from Florida International University, and Professor Roberto Artiga from the Salvadoran War College. Gentlemen, we appreciate you lending your keen intellects to what we anticipate will be thought-provoking discussions.
I see this year’s CENTSEC as a continuation of the dialogue we started two years ago.
In 2016, we talked about breaking down barriers to information sharing and renewing our commitment to each other as essential partners and true friends.
Last year, we focused on how the changing environment demanded more of us, as nations, militaries, and leaders. We recognized the need for integrated approaches and synchronized actions. And we shared ideas for taking our security partnerships to the next level, where we act as one network, united in purpose and unified in actions.
And now here we are in 2018….
We have much to be proud of. Later today Guatemala is going to present us with a new threat network prioritization model. Our smartest analysts from across the region have worked hard to develop this new model. The result is a breakthrough in shared understanding of the common threats we all face. We now have a framework to orient our actions that will enhance our efforts in the years ahead.
We’ve also made significant progress in operational integration and regional cooperation. Right now, as we are gathered here today, we’re executing multiple operations against criminal and other illicit networks, across multiple domains, involving multiple partners, agencies, and nations. From Panama to Guatemala, Mexico to Colombia, we’re pressuring illicit networks along multiple fronts.
What does that look like, in action?
It looks like this….
We’re learning from each other, building our capacities to more effectively manage borders and share information. We’re fighting corruption at every level, while strengthening our unbreakable commitment to protect human rights.
We’re focusing on finding pathways and permissive environments to deny illicit networks the space they need to operate.
We’re also building resiliency against ‘shocks’ like natural disasters and other crises that exacerbate those permissive environments.
And so yes, while we have much to be proud of, we still have much left to do.
Now is not the time to rest on our laurels. We must be ready for whatever comes next. For how criminal groups will adapt and evolve….for how they will react to our collective efforts…we have to be ready for the next crisis that’s over the horizon, that will test each of us, in different ways.
The future may be uncertain, but we can be confident of this: we will face it together.
Together, we can follow illicit networks through their nodes and relationships, complicated dealings and shady financial movements. Together, we can uncover webs of dark actions and nefarious actors. Together, we can target different functions, pathways, and capabilities of illicit networks, and link domestic, regional, and international efforts together. To borrow a line from Major General Stammer, juntos, podemos!
This is what success against criminal networks looks like: it’s shared success. It’s all of us working as one team, across time, space, and geography. Coming at the problem from all angles. United in our resolve. Bringing our different strengths to bear. Working as one.
Each of us knows what a complex problem this is. It’s a development problem, a national security problem, a law enforcement problem, and an economic problem. It’s a public health and safety problem that costs each of our countries tens of thousands of lives and billions of dollars in lost revenue. It’s a governance problem that threatens to undermine the very core of our democracies.
In the face of a problem this large, this complex, we have to keep striving. To do more. To expand our multinational and multiagency coordination to counter drug flows, arms trafficking, illicit finance, and other illegal activities.
We must move beyond synchronized cross-border operations and real-time sharing of information -- though these must also continue -- and make synchronized land, maritime, and air operations the norm, not the ideal.
We must integrate and align our operations and activities with the efforts of our development, private sector, and NGO partners…to create a cohesive, coordinated effort, so that as we tear networks apart, we’re also building something up, together. Something enduring…a viable alternative to criminal influence, lasting prosperity for our citizens… and a secure hemisphere for our nations.
Of course, we must continue building and shaping our forces of the future. We need to find innovative ways to develop new talent, and build ever stronger and more effective teams, to help us in this fight.
Our Sergeant Majors are taking that task head-on during this year’s CENTSEC, and I, for one, am looking forward to hearing their ideas.
The mission before us is not easy. Much will be required of us. But I am confident that we will rise to the challenge, together. As I said during my first CENTSEC, we are bound together by common hopes and a shared vision of a better future. And tomorrow, by working together, we will make that vision a reality.