SALCAJÁ, Guatemala – Relatives of Héctor Bocel, one of eight police officers killed by armed gunmen at a police station, cry outside the morgue in Salcajá in the department of Quetzaltenango on June 14. Gunmen also kidnapped a police chief. (AFP)
MIAMI – The U.S. military recently announced it is joining a large international operation against drug smuggling and organized crime off the coast of Central America.
Military units from Europe and Latin America also are participating.
The Joint Interagency Task Force-South group of the U.S. military’s Southern Command is working with the multinational force’s efforts to detect and stop smuggling of illegal drugs, weapons and large amounts of laundered money.
“More than 80 percent of the cocaine destined for U.S. markets is transported via sea lanes, primarily using littoral routes through Central America,” said Southern Command chief General Douglas Fraser. “We intend to disrupt their operations by limiting their ability to use Central America as a transit zone.”
The U.S. force is composed of 10 ships from the Navy and Coast Guard.
The Navy is in charge of detection and providing information about criminal activity. The Coast Guard is in charge of stopping the smugglers.
Southern Command officials said 13 countries are participating: Canada, Belize, Colombia, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panama, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.
“We know that criminal organizations are very active in coastal waters of Central America,” said José Ruiz, spokesman for the Southern Command in Miami.
The criminal organizations regularly move between international waters and specific countries, “so it is especially important that all countries in the region cooperate in the control,” Ruiz said.
No completion date has been set for the action, called Operation Martillo, which began the last week of January. “It will be determined as we advance toward the goals,” Ruiz said.
In 2011, the Southern Command assisted other agencies in seizing 119 metric tons of cocaine in Central America, worth an estimated US$2.35 billion.
Also seized were US$21 million in cash and US$16 million in black market items that were destined for money laundering by criminal groups, according to the Southern Command.
[AFP (United States), 10/02/2012; El Universal (Mexico), 09/02/2012]