SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador – Guatemalan, Honduran and Salvadoran officials have agreed to work together to bolster security along the countries’ shared border.
The plan’s goal is to prevent narco-traffickers and members of organized crime groups from using the three countries – collectively known as the “Northern Tier” – as a transit point for weapons, narcotics, animals and humans en route to the United States or South America, according to Francisco Román Salinas, director of El Salvador’s National Civil Police (PNC).
The initiative has three elements:
Create an anti-crime database containing information gathered by authorities on all suspects;
Create a system in which Guatemalan, Honduran and El Salvadoran officials can exchange information freely about criminal activity throughout the region;
Create a Tri-National Police Force, which will coordinate and carry out operations in border regions.
“We need to integrate efforts in order to fight crime in the border regions,” Román Salinas said. “Gathering information will be very useful to us in fighting crime in the border areas.”
Salinas, however, does not have a starting date for when the Tri-National Police Force will be formed because his Honduran counterpart, Juan Carlos Bonilla, was just recently named the head of the Honduran Police and is in the process of hiring his staff.
It also unclear how many officers each country will commit to the Tri-National Police Force since Honduras is reorganizing its department under Bonilla. El Salvador has a police force of 21,000, while Guatemala has 20,000 officers and Honduras 14,000.
El Salvador’s Minister of Justice and Security David Munguía Payés, Guatemalan Minister of Government Héctor López Bonilla and Honduran Minister of Security Pompeyo Bonilla met in El Salvador earlier this month to discuss the initiative.
Bonilla stressed his police officers have been overwhelmed by the region’s narco-traffickers and it’s imperative his country receives help from its neighbors if Guatemala is to make strides in its narcotics fight.
“We have to act on a regional level,” López Bonilla said. “We have to act in coordination and we need the support of friendly countries because this isn’t just our problem – there is a shared responsibility. That is why we hope to have the support of friendly countries and also from cooperative financial entities.”
Salinas said the countries need funding to create an information database.
“This is still in the planning stages,” he said. “We are looking for the corresponding support to secure resources. But gathering information will be very useful to us in fighting crime along the border areas.”
López Bonilla envisions the countries creating a bureau in which law enforcement agents from the three countries can work together to coordinate anti-crime and counter-narcotics strategies.
“This will be a very important step that we must look into implementing in the next few months,” he said.
He added traffickers of narcotics, weapons, animals and humans are traveling through Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to Mexico, the final stop before the United States.
“Drug traffickers have become involved in all four of those trafficking aspects and we need to pay attention to that – not only here in Guatemala but in the rest of Central America,” he said.
Mexican drug cartels, specifically Los Zetas, have increased their presence throughout Central America, spurring escalations in homicides, kidnappings, car thefts, extortions and human trafficking.
Authorities have documented Los Zetas’ presence in the border areas of the Guatemalan departments of Izabal, Chiquimula, Jutiapa and Petén.
“Los Zetas are not only dedicated to taking over trafficking routes, but they’re also overtaking the organized crime groups they encounter as they expand out of Mexico,” López Bonilla said. “In other words, if there are people, if there are extortionist structures…they come in, seize them and put them to their own use. If they don’t get them easily, they use force.”