Southern Command Chief Outlines Criminal Threats

WASHINGTON, March 31, 2011 — Cen­tral Amer­i­ca remains a hotspot of insta­bil­i­ty caused by vio­lent crim­i­nal orga­ni­za­tions that use drug mon­ey to under­mine legit­i­mate gov­ern­ments, the com­man­der of U.S. South­ern Com­mand said here yes­ter­day.
Air Force Gen. Dou­glas M. Fras­er said the north­ern tri­an­gle formed by Guatemala, El Sal­vador and Hon­duras is pos­si­bly the most vio­lent place on Earth today. Crim­i­nal orga­ni­za­tions involved in ille­gal activ­i­ties in the area –- includ­ing drug traf­fick­ing — real­ize a glob­al prof­it of $300 bil­lion to $400 bil­lion, he said.

Fras­er used Unit­ed Nations fig­ures to back up his point at a Pen­ta­gon news con­fer­ence.

“If we look at Iraq in 2010, the vio­lent deaths per 100,000, accord­ing to U.N. num­bers, was 14 per 100,000,” he said. “In Hon­duras last year, it was 77 per 100,000. In El Sal­vador, it was 71 per 100,000.”

The region has some very capa­ble mil­i­taries, the gen­er­al said, not­ing that El Sal­vador sent troops to Iraq that Amer­i­can part­ners rat­ed among the best in that bat­tle. But the gov­ern­ments of the region are over­matched, he added.

“If you look at the transna­tion­al crim­i­nal orga­ni­za­tions, it’s a well-financed, capa­ble capac­i­ty — an enter­prise, if you will,” he said. “Our esti­mates are any­where from, on an annu­al basis, on a glob­al basis, the transna­tion­al crim­i­nal orga­ni­za­tions bring in 300 bil­lion [dol­lars] to $400 bil­lion a year. That’s a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber when you put it against the capac­i­ties of the gov­ern­ments that we’re talk­ing about.”

One exam­ple of the tech­nol­o­gy these crim­i­nal orga­ni­za­tions use is self-pro­pelled, ful­ly sub­mersible ves­sels. These subs typ­i­cal­ly are 100 feet long, manned by a crew of four, and they can car­ry 10 tons of cocaine. They do not dive far below the sur­face and can tran­sit between the north­ern parts of South Amer­i­ca to the north­ern parts of Cen­tral Amer­i­ca and into Mex­i­co.

Mil­i­taries are not built to han­dle law enforce­ment activ­i­ties, but many have been called upon to aid police in the effort, and U.S. South­ern Com­mand helps this effort, Fras­er said. “Because of the con­cern from a law enforce­ment stand­point — and I’ll use El Sal­vador as an exam­ple, the pres­i­dent, to address this issue, has asked and brought the mil­i­tary in to sup­port law enforce­ment, very much in the same man­ner that we talk about with­in the Unit­ed States,” the gen­er­al said. “With­in their author­i­ties, they work with the law enforce­ment to address the issue. But almost half of the mil­i­tary of El Sal­vador is work­ing to address the vio­lence. And we’re see­ing the same things — not to the same lev­el — hap­pen with­in oth­er parts of the region.”

South­ern Com­mand is work­ing hand in hand with the State Depart­ment, the U.S. Agency for Inter­na­tion­al Devel­op­ment, U.S. law enforce­ment agen­cies and oth­ers to address this issue, Fras­er said. South­com per­son­nel are part of the solu­tion, but not the entire solu­tion, he added.

“It’s much more com­plex than that,” Fras­er said. “And we have to address it, in my mind, on a region­al basis, and not just on a coun­try-by-coun­try basis.” Toward that end, he said, the Cen­tral Amer­i­can Region­al Secu­ri­ty Ini­tia­tive and the Caribbean Basin Secu­ri­ty Ini­tia­tive are aimed at improv­ing the ways coun­tries work togeth­er, help­ing to empow­er the law enforce­ment and judi­cial sys­tems.

“It’s a mul­ti-pronged effort,” Fras­er added.

But the foun­da­tion for these ini­tia­tives is build­ing and sus­tain­ing mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary rela­tions with part­ner mil­i­taries in the region, the gen­er­al said.

“We engage with our part­ners … to build that secu­ri­ty capac­i­ty,” Fras­er said. “Our efforts include mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary engage­ments, exer­cis­es, train­ing [and] sub­ject-mat­ter expert exchanges wher­ev­er we can, to help build capac­i­ty with­in our mil­i­tary part­ners.”

Anoth­er impor­tant South­com mis­sion is to be pre­pared to respond in the event of nat­ur­al or man-made cat­a­stro­phes. The earth­quake in Haiti in Jan­u­ary 2010 was one exam­ple, and a mag­ni­tude 8.8 earth­quake struck Chile last year, Fras­er not­ed. Hur­ri­canes prob­a­bly are the most pre­dictable nat­ur­al dis­as­ter that can strike the area, he added, but the com­mand has to be ready for every­thing from vol­ca­noes to for­est fires.

South­ern Com­mand works with the U.S. North­ern Com­mand to com­bat transna­tion­al crim­i­nal orga­ni­za­tions. Fras­er said the smug­gling of drugs, guns, peo­ple and mon­ey is a region­al prob­lem, and it must be treat­ed as such.

“Our bound­aries from a U.S. forces stand­point is the south­ern bor­der of Mex­i­co with Guatemala and Belize,” he said. “But from our stand­point, that’s a very, very fuzzy bound­ary,” because of the close coop­er­a­tion between the two Amer­i­can com­bat­ant com­mands.

South­ern Command’s Joint Inter­a­gency Task Force South, which coor­di­nates the inter­a­gency capac­i­ty to detect and mon­i­tor traf­fic in the mar­itime envi­ron­ment, has bound­aries that go beyond those between the North­com and South­com areas of respon­si­bil­i­ty, Fras­er said, and it reach­es into parts of U.S. Euro­pean Com­mand and U.S. Pacif­ic Command’s areas as well.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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