Coop­er­a­tion Pro­vides Key for Cen­tral Amer­i­can Secu­ri­ty, South­com Com­man­der Says

By Don­na Miles
Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice

The senior U.S. mil­i­tary offi­cer focused on Latin Amer­i­ca and the Caribbean arrived in Guatemala today to bol­ster the sol­id U.S.-Guatemalan part­ner­ship and under­score the grow­ing impor­tance of inter­na­tion­al and inter­a­gency coop­er­a­tion in pro­tect­ing region­al sta­bil­i­ty.

Navy Adm. James Stavridis, com­man­der of U.S. South­ern Com­mand, left his Mia­mi head­quar­ters for Guatemala City, where he will meet with Pres­i­dent Alvaro Colom Caballeros and his senior defense and mil­i­tary lead­ers. Stavridis also plans to vis­it one of Guatemala’s major peace­keep­er train­ing cen­ters.

Stavridis said that, through­out his vis­it, he’ll echo the mes­sage he deliv­ered just a few days ear­li­er to Hon­duran gov­ern­ment and defense lead­ers in Tegu­ci­gal­pa: Part­ner­ship is vital because no one coun­try can tack­le the region’s transna­tion­al secu­ri­ty chal­lenges alone.

“In every­thing we do at SOUTHCOM — in every aspect of our secu­ri­ty coop­er­a­tion — our approach is inter­na­tion­al,” Stavridis told Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice Jan. 30 dur­ing his return flight from Hon­duras. “We try to be a force for multi­na­tion­al activ­i­ty, because of the pow­er in every­one work­ing togeth­er.”

SOUTHCOM works active­ly to help part­ner nations build capac­i­ty with­in their armed forces through train­ing pro­grams, bilat­er­al and mul­ti­lat­er­al exer­cis­es and equip­ment con­tri­bu­tions.

While in Guatemala, for exam­ple, Stavridis will help chris­ten three Boston Whaler ves­sels that will sup­port Guatemala’s counter-nar­cotics oper­a­tions. The Unit­ed States pur­chased the launch­es and 20 sets of night-vision gog­gles through a coun­ter­drug secu­ri­ty assis­tance pro­gram.

Days ear­li­er, Hon­duras took deliv­ery of four U.S.-funded “fast boats” to enhance its own capa­bil­i­ties in pro­tect­ing its shores and water­ways from transna­tion­al threats rang­ing from nar­cotics traf­fick­ing to pira­cy to glob­al ter­ror­ism.

That effort, part of SOUTHCOM’s Endur­ing Friend­ship secu­ri­ty assis­tance pro­gram, also includes train­ing in how to oper­ate and main­tain the water­craft, improv­ing Hon­duras’ abil­i­ty to pro­tect its shores.

Stavridis said he was impressed in Hon­duras by the country’s deep inter­est in inter­na­tion­al coop­er­a­tion and recog­ni­tion of its ben­e­fits.

The day before his arrival, Hon­duran police seized 1.5 met­ric tons of cocaine with an esti­mat­ed street val­ue of $25 mil­lion, as well as an air­craft and two “go-fast” boats used by the drug run­ners. Tipped off by intel­li­gence from SOUTHCOM’s Joint Inter­a­gency Task Force-South coun­ter­drug oper­a­tion based in Key West, Fla., and with track­ing and hand-off involv­ing the U.S., Mex­i­co, and Guatemala, Hon­duran forces swooped in on the traf­fick­ers in their first-ever air­craft inter­dic­tion.

Stavridis called the mis­sion “a huge win” and said it exem­pli­fied the pow­er of coop­er­a­tion.

“The Hon­durans were so excit­ed about this drug bust which their forces con­clud­ed, but real­ly was the result of Mex­i­can, U.S., Guatemalan and Hon­duran activ­i­ty com­ing togeth­er, in terms of both intel­li­gence and actu­al activ­i­ty,” he said. “And in all our con­ver­sa­tions, the Hon­durans empha­sized how excit­ed they were about fur­ther inter­na­tion­al coop­er­a­tion”

Stavridis praised the part­ner­ships Hon­duras and Guatemala have forged with each oth­er and oth­er neigh­bor­ing nations to pro­mote their shared secu­ri­ty inter­ests. “They work togeth­er on every­thing from trade and the econ­o­my to coun­ternar­cotics, dis­as­ter relief and peace­keep­ing,” he said.

This coop­er­a­tion, he said, is pay­ing off through increased infor­ma­tion shar­ing and inter­op­er­abil­i­ty, and enhanced capa­bil­i­ty that pro­motes region­al secu­ri­ty and sta­bil­i­ty.

Stavridis not­ed the pro­fes­sion­al­ism of the all-vol­un­teer Hon­duran mil­i­tary, which includes a U.N.-certified peace­keep­ing bat­tal­ion. It’s reflec­tive, he said, of the steady demo­c­ra­t­ic lead­er­ship that’s gov­erned Hon­duras since 1983, a stark con­trast to the country’s first 150 volatile years of inde­pen­dence.

Writ­ing in his per­son­al blog dur­ing the return flight to Mia­mi, Stavridis summed up his impres­sions after two days in Tegu­ci­gal­pa.

“After a busy cou­ple of days, I felt good about our secu­ri­ty engage­ment and the con­tin­u­ing part­ner­ship,” he wrote. “Clear­ly our inter­a­gency part­ners are doing fine work in their lane of devel­op­ment and diplo­ma­cy.” He also not­ed that the largest Peace Corps con­tin­gent in the Amer­i­c­as is at work in Hon­duras.

“And I felt that our work on secu­ri­ty and defense issues was a help­ful part of the equa­tion,” he wrote.

Dur­ing all his coun­try vis­its, Stavridis said he car­ries the mes­sage about the strength of inter­a­gency as well as inter­na­tion­al coop­er­a­tion. He said he hopes the U.S. exam­ple can serve as “a pow­er­ful mod­el” for the region.

While in Hon­duras, he met with the embassy’s coun­try team to dis­cuss secu­ri­ty chal­lenges and ongo­ing ini­tia­tives and pledge con­tin­ued sup­port to the col­lec­tive inter­a­gency effort to help Hon­duras address them.

Stavridis spends about 75 per­cent of his time vis­it­ing the 45 coun­tries and ter­ri­to­ries in his area of focus, which cov­ers 16 mil­lion square miles. Since tak­ing com­mand two and a half years ago, he fig­ures he’s vis­it­ed just about every coun­try, and many two or three times.

That’s because, he said, there’s no bet­ter way to fos­ter the rela­tion­ships that lead to pow­er­ful part­ner­ships than face to face.

Flu­ent in Span­ish, Stavridis said he enjoys talk­ing with offi­cials and reporters alike in their own lan­guage, often sur­pris­ing his hosts in what he views as a sim­ple sign of respect. He’s now study­ing Por­tuguese so he can bet­ter com­mu­ni­cate direct­ly when vis­it­ing Brazil.

In a region high­ly unlike­ly to expe­ri­ence all-out war, Stavridis calls com­mu­ni­ca­tion the most impor­tant tool in his arse­nal. “In this hemi­sphere, we are in the busi­ness of ideas, not mis­siles,” he said. “Our main bat­tery, so to speak, is com­mu­ni­ca­tions.”

And the best way to com­mu­ni­cate, he said, is in per­son.

“You can write arti­cles, post to blogs and send out videos and mag­a­zines, but noth­ing can beat per­son­al con­tact,” Stavridis said. “There is real pow­er in human con­tact. It trumps every­thing. And that’s real­ly what these trips are all about.”

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