The fight is on against organized crime in Central America

The fight is on against organized crime in Central America

Due to the growing crime and violence plaguing the Northern Triangle region of Central America, composed of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, the states’ presidents have proposed a new regional plan for combating organized crime, which includes the creation of a regional police force.

The history of the Northern Triangle region

Of the seven countries that make up Central America, the countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, share many features and problems that make the borders between them seem non-existent.

To this extent, these three countries are grouped together and known as the Northern Triangle region of Central America. As the countries that serve as the route to Mexico and the United States, the Northern Triangle countries are experiencing a growing number of security issues, which include the highest homicide rates worldwide, increasing drug, firearms and human trafficking, as well as illegal immigration.

The gangs and drug cartels that operate in the region have grown stronger over the past decades and prompted the leaders of the United States and the Northern Triangle countries to look for new and more efficient ways of combating organized crime in this region.

The violence, instability, and insecurity caused by organized crime in the Northern Triangle has also led to large numbers of illegal immigrants at the US border.

In reply to these issues, the United States has already pledged $1 billion dollars in aid to the Northern Triangle under the “Alliance for Prosperity of the Northern Triangle” framework. More than a year after the creation of this Alliance, the leaders of the Northern Triangle have proposed a new measure aimed at combating organized crime in the region.

The “Regional Plan for the Combating of Organized Crime in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras” includes the creation of a combined database for the three countries to have information on criminals operating in the region, it also aims at improving information sharing between the three countries, and vows to create a regional police force to help secure borders and dismantle organized crime without the limitations of national borders.

Regional unity

The Northern Triangle countries already operate as one single territory in many senses, both good and bad.

Criminal organizations view the region as one borderless territory where the trafficking of narcotics, humans, and weapons is not limited by national borders. Nevertheless, despite many cooperation agreements that allow for certain mobility between these three nations, the police and judicial forces of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras do not operate as one united front, giving those criminal organizations an advantage over the security forces.

The creation of a regional police unit can be a positive advancement in the fight against organized crime in the Northern Triangle, so long as certain precautionary measures are put in place in order to ensure the effectiveness of this police body.

Ultimately, these measures are needed in order to prevent human right abuses, the spread of corruption, and in the worst case scenario, the unintentional creation of yet another transnational criminal organization in the region.

Challenges to a regional police force

Amongst the considerations that need to be put in place for this regional police force to produce positive results, is the realization that the police and judicial forces of these countries are still corruption-ridden and lacking the necessary resources to continuously conduct successful operations.

Earlier this year, the national police of El Salvador, the Policia Nacional Civil, was engaged in protests to demand better salaries. The corruption that characterizes the police and judicial systems is the result of many factors, including lack of adequate resources to compensate the police forces, leading to bribery and criminal activity perpetrated by the same police force.

Moreover, El Salvador, in contrast with Guatemala and Honduras, has not yet created any monitoring body or mission to fight corruption and impunity in the country. Guatemala has had the International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG) for over seven years, while Honduras recently signed into agreement the Mission to Support the Fight Against Corruption and Impunity (MACCIH) in an effort to rid the government of corruption. Despite an agreement with the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime, the fight against corruption in El Salvador has not been efficient.

The creation of a regional police force must therefore take into account the corruption that plagues these justice and police systems as well as the history of human rights abuses that still hunts El Salvador and Guatemala.

After years of human rights abuses perpetrated by their respective military forces, the governments of El Salvador and Guatemala must ensure that this new force, with its new transnational jurisdiction and power, does not commit any abuses of power that violate human rights in the region.

The creation of the police force must also consider the power and influence of transnational organized crime groups operating in the Northern Triangle; the ability of these groups to bribe and/or intimidate government forces is very strong and can threaten the integrity of this new regional police force. In this sense, the governments of the Northern Triangle have already asked for international support to fund this new initiative and prevent corruption from permeating this new force that is due to come into effect this month.

Honduras has already entered into a successful agreement with Nicaragua to help secure borders and fight crime, which may serve as a base project for this new Northern Triangle initiative. Similarly, initiatives like the creation of a regional police force can be compared to the federal police that operates in Mexico. In contrast with the Mexican state police, the federal police has the ability to cross state borders and operate along the entirety of the Mexican territory.

An initiative to allow a police force to operate in the entire Northern Triangle territory can help effectively dismantle organized crime groups that already view this territory as a borderless area in which to carry out their criminal activities. Nevertheless, more details on what this regional police force will look like are yet to be seen in order to provide a better assessment of its strengths and possible downfalls.

Categories: Latin America, Security

About Author

Astrid Hasfura

Astrid Hasfura Dada is currently pursuing a Masters Degree in Security Policy at The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. She focuses on risk analysis and transnational security with a special interest in Latin America.