LIMA, Peru (Nov. 28, 2011) -- Transnational criminal organizations are on the rise in the Western Hemisphere, and their power, range, influence and weaponry have become more than law enforcement can handle in many parts of the region.

Acknowledging this phenomenon, the senior leaders in attendance at the recent Conference of American Armies discussed possible solutions to a widespread problem affecting everyone in the Americas.

"This conference shows all of us that the problems we face are not restricted to just our country," said Maj. Gen. Oscar Salvador Balladares, Nicaraguan army chief of staff. "All countries in the Western Hemisphere are affected by having to counter illicit trafficking, narco-terrorism and organized crime. That is why it is important to our public that we come together to discuss solutions."

The desired objective of the Conference of American Armies is for regional army commanders to strengthen integration and cooperation, study problems of mutual interest, and contribute to hemispheric security. This year, member armies agreed that combating transnational criminal organizations was an essential topic and agreed to create an accord to conduct a separate "Emerging Threats and Risk Situations" conference. Colombia is currently scheduled to host the separate conference in October 2012.

"There needs to be a harmony of work," said Gen. Luis Patricio Cárdenas Proaño, commander of the Ecuadorian army, at the beginning of the conference. "At this conference, I will propose to touch on the theme of how to manage organized crime. Much of the organized crime occurs at our borders. The ports and borders are the center of gravity for narcotrafficking, money laundering and other illicit criminal activities. The governments need to work together towards an end state of disrupting these activities and looking for socio-economic solutions."

Since transnational criminal organizations essentially affect all countries in the Western Hemisphere, a coordinated regional response is required, which not only involves state and political parties, but law enforcement and military leaders as well, he said.

Transnational criminal organizations, whose activities include narcotics trafficking, financial crimes, cybercrimes, corruption extortion, counterfeiting, trafficking humans and arms, have a global reach that surpasses the interdiction ability and resources of many law enforcement agencies.

Quite easily, an illicit crime that starts in one country, can pass onto a second and be on its way to a third before it is even detected. Transnational criminal organizations adapt and evolve quickly; therefore countries cannot solve this problem alone or in a vacuum, he said.

"This is not just an issue in the United States," said Maj. Gen. Simeon Trombitas, commander of U.S. Army South. "Transnational criminal organizations have cut a path throughout the political, social and economic landscape of the Western Hemisphere affecting everyone in the region. These threats, which were previously reconciled in the world of law enforcement, have morphed into national security threats."

According to the White House Strategy to Combat Transnational Crimes, released in July 2011 (http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/nsc/transnational-crime), it is imperative that political, military and law enforcement on the national and international levels come together to foster collaboration and share strategies that have proven to be successful.

The strategy calls for the building of international capacity, cooperation, and partnerships, critical objectives in the fight against transnational criminal activities.

According to Gen. Douglas Fraser, commander of U.S. Southern Command, transnational organized crime is a key security challenge and "U.S. Southern Command contributes to U.S. government efforts by building partner nations' military capacity, gathering and sharing information with domestic and foreign law enforcement agencies, and conducting detection and monitoring of illicit trafficking in the air and at sea in support of law enforcement efforts."

The Conference of American Armies, an annual conference held this year from Oct. 24-28 in Lima, Peru, provided a venue for the U.S. Army to actively engage regional armies on key initiatives and discuss problems of mutual interest. It was also an opportunity for its members to enhance cooperation and integration regarding common interests in the region such as transnational crime.

"This conference offers an opportunity to interact with our partners and allies in this hemisphere," said Trombitas. "We can discuss common objectives and threats and work together to face any adversity."

A solution to transnational crime will not be reached overnight, officials said, but the U.S. is actively working with partner governments to create an environment where ordinary citizens feel safe and secure.

In August 2010, the United States launched the Central America Regional Security Initiative to create safe streets in the region, disrupt the movement of criminals and contraband, support development of strong and accountable governments, re-establish state presence in communities at large, and foster increased cooperation among nations in the region.

In unveiling this initiative, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton stated, "The U.S. is committed to citizen safety in Central America. We are doing everything we can in the fight against corruption and impunity, in providing the equipment and the support that law enforcement and the military require, and helping to build civil society to stand against the scourge of drug trafficking,"

The Conference of American Armies is one example of an existing proactive information sharing mechanism that supports the goals of this initiative.

"It is important to have a realized vision of current problems," said Balladares. "We need to continue to come together to discuss elements that are of great value to all of us."

Through such engagements as the Conference of American Armies, the U.S. Army, through their executive agent U.S. Army South, actively engages with partners in the Western Hemisphere, building partner nation capacity, addressing areas of concern, enhancing interpersonal relationships and protecting against all threats to regional security and stability.

Page last updated Mon November 28th, 2011 at 00:00