Publication: The Military Balance 2015
18 February 2015
Combating organised crime
The use of Latin American armed forces to combat drug trafficking and other organised crime continued in 2014. New agencies combining police and military structures were created, while equipment acquisitions were often tailored to law-enforcement capabilities. Brazil and Mexico, which have the two largest economies in the region, carried out new internal military deployments amid continuing drug-related violence. Countries that have experienced increased drug trafficking in recent years, especially in the Andean region and Central America, took steps to increase their monitoring and air-interception capabilities, conforming to a regional trend towards increasing air mobility. As regional security threats have often been multidimensional in nature, and transnational in their origin and impact, there have been some recent attempts at cooperative dialogue between regional security agencies and armed forces. For example, in the first half of 2014 the Central American Integration System (SICA) announced equipment donations for Honduran, Guatemalan and Salvadoran border-security authorities, as well as their integration into the database of Ameripol, the hemispheric police-cooperation mechanism.
Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, which comprise the ‘northern triangle’ of Central America, have some of the highest homicide rates in the world. All have taken steps to increase the range of military tools available to fight criminal groups, although budgetary constraints have meant that recent acquisitions, despite constituting a capability improvement in national terms, remain modest in the face of well-armed and adaptable transnational criminal groups. El Salvador acquired ten used Cessna A-37B Dragonfly fighter/ground-attack aircraft from Chile in 2014, opting for this model rather than the Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano (see The Military Balance 2014, p. 356). These additional A-37s were demonstrated at El Salvador’s Soldiers’ Day parade in May 2014, and added to the number of ageing A-37s in Central American air forces. However, the arrival of additional A-37s in El Salvador raised some concern in neighbouring Honduras about the effect on the region’s military balance. In response, Salvadoran authorities said that the aircraft would be used primarily in the fight against criminal groups.