By Michael Wimbish
U.S. Southern Command
MIAMI, Nov. 24, 2014 – The commander of U.S. Southern Command visited Belize, Guatemala and Honduras last week to reaffirm the U.S. military’s commitment to helping Central American nations combat transnational criminal organizations.
At each stop in Belize, Guatemala and Honduras, Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly held high-level meetings with top leaders and security officials to review their security situations, address current collaborative efforts to counter transnational criminal organizations and discuss future U.S. military support to bolster security capabilities.
The governments of Belize, Guatemala and Honduras have committed to taking on transnational crime syndicates and disrupting illicit networks that move drugs, weapons, money and people through the region and into the United States. Southcom officials said the nations are critical allies in the international fight against transnational organized crime, which threatens regional and U.S. security.
Illicit Trafficking Destabilizes Central America
The destabilizing effects of transnational criminal organizations’ illicit trafficking activities have produced security challenges in Central America, officials said. The organized crime groups use their immense resources and power to intimidate communities and corrupt local governments to enable the flow of their lucrative illicit networks, they explained.
U.S. military support falls under the U.S. government's comprehensive assistance to the region known as the Central American Regional Security Initiative. The support includes training and assistance to improve maritime, aerial and land security efforts, information sharing, and the provision of equipment and technology.
The United States also provides operational and detection and monitoring support in the form of Operation Martillo, a joint U.S., European, and Western Hemisphere partner-nation effort to disrupt transnational criminal activity in the coastal waters of Central America.
The U.S. military also works with other nations, most notably Colombia, which has vast experience in successfully combating narcoterrorists and reinstituting governance and the rule of law.
As Southcom’s commander, Kelly oversees all U.S. military operations and engagements in Central and South America and the Caribbean.
Visit to Belize
During his Nov. 18 visit to Belize, Kelly met with Brig. Gen. David N. Jones, commander of the Belize Defense Force, and Rear Adm. John A. Borland, commander of the nation’s coast guard, and discussed security challenges and future U.S. engagement. Kelly also met with U.S. Ambassador Carlos R. Moreno.
Current Southcom engagements with Belize focus on improving its capabilities to counter transnational organized crime, participating in joint and multinational training exercises, and increasing capacity to conduct humanitarian and disaster relief missions. Kelly most recently visited Belize in September 2013.
Visit to Guatemala
Kelly arrived in Guatemala Nov. 19 and met with Defense Minister Maj. Gen. Manuel Augusto Lopez Ambrocio and Chief of Defense Carlos Eduardo Estrada Perez. The general also met with U.S. Ambassador Todd D. Robinson. Discussions focused on continued support and training for Guatemala’s interagency task force, human rights efforts and future U.S. military engagement activities.
Recent focus areas for Southcom’s engagement with Guatemala include joint operations and planning, maritime security, information sharing, human rights, communications, logistics and peacekeeping. Kelly previously visited Guatemala in July.
Visit to Honduras
Honduras was Kelly’s last stop in Central America. He met with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, Chief of Defense Maj. Gen. Fredy Diaz, and U.S. Ambassador James Nealon. The leaders discussed continued U.S. support to Honduran counterdrug efforts, long-term security assistance and human rights issues.
Ongoing U.S. military support to Honduras includes logistical support to Honduran counter trafficking operations, information sharing, training and multinational exercises and increasing capacity to conduct humanitarian and disaster relief missions.
This was Kelly’s third visit to Honduras in 2014. He previously visited Honduras in February and June. The Honduran president also visited Southcom headquarters in August.