Monday, September 15, 2008
Panama Must Remilitarize to Strengthen Regional Security
By Jerry Brewer
Panama's pivotal role within
Latin America, as it pertains to its homeland security, has now reached a crescendo.
After all, the unique geographical position of the isthmus nation makes it the hub and gateway from South to Central
America. The importance, strategic location, and security of the Panama Canal
also call for critical attention.
The neutering of Panama's military
and security forces nearly two decades ago has ultimately unleashed a flood of criminal insurgents into and traversing the
country. Panama's leadership must immediately focus their vision on regional
security issues, and quickly and clearly come into focus on a proactive and aggressive homeland security posture. Avoiding the issue and failing to address the security readiness and unity of the democratic nation to
adequately defend itself could result in what Mexico is experiencing in its bloody military battle against narcoterrorists
and other criminal insurgents.
Leftist rulers and dictatorships
within Latin America lose no sleep over Mexico's battles against organized criminals for their free nation. In fact, many proclaim that Mexico's troops are losing the battle.
It is clear that these state sponsors of terrorism do not want democracies to win these battles for their people, nor
do they want the United States to lend a helping hand with training, logistics, and technology.
Within the isthmus nation there
are mixed emotions about remilitarization, with some calling for a neutral stance with better education, rehabilitation, delinquency,
and lesser prevention methods. The question that must be asked is, with Panama's
vast natural resources and global position of importance within the Americas, how can they not have a strong military and
police presence to strategically defend the homeland? How can this issue even
remotely be described as "unwarranted"?
Revolutionary Armed Forces
of Colombia, or FARC, guerrillas are reported to be continuing to traverse Panama and trudging into Central America. The insurgents have threatened to abduct high profile Panamanian officials, this in
retaliation for the apprehension of rebels by authorities. The guerrilla insurgents
continue to move north in support of narcotrafficking, arms sales, and other criminal enterprises.
Panama's dilemma has been
the absence of an army on its soil. Nearly two decades ago the Panamanian Defense
Force (PDF) was disbanded. Many of the PDF troops were transitioned into the
President Martin Torrijos is
looking to remilitarize the country, and to create a much needed proactive and strategic intelligence apparatus in this new
millennium. These being needed reforms in order to discover and assess an incredible
number of modern day regional threats, including of course those that are mounting via leftist rhetoric. Too, terrorist radicalization, as well as violent gang proliferation, should be top collection efforts
of their intelligence service. The "National Intelligence Security Service" (SENIS)
will require adequate oversight and safeguards to ensure that proper accountability measures remain in place and that abuses
are not tolerated. These measures could soften the concerns of a homeland that
has seen abuses, yet knowing that anticrime and counterterrorism initiatives must be a top priority for Panama.
The magnitude of gang warfare
by organized criminals in Panama alone warrants these actions. It is a countrywide
epidemic. Too, criminal insurgents such as FARC, terrorists, and other organized
criminals have little respect for Panama's current weak security structure. A
national police force is not enough. The reality of the current situation on the ground in Panama is that the country is a
hub of international narcotraffickers, paramilitary/rebel insurgents, and other criminal groups taking advantage of the security
weaknesses, illicit arms trade, relaxed banking rules, as well as Panama's booming economy.
The security reform package that
President Torrijos proposes to curb the present domestic instability is a difficult but prudent request. Budgetary issues and logistic concerns are stark realities of feasibility.
Necessary training also becomes a major component in the construction of the security package. The U.S. Southern Command, that is taking many strategic and tactical initiatives throughout the Americas,
has "promoted the idea of a new Panamanian military." A key concern would be
the placing of new "forward operating areas" for joint security operational acts of free Latin American nations. This in response to Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa's decision not to renew the lease for the U.S. base
Joint operations with Panama
and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration have been successful in the past, with a seizure of 20 tons of cocaine off of
the Panamanian coastline last year. Panama's coastlines are vast areas of over 78,000 square kilometers, as well as a border
with Colombia of 225 kilometers.
Panama must have more than routine
Jerry Brewer is Vice President of Criminal Justice International Associates, a global risk mitigation firm headquartered
in Miami, Florida.