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Helping a Neighbor Fight Transnational Crime

Marines unload a UH-1N Huey helicopter in Guatemala City, August 11, 2012
Marines unload a UH-1N Huey helicopter in Guatemala City, August 11, 2012

U.S. Marines have joined efforts supporting Government of Guatemala’s patrol of the Pacific coast.

Central American nations, situated between cocaine source countries and consumer countries, have struggled in recent years with rising violence and corruption, some of which has been linked to drug trafficking.

Drug traffickers' exploitation of Central America's geography has weakened the rule of law, particularly in remote areas that lack a strong government presence. Trafficking and related criminal activities hurt and kill civilians who are caught in the middle of violent encounters.

Sitting astride major drug routes, Guatemala has suffered greatly because of traffickers, who promote and contribute to widespread institutional corruption and violence. Now at the request of Guatemala’s government, the United States has joined in an international effort to stem the tide of violence in Central America and to improve the security of the Guatemalan people.

Late last month, a team of 200 U.S. Marines joined ongoing efforts supporting the Government of Guatemala’s patrol of its Pacific coast to intercept drug shipments moving by air or sea. The Marines' presence is part of a broad international anti-drug effort that began in January called Operation Martillo. In this operation, governments in the region work with the United States to conduct counter-narcotics monitoring, detection and interdiction along much of Central America’s coastal area.

The effort involves troops or law enforcement agents from Belize, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, the Netherlands, Nicaragua and Panama. Together, Central American nations and their international partners are patrolling waterways and coastlines looking for high-powered boats, commonly referred to as “go-fasts,” and self-propelled “narco-submarines” that can carry up to 11 tons of illegal cargo up to 5,000 miles.

In Guatemala, U.S. law enforcement and military forces support the Guatemalan navy in making interdictions and arrests. In the first week of action, with U.S. support, Guatemalan forces seized one small-engine aircraft and a car that were involved in narcotics trafficking.

The U.S. is aiding its Central American neighbors in many ways. In addition to the Central America Regional Security Initiative, international cooperation through Operation Martillo shows that it is possible for nations to work together to address transnational crime and other challenges no country can conquer alone, to protect their citizens from violence and to reduce the ability of criminal networks to operate within their countries.