The evolving security challenges in Central America are threatening the security beyond the region and demand a unified approach, the commander of U.S. Southern Command said at the Central America Security Conference here today.
"The threats that we face have evolved, which means our partnerships must, as well," Navy Adm. Kurt W. Tidd said at the start of the two-day meeting, adding, "It’s safe to say that the security environment that we face today is unlike any that we have seen previously."
The conference, co-hosted by the United States and Mexico, brought chiefs of defense and ministers of defense from Central America, plus observers from Canada, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Great Britain. Panama and Costa Rica sent public security representatives.
Participants are discussing ways to increase cooperation and strengthen relations to best address challenges that include humanitarian crises and the evolving transnational threats of extremism and criminal networks.
"From natural disasters that impact our communities, to potential terrorists transiting our countries, to violent criminal networks harming our citizens, our shared security interests with Mexico and with Central America run deep," Tidd said.
The admiral noted that he and the commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, Air Force Gen. Lori J. Robinson, who is to deliver closing remarks tomorrow, represent only one U.S., government agency: the Defense Department. However, he said, addressing the threats requires a multiagency approach -- a focus supported in the U.S. government through diplomatic and law-enforcement efforts.
'Adaptive and Dynamic' Threats in Central America
The multidomain, transnational threats in Central America are "adaptive and dynamic, constantly reacting," Tidd said. Instead of the allies operating separately to address these challenges, he said, regional allies should join efforts. "Only by working together can we defend against the challenges to our institutions and values," he added. "Only by working together can we be stronger, as one -- united in purpose and in action."
An expanding new series of threats such as criminal and extremist networks have joined the traditional challenges such as natural disasters and humanitarian crises, Tidd said. What once were public safety nuisances have evolved into serious security threats from violent nonstate actors that challenge the sovereignty of nations, the integrity of institutions and the safety of the citizens, he added.
"Everywhere we look, we see a blurring of the lines between global and local, between crime and acts of terror, between public security and national defense," he said.
Tidd thanked the participants for their nations' commitment to the whole-of-government security approach, and he complimented Mexico for its commitment to security and its effort in co-hosting the conference.
"Gatherings like this one are just one link in the security network that binds our countries together as equal partners and as true friends," the admiral said.
Mexico Pledges Initiatives to Strengthen Cooperation
Army Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos, Mexico’s national defense secretary, said the threats facing Central America require close cooperation for joint solutions. Challenges in the region include drug trafficking, organized crime, border security, gangs and migration, he told the forum.
Mexico and its armed forces will join efforts to develop initiatives to confront the various threats that have an impact on the entire Americas, he said.
"We have a certainty that the results that we'll reach in this conference will be seen in the short term in the specific actions that will strengthen the security and development that Central American society needs," Cienfuegos said. "We are convinced that through joint efforts and working as a team and toward the same objective, we'll be able to contribute directly to the well-being and progress of our nations."
(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)