By Dialogo August 02, 2010 Comic book heroes, from Green Lantern to Wolverine, perform superhuman feats in order to save lives. While they may not be gifted with supernatural powers, the extraordinary efforts of the Honduran government, Joint Task Force-Bravo and the Ruth Paz Foundation recently saved the life of a 16-year-old Honduran boy. Eli Arevalo was doing construction work on his house June 18 when he stepped on a high voltage cable. He suffered electrical burns over 100 percent of his body surface, the worst being the third-degree burns on his right leg. According to doctors at the Medical Element here, patients with 60 percent surface burns rarely live through it. The teenager was taken to Hospital Escuela in Tegucigalpa, Honduras’ capital, to get treatment for his wounds. While the hospital staff there did all they could for him, including saving his leg, Eli was in such a condition that he had to have a pediatrician bedside 24 hours a day, said Dr. Ricardo Avilés, a medical liaison officer with the MEDEL here. He needed a transfer. Enter Dr. Omar Mejia, the chief of plastic surgery for Hospital Escuela and the president of the Foundation for Burnt Children. He saw that Eli needed more significant treatment, Dr. Avilés said, and contacted the Permanent Contingency Committee of Honduras, or COPECO, which is the equivalent of the U.S.‘s Federal Emergency Management Agency. From there, Iris Moncada, of COPECO, coordinated with JTF-Bravo to move Eli from his hospital in Tegucigalpa. While all of this was going on, the Ruth Paz Foundation worked on getting donors to fund a medical evacuation for Eli from San Pedro Sula, which is 107 miles from Tegucigalpa, to the Shriners Hospital in Boston, Mass., which had agreed to receive the teen. Due to weather and sometimes the time at which the air ambulance has to land, the pilots prefer coming to San Pedro Sula, said Peggy Kipps, the executive director of the Ruth Paz Foundation. “We have been helping burned children (in Honduras) since Mrs. Paz, a U.S. citizen, started this about 40 years ago from her home,” said Ms. Kipps. “Last year we sent 56 children to the USA to receive medical treatment.” As the evacuation to Boston was being finalized, COPECO sent a request June 23 to JTF-Bravo civil affairs to evacuate Eli via helicopter so he could safely and quickly make it to San Pedro Sula. That’s when Dr. Avilés took charge. “This would not have been possible without Dr. Avilés and his coordination,” said Maj. Patricia Jaeckel, the former MEDEL operations officer. “He put all the organizations involved in synch. It blows my mind.” Dr. Avilés coordinated efforts between the JTF-Bravo leadership, 1-228th Aviation Regiment, COPECO, Ruth Paz Foundation and Hospital Escuela to ensure the safe evacuation of Eli. But, just as in any good superhero story, it wasn’t easy. First, once the request was put in for the helicopter support, Dr. Avilés had to verify that Eli’s condition warranted using JTF-Bravo resources. “If the life, limbs or eyes are at risk, JTF-Bravo can launch a helicopter,” the doctor said. “For Eli, his limb was definitely at risk and his life might have been at risk in 48 hours.” By June 24, the helicopter evacuation was approved by JTF-Bravo leadership and the 1-228th was put on stand-by to launch June 26. The second challenge came, however, with the arrival of Tropical Storm Alex. At 10 a.m. June 25, the notice came down that the 1-228th had a five hour window in which to move Eli. They had to beat the bad weather, which moved in like a villain trying to thwart the heroes’ plans. The aviation regiment was ready by noon. “The 1-228th was phenomenal,” said Major Jaeckel. While the 1-228th worked with the Honduran Air Force to land at the airport in Tegucigalpa, the third challenge came in the form of the World Cup, said Dr. Avilés. Vehicles and people filled the streets, slowing down the ambulance bringing Eli from Hospital Escuela to the airport. A drive that should have been less than 20 minutes now took almost an hour. Eli was kept in stable condition, though, and made it to the evacuation point without incident. Once en route to San Pedro Sula, Dr. Avilés and the JTF-Bravo team coordinated with the Honduran Army’s 105th Infantry Brigade to allow them to land the helicopter at a soccer field around the corner from the National Public Hospital. A landing at the San Pedro Sula airfield would have meant more traffic and a 30 minute drive. Even though the evacuation team now had Eli in place for his move to Boston, the weather continued to be a factor they had to contend with. The plane which was to transport Eli to the U.S. was supposed to be in place by 2 p.m., but was delayed until 10 p.m. And though Eli remained stable and everyone was ready to get him aboard, the rain was coming down too hard to move the teen from the airport to the plane. “We brought in a bunch of umbrellas,” Dr. Avilés said. “That was enough to cover him until we got to the plane.” By 11 p.m. June 25, Eli was on his way to Boston and the specialists of the Shriners Hospital. He is still in very critical condition, Ms. Kipps said. “(The doctors are) trying to save his leg,” she said. “(The burns have) destroyed all his muscle on the leg … they are trying really hard to save it.” Eli’s story is not yet over, and neither is the mission of medical personnel here. Working hand-in-hand with Honduran government and medical agencies, as well as local and international non-profit organizations, the Medical Element, 1-228th Aviation Regiment and all of Team Bravo are sowing the seeds of friendship and reaping the benefits of good relationships, Major Jaeckel said. “That’s why we’re here,” she said. “People give their time and talents to benefit others. “It’s exciting,” she added. Just like any good superhero story.
By Dialogo April 13, 2011 In the hot, rugged central Pacific beach towns of the Puntarenas province in Costa Rica, improved maritime security is a welcome thing. As Costa Rica and much of Central America amp up their efforts to combat drug-trafficking throughout the region, residents in the port city of Caldera were pleased to see some much-needed assistance had arrived. On 7 April, the Costa Rican government inaugurated a new 3,200 square meter Coast Guard station off the central port in Caldera. The station, which includes a new communications center, docking strip, ship repair station and a lengthy pier, was made possible through assistance from the U.S. Southern Command. “This was a tremendous effort we put forth to allow the Coast Guard to have this facility which will be able to support three Costa Rican 40-foot high-speed intercept boats, as well as barracks and administration facilities for operational support,” said COL Norberto Cintron, chief engineer for USSOUTHCOM. “This pier will enhance the Coast Guard’s capabilities and enable collaboration between the U.S. and Costa Rica to deter drug trafficking.” At the inauguration ceremony, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, who considers security a top priority, reminded on-lookers of some of the current criminal issues facing the nation and how the new Coast Guard station will aid in combating the problems. “My government is executing an integral citizen security policy. We are working diligently to fight drug trafficking and delinquency, and to scourge those that are attacking our society,” Chinchilla said. “I recognize the work that our police, judges and criminal courts are doing. This donation will allow us to improve the vigilance of our coasts.” In September of 2010, the U.S. government released a revised list of the world’s 20 major drug trafficking and producing countries. For the first time in its history, Costa Rica was included on the list. Since the announcement, Chinchilla’s administration has taken an assertive role to increase national security on the coasts and borders, improve national police training, and heighten screening measures at airports and seaports. Other residents of Caldera also were encouraged by the sight of a new Coast Guard station near the main port. Several citizens say that the amount of drugs that are making their way to Caldera and Puntarenas has increased dramatically during the last 10-15 years. “You can get drugs in this town in about 10 minutes if you ask the right people,” said Yolanda Arguedas, a restaurant owner about 50 meters from the central port. “It’s easy. If someone brings it in on ships, there isn’t anybody to stop them from coming in. Just walk right straight from the boat to the street and sell it in the community. Ten years ago you’d hardly hear about drugs. Now you can’t walk to the corner store without seeing people using them.” Arguedas said she was happy to see that the country is making good on their promises to increase maritime security, though she still thinks more help will be needed. “It looks great and should intimidate someone who is thinking about trying to bring drugs to this area,” she said. “But the ocean is big and there are a lot of places to dock boats around here. I think if the government really wants to try to control this like they say they do, they’d need about 10 of these stations.” Chinchilla also mentioned in her speech that the dock was “a first step” in improving maritime security on the Pacific coasts. She said that the next step needed to continue to improve coastal security was for the national Legislative Assembly to permit U.S. ships to dock in Costa Rica. Currently, the Legislative Assembly is blocking a Joint Patrol Agreement between Costa Rica and the U.S. which allows U.S. Navy vessels to enter national waters. The agreement, which was signed in 1999 to slow drug-traffic in the region, is currently being reviewed in Costa Rica’s Supreme Court. “The government of Costa Rica and the government of the U.S. must be able to collaborate to effectively fight drug-trafficking,” she said. “The U.S. is a government that is a friend of Costa Rica and is attempting to assist us in the fight against drugs. At this time, we are not allowing them to help us and have prolonged the entrance of their naval ships. If we are serious about fighting drug-trafficking, the Legislative Assembly must assist in doing so.” While the new Coast Guard station is considered a “first step”, Chinchilla and Anne Andrew, the U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica, mentioned that the two governments are already developing plans to establish more Coast Guard and security stations along the nation’s Pacific and Caribbean coast.
By Dialogo February 08, 2012 SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – Authorities apprehended 29 suspects and confiscated 122 kilograms (269 pounds) of cocaine being shipped to Puerto Rico. Among the detainees were five Puerto Ricans, one Colombian, six Dominicans and 17 Russians. Two luxury homes, numerous apartments, a cargo ship, a speedboat and a plane also were seized during the operation, according to the DNCD counter-narcotics agency, which worked with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration during the raid. Authorities detained Omar Alberto Díaz Pavón of Puerto Rico, who was identified as the leader of the narco-trafficking organization. The cocaine was found in one of two villas he owned in the Casa de Campo tourist resort. Officials said one of the villas has a value of more than US$20 million. [EFE (Dominican Republic), 07/02/2012; Milenio (Dominican Republic), 07/02/2012]
LIMA, Peru – Carmen Masías Claux, the recently appointed executive president of the National Commission for a Drug-Free Life (Devida) is confident her strategy will lead to the Andean nation’s making major strides in its fight against narcotics. “We’re betting on being able to control drug-making substances, preventing people from using drugs, providing rehabilitation to addicts and getting farmers to grow alternative crops [instead of coca], she said. “This is not merely about eradication or interdiction.” Masías Claux, a practicing psychologist, took over as director last month, replacing Ricardo Soberón, who stepped down after the government disagreed with his strategy to fight narcotics, as he didn’t want farmers to stop growing coca – the main ingredient used to produce cocaine. But eradicating illegal coca fields is a top priority for Masías Claux, who said Devida’s goal is to eliminate 14,000 hectares (34,594 acres) of coca fields nationwide annually. She’ll enlist the services of the National Police Anti-Drug Agency and the Special Project for the Reduction of Cocaine Harvesting in the Alto Huallaga, an entity of the Interior Ministry. Previously, Devida’s goal was to eradicate 12,000 hectares (29,652 acres) of illegal coca annually. In 2010, a total of 151,228 acres was used to grow coca in Peru compared to 148,016 the previous year, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). In 2009, Peru was home to 45.4% of all global cultivation of coca, ahead of Colombia (39.3%) and Bolivia (15.3%), according to the UNODC report. But Peruvian authorities are taking steps reduce that number. In January 2012, 157 hectares (390 acres) of illegal coca leaf crops were destroyed, according to the Peruvian Anti-Drug Police. “The eradication of coca leaf crops will be carried out in a parallel way with the development of alternative crops in the coca leaf-growing areas,” said Masías Claux, adding authorities will try to replicate the success it’s had in the San Martín region, where farmers have successfully switched from growing coca to harvesting coffee, cacao and palmetto. Óscar Valdés Dancuart, president of the Ministers Council, said the government would conduct a nationwide agricultural census over the next several months to establish how many farmers are growing coca. “Our aim is not to allow these farmers involved with drug trafficking to pretend they are harvesting coca leaves legally,” he said. Peru spent about US$18 million on drug eradication efforts in 2010, about US$3.9 million more than in 2009. Devida’s budget to fight illegal drugs was increased from US$33.3 million in 2011 to US$44.5 million for 2012. Narco-traffickers paying top prices for coca The National Coca Corporation (ENACO), an institution that is authorized to produce coca and its derivates, purchased an average of 10,647 metric tons (23.47 million pounds) annually from farmers during the past four years, paying about US$18.50 per 25 pounds. But narco-traffickers pay as much as US$55.50 for the same amount, which explains why 91% of the 119,000 metric tons (262 million pounds) of coca harvested in Peru annually ends up in the hands of narco-traffickers, according to the UNODC. Of the 30,000 farmers authorized to cultivate coca, only 8,000 actually sell their crops to ENACO, according to Jaime García Díaz, a development analyst with the International Studies Institute at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. “ENACO can buy only the coca leaf produced by the coca farmers who were granted prior authorization,” he said. “The dried coca leaf is mostly used in the labs where the drug is made.” About 8% of the national production of coca is used for its traditional use – chewing it for energy – with less than 1% of it used as a sweetener for beverages, like soda, according to a 2003 national survey on the traditional use of coca leaf by the National Statistics and Informatics Institute and Devida. Public Prosecutor Jorge Chávez Cotrina, in charge of investigating organized crime involved in drug trafficking and money laundering, said the anti-drug strategy has been bolstered by recent changes in the law. “We can now pursue [suspects] and film in public places, and we can use undercover agents,” he said. “We can also investigate remittances and can ask a judge for permission to tap phone lines.” The result: A narco-trafficking ring can be dismantled within six months instead of in 12 to 18 months as in previous years, Chávez Cotrina said. Those found guilty of narcotics trafficking face eight to 35 years in prison. Masías Claux, an advocate for the stiff sentences, said she will not endorse any proposal that legalizes narcotics. “Countries that have liberalized [drug consumption] are turning back on that,” she added. “Just because you tell criminals that drugs are going to become legal, they are not going to become law-abiding, too.” ‘Clans,’ not cartels Unlike in Colombia, where the narcotics trade is controlled by violent cartels, Peruvian narco-trafficking is dominated by “family clans,” who are prevalent in the rich, coca-producing areas of the Alto Huallaga and the Valley of the Apurímac and Ene rivers (VRAE), Chávez Cotrina said. The clans’ narco-trafficking system centers on secrecy: Those who transport the drugs don’t know the farmers and the farmers who grow coca don’t know who is financing the operation or where the cocaine made from their coca is sold, be it in Peru or abroad. The narco-traffickers in this region have “adopted the same systems used by the Shining Path terrorist group in which they compartmentalize so everyone in the clan has a specific role,” Chávez Cotrina said. But he added advancements in resources, technology and manpower will bolster the government’s fight against narcotics, enabling authorities to dismantle these groups. By Dialogo February 09, 2012
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Office of Foreign Assets Control of the U.S. Department of the Treasury boosted its efforts to cut off financing for Mexico’s notorious Sinaloa drug cartel, adding on March 6 kingpin Ismael Zambada García’s brother to its official sanctions list. Jesús Reynaldo Zambada controlled a drug trafficking route via Mexico City’s international airport “on behalf of his brother,” one of the two top figures in the violent Sinaloa group, the Treasury said. Jesús Reynaldo Zambada was arrested in 2008 in Mexico and is awaiting extradition to the United States. The sanctions, established under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, freeze any assets of Zambada held by U.S. entities and make it illegal for any U.S. entity or citizen to conduct financial or commercial transactions with him. The Treasury also placed such sanctions on two companies in Mexico linked to the Zambadas, an agricultural business and a clothing retailer, both located in Culiacán, capital of the state of Sinaloa. The Treasury “continues to target Ismael Zambada García and his drug trafficking and money laundering network to cripple their influence and deny them access to the U.S. financial system,” said Adam Szubin, head of the Office of Foreign Assets Control. [AFP, 06/03/2012; Treasury.gov, 06/03/2012] By Dialogo March 07, 2012
By Dialogo June 11, 2013 SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica – Costa Rican authorities seized 1,219 kilograms of very potent marijuana from two boats that were stranded on a beach along the Caribbean coast after a brief gunfight, the Security Ministry said in a prepared statement on June 9. The “High-Red” marijuana is one of the drug’s strongest strains, according to the ministry. Authorities are searching for the owners of the boats and marijuana. The crew aboard the boats opened fire on authorities as they headed toward the beach La Cieneguita in Moín in the province of Limón, where they escaped. The boats were found in the same area where the body of environmentalist Jairo Mora Sandoval, a 26-year-old protector of leatherback turtles, was found with a bullet wound in his head on May 31. [AFP (Costa Rica), 09/06/2013; TicoVisión (Costa Rica), 09/06/2013]
By Eduardo Szklarz/Diálogo November 13, 2018 The Argentine Armed Forces activated the Antarctic Joint Command (COCOANTAR, in Spanish), kicking off their restructuring process. COCOANTAR, which comprises members of the Argentine Navy, Army, and Air Force, oversees planning and execution of Argentine bases’ logistics support during the annual Summer Antarctic Campaign (CAV, in Spanish) CAV, which used to rotate at the beginning of each campaign. The permanent command will now operate in a stable, continuous way. The effective change took place on August 15, 2018. Argentine Air Force Colonel Enrique Oscar Videla, second Antarctic joint commander, and Argentine Army First Lieutenant Diego Fabián Nieva, who supervises the organization’s institutional relations, met with Diálogo at COCOANTAR’s headquarters in Buenos Aires. “In the past, COCOANTAR was assembled three months before each CAV and was dissolved when the campaign ended. What improved is that this group of people stays together and remains active year round,” Col. Videla said. “We don’t have to start over with new people every September. This continuity ensures much more precise planning.” Restructuring the Argentine Armed Forces The creation of a permanent COCOANTAR is the first step in restructuring the Argentine Armed Forces, which President Mauricio Macri announced in July 2018. “The restructure is a government policy that seeks to make the organization more efficient. Part of this restructuring is the change that took place in COCOANTAR,” 1st Lt. Nieva said. “Restructuring means optimizing resources,” Col. Videla added. “The idea is to start doing more joint work among forces, which in turn lowers operating costs.” According to Col. Videla, the worldwide tendency among armed forces is to implement joint doctrines, peacekeeping operations, and special forces. “It all tends toward jointness,” he said. “The Antarctic Campaign has always been carried out jointly, but from different places. This leads us to start combining a bit more.” Base logistics Argentina has the largest number of operational bases in Antarctica. Of its 13 bases, six operate year round (Orcadas, San Martín, Carlini, Esperanza, Belgrano II, and Marambio) while seven are temporary and only open during summer (Matienzo, Petrel, Brown, Primavera, Cámara, Decepción, and Melchior.) COCOANTAR supplies this entire structure with fuel, clothes, food, medicine, and tools. The command also coordinates the change of personnel and provides support for scientific activities. During the 2017-2018 CAV, COCOANTAR transported 2,400 tons of supplies, including Antarctic diesel oil (fuel with an antifreeze additive), gas tanks, and construction materials. Service members also bring back to Argentina the waste, containers, plastic boxes, and all household garbage daily life in Antarctica produces. “In winter, a small base can accommodate 20 to 25 people. A large base, such as Esperanza, 50 to 60,” said 1st Lt. Nieva. “The number increases in summer, when we have about 90 people in Esperanza and 70 to 80 in Carlini.” Argentine service members will deploy the icebreaker Almirante Irízar, two polar ships, a C-130 Hercules aircraft, two helicopters, and a Twin Otter aircraft, in addition to amphibious and land vehicles from the Army and the Navy, for the 2018-2019 CAV. Present for more than 100 years Argentina is also the country with the longest continuous presence in Antarctica: 114 years. Argentines raised their national flag in the Orcadas Islands upon setting up a weather station on February 22, 1904. “For us, this is a symbol of pride and commitment. Not only for having the longest-standing presence and the largest number of bases deployed in the summer, but also for our closeness to Antarctica,” said Col. Videla. “And even more so for the importance of the scientific activities carried out. We have to practice everything in a very precise way.” Argentine bases have scientific cooperation agreements with the United States, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom, among other countries. Carlini Base even houses a German lab. The interaction enables the study of climate change effects as well as chemical pollutants, radiation, mammals, and marine plankton. “Camaraderie in Antarctica is not only among different forces, but also among different countries. For example, at Carlini Base I was with Germans and Americans. The personal connection is unique, and everybody wants to return,” 1st Lt. Nieva said. “What do we get from 100 years in Antarctica? We get local expertise, experience that not every country has. We are proud of being able to provide that knowledge.” Camaraderie is also reflected in the mutual help among nations. For example, the icebreaker Almirante Irízar rescued five U.S. scientists stranded on a Joinville Island camp in March 2018. “Thank you very much, Argentina, for sending Almirante Irízar to rescue our scientists stranded in Antarctica, reaffirming the spirit of cooperation that drives our relations,” the U.S. Embassy in Argentina said on its Twitter account.