Focus on the Western Hemisphere: A network approach

Posted on behalf of Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft.

Colombian National Police Col. Alexander Toperio leads Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft, U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Kevin Whitaker, Col. Michael Knutson and Special Operations Command South Commander Brig. Gen. Kurt Sonntag through a training facility at Hacienda Los Pijaos, Colombia, Nov. 18, 2014. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Colombian National Police Col. Alexander Toperio leads Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft, U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Kevin Whitaker, Col. Michael Knutson and Special Operations Command South Commander Brig. Gen. Kurt Sonntag through a training facility at Hacienda Los Pijaos, Colombia, Nov. 18, 2014. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

In addition to my role as Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, I am also The Interdiction Committee chair. TIC is comprised of key representatives from a coalition of U.S. agencies dedicated to disrupting illicit networks in the drug trade, specifically through interdiction efforts in the Western Hemisphere maritime transit zone.

President Obama recently announced the U.S. Government’s strategy for Central America and its focus on promoting prosperity and regional economic integration, enhancing security and promoting improved governance. TIC efforts, Sec. Johnson’s Southern Border and Approaches Campaign plan and our own Western Hemisphere Strategy directly support the President’s national strategy. Vice President Biden emphasized this coordination this week when he referenced our committee’s engagements in Puerto Rico, Panama, Colombia and Honduras during his remarks at the Inter-American Development Bank Conference.

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft meets President of Panama Juan Carlos Varela at Palacio de Las Garzas in Panama, Nov. 17, 2014. Varela met with Zukunft and members of The Interdiction Committee before hosting a roundtable discussion that also included key members of his security team. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft meets President of Panama Juan Carlos Varela at Palacio de Las Garzas in Panama, Nov. 17, 2014. Varela met with Zukunft and members of The Interdiction Committee before hosting a roundtable discussion that also included key members of his security team. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Federal agencies and international partners are working tirelessly in the United States and abroad to combat Transnational Organized Crime networks. These efforts have been instrumental in eradicating production facilities and controlling the purchase of precursor chemicals used to make drugs; interrupting mobility corridors when illegal narcotics are being moved to stockpile locations; and integrating efforts to disrupt drug shipments and the distribution chain to impact the network itself.

The success of this coordination and U.S. resources committed to dismantling illicit drug networks hinges on strong international partnerships forged by common goals. As a committee, we met with President of Panama Juan Carlos Varela to address this international effort. We also engaged with Panama’s National Aero-Naval Service, or SENAN, to build on recent successes in disrupting narco-trafficking on both sides of the Panama isthmus.

The committee worked with senior officials in Colombia, which was once included among the most dangerous countries in our hemisphere. But, through great courage and resolve, Colombia has successfully waged a hard-fought battle against illicit networks and become a prosperous nation. Colombia is also exerting regional leadership to turn illicit trafficking into an unprofitable industry. In talks with senior members of Colombia’s navy and national police, we heard about their experiences and success as they continue to dismantle insidious networks.

President of Panama Juan Carlos Varela meets with Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft and members of The Interdiction Committee at Palacio de Las Garzas in Panama, Nov. 17, 2014. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

President of Panama Juan Carlos Varela meets with Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft and members of The Interdiction Committee at Palacio de Las Garzas in Panama, Nov. 17, 2014. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

We then traveled to Honduras, a country with the highest murder rate in the world. Most of this violence is directly associated with Transnational Organized Crime networks in the region. We met with President of Honduras Juan Orlando Hernandez to discuss ways we can partner in combating illicit drug networks and create time and space for the seeds of governance and economic prosperity to grow. Honduras is a willing partner, and its future is important to our national security.

Illicit networks run a staggering multi-billion dollar industry, destabilizing countries in the Western Hemisphere through violence and turmoil, undermining the rule of law and terrorizing citizens in the communities they infiltrate. Despite successes in reducing domestic cocaine use, the United States remains the number one consumer nation of illegal narcotics in the world and the consequences in our country are immediate and devastating. According to Office of National Drug Control Policy estimates, the total cost to American society from illegal drug use per year is nearly $200 billion. Moreover, hundreds of thousands of American lives have been lost to drug overdoses and associated violence since 2001.

Together, with a network approach, the U.S. Coast Guard is committed to hemispheric safety and security. We are committed to combating Transnational Organized Crime networks, securing our borders and safeguarding commerce.

President of Honduras Juan Orlando Hernández meets with The Interdiction Committee at Casa Presidencial in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Nov. 20, 2014. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

President of Honduras Juan Orlando Hernández meets with The Interdiction Committee at Casa Presidencial in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Nov. 20, 2014. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

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