Is the Northern Triangle’s ‘Historic’ Security Pact Short-Sighted?

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Presidents of Central America’s Northern Triangle have come to an agreement to create a “common front” against organized crime, but the emphasis on gang activity may leave a lot to be desired.

On August 23, Salvadoran President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández and Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales signed the “Regional Plan Against Transnational Organized Crime” during a meeting at El Salvador’s presidential palace.

“We have joined forces as a region, as countries, to fight transnational crime,” said Salvadoran President Sánchez Cerén. 

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The planned joint security operations include setting up a binational force along the Honduras-El Salvador border in the coming weeks. The plan is aimed at hindering the passage of gang members between the two countries, as well as the flow of contraband and human trafficking, reported El Diario de Hoy.

Honduras President Hernández said that this form of cooperation with El Salvador would “allow us to be one step ahead of criminal groups … their operations have ceased to be local, today they are transnational.”

The proposed measures also include intelligence sharing between the nations, coordinated operations and facilitating the deportation of wanted persons. Furthermore, the three governments will create a “High-Security Group” consisting of police and military officials and prosecutors, who will be tightly screened in order to avoid the infiltration of criminal groups.

The Honduran president emphasized that the region’s main security problem is the network of “mara” gangs, such as the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and Barrio 18, and traffickers of drugs, people and arms.

The Northern Triangle pact comes only weeks after the attorneys general of the three countries came to a collaboration deal focusing on fighting gangs in the region. These joint efforts are part of the Northern Triangle’s Alliance for Prosperity, for which US Congress approved funds of up to $750 million in December 2015.

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández at the press conference in El Salvador

InSight Crime Analysis

These growing signs of international cooperation between Northern Triangle nations are promising developments. However, the joint pact appears to be short-sighted in its focus on fighting gangs, while each nation’s struggle to implement a well-rounded domestic security policy raises serious doubts about their ability to do so in unison.

This recent agreement appears to hone in on the maras’ possible leap into transnational organized crime — a topic that remains the subject of vigorous debate. While Mara members take refuge in neighboring nations, and there have been indications that branches of the MS13 gang may be coordinating criminal activities across countries, it remains unclear how closely they cooperate across borders and whether these gangs can be considered genuine transnational actors.

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In addition, there is not much mention of the key economies funding these gangs and other powerful organized crime groups operating in the Northern Triangle, especially those involved in the international drug trade. Nor do the pacts appear to tackle money laundering and high-level corruption, which continue to pose important barriers to justice, security and development in the region. 

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