By Dialogo August 11, 2009 A suspected Shining Path guerrilla leader has been captured in the jungles of Peru’s Upper Huallaga Valley, the La Republica newspaper reported. Felix Mejia Ascencios, who was the No. 4 commander of the Shining Path’s remnants in the Upper Huallaga, served as the security chief for “Comrade Artemio,” the only remaining high-profile fugitive of the guerrilla group, which terrorized Peru in the 1980s, police said. The Upper Huallaga Valley is a center of coca cultivation and cocaine production. The 31-year-old Mejia was arrested in a hamlet in the Huanuco region on Sunday afternoon as he was drinking in a bar. The suspected guerrilla, who is accused of taking part in ambushes of police on June 14, 2007, and Nov. 26, 2008, was carrying a loaded 9 mm pistol. The Shining Path has a presence in both the Upper Huallaga Valley and the Valley of the Apurimac and Ene rivers, known as the VRAE region, where it staged an attack Aug. 2 on a police special operations base in San Jose de Seque, a district in the southern Andean province of Ayacucho, that left three officers and two civilians dead. Remnants of the guerrilla group operate in both valleys, working with drug traffickers and staging attacks on the security forces. President Alan Garcia said last week that the remaining Shining Path guerrillas operating in the jungles of the VRAE region “must be exterminated.” This will be “a long-term project,” Garcia said, adding that the current terrorism problem “isn’t the tenth part and maybe not even the hundredth part of what it was in the 1980s.” “This remnant of Shining Path must be exterminated, we have to eradicate it, but I see it as a job that requires patience,” the president said during a visit to the southern city of Tacna last Thursday. Interior Minister Octavio Salazar also said last week that the Shining Path’s remnants remained a threat to public safety in the jungles of the VRAE region. The interior minister said there was a “perverse alliance” in the VRAE between the rebels and drug traffickers. Comrade Artemio called on the government last December for a “political solution” to end the armed conflict. Artemio told Radio La Luz, which broadcasts from the jungle town of Aucayacu, some 600 kilometers (373 miles) from Lima, on Dec. 23 that his fighters would continue to launch attacks as long as the security forces went after them. Artemio, whose real identity is not known, repeated that his group wanted “a political solution” and accused the security forces of committing “a great many” violations. The guerrilla leader, who some sources have identified as Alberto Cerron Cardoso or Gabriel Macario Ala, operates in Peru’s central jungle with about 100 fighters. In May, La Republica reported that Shining Path founder Abimael Guzman, who is serving a life sentence for terrorism, called the remaining members of the guerrilla group operating in the VRAE region mercenaries. “It’s a group of mercenaries who look out for their personal interests and not those of the people. They are simplistic, they do not know ideology. They have practically tossed Marxism-Leninism-Maoism into the trash can,” Guzman told National Police intelligence officers. The remnants of the Shining Path did not comply with Guzman’s order more than a decade ago to end the armed struggle. Guzman does not recognize the remaining fighters as Shining Path members. The Maoist-inspired group launched its uprising on May 17, 1980, with an attack on Chuschi, a small town in Ayacucho province. A truth commission appointed by former President Alejandro Toledo blamed the Shining Path for most of the nearly 70,000 deaths the panel ascribed to politically motivated violence during the two decades following the group’s 1980 uprising. The guerrilla group also caused an estimated $25 billion in economic losses, according to commission estimates. Guzman, known to his fanatic followers as “President Gonzalo,” was captured with his top lieutenants on Sept. 12, 1992, an event that marked the “defeat” of the insurgency. Guzman, who was a professor of philosophy at San Cristobal University before initiating his armed struggle in the Andean city of Ayacucho, once predicted that 1 million Peruvians would probably have to die in the ushering-in of the new state envisioned by Shining Path. The group became notorious for some of its innovations, such as blowing apart with dynamite the bodies of community service workers its members killed, or hanging stray canines from lampposts as warnings to “capitalist dogs.”
The armed forces, as well as the media, rank among the most trustworthy institutions in Latin America, much more than churches, legislatures, and political parties, according to a regional survey by FLACSO released Monday. About 85% of Latin Americans oppose the abolition of the armed forces, and about 43% trust them, a level surpassed only by the media (59%) and the presidency (48%), according to the study carried out in eighteen countries in the region. “The Latin America average indicates that 43% trust them (the armed forces),” according to this first study on ‘Governability and Democratic Coexistence,’ which surveyed 9,057 people in the region. The level of trust in the armed forces is linked in part to insecurity, which for about 91% of those surveyed is the leading problem, according to FLACSO (Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences), an intergovernmental research center headquartered in San José. It is also related to the opinion of about 77% that military personnel are professionals and not politically active, for which reason it is “not at all probable” that there will be a coup d’état, FLACSO general secretary Francisco Rojas explained. Since this is the first study of this kind by this organization, it is impossible to compare the results, but in previous polls by other institutions, the armed forces have normally earned high levels of distrust in a region that experienced military dictatorships during the 1970s and 1980s. The survey was carried out jointly with the opinion-research firm Pública Ipsos in November and December of last year and has a margin of error of 1%. The countries where “the perception of the probability of a coup d’état is high are Paraguay (41%) and Ecuador (39%),” surpassing Honduras (31%), where a coup took place last year, according to the study. In contrast, 93.8% of Chileans dismiss the possibility of a coup. In the two countries that have abolished their armed forces (Costa Rica in 1948 and Panama in 1994), there were divergent results on the question of whether it would be a good idea to restore the army: 88.4% of Costa Ricans were opposed to such a possibility, which was supported by 47.4% of Panamanians. Insecurity is the largest problem for more than 90% of citizens in El Salvador, Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, Guatemala, Panama, Venezuela, Honduras, and Costa Rica. The lowest level was in Uruguay with 85.5%. By Dialogo August 18, 2010
Ecuador has revealed that it has succeeded in clearing landmines from more than 70,000 square meters. The announcement was made at the Ottawa Convention meeting, which is being held this year in Phnom Penh. Counselor Vernica Aguilar of the Ecuadorean Foreign Service said that the initial objective was to clear around 10,000 square meters, but the goal was exceeded. The delegate indicated that the figure could still rise, but that “productivity goes down when we get into the jungle and we have to do manual demining in very difficult climatological conditions.” Part of the demining was achieved with special machinery, and according to Aguilar, other areas of the country will be part of the program, which is expected to conclude in 2013. The Ottawa Convention regulates the use, storage, production, sale, and destruction of anti-personnel mines, and its mission is to free the world from these devices. By Dialogo December 02, 2011
By Dialogo May 09, 2012 On May 7, the Honduran authorities seized 400 kilos of cocaine in the remote region of La Mosquitia, in the department of Gracias a Dios, around 800 km northeast of the capital, the police announced. During the operation, “15 bales with a total of 400 kilos of cocaine were seized, in two vehicles that were intercepted in Plaplaya (in the department of Gracias a Dios),” the head of operations of the National Directorate of Special Investigative Services, Commissioner Silvio Inestroza, told AFP. He explained that, since the drugs were found in the vehicles, “it’s unknown whether they transferred them from a small plane or from a boat, and that’s still under investigation.” “The vehicle crews, who are from the same community, fled into a rough mountain area, and none of them have been arrested,” the officer regretted. In the remote department of Gracias a Dios, Honduran authorities have been destroying clandestine airstrips used by drug traffickers to transport drugs from South America to the United States with the help of locals, impoverished Misquito indigenous people. According to information provided by the head of the Honduran Military, General René Osorio, 17 airstrips have been destroyed so far this year by opening gaps in them with dynamite in order to prevent aircraft from landing. Osorio indicated that another 50 airstrips have been identified and will likewise be destroyed in the departments of Colón, in northwestern Honduras; Olancho, in the east-central part of the country; and El Paraíso, in the east.
By Dialogo August 06, 2012 South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and Colombian Vice Minister of Defense Jorge Enrique Bedoya signed a partnership proclamation on July 23, formally establishing a bilateral relationship between South Carolina and the Republic of Colombia in the National Guard’s State Partnership Program (SPP). A ceremony at the South Carolina statehouse made the announcement official with the attendance of Colombian and U.S. visitors, including the Colombian Embassy in Washington D.C., the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá, U.S. Southern Command, the National Guard Bureau and the South Carolina National Guard. The National Guard’s SPP links U.S. states with partner countries for the purposes of supporting the objectives and goals of the geographic combatant commander and the U.S. Ambassador. It promotes national security objectives, country and regional stability, partner nation capacity, and improved understanding and trust throughout the world. “This is a historic day in South Carolina. We have a new friend and partner. We look forward to strengthening our relationship with Colombia and we look forward to all we are able to share,” Haley said. The bilateral relationship between South Carolina and Colombia is the 64th state partnership in the program’s history. With the addition of Colombia, there are a now a total of 22 SPP relationships with 28 countries in Central and South America and the Caribbean. “We have a new friend today that the Republic of Colombia has found with the state of South Carolina. We are very excited about this new relationship. We are now partners for life,” Bedoya said. The vice minister said that his country and South Carolina have much in common including “the values that we share, the respect for our men and women in uniform, and of course, the fight against terrorism and narco-trafficking.” For his part, Major General Robert E. Livingston, adjutant general of South Carolina, said, “Both of us – the Colombian Military and the South Carolina National Guard – have a lot of hard lessons learned in counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, consequence management and response to local emergencies in support of local authorities. This truly is a sharing. We don’t have all the answers and the Colombians don’t have all the answers. But as we share we become stronger militaries.” The program’s goals reflect an evolving international affairs mission for the National Guard to interact with both the active and reserve forces of foreign nations, interagency partners, and international non-governmental organizations, emphasizing the National Guard’s unique state and federal characteristics.
BOGOTÁ, Colombia – Jesús David Echeverry Trujillo, an alleged narco-trafficking member of the Junta Directiva de la Mafia gang, has been arrested, Gen. José Roberto León Riaño, director of the National Police said. Echeverry Trujillo, who was apprehended at a ranch outside the city of Girardota in the department of Antioquia, is suspected of working closely with narco-trafficker Daniel “El Loco” Barrera, who was taken into custody last week in Venezuela. Echeverry Trujillo allegedly has connections to several of Mexico’s most powerful narco-traffickers, including Joaquín “Chapo” Guzmán and the Beltrán Leyva brothers, Riaño said. Police also arrested 10 of Echeverry Trujillo’s alleged bodyguards and seized an array of weapons. Echeverry Trujillo initiated a series of battles to commandeer narco-trafficking in northwestern Colombia by fighting Erickson Vargas Cardona, the alleged leader of Los Urabeños who was recently apprehended. By Dialogo October 04, 2012 [EFE (Colombia), 02/10/2012; El Espectador (Colombia), 02/10/2012; El Nuevo Herald (Colombia), 02/10/2012]
When she was 15 years old, a rural girl by the name of Gloria Nancy Vázquez, almost died due to an antipersonnel mine on a mountain road in El Dragal, northeast Colombia, where the armed conflict has gone on for decades, but now hopes to avoid new victims with hands-on training for demining. “I was riding [a mule] from El Dragal to the municipality of Argelia. The animal activated the mine and the impact was mainly on the right side of my body. The mule died and I was taken to the hospital, unconscious,” said this 23-year-old woman, who is participating in a demining course in the municipality of El Retiro, in Antioquia district. “Because of that, I have these skin grafts on my left leg, waist, arm, as well as many scars on my face. I also lost most of my vision in my left eye and hearing in my left ear,” she added. Like her, another 14 farmers are being trained in hands-on demining by the British NGO Halo Trust in several mountainous areas in Antioquia, which has the highest number of antipersonnel victims in Colombia. “I do not want other people to go through what I have, because it is an experience you do not wish on anyone,” Vázquez said, wearing a transparent bulletproof visor on her head, as well as a blue explosive-proof Kevlar vest. Between 1990 and December 2012, these explosive devices have caused over 2,119 deaths and 8,041 injured and amputees in the whole country, according to the presidential program for comprehensive action against antipersonnel landmines. Colombia, which has suffered a violent armed conflict involving leftist guerrillas, right wing armed groups, drug traffickers and state armed forces, is second only to Afghanistan in the number of antipersonnel mine victims. Halo Trust has done this demining with civilians for 25 years in 15 countries worldwide. Nathaly Ochoa, who is an operations officer for the NGO in Colombia, explains that the profile of deminers is “basically farmers of the areas affected by mines. They are men and women that know their territory.” Each volunteer earns the monthly minimum wage of 589,500 pesos (about $325) and has housing, food, transportation, medical and life insurance, confirmed Ochoa, who says that by the end of 2013, about 200 volunteers will be enrolled in this activity in Colombia. The countrymen and women wear armored suits and use mine detectors, geographical location, communications and first aid equipment. Furthermore, they are accompanied by demining experts. “It is true that the government has their own mine removal capabilities – the Army – but they also recognize that these capabilities are not enough,” Grant Salisbury, Halo Trust director in Colombia, confirmed. By Dialogo February 01, 2013
In the second operation, Soldiers unearthed 468 packages containing more than three tons of marijuana hidden inside a pit. Costa Rica’s Drug Control Police (PCD) captured 10 suspects who allegedly were part of a narco-trafficking ring that transported five kilograms of marijuana and three kilograms of cocaine weekly from the Province of Limón, according to the Public Security Ministry. Police arrested the seven men and three women during raids at nine properties in the Limon neighborhoods of Barrio Quinto, Los Lirios, and Limoncito. Law enforcement officers captured the alleged leader of the group and a suspect who police believe collected money from drug sales and was in charge of distribution. The leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia’s (FARC) 17th Front recently died in a shootout with the Colombian National Army’s Ninth Brigade in the Department of Huila, the Army said in a March 7 press statement. Costa Rica disbanded its Army in 1948, leaving the PCD to lead the country’s counter-narcotics fight on land, while its Coast Guard has been responsible for protecting its waters. The Central American nation has emerged as a key transshipment point in the trafficking of South American narcotics into the U.S. and Europe. Mexican Army seizes more than 6 tons of marijuana Police arrested the seven men and three women during raids at nine properties in the Limon neighborhoods of Barrio Quinto, Los Lirios, and Limoncito. In the second operation, Soldiers unearthed 468 packages containing more than three tons of marijuana hidden inside a pit. The leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia’s (FARC) 17th Front recently died in a shootout with the Colombian National Army’s Ninth Brigade in the Department of Huila, the Army said in a March 7 press statement. Edwin Cacerolo had been a member of the FARC for 30 years. He was in charge of coordinating numerous attacks, including one on a police station in the Departent of Huila that injured two Soldiers on February 27. The FARC operative was also in charge of the organization’s extortion rings in the departments of Huila and Tolima, according to the Army. Troops made the first confiscation along the banks of the Rio Grande River, where Soldiers found 146 packages containing more than 968 kilograms of the drug. Edwin Cacerolo had been a member of the FARC for 30 years. He was in charge of coordinating numerous attacks, including one on a police station in the Departent of Huila that injured two Soldiers on February 27. The FARC operative was also in charge of the organization’s extortion rings in the departments of Huila and Tolima, according to the Army. In 2014, the PCD seized seven metric tons of marijuana that were ready for distribution, eradicated 872,923 marijuana plants and confiscated more than 26 metric tons of cocaine, a record for one year. In 2013, the PCD confiscated 21.8 metric tons of cocaine, according to the Public Security Ministry. Nearly 90 percent of the cocaine that reaches the United States comes through Mexico and Central America, according to the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board. Troops fatally shot FARC leader Rafael Torres Morales, who was also known as “Edwin Cacerolo,” and his unidentified body guard. The gun battle began when FARC operatives fired on Soldiers, who shot back in self defense. SEDENA turned the drugs over to the Prosecutor’s Office. The investigation into which group owned the drugs is ongoing. Law enforcement officers captured the alleged leader of the group and a suspect who police believe collected money from drug sales and was in charge of distribution. Mexican Army seizes more than 6 tons of marijuana Nearly 90 percent of the cocaine that reaches the United States comes through Mexico and Central America, according to the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board. Costa Rica disbanded its Army in 1948, leaving the PCD to lead the country’s counter-narcotics fight on land, while its Coast Guard has been responsible for protecting its waters. The Central American nation has emerged as a key transshipment point in the trafficking of South American narcotics into the U.S. and Europe. Colombia: Head of FARC’s 17th Front dies in Military operation Colombia: Head of FARC’s 17th Front dies in Military operation SEDENA turned the drugs over to the Prosecutor’s Office. The investigation into which group owned the drugs is ongoing. The Mexican Army recently seized more than six tons of marijuana collectively in three separate operations in the State of Tamaulipas, according to the Secretariat of National Defense (SEDENA). By Dialogo March 12, 2015 Troops fatally shot FARC leader Rafael Torres Morales, who was also known as “Edwin Cacerolo,” and his unidentified body guard. The gun battle began when FARC operatives fired on Soldiers, who shot back in self defense. Troops made the first confiscation along the banks of the Rio Grande River, where Soldiers found 146 packages containing more than 968 kilograms of the drug. In the third operation, Troops seized 305 packages containing more than two tons of marijuana found buried in a vacant lot. In 2014, the PCD seized seven metric tons of marijuana that were ready for distribution, eradicated 872,923 marijuana plants and confiscated more than 26 metric tons of cocaine, a record for one year. In 2013, the PCD confiscated 21.8 metric tons of cocaine, according to the Public Security Ministry. Costa Rica’s Drug Control Police (PCD) captured 10 suspects who allegedly were part of a narco-trafficking ring that transported five kilograms of marijuana and three kilograms of cocaine weekly from the Province of Limón, according to the Public Security Ministry. In the third operation, Troops seized 305 packages containing more than two tons of marijuana found buried in a vacant lot. The Mexican Army recently seized more than six tons of marijuana collectively in three separate operations in the State of Tamaulipas, according to the Secretariat of National Defense (SEDENA).
As part of the ongoing cooperation, Alan Gogbashian, head of the Caribbean, Central America, and Mexico Department at the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and Ambassador Fisher, visited the new unit’s facilities on August 14. There, they learned about the DNCD’s actions in detail, including the joint operations it conducts with the Ministry of Defense and the Prosecutor’s Office. The tactical operations have forced go-fast boats carrying drugs from South America to change routes toward the Eastern Caribbean Basin. The importance of cooperation U.S. authorities estimate that 6 percent of the cocaine entering the United States and Europe passes through the Dominican Republic – but Dominican authorities have made major strides in recent months in the fight against drug trafficking. The joint effort is part of the bilateral cooperation strategy officials from the Dominican Republic and the United Kingdom signed July 25 in England — an agreement that includes a donation of $2.36 million and the creation of a new division of the DNCD. The first training course was opened by the director of National Drug Enforcement Bureau (DNCD, for its Spanish acronym), Dominican Air Force Major General Julio César Souffront Velázquez, together with the representative from the Dominican Republic’s National Council on Drugs, Fidias Aristy, and the United Kingdom’s ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Steven Fischer. International cooperation is crucial in the fight against drug traffickers who use the Dominican Republic as a major transshipment route for cocaine en route to Europe, as well as to the U.S. Organized crime groups transport cocaine to northern destinations on planes, go-fast boats, private vessels, and in containers on cargo ships. Security forces arrested three suspects in connection with the cocaine, which was hidden in a shipment of coconuts on a ship from Puerto Rico headed to the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, the heroin was concealed in a refrigerated shipping container that was bound for Puerto Rico. Transshipment point Sharing intelligence The training, beginning on July 28th, focuses on gathering intelligence to combat drug-trafficking networks that ship narcotics to the UK, Spain, the Netherlands, and other European countries. It consists of 12 modules that will be taught by a group of NCA specialists, as well as support personnel from private security firms in the United Kingdom, said Daniel Pou, an associate analyst and researcher at the Latin American School of Social Sciences in the Dominican Republic. Latitude is a program aimed at fostering Caribbean and European Union countries’ efforts in the fight against drug trafficking aboard yachts and sailboats bringing drugs to the UK. As a member of the Latitude initiative, the DNCD announced on May 5 the creation of the Maritime Intelligence Team (MIT), a unit that would operate under the Joint Intelligence and Coordination Center to identify and monitor vessels suspected of trafficking drugs from South America. In recognition of the successful battle the DNCD has waged against international drug trafficking, the United Kingdom made the agency a member of its National Criminal Investigation Bureau (NCIB) on October 25, 2014. There, the National Criminal Investigation Bureau also promised to use the Latitude database to share intelligence with the National Drug Enforcement Bureau DNCD to support the identification of vessels suspected of trafficking drugs. For example, on July 26, after extensive intelligence work, DNCD agents, in coordination with other security agencies, seized 24 kilograms of cocaine at the Manzanillo Pier in the province of Montecristi, and 18 kilograms of heroin at Multimodal Caucedo Port in Santo Domingo. The MIT will have a trained intelligence team whose members will have access to the Latitude database. Research and operations personnel from the Dominican Republic’s new Transnational Drug Enforcement Division (DTCN, for its Spanish acronym) are training at the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency (NCA). “These actions are good steps for the Dominican Republic and the United Kingdom in the fight against drug trafficking,” Pou said. “The UK understands the ever-growing presence of Mexican and Colombian cartels on Dominican territory, and how cunning theses gangs are in smuggling drugs.” “The exercise is focused on criminal intelligence on drug trafficking,” Pou added. “For security reasons, authorities have not provided any information on the actual content of the training.” Officials with the NCA are also sharing their experiences with their counterparts in the Dominican Republic. By Dialogo August 26, 2015 “International cooperation is essential for confronting the drug scourge. The Dominican Republic has demonstrated its commitment and shows the limitless support of the upper levels of the government for DNCD’s actions,” Maj. Gen. Souffront said during the opening ceremony. “We hope that other countries that also face this problem invest in the commitment to attack the drug scourge and money laundering.”
Becker explained that Air Advisor is an intensive program taught by three instructors from the USAF Expeditionary Center who provided 35 hours of instruction to the firefighters. The program was designed to improve previous knowledge, ensuring that CENTAM SMOKE, which is held in a multicultural and multinational environment, is a success. Participants attended classes on Mesoamerican Religions, Foreign Disclosure and Intercultural Communications and Negotiations, and Public Relations. “If they do not have all of the equipment, it is provided to them,” Inspector Becker explained. “It is important that the firefighters have the proper equipment. To perform all training they must have a self-contained breathing apparatus, which is vital to practicing the live fire and rescue drills, focusing on fire expansion and fire extinguishing methods.” When the course was completed, CENTAM SMOKE began with the arrival of the Central American teams at the Soto Cano Air Base, where they were informed of the facilities’ safety regulations and had their personal equipment reviewed. Arduous preparation CENTAM SMOKE began in 2002 at the national level and in 2009, the program was implemented regionally in Central America. It is now held biannually. Since its inception, it has trained 800 Honduran firefighters and approximately 700 firefighters from other Central American countries. Each firefigher makes a difference Each firefighter who participates in CENTAM SMOKE is one “who can work with standardized levels of quality and a high amount of professionalism. They will serve as an example and may encourage, wherever they are, programs similar to the one they have received. Many of the trained firefighters are worthy representatives of the program in their countries of origin,” Inspector Becker explained. Inspector Becker explained that program participants perform these drills to implement the acquired knowledge, improve the use of tools, and ensure the proper handling of firefighting hoses, sprinklers, and nozzles. Every firefighter who participates in CENTAM SMOKE receives a Firefighter Specialization Manual, allowing participants to teach the lessons they learned in their respective countries. CENTAM SMOKE is a biannual program that, in addition to improving civic and humanitarian operations, promotes regional cooperation and improves collective skills among firefighters from Joint Task Force Bravo and the Central American region. The firefighters participating in CENTAM SMOKE 2016 included four from Belize, and five each from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama, for a total of 34 participants. On the first day, the firefighters were divided into groups that included one participant from each country, as the multinational teams strengthened brotherhood among Central American firefighters. “The learning experience was very important,” said Honduran firefighter Jorge Betanco Rodríguez, who benefited greatly from participating in the CENTAM SMOKE training. “I strengthened my physical conditioning and bolstered my knowledge of the use and handling of tools, particularly the ‘jaws of life’ [an extraction tool used in rescues]. The correct use of this tool makes the difference between life or death when used in a rescue after an accident.” By Dialogo May 26, 2016 The typical workday lasted from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. “In addition to mutual cooperation and coexistence, the Central American teams achieve certifications and gain knowledge that enables them to deal with real situations and rescue as many people as possible,” Inspector Becker stated. “This training at the regional level in Central America greatly improves the professionalism and techniques that we use,” CENTAM SMOKE’s Coordinator, Fire Inspector Herberth Becker, told Diálogo. “The work of the U.S. and Central American teams is important because it allows a leveling of the shared knowledge regarding first aid, vehicular extraction [one or more techniques used to free a victim trapped in the tangle of metal from a collision or car crash], and aircraft and structural fires.” For the CENTAM SMOKE program, seventeen firefighters from the USAF Squadron 612 at the Soto Cano Air Base conducted preparations that included taking week-long Air Advisor course to welcome firefighters from across Central America, according to Inspector Becker. Lengthy workday For example, a team of firefighters from the Soto Cano base transported an injured person by helicopter to a hospital in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa. The landing was considered risky because the hospital is in a densely packed urban area. However, the team of firefighters who received them had trained using what they had learned in the CENTAM SMOKE program to do their job without putting anyone at risk, Inspector Becker said. “A trained firefighter who does the job in accordance with the appropriate security measures is more confident and therefore able to successfully reach the victims of fires or other disasters, creating a positive civic impact,” he added. “A firefighter with CENTAM SMOKE training can make the difference.” The competition between the combined Central American team and the Squadron 612 Fire Brigade was inspiring, Betanco added. “It was a good competition. We strove to give the best of ourselves, and it fills us with satisfaction that the effort led to success, because the Central American team beat the U.S. one” A major training program was held at the Enrique Soto Cano Air Base in Honduras, when the Central America Sharing Mutual Operational Knowledge and Experiences Exercise (CENTAM SMOKE) brought together representatives of fire brigades from seven Central American nations from April 16th-23rd for a joint training session with U.S. Air Force (USAF) Squadron 612 out of Soto Cano Air Base. During the week-long CENTAM SMOKE exercise, physical exercises come in the form of obstacle courses and rescue simulations using dummies of different sizes. The academic side includes classes on first aid and responding to medical emergencies.