Central America with a population of 50 million almost equal that of Colombia. All the countries have access to both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea except for El Salvador and Belize. This coupled with Panama’s financial centre makes these countries attractive locations for drugs trafficking, organised crime and financial frauds such as money laundering. The low economic growth, social disparity and political instability provide fertile ground for the gang wars, drugs trade, illegal migration and human trafficking. The terrain makes it easier for criminals to hide and challenging for law enforcement authorities. Inequalities, corruption and crime are the top priorities of almost all the countries of the isthmus, as well as key push-factors causing people to migrate towards the US.
India can provide security solutions in the region say one of the country’s topmost C4I experts.
Sharing his views on India’s role in providing security solutions to the region, Milind Kulshreshtha, an Indian C4I expert says “The aim of every Government is to create a strong deterrence against all sorts of crimes through the use of Police Force and other Agencies to ensure unnecessary violence in all forms is curtailed to bring in peace and tranquillity for Nation’s prosperity.”
However, to achieve these existing resources require to be optimally utilized through means like today’s modern digital Command and Control System. “This can make deployment of an optimum force level as per the threat perceived using tools like Analytics and Predictive Policing. In turn, here the Threat Perception emerges from the Real-time situational awareness built over the ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Recce) information. A robust ISR can be the way ahead to achieve the deterrence and help in deployment of armed Police Force optimally. This means that the Command and Control system shall be based on an effective and robust communication network, thereby making Policing role based on a true C3I (Command, Control, Communication & Intelligence) system,” Milind Kulshreshtha explains.
The statement of President Nayib Bukele, of El Salvador, said that “The police and the armed forces must prioritise safeguarding their lives, those of their companions and honest citizens. The use of lethal weapons is authorized in self-defence or defence of lives of Salvadoreans” already sets the stage of fundamentals of C3I algorithms.
According to the C4I expert, “The C3I shall require induction of some of the new sensors like Unmanned) Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and Analytic through Artificial Intelligence (AI). The solutions like UAVs and AI can be included smoothly within the framework of C3I at a much lesser expense. India has a flourishing industry for all these advanced technologies.”
UAVs are the latest aerial means to gather real-time ISR information. The two types of drones which have relevance here are the smaller fixed-wing and rotary drones. “The fixed-wing UAVs can be pre-programmed to effectively undertake surveillance over the larger area, even while locking the camera gimbal on a specific spot (as per the operator’s attention area). For night operations, the payload can be the Infra-Red camera fitted on the UAV, and these have a resolution to even identify the shape of a motorcycle rider, and further, target tracking capability can calculate the route and future direction viz. destination of the vehicle,” the C4I expert adds. Adding, “Further, to maintain a closer lookout, a rotary drone can play an effective role, whereas provision exists to land the rotary drone in an area to provide a vigil and the drone can be flown back or re-positioned at a new vantage point.”
“An analytics run on the images can produce some valuable insights into the operation methodologies of each of the gang uniquely, yet again, helping in the predictive policing. Remarkably, the use of a grenade launcher drone can become an effective deterrence tool to discourage gang wars. An explosive carrying drone in a night can create a high deterrence within a group of mis-adventurous lot, depending on the darkness as a shield,” he suggests.
In his expert opinion, the `Threat Perception’ based on real-time ISR information can assist in predictive policing. Newer tools can assist in identifying geographical and time spot areas of crime, create a profile of the criminal groups. and help create virtual ‘Police’. The Analysis of the patterns formed by frequent offenders shall be developed on multiple elements.
Personnel Training: A Simulator based training of Police personnel can assist in the implementation of the new era sensors and tools for ease of learning by the police, so that such hi-tech measures become a norm in everyday crime prevention activities.
There are huge opportunities for the Indian private sector to deliver such Simulators, in form of Hardware and Software. And also, to the region for selling drones, night vision devices, body armour as well as related equipment.
US -Central America trade and investments
“In 2004, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica had entered into the Central America–Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) with the United States. The US is also the major source of official development aid with annual average spending of $700 million between 2016 and 2017 focused on strengthening political, social and economic conditions in the region. Through the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), the United States invested almost $500 million to combat criminal organizations and illegal trafficking in Central America,” Ravi Bangar, Former Ambassador of India to Colombia & Ecuador, tells Financial Express Online.
China’s presence in CA has been growing since the late nineties with a breakthrough in 2007 when Costa Rica became the first country in the region to end diplomatic ties with Taiwan. Currently, Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras have diplomatic relations with Taiwan. China is recognised by Costa Rica and Panama.
According to Ravi Bangar, “While the US in recent times signalled to step back from the region, China is quietly advancing extending its development assistance in terms of grants and soft credits and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to “America’s backyard”.The first Central American country to sign a BRI agreement was Panama. With almost 6% of the total global maritime trade passing through the country, China’s main interest undoubtedly was the Panama Canal.”
Against the backdrop of the ongoing trade tensions between China and the US and the COVID 19 pandemic, Central America could benefit from the ongoing decoupling process. China will not cease to exploit the US’s indifference and negligence to increase its influence.
India- Central America
The former envoy to the region says, “India having played a leading role in rushing medicines to fight COVID virus must now double its efforts to expand its footprints in those very regions where it extended a hand of friendship and emerged as a lifesaver. What India needs to have on its ‘must do list’ is to craft a smart comprehensive regional policy that invariably includes country-specific action plans to enhance relevance and mutual benefits. India should try to fast track MOU with Inter-American Development bank. This could bring considerable geopolitical as well as economic benefits. India, apart from its own financial and development partnership assistance, could also explore leveraging it to tap into the financial assistance extended by the UN and multilateral lending agencies. India with BRICS partners could play a significant role in the region’s development including with new structures like New Development Bank of BRICS which has an agreement with Inter-American Development Bank.”