Peace Takes Root Along Panama’s Borders
By Roberto López Dubois/Diálogo June 27, 2017 Excelente labor de parte de estos policias panameÃ±os Articulo muy acertado y deja en evidencia que el Senafront al igual que otras instituciones policiales no estÃ¡n para reprimir al pueblo, sino para brindar la seguridad y colaborarles a trÃ¡ves del gobierno en materia de ayuda social y humanitaria. Since January 2017, peace reigns in many towns along the border between Panama and Colombia. That’s when groups of Panamanian border agents arrived in those locations to provide humanitarian aid. The bustle these past few months was due to a new program of the National Border Service (SENAFRONT, per its Spanish acronym), one of the four components of the Panamanian Public Forces, which aims to bring humanitarian aid to people in areas far from urban centers of the isthmus. To date, the institution has completed eight of 17 similar operations planned for 2017. A total of 1,300 people out of 3,500 has received benefits so far. Areas of influence Paya, Púcuru, and other jungle areas along the Pacific coast of Darién Province are among the remote areas included in the assistance plan. The Guna Yala area, which borders Colombia along the Atlantic coast, is also included. On the other side of the country, along the Costa Rican border, the plan included banana farms in Chiriquí, where the townspeople have been experiencing a major economic crisis since the company purchasing its agricultural products ceased operations. Seven hundred Panamanian troops have participated in humanitarian aid operations in 2017. In 2008, SENAFRONT established a strategy called “Total Mobility,” which focuses the institution’s efforts on removing members of groups engaged in transnational crime, drug trafficking, and arms smuggling, among others, from border areas. According to the agency’s website, the initial goal was to ensure security along Panama’s land borders. Later, military members planned and began implementing the strategy to consolidate territory. Specifically, the institution plans to have military members working on security as well as spending time supporting the residents in a more comprehensive manner. They now deliver humanitarian aid and, in addition to their daily activities, engage in activities like construction, cleaning, and painting community buildings, among other work. More security “We conduct a census prior to our arrival to get the number of residents in places where we will be working. With this information, we are able to figure out the medical portion, whether for children or adults, in places where we’ll intervene, to determine what medications will be necessary. Also, we listen to the citizens because they may need another type of assistance [legal or mental health]. Likewise, we determine whether there is some construction project we can support in the community,” Commissioner Guillermo Valdés, SENAFRONT operations chief, told Diálogo. This coordination seeks to ensure that Panamanians feel safe as a result of the comprehensive joint operation provided by the government through SENAFRONT. But they are not alone. They are working in coordination with other government institutions and other sectors of society such as universities, both public and private, and Panamanian non-profit organizations. “Once we arrive in town, we try to live with them, see what their situation is, and later bring bags of food door-to-door. We also have many other activities to support the citizens, including painting schools, cleaning up around town, haircuts, among other things,” Commissioner Valdés added. Humanitarian aid “Because these are remote places, the humanitarian aid serves as our launchpad. We rely on humanitarian aid to reach the community because they have many needs. They see the immediate results of the community action, and they see how their community is changed for the better. We try to activate the driving forces in the community and we see how their community moves forward in a positive way,” said Commissioner José Samaniego, the current telematics director at SENAFRONT, who was in charge of the Caribbean region, which includes the Guna Yala archipelago. “This helps us make sure that they are involved in the security part, and they even see us as a link to different government activities. Everything is connected. Security is everyone’s business. This helps us maintain a pleasant channel of communication, which gives us more access because they trust us more. Of course, always respecting the traditional authorities,” he added. SENAFRONT authorities planned the initiatives to strengthen their troops’ leadership in the different communities that are in their area of influence. They also hope to build more trust with the regional authorities, and in the case of indigenous communities, with their traditional leaders. By doing so, they hope to develop the citizens’ trust in the units working in those communities, and in their commanding officer. Thus, when an incident occurs, the entire community will have enough trust to seek out the SENAFRONT units to allow them to serve as a channel for a quick solution to their problems without having to look for answers among groups acting outside the law.