U.S. Marines Patrol Guatemala

(AP/U.S. Marine Corps)

Earlier this week, 200 U.S. Marines were deployed to the western coast of Guatemala in an attempt to monitor and prevent Central American drug trafficking. The U.S. military refers to this effort as Operation Martillo, which was put in place this year in response to the trafficking of copious amounts of cocaine and other drugs through Central America. Operation Martillo involves troops from countries across Central America, along with France and Spain. The U.S. military has not given Guatemala assistance of this magnitude since 1978. Beginning in the 1950’s, the U.S. intervened in Guatemala to help with insurgency efforts. The civil war in Guatemala in the following decades led to hundreds of thousands of deaths.

With permission from the Guatemalan government via a treaty, the U.S. military has once again entered Guatemala, and has now started patrolling coastal waters in search of drug-smuggling submarines, which official says can carry up to eleven tons of drugs up to 5,000 miles. The marines are on patrol duty, and have been ordered to notify the Guatemalan navy upon discovering suspected boats. Through the use of UH-1 “Huey” Helicopters, the Marines have targeted fast powerboats and the ‘narco-submarines’ of Mexico’s Zeta cartel.

According to recent State Department reports, Guatemala’s institutional corruption has resulted in mass drug trafficking through its western border. Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina stated that he would even consider legalizing drugs in Central America, since the war on drugs has not diminished drug trafficking in the area. President Obama has responded in a significant way by sending U.S. military personnel directly to one of the primary sources of illegal drug trafficking in Central America.

I like President Obama’s aggression in this matter. I do not want to see the U.S. involved in another war, but this operation has the potential to prevent tons of cocaine from entering Guatemala, and can thus prevent drugs from entering the U.S. According to the DEA, eighty percent of the cocaine that ends up in the United States comes from Central America.

The U.S. involvement in Operation Martillo mostly requires surveillance, and has potential to deter the Mexican Zeta Cartel from taking advantage of Guatemala’s weak borders. I understand that military intervention is unpredictable to an extent, and the potential of escalation to more serious warfare always exists, especially considering the history of the U.S. military in Guatemala. At the same time, we are now in 2012. This operation is capable of providing valuable information regarding Mexican drug cartels and Central American drug trafficking, without the threat of major combat.

All in all, I feel that if direct military intervention is the solution, or even stands as a potential solution to the major drug problem in the U.S., then we are taking a step in the right direction with Operation Martillo.

I therefore ask, do you think this intervention is worth the possible risk of U.S. lives or the risk of escalation of violence in Guatemala? Should the United States bother sending troops into this war-zone, or should we stop policing the world and simply address the problem at the Mexican border? Lastly, should this operation fail, perhaps resulting in the deaths of many innocent Guatemalans, should the U.S. and the other countries involved be liable to international legal issues?


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  1. If the terms of the treaty are to monitor and provide surveillance to Guatemala, and eighty percent of the cocaine in the United States comes from Central America, I would agree purely based on the facts that President Obama’s action in this matter is not only necessary, but completely proactive. Intervention at this stage seems to not only aid Guatemala, but also provides the United States with the benefits of intelligence and hopefully an ultimate decrease in the flow of illegal drugs through the Mexican border. However, I would err on the side of caution regarding involvement of this type generally as a matter of policy. It puts the United States in a delicate position because it is quite probable that our intervention and subsequent involvement could disrupt the workings of many dangerous cartels in Central America. In signing this treaty could the United States participate in surveillance and then in good faith walk away if further assistance and resources are required in order to diffuse any conflicts during our involvement or possibly due to our involvement in this area? It is extremely difficult to find a balance that is beneficial to both parties, especially in operations such as this where minor involvement has the potential to escalate into a full on drug war. Since this case involves Mexican cartels as well, there is that additional possibility of repercussions right next door in addition to any conflict in Guatemala. In any case, our involvement via the treaty with Guatemala does hold us to international standards, and therefore all countries involved should be held accountable for any violations of international law while participating in this operation.

  2. This operation will likely be met with some success, at least at first. With all of the money and resources that that money provides to the drug cartels, it will only be a matter of time before the cartels find a way around the United States’ newest intervention in the war on drugs. It is likely that there will be a few large drug seizures and as a result some drugs will be prevented from entering into the United States. This operation will certainly not end the flow of drugs into the U.S. Whether one agrees with U.S. involvement here depends on whether one agrees with the war on drugs. I, personally am torn on the issue. While I believe drug use is wrong and should remain illegal, the history of the war on drugs seems to prove that policing the drug trade is a futile effort. Hopefully this latest operation will have a positive effect in the war on drugs, but if history tells us anything it is that this will just be another minor hurdle for the cartels to climb.

  3. The intervention of troops into Guatemala is a necessity in order to continue to fight the war on drugs. Patrolling the Guatemalan borders with highly trained military forces will cause disruption in the logistical chains of the drug cartels. Seeing how the cartels react, how they change the methods in which they transport their drugs will provide vital intelligence into the logistical systems they have in place. Understanding the logistics of their transport will allow weak points in it to be identified and exploited. It is no easy feat to continually transport any kind of shipment over long distances, especially if the shipment is illegal and always under threat of being confiscated. Despite the advantages of continued surveillance, it is very expensive. The cartels simply need to wait until we leave and then continue. If we choose to not leave then they avoid Guatemala and go through another country. The final solution seems to be to target the logistical heads of the drug producers themselves. Without proper organization, logistical planning and infrastructure, it would simply be too difficult to as efficiently import the quantity of drugs that enter our country from South America.

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