Overview: The most direct terrorism threat in Panama was the persistent presence of a small unit of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which used remote areas of the Darien Region as a safe haven. The Panamanian National Border Service (SENAFRONT) undertook several operations against the FARC in 2012, further degrading the FARC's capabilities in Panama. Panama continued its close cooperation with Colombia and Costa Rica to secure its borders. Additionally, the Panama Canal Authority's vigilance, along with international support, contributed to the canal's security.
Panama's Darien Region is a significant pathway for human smuggling with counterterrorism implications. In an average month, 270 smuggled aliens enter Panama. While the majority of these are Cubans, the Panamanian National Border Service reported a consistent flow of African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian smuggled aliens, including from Syria, Iran, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Eritrea, Bangladesh, and Ethiopia. Further, some smuggling in the Darien was facilitated by FARC elements operating on both sides of the border. Representatives of DHS-Homeland Security Investigations and the Federal Bureau of Investigation worked with Panamanian authorities to identify smuggled aliens with potential terrorism ties.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: The Government of Panama continued its efforts to enforce its sovereignty in the Darien through more aggressive patrolling by security forces. In January, SENAFRONT and FARC members exchanged fire near Alto Tuira, in the Darien. In March, a FARC camp that could support more than two dozen personnel was destroyed. In May, SENAFRONT uncovered a FARC camp near the Colombian border. In early November, SENAFRONT seized arms and ammunition aboard a boat near the town of Barriales. Later in November, SENAFRONT killed one FARC member, arrested eight Colombians, and seized rifles, pistols, and 391 kilograms of cocaine near Mogue in the Darien.
Executive Decree 448 of December 28, 2011 created a Coordination Council Against International Terrorism to review compliance with international terrorism conventions, strategize the implementation of UNSCRs on terrorism, compile information about public institution measures against terrorism, report on actions taken, and recommend new measures. The Coordination Council, which includes one representative each from 16 government agencies, is presided over by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In March, the Council formally met for the first time, pledging stronger actions to prevent money laundering and announcing a new cyber security initiative. In July, under the Council's auspices, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs hosted a day-long seminar on international terrorism which focused on UNSCRs and the experiences of other countries, such as Israel and Colombia, in fighting international terrorism.
The United States and Panama continued to plan for incidents that could potentially shut down transit through the Panama Canal. In August, Panama co-hosted the annual PANAMAX exercise, a multinational security training exercise initiated in 2003 that focuses on canal security. The exercise replicated real-world threats and included specific scenarios designed to counter terrorist attacks. Several U.S. government agencies, as well as 17 partner nations, participated.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) linked the Panamanian Advance Passenger Information System (APIS) at Tocumen International Airport to its data systems. Through the Joint Security Program, CBP and DHS investigations targeted potentially dangerous and criminal/terrorist-affiliated passengers on all flights in and out of Tocumen. The system became fully operational in 2012 and has already led to the identification of multiple individuals affiliated with terrorism, several fugitive arrests, and the denial of entry into or transit through Panama by many high-risk passengers. Mobile security teams at the airport, with U.S. support have interdicted alien smuggling, narcotics, and illicit bulk cash.
Panama continued its participation in the Container Security Initiative Program at Balboa and Manzanillo, and the Evergreen Colon Container Terminal. Panama Customs officials received Wisconsin Risk Reduction Project instruction and Commodity Identification Training in November.
The U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) sponsored conferences and training for Panamanian Public Forces, and the relationship between the Government of Panama and the Missouri National Guard under the State Partnership Program continued to expand. The Embassy Office of Defense Cooperation maintained a strong program to help Panama develop and refine its civil affairs and information operations capacity through SOUTHCOM's Civil Affairs and Military Information Support Teams as part of its overall strategy to counter FARC influence in the Darien.
Panama was the recipient of Department of State Antiterrorism Assistance courses in airport security management, crisis negotiations, vital infrastructure security, protection of national leadership, first responder to terrorist incidents, critical incident management and hospital-based management of mass casualty incidents. The program focused on building Panamanian law enforcement capacity to secure borders and vital infrastructure from terrorist threats, and on preventing terrorist safe havens in Panama.
Countering Terrorist Finance: Panama is a member of the Financial Action Task Force of South America against Money Laundering, a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body. The legal and regulatory frameworks that address counterterrorist financing in Panama also address money laundering. Executive Decree 55 of February 1, 2012 expanded the list of regulatory entities and therefore the number of entities covered by terrorist financing laws and regulations. Uneven enforcement of existing anti-money laundering and terrorist finance controls coupled with the weak judicial system remained a problem. Moreover, the Colon Free Zone, the second largest free zone in the world, continued to be vulnerable to exploitation for illicit financial activities, due primarily to weak customs, trade, and financial transactions oversight. For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, we refer you to the 2011 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume 2, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/index.htm.
Regional and International Cooperation: Panama participated in UN and regional security initiatives, such as the OAS Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism.
Countering Radicalization and Violent Extremism: The United States and Panama worked together to create opportunities for the residents of the Darien Region to deter local FARC recruitment. Local youth received vocational and technical training to better prepare them to find jobs or start their own businesses, while indigenous entrepreneurs obtained assistance to improve marketing of their crafts. The Embassy worked closely with NGO partners and the Panamanian government to help local Darien farmers better market their produce in Panama City. Four youth centers were constructed to give more options for young people to constructively use their time and energy. In addition, community facilities have been constructed along with sports fields to give residents space for activities.