Overview: The most direct terrorist threats to Panama were incursions by small units of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) 57th Front, which traversed remote areas of the Darien Region to smuggle drugs and people from Colombia. The Panamanian National Border Service (SENAFRONT) undertook several operations against the FARC in 2013, degrading the FARC's capabilities in Panama to the point where they could not maintain a permanent presence . Panama has continued close cooperation with its neighbors, particularly Colombia, to secure its borders. Additionally, the Panama Canal Authority's vigilance, along with international support, contributed to the security of the Panama Canal.

The potential for illicit transit and transshipment of strategically controlled, sanctioned, and dual-use goods and technologies through the Panama Canal and its Free Trade Zones (FTZ) is a vulnerability for Panama.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: In 2013, Panama passed a law that modified the language contained in the Penal Code regarding terrorism-related crimes. The law adds new provisions to the Criminal Code related to common aggravating circumstances and the crime of terrorism, establishing a penalty of six months to a year without prejudicing the right to claim compensation for damages sustained.

The seizure of the North Korean-flagged vessel Chong Chon Gang, which was carrying illicit arms, demonstrated the threat of armaments smuggling through Panama. Panama has yet to adopt comprehensive strategic trade management legislation but is working on a draft Executive Decree that would publish a National Control List for Panama. Efforts on the decree are being led by the Coordination Council Against International Terrorism, a body created by Executive Decree 448 of December 28, 2011, to review compliance with international terrorism conventions, strategize the implementation of UNSC Resolutions on terrorism, compile information about public institution measures against terrorism, report on actions taken, and recommend new measures. The draft decree was under review at the end of 2013.

Securing borders as well as air and seaports have been priorities of counterterrorism efforts in Panama. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has linked the Panamanian Advance Passenger Information System (APIS) at Tocumen International Airport to CBP data systems in the United States. Both CBP and the Export and Border Security Program (EXBS) have worked with the Government of Panama on risk analysis models that can be used to segment high risk travelers and cargo. Mobile security teams supporting the Tocumen Airport continued to identify and intercept fugitives, persons associated with organized crime and terrorists networks, as well as interdict narcotics and currency being smuggled through Panama.

The Government of Panama continued its efforts to enforce its sovereignty in the Darien through more aggressive patrolling by security forces. Panama has eliminated the permanent presence of the FARC in Panamanian towns along the border. However, incursions and the use of territory by the FARC and drug gangs to transport narcotics and people continued to pose a threat to residents there.

In February, a SENAFRONT officer was injured in a clash with FARC elements. SENAFRONT operations against FARC elements intensified in late 2013. In early November, SENAFRONT captured a FARC member after a firefight near Bagre, Darien. Clashes also occurred near Mogue, Darien, resulting in the capture of one guerrilla fighter and some supplies. In December, SENAFRONT Director Abrego reported at least 15 clashes occurred from October to December between SENAFRONT and armed groups – including the FARC and others – escorting drugs into Panama from Colombia. The clashes resulted in two deaths, five injuries, and 20 FARC members captured.

Panama has several cooperative programs with the United States, detailed below, to address terrorism threats in and from Panama:

  • The United States and Panama continued to plan for responding to incidents that could potentially shut down transit through the Panama Canal. In August, Panama hosted the annual PANAMAX ALPHA exercise, a multi-national security training exercise that focuses on canal security. The exercise included a U.S. component – Task Force Eagle – that supported Panama's Public Forces (PPF) on exercise scenarios.

  • The U.S. Southern Command sponsored training and provided equipment to PPF in 2013. Funding – as well as the donation of boats, communications equipment, and training – increased Panama's capacity to protect its borders from FARC incursion by supporting the completion of a strategically-located pier for the PPF near the Panamanian-Colombian border on the Pacific Coast.

  • Panama's Darien region is a significant pathway for human smuggling with potential counterterrorism implications; approximately 3,000 migrants were stopped by SENAFRONT in 2013. While approximately 64 percent are Cubans, the Panamanian National Border Service reports a consistent flow of African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian smuggled aliens (30 percent of the total number), including from countries that have active terrorist networks operating within them. Some of this smuggling is being facilitated by FARC elements operating on both sides of the border. Representatives of DHS and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation worked with Panamanian authorities to identify smuggled aliens with potential terrorism ties.

  • The U.S. Department of State's Antiterrorism Assistance program delivered courses in Cyber Awareness for Prosecutors, Quality Control in Civil Aviation Security, Terrorist Crime Scene Investigations, Investigating Terrorist Incidents, Instructor Development, and Mass Transit Security.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Panama is a member of the Financial Action Task Force of South America (GAFISUD), a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body. Panama's financial intelligence unit, Unidad de Análisis Financiero (UAF), is responsible for analyzing suspicious financial transactions but the unit lacks resources and political independence. The legal and regulatory frameworks that address anti-money laundering also address counterterrorist financing in Panama. In August, Panama enacted legislation to immobilize bearer shares, but the law does not go into full effect until 2018. Until then, the continued existence of bearer share corporations remains a prime vulnerability of the regulatory framework.

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. The IMF conducted a detailed assessment in October 2012 on anti-money laundering and countering terrorist financing in Panama. The final report was not released by year's end.

The United States and Panama signed an agreement in October to utilize US $36 million of seized assets to fight money laundering and related crimes, which would include terrorist finance. Projects for these funds were being determined by mutual agreement.

For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2014 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 participates in UN and regional security initiatives, such as the OAS Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism (CICTE). Panama has a well-established border commission with Colombia and continued to cooperate on training with partners in the region. Several Panamanian officers have attended training in Colombia on security tactics and equipment maintenance, and the Colombian Army and National Police have provided additional operational training in Panama facilitated through the U.S.-Colombia High-Level Strategic Security Dialogue. In addition, Panama hosted personnel from Nicaragua and Costa Rica at its training facilities.

The Colombia-Panama Binational Commission met in April. Panama and Colombia senior security officials met in June and September to discuss border security issues. In addition, the two countries took steps to strengthen border security by agreeing to establish a joint base in Panama near their border. This permanently manned base will improve security in the Darien by hindering the entrance of FARC from Colombia. Security forces from Panama and Colombia will be able to exchange information quickly and conduct operations on each side of the border against the FARC and other groups.

Countering Radicalization to Violence and Violent Extremism: While internal capacity is limited, Panama continued to develop and refine its civil affairs and information operations capacity as part of its overall strategy to counter FARC influence in the Darien. Working with NGO partners and the Government of Panama, the United States supported four youth centers in the Darien to provide more options for young people to constructively use their free time and energy.


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