Organized crime threats in the region Gender equity in the military ranks discussion Authorities in the region are cooperating to fight organized crime challenges that go from drug trafficking to extortions to human trafficking. In November, Ecuador president Rafael Correa signed agreements with Colombia president Juan Manuel Santos, and Peru president Ollanta Humala to have their respective security forces strengthen their cooperation in the battle against human trafficking and the illegal sales of stolen fuel and to tackle drug trafficking. During the meeting, the Colombian president thanked Correa for his support to the ongoing peace talks bethween the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FAERC) in Havana, Cuba. Not less dangerous are the threats organized crime poses to Cantral America countries. Overwhelmed by unprecedented violence generated by drug cartels, Central America and Mexico presidents discussed some common security challenges they face during a summit celebrated in San Jose, Costa Rica, early this year. Central America is the most violent area without war in the world, especially Honduras and Guatemala, which share almost a 1,000 km jungle border with Mexico, cccording to the UN. By Dialogo December 05, 2013 The message was clear and sound, the region needs to build a strategic line of thinking to defeat organized crime, and to protect its technological and natural resources. These were some of the recommendations that resulted from the 1st International Meeting of Women as Defense Ministers and Leaders, hosted in Ecuador between Oct 24-25 at the Southern Naval Base of Guayaquil, Ecuador. The meeting was led by the three defense ministers in Latin America, María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés from Ecuador, Carmen Meléndez from Venezuela, and Martha Ruíz Sevilla from Nicaragua. “Our eyes, our efforts, and our energy must concentrate on solving organized crime and solving a vision of security and defense,” the Ecuadorian defense minister said. The meeting was also attended by officers of the armed forces of 13 countries, as well as, teachers and officials representing Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Chile, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador and Switzerland. It is important to build a regional, strategic line of thinking in regards to the defense of natural and technological resources, said the Director of Human Rights of the Ministry of Defense of Argentina, Stella Segado. Representatives of organizations such as the UN, Women for the Americas, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) also participated in the meeting. Future threats to the defense of countries will be “determined by competition for natural resources on a global scale,” the representative of the Secretary General of the UNASUR, Julio Prado said. “The fight against threats are defined according to the particularities of each country,” Fredy Rivera of the Latin American Social Sciences Institute (FLACSO), headquartered in Ecuador said “ The important thing is to have women strategists in the ministries of defense in Latin America,” Rivera said. For the first time, women leaders of the Armed Forces in Latin America met to exchange their experiences and contributions in favor of women’s contributions and gender equity in the military ranks, said Bertha García Gallegos, Director of the Democracy, Security and Defense program at the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador (PUCE). “For the past 10 years, women have had direct access to the Armed Forces. In recent years, they have gained access to all weapons. However, the percentage of women who participate in defense at different levels is low,” García Gallegos added. Unlike other countries, Venezuela has the highest percentage of female participation in the Army; women account for 33.5 per cent, reported Minister Meléndez. Nicaragua has between 15 and 20 per cent of women in their ranks, said Ruíz Sevilla, who expressed that “defense is not an obligation for an institution, but for society.” “To all those who are here, we are colleagues who have managed to break down barriers, and I am sure that we will succeed in further improving our decision and our leadership each day,” Ruiz Sevilla added. In Brazil, women make up more than 6 per cent of the 350,000 members of the Armed Forces. Mexican women represent around 3.5 per cent of military personnel, according to published reports. Ecuador has the lowest participation of women in the three branches of the Armed Forces, representing 2.7 per cent. This means that there are only 1,900 female service members and it should take around 15 to 20 years for them to reach the high command, Espinosa Garcés pointed out. The message is firm. The modernization of the Ministries of Defense in Latin American countries means incorporating these gender parities, researcher Rivera said. “There are women who are highly prepared for strategic operations in combating transnational crime organizations and other threats,” said Rivera, who is also the former Undersecretary of Internal Security and Policy of the Internal Affairs Ministry of Ecuador. One of the topics discussed in the event was the implementation of Resolution 1325 of the UN Security Council, which urges member-countries “to ensure increased representation of women at all levels of decision-making in institutions and national, regional, and international mechanisms for the prevention, management, and resolution of conflicts.” Attendees also discussed the fight against poverty, human trafficking, endemic diseases, natural disasters, political threats, and espionage.