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Military & Veterans' Issues

Panamax 2017 Focuses On Panama Canal Security

This week Fort Sam Houston is playing host to Panamax, an annual U.S. Southern Command-sponsored multinational exercise focused on maintaining the stability of the Panama Canal region. 26 countries are taking part.

The Panama Canal is one of the most strategically important pieces of infrastructure in the world. Six percent of the world's trade travels through the canal every year. That amounts to around 400 million tons of goods. 

This week at Fort Sam Houston, U.S. Army South used a fictional scenario to find out how different security forces in the Panama Canal region can best work together.

The scenario takes place in a made-up country called New Centralia, which is north of Panama and south of Costa Rica. A group called the BML is trying to disrupt operations at the Panama Canal in order to get media attention.

Major General K.K. Chinn, Commander of U.S. Army South, described the group's big-picture strategy.

"The BML in New Centralia looking to, if possible, try to take over the government or force the democratically elected president of New Centralia from power," he said.

In both the real world and the fictional scenario, Panamanian security forces patrol the Panama Canal itself. But regional stability is a bigger undertaking, requiring cooperation from many countries. That means overcoming language barriers and recognizing the knowledge and expertise of each security force.

Colonel Alex Voight of the Chilean Air Force delivered remarks with the help of an interpreter. 

"Language has not been an actual barrier because there's a staff of professional interpreters who work with the teams, "he noted. "And most of the actors do speak English."

For his part, Major General Chinn says he's taking cues from his counterparts in other countries.

"What we're learning is that there are regional solutions to regional problems. There's no such thing as a one size fits all."

Chinn says that the region which includes South America, Central America, and the Caribbean is relatively stable at this time. 

Participation in this year's Panamax exercises will cost U.S. Forces an estimated $2.3 million.

The exercise runs from August 12 to 16 at multiple U.S. military bases including Mayport, Florida; Davis-Monthan, Arizona; and Homestead Air Force Reserve Base, Florida.

Nations scheduled to participate include: Argentina, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, United Kingdom, and United States.