Building New Bridges for Regional Cooperation

Building New Bridges for Regional Cooperation

By Geraldine Cook/Diálogo
November 20, 2017

Brigadier General Hugo Marenco, commander of Air Operations Command of the Uruguayan Air Force (FAU, per its Spanish acronym), has one specific mission: plan and conduct his institution’s air operations. In this task, Brig. Gen. Marenco seeks to establish his country’s air force as an international leader. The high degree of training and professionalism of his staff and the upgrade to modern and suitable technological equipment are some of his main challenges.

Brig. Gen. Marenco spoke with Diálogo at the South American Air Chiefs Conference at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona, October 31st –November 3rd, 2017. In addition to discussing FAU’s challenges, Brig. Gen. Marenco highlighted the role of air forces in natural disasters and regional integration as fundamental tools for humanitarian support.

Diálogo: Why is FAU’s participation in this conference important?

Brigadier General Marenco, commander of the Air Operations Command of the Uruguayan Air Force: It’s very important to see other nations’ capacities, interact with them, see their experiences and difficulties, and be able to better coordinate our operations in the event of a natural disaster or when humanitarian aid is needed. That is FAU’s main reason to participate in this conference.
Diálogo: What is your assessment of the South American air forces’ participation at this conference?

Brig. Gen. Marenco: It’s a very welcoming environment, with a lot of camaraderie and very active participation. We share many activities thanks to the System of Cooperation Among American Air Forces (SICOFAA, per its Spanish acronym), and as we forge bonds of friendship we consolidate better coordination among air forces.

Diálogo: Why is cooperation among air forces important in responding to regional natural disasters?

Brig. Gen. Marenco: It’s a reality. We are faced every day with natural disasters of greater magnitude, and being prepared as an Air Force and as a nation to deliver humanitarian aid is crucial to us. It’s essential for all nations in the region to be able to deliver aid and receive it when needed. It’s important to make the most of SICOFAA’s capacities. In our country, for instance, overflowing rivers and streams are more frequent and the Uruguayan Air Force works on these problems day to day.

Diálogo: What is Uruguay’s level of participation in SICOFAA?

Brig. Gen. Marenco: The FAU has been part of SICOFAA since its creation in 1965. We participate in all committees, we’ve hosted some of them, and we hope to continue to participate in the same way. SICOFAA is a sound cooperation tool for disaster response situations.

Diálogo: What are the FAU’s capabilities?

Brig. Gen. Marenco: FAU is a small air force, from a small country, but it can connect and interact with SICOFAA. Our Air Force took part in a mission to Ecuador in April 2016, in response to the earthquake. Our C-130 aircraft operated for about 15 days in the city of Manta, Ecuador, and brought humanitarian aid to the cities of Guayaquil, Quito, and Manta. The Air Force uses the capacities that SICOFAA provides, and allow us to interact with other nations and deliver aid to areas that require it.

Diálogo: What is the significance of FAU’s and Uruguay’s participation in this kind of regional cooperation among air forces?

Brig. Gen. Marenco: It’s very important, due to the capacities integrated. No nation has every capacity or can provide all the aid needed when large-scale natural disasters strike.

Diálogo: How does FAU collaborate with other air forces in the region?

Brig. Gen. Marenco: We have close relations with all nations of America and especially with those of South America. We have great relations with our nearest neighbors, such as the Argentine and Brazilian air forces. We work in a very coordinated way with common objectives. We support our neighbors and allies with aid whenever requested.

Diálogo: How does FAU collaborate with the other branches of Uruguay’s Armed Forces?

Brig. Gen. Marenco: We work in a coordinated way. The new law of 2010 within the defense framework consolidated the creation of the new joint command bodies, to which the Air Force belongs.

Diálogo: What is your main challenge?

Brig. Gen. Marenco: My main challenge in this position is to maintain our crews and staff trained so they can fulfill the missions our nation needs. I want us to be able to support neighboring countries when they need us. Our motto is “Aviation at the Forefront of the Nation,” which means that we move forward with our nation’s challenges. Likewise, we work on modernizing our aerial equipment—which already counts many years of service and is difficult to maintain—as we seek to meet our nation’s needs.

Diálogo: What is the level of female participation in FAU?

Brig. Gen. Marenco: Our Air Force was one of the first in Latin America to admit female personnel into its officer training school. The first admissions to the air force academy were in 1997. FAU counts about 2,500 personnel, of which 400 are officers and 2,100 are enlisted. Of that number, about eight percent belong to the upper ranks. In the peacekeeping missions under the United Nations mandate in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we have about 15 percent female personnel.

Diálogo: What is your message to the air forces of the region?

Brig. Gen. Marenco: FAU is an allied air force. It is small but very professional, and we are willing to build bridges, as we have done traditionally with air forces of Latin America.