With 31 years of military service, Chilean Marine Corps Captain Daniel Opazo is one of 11 partner nation military advisors (PNMA) to U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM).
Throughout his career, Capt. Opazo has held command positions at the platoon, company, and rifle battalion levels in the Chilean Marine Corps. He also served as a Special Forces instructor and commander of several Marine Corps’ commando tactical units and did a six-month deployment to Cyprus as part of a peacekeeping operation.
With previous experience in the United States, Capt. Opazo is a graduate of the U.S. Marine Corps University’s Staff Course and participated in numerous training exercises with his U.S. Marine Corps and Navy counterparts.
He joined the PNMA program at SOUTHCOM in January 2022.
Diálogo: How important is it for Chile to have a liaison officer in SOUTHCOM?
Chilean Marine Corps Captain Daniel Opazo, Partner Nation Military Advisor to SOUTHCOM: Chile’s integration into the region has become one of the most important elements of our foreign policy. This is the main reason for our participation in SOUTHCOM. Chile is a country that respects the autonomy of each country, is a guarantor of freedom, international treaties and agreements, and that promotes world peace, security, and development.
This is based on the fact that Chile’s priority is on strengthening relations with neighboring countries and the region. Thus, Chile projects its identity and faces international issues. National development is connected to maintaining the best political, commercial, and cooperative relations with the countries of the region.
Chile maintains an active and permanent dialogue in all the most relevant areas of the relationship, which extends to the most diverse areas, including the energy, trade, defense and security, education, culture, technology, and migration sectors. Within this framework, physical integration is a fundamental part of being actively connected to our neighbors.
In the area of defense in particular, Chile’s foreign policy is developed through the nation’s military participation in the international, global, and regional arena, alone, and as part of a coalition that shares specific interests in support of our partners; contributing to improve the standards of the armed forces of partner nations through military cooperation activities; taking charge of tasks and functions in global collective security; assuming a part of the regional security burden; promoting cooperation and friendship among partner nations.
Diálogo: SOUTHCOM has 11 officers in the PNMA. Why is it important for partner nations in the Western Hemisphere to join this program?
Capt. Opazo: The importance lies in the fact that, in facing a complex international scenario, Chile firmly believes that the responsibility for preserving world peace and security corresponds to joint instances, rather than unilateral responses, which can undermine the legal foundations of international coexistence. In this sense, Chile promotes participation in multilateral cooperative bodies to strengthen international security and cooperation.
We are aware of the existence of cross border threats and that, in order to face them successfully in the coming years, we must seek close cooperation among nations and through multilateral and regional bodies.
Hemispheric cooperation is one of the priority areas of foreign policy. For this reason, belonging to this region gives it a distinctive stamp. The recognition of this reality is what sustains Chile’s international insertion, which acquires strategic importance due to its potential to strengthen and multiply economic-commercial ties, strengthen political ties, and promote cultural development.
This materializes through regional cooperation programs; participation in bilateral, and multilateral political, economic, and cultural coordination meetings; joint initiatives in areas such as infrastructure, energy, cybersecurity, transportation; physical and territorial connectivity; movement of people and border security; and participation in policy coordination bodies in the continent.
Maintaining, deepening, and expanding bilateral relations with the countries of the region, as well as joint efforts, form the basis for the joint and harmonious development of our peoples and for achieving a future of shared prosperity.
Through our regional integration efforts, we aspire to contribute in an active and committed manner to the deepening of the democratic processes of the countries of the region and to the strengthening of democratic-political institutions.
Diálogo: What are your goals as Chile’s representative to SOUTHCOM?
Capt. Opazo: To represent the Ministry of National Defense, presenting my government’s positions on matters of mutual interest.
To support strategic and operational planning and the resolution of administrative problems, facilitating the achievement of Chile’s strategic military objectives in SOUTHCOM’s area of responsibility.
To increase the professional and friendly relationship and camaraderie with the SOUTHCOM team and also with representatives of partner and allied nations.
Diálogo: What are your priorities at this time?
Capt. Opazo: The priority at the moment is to support the planning and coordination of ongoing and future activities in which the Chilean Armed Forces participate.
To support better mutual understanding between SOUTHCOM and the Chilean Armed Forces and also with the other countries represented.
Diálogo: How has the coronavirus pandemic affected Chile and how have the Armed Forces helped civilian authorities?
Capt. Opazo: The pandemic has affected the world across the board, and in the particular case of Chile, it has had a great impact on people’s lives. Although Chile was recently awarded a prize in Houston* for its handling of the pandemic, it was not for nothing. There have been major economic repercussions and increased stress on the population, due to mandatory confinement as part of other measures to mitigate, contain, and control the pandemic.
The Armed Forces have supported the civilian authorities in security and public order tasks, overseeing compliance with health measures, participating in the security of health facilities, vaccination centers, and control of identification and mobility permits.
Diálogo: Does Chile share the same thinking as the United States about Russia and China as malign actors in this hemisphere?
Capt. Opazo: Chile maintains a purely commercial relationship with Russia and has no political or military influence from that country. Likewise, Chile rejects Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and hopes that it will end in the short term. Proof of this is the vote in the United Nations and the Organization of American States.
In the case of China, there is a strong economic relationship since it is the main buyer of copper produced in Chile. China seeks to tilt the balance in its favor and to this end has been strongly influencing Latin America.
There is no military influence of China in Chile, although, in their expansionist policy, they have tried to implement exchanges of Chilean military in their military institutes, but sporadically. In fact, I participated in 2007 in a martial arts course for special forces. That program included knowledge of Chinese history and culture, Mandarin Chinese language, and trips to other areas of cultural interest.
Currently, there is no voluntary alignment with China and as a result of the economic rapprochement there are no major effects on the formulation of Chilean foreign policy, despite a clear presence of China in commercial affairs, compared to other countries in the hemisphere.
Diálogo: In your last two assignments you were deployed to the Biobío region due to the Mapuche conflict, and then sent to Valparaíso to support the Navy’s operations and response to COVID. How did those and other assignments prepare you for your current position here at SOUTHCOM?
Navy Capt. Opazo: Throughout these 31 years of active service, I have received progressive training in different areas, which has allowed me to reach the professional maturity to perform in positions of greater responsibility.
As for the deployments resulting from the Mapuche conflict in the Biobío Region, [my] professional preparation, experience in command of Marine Infantry units and special forces, participation in different courses, and as a member of both institutional and joint staffs, allowed me to form a multidisciplinary, interagency, and joint team to face this demanding scenario.
During October 2019, the so-called social outbreak occurred in Chile, which challenged the governance of my country. For this reason, I integrated a working group to carry out the necessary planning to face this social crisis and be able to support the civil authorities in security and public order tasks. It’s for this reason that I was appointed to serve as Director of Joint Operations (JOCD) of the Valparaiso Region.
I believe that thanks to the preparation, professional education, and training received throughout my career, in which I was able to develop in the tactical, operational, and strategic spheres, I am now able to serve as Chile’s Naval and Defense Liaison Officer to U.S. Southern Command.
Diálogo: What lessons in cooperation do you hope to take back to your country at the end of your mission at SOUTHCOM?
Capt. Opazo: At the end of my term at SOUTHCOM, I hope to have contributed to a better understanding between SOUTHCOM and the Chilean Armed Forces. And also, to have increased the bonds of friendship, trust, and interoperability.
On the other hand, in the short period that I have been the Chilean Naval and Defense Liaison Officer at SOUTHCOM, I have been able to participate in working meetings and planning activities, and I can highlight the ability to work as a team, the cooperation that I have received from each person with whom I have interacted, and also the friendship and camaraderie of the other liaison officers.
Finally, the main lesson is that with mutual knowledge, respect, support, friendship, and cooperation we can face the threats that affect the region.
*The Chilean government received the Franz Edelman 2022 Award for Achievement in Advanced Analytics, Operations Research and Management Science for its use of operations research to improve COVID-19 pandemic response strategies.