Colombia Stands in Solidarity with Haiti
By Geraldine Cook/Diálogo October 12, 2016
The vessel ‘ARC 7 de Agosto’ arrived in Haiti on October 11th, after traveling 660 nautical miles for 50 hours from Cartagena, Colombia. Designed to carry out such operations as patrols, maritime traffic control, search and rescue missions, peacekeeping operations, and environmental control, the ship has a helicopter, rescue team, and humanitarian aid aboard. Admiral Leonardo Santamaría Gaitán, commander of the Colombian Navy, spoke with Diálogo on October 11th about the solidarity that Colombia is showing for Haiti. Adm. Santamaría mentioned that the vessel dropped anchor in Port-au-Prince with 56 crewmembers, eight doctors, 21 members of the Colombian Navy’s Ground Search and Rescue Unit, and six members of the helicopter crew.
Diálogo: What kind of aid did the Colombian Navy’s ‘ARC 7 de Agosto’ vessel take with it to Haiti? Admiral Leonardo Santamaría Gaitán, commander of the Colombian Navy: What we are providing is basically a first wave of support. The ship arrived in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, just this morning. There are 22 tons of aid aboard, comprising food and toiletries. Practically, this is what our sister country of Haiti needs most right now. Parallel to this are the vessel’s capabilities, as well as those of a humanitarian assistance search squad. We also have a helicopter aboard, with the capacity for search and rescue missions and all the equipment necessary to do so. In addition, we also have an interceptor motorboat to help provide the assistance required right now.
The vessel is also capable of carrying 40,000 gallons of water, while the onboard desalination plant is able to produce 1.5 tons of water a day. This is being coordinated with the Haitian authorities. At this moment, we are beginning to unload part of the humanitarian aid, while our available personnel are providing medical care. Diálogo: Why is it important for Colombia to stand in solidarity with Haiti? Adm. Santamaría: This is essentially a situation which no country in the Caribbean basin is exempt from. At some point, our island departments of San Andrés and Providencia were also under Hurricane Matthew’s threat.
This is the part, I believe, that is natural: it is normal for sister countries to support each other in the face of emergencies and situations that impact our populations. It is almost an obligation our countries have to assist and accompany each other during these calamities. Diálogo: How does being able to support the Haitian population make you feel? Adm. Santamaría: As commander of the Colombian Navy and as a person, I think it’s very satisfying to be able to see the commitment of our sailors, the tremendously fast readiness of the ship, the ability to fine tune all of the vessel’s systems and capabilities –from the aerial component to that of the reaction boats and humanitarian assistance squad– in record time. It’s very satisfying to be able to show our Navy’s capabilities, that we are able to deploy in a very fast, timely manner as part of a multinational force, in a way that employs direct bi-national coordination with a sister country that needs help. Diálogo: What message would you like to send to the countries of the region and the world so that they might also support the Haitian people in this time of need? Adm. Santamaría: This is a greeting that is linked to cooperation, to becoming a part of this event of coordinated support, verifying which needs are the most urgent. This way, we can organize them in a very efficient manner in order to be able to best meet the needs of this sister country as it suffers through this disaster.
Diálogo: How has the role of the Colombian Armed Forces evolved its national and international reaction to natural disasters and providing humanitarian assistance? Adm. Santamaría: This is a role that has always existed and, in one way or another, has been activated to a great extent over the last few years. The international role of humanitarian assistance and of participation in multinational operation in the fight against transnational crime and in humanitarian aid has improved greatly. We have received support from the U.S. government in training our personnel. We have participated in Operation Atalanta, which sought to counter international crime in the form of pirating off the Horn of Africa. We have received support from partner nations such as Spain, which allows us to show that we are, in a way, a much more mature Navy. We can perfectly align ourselves with and adapt to these multinational forces, which, of course, allows our Navy to be much more efficient while supporting these kinds of humanitarian assistance missions.
Diálogo: What would you consider the most important challenge the Colombian Navy has regarding the humanitarian aid it offers other countries? Adm. Santamaría: The challenge we have experienced while working on this issue has been the importance of being able to collaborate, being able to participate with the means and resources that are available. [We have had to think about] how we can combine each country’s capabilities, so that they can be united while facing these needs. [We have pondered] how to overcome these, as I call them, “poverties” – that is, the different possibilities, capabilities, or resources of each country – in an organized, efficient manner and as a multinational task force in order to be much more efficient and to be able to be in an optimal position to provide the attention, assistance, or support that other countries might need. We are committed to this. The Colombian Army is working to continue to train its personnel and continue to be associated with these types of operations that show, in one way or another, the evolution our country has had in this type of participation.
Diálogo: What lessons has Colombia learned in terms of managing natural disasters and in its humanitarian aid efforts? Adm. Santamaría: One of the most important points is the need to be organized and to have adequate planning, because you can’t necessarily provide support if you don’t really know what is needed. Extremely clear coordination is required in order to see what the person or country that requires the aid truly needs, what actual support would somehow allow those needs to be met with actual capacities, and to avoid suddenly ending up being a distortion of the support that was intended.
Diálogo: What is your message to the citizens of Haiti? Adm. Santamaría: It is incumbent upon us and upon all partner nations to reach out. We are here to contribute what we can in order to support you and to somehow emerge [from this disaster] and continue this journey of life. — U.S. SOUTHCOM PAO Update on the U.S. Military Hurricane Matthew relief in Haiti: – As of Oct. 12, Joint Task Force-Matthew helicopters have delivered more than 255,000 pounds of relief commodities (aid and supplies) to areas devastated by Hurricane Matthew. – More than 400 task force personnel and 12 helicopters are on the ground in Haiti. – The amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) is scheduled to arrive in Haitian waters today. Iwo Jima brings more than 500 Marines from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, aircraft — including four MV22 Ospreys — and 225 pallets of supplies to support the relief effort. Mesa Verde will transfer aircraft, equipment and associated personnel assigned for relief efforts to Iwo Jima.