The Colombian National Navy conducts medical brigades as part of Plan Victoria Plus.
Close to 1,200 people benefited from a health brigade in the village of El Castillo, San Bernardo del Viento municipality, Colombia. The Colombian National Navy organized the Development Assistance Campaign during the third week of February 2018, bringing the village medical attention, recreational activities, food, school supplies, and other free benefits.
“Through these Development Assistance Campaigns, the Navy seeks to ensure that the most vulnerable communities in our jurisdiction have [access to essential] services,” said Marine Corps Colonel Alfonso Fernando Vergara Peña, commander of the 1st Marine Corps Brigade, headquartered in Corozal, department of Sucre. “The services the community needs are health, vaccination, and food supplements,” he told Diálogo.
The 14th Marine Corps Battalion of the 1st Marine Corps Brigade led the campaign with support from the Navy Social Action Group of Corozal (a charitable civilian arm of the Navy), the authorities of San Bernardo del Viento, the Provincial Government of Córdoba, and non-governmental organizations such as Fundación Mostrando Caminos. Support from these institutions is cyclical to reach various regions with few resources and serve the needs of the local population.
Plan Victoria Plus
“It’s our duty to ensure that low-income people have specialized medical and dental care, which has a significant impact in such far-flung communities,” Col. Vergara said. “These [exercises] are done as part of a peace plan, Plan Victoria Plus.”
One of the challenges facing Plan Victoria Plus is territorial control. In terms of cooperation and development, Military Forces also support participation in humanitarian missions, environmental protection, and international cooperation, according to the website of the Joint Staff of the Military Forces of Colombia. Under this framework, the concept of comprehensive action consists of merging the military’s capabilities with government efforts to support national progress and development in a unified way.
Participating communities are selected according to their level of vulnerability, prioritizing communities where armed outlaw groups are present. “Now, the priority of the commander of the Navy and the commander of the Marine Corps is to get closer to those regions whose maritime or riverine environments have a potential for development,” Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Alejandro Emilio Albarracín Dáguer, commander of the 14th Marine Corps Battalion, told Diálogo.
The campaign in the village of El Castillo offered 250 dental, 150 optometry, 130 gynecology appointments, 120 speech therapy sessions, 45 hearing tests, 16 psychology sessions, and 450 general medicine consultations. In addition to its show of leadership coordinating the planning for the exercises, the Navy fills other roles in the organization process.
“There are security exercises in the maritime and river environments, where land, river, and coast guard units are provided,” Lt. Col. Albarracín said. “Likewise, the 14th Battalion has Admiralty Houses [which serve to bring the Caribbean Naval Force closer to the civilian population], with mobile comprehensive action teams in some municipalities, such as San Bernardo del Viento. The campaign also had a team from another Admiralty House, located in Corozal. If a doctor finds that one of his patients is in danger and needs to be evacuated, they are sent to a medical center right away.”
Beyond the campaign
Bringing the community closer to these institutions alleviates their urgent needs and serves to strengthen bonds, particularly with minors. “We try to get their lives back on track so that they make better decisions and avoid falling in with criminal groups, which always look for young people, who are the most vulnerable,” Col. Vergara said.
The National Navy’s Special Psychological Operations Group hosted leisure activities for children and young adults. The Navy Social Action Group of Corozal also sent supplies, including household items and school kits.
“There are problems with narcotrafficking here. The lack of work leads these young men to see [narcotrafficking] as a source of livelihood, as an opportunity to work,” Lt. Col. Albarracín said. “[Smuggling] went on for a long time, and it continues to happen. But it’s lost steam. Now, there’s narcotrafficking, and its routes are almost the same as smuggling routes.”
“The greatest satisfaction we get from doing these Development Assistance Campaigns is cheering the hearts of the children, youth, and adults who need it so,” Col. Vergara concluded. “Seeing the happiness in every face is what fills us with gratitude. That’s an outcome that benefits us all. That’s our gift.”