Exclusive Interview with Adm. David René Moreno Moreno
By Dialogo August 13, 2010
Leaders from the U.S. Southern Command and the Peruvian Joint Military Command joined their defense and security counterparts from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, and Paraguay as part of the 2d Annual South American Defense Chiefs (SOUTHDEC) Conference, held in Lima, Peru, on 3 and 4 August.
The topic of this year’s conference, “Military support to humanitarian assistance and disaster response,” focused the regional cooperation forum on support for humanitarian-aid and disaster-relief missions, as well as serving as a basis for guiding discussions among the high-ranking military leaders who participated.
Diálogo met with the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Colombian Armed Forces, Adm. David René Moreno Moreno, to talk about this and other issues.
Diálogo: What is Colombia doing in terms of humanitarian aid in other countries?
Adm. Moreno: The last specific humanitarian-aid mission that we did was to Haiti, as a consequence of the earthquake they suffered. The Colombian armed forces and the government in general made the decision very quickly. First we sent a field hospital, and between 25 and 30 members of a medical team, more or less, were sent, who provided a variety of medical care to people affected by the earthquake. They were in Haiti for almost two months, helping these people. Some very important coordination was done with the Southern Command so that this team of doctors could be specially assigned to work with these people, but besides this – these doctors, who were all members of the military – two logistical support ships were also sent, with approximately 850 tons of aid each. These ships were there for twenty days each and also provided support to our medical personnel who were on land; in the same way, however, an air bridge was set up starting on the same day the disaster occurred, so that the air force sent various of its cargo planes, C-130s and 727s among them, with many tons of aid for the Haitian people. Speaking generally, we maintained another source of support there that seems very important to me in that we sent the commander of the battalion we have for responding to natural disasters, who became the fundamental pillar for being able to direct the efforts of Colombian armed-forces personnel in that territory.
Diálogo: Are there other prospects or possibilities that Colombia will provide this kind of humanitarian aid to other countries?
Adm. Moreno: We’re oriented toward being able to provide help to countries that are in need of it at some point in time. To give an example, in the case of natural disasters, Colombia would be entirely ready and very happy to be able to collaborate with other countries, anywhere where it would be possible for us to be present to provide this assistance.
Diálogo: What needs to happen for this to occur, Admiral? For example, Gen. Fraser said during his presentation at the conference that perhaps if there are more exercises along these lines among the countries of the region, this could be done more quickly, as happened with Argentina and Brazil helping Chile, no?
Adm. Moreno: We’ve always done this and have authority from the government to do so, and the government is always ready to be able to provide this help. I give you the example of when, unfortunately, there were the earthquakes here in this beautiful country, in Peru. The President of the Republic himself, Álvaro Uribe Vélez, the day after the disaster, came here to accompany the Peruvian authorities, and we also sent a large amount of aid. This included some field hospitals also, to provide support to the Peruvian authorities. The equipment came with some technicians who were responsible for the hospitals. So, just as we also provide aid to the Central American countries when there is an emergency, we’ll always be ready and prepared to be able to do this. Our policy is to support all friendly countries. At this meeting that has just ended today, the principal topic was oriented toward how we can contribute in an orderly, coordinated way, with good training, with good development of our capabilities, in support of countries that need help after having suffered a natural disaster. But what is most important in all this is how we can train and develop our capabilities before the emergency happens, so that when the emergency does occur, the personnel, the supplies, the equipment, and the aid that we can provide are ready.
Diálogo: And if this happened in Colombia, the country would be open to receiving this aid from other countries?
Adm. Moreno: I’m sure that if it were necessary, we would be entirely open to being able to receive this aid. We’ve had natural disasters that have been very damaging, if I can put it like that. To give you an example, the eruption of the Nevado del Ruiz volcano in 1985, when, unfortunately, two towns suffered the impact of the whole avalanche that resulted. At the same time, we’ve also, unfortunately, had some earthquakes in the coffee-growing region that have done a very, very great deal of damage. We know that these natural disasters frequently happen due to both earthquakes and floods. We’ve succeeded in responding to them very well. We have some experience with which to be able to respond to them, and we hope that they never happen again, although nature is unpredictable.
Diálogo: Colombia seems to be the country in the region that has worked with the United States most easily in an intelligence-exchange relationship. How did this come about?
Adm. Moreno: I believe that what’s most important is that in all countries where we find ourselves dealing with transnational crimes or set ourselves to work together for the purpose of being able to unravel these crimes, there can’t exist borders that get in the way of pursuing an objective as large as the one we have, which is putting an end to these crimes. I give you an example that seems very important to me now in the early years of this century. This is the case, for example, of cyberwar. Cyberwar can be waged by any kind of criminal; from anywhere in the world, someone could at this moment be meddling in any country’s financial system, causing chaos, a catastrophe. So, those of us who suffer or could suffer from illegal activities of this kind have to join together and unite our efforts in order to be able to combat these shared threats. Throughout history, we’ve been joined to the United States by excellent ties of friendship, of cooperation, because we’ve always been seeking the same thing: strengthening a democracy, defending a democracy, and being able to pursue those individuals who commit crimes of this kind that can affect our countries.