Exclusive Interview with Brig. Gen. Jorge Alberto Chevalier, Argentina
By Dialogo August 16, 2010
The Argentine Air Force has two rapid-deployment mobile military hospitals.
It carried out its first peace-keeping mission in Mozambique, for two years, after
which came another two years in Kosovo, and finally, it has been in Haiti for almost
six years now. At the deepest point of the crisis, that is, the days following the
earthquake, the hospital had more than 15,000 potential patients, due to the new
contingents who arrived or came to join those previously there.
In order to talk about this and other humanitarian-aid initiatives offered to
other countries by Argentina, Diálogo spoke with Brig. Gen. Jorge Alberto Chevalier,
Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Argentine Republic,
during the 2d Annual South American Defense Chiefs (SOUTHDEC) Conference, held in Lima, Peru, on 3 and 4 August.
Diálogo: When we were in Haiti, we saw the fantastic work that
the Argentine hospital was doing there. Even on the day after the earthquake, they
were taking care of people outside; there were more than four hundred patients in
one night, something impressive. Could you talk to us about this model of hospital?
Are there similar projects for other countries?
Brig. Gen. Chevalier: It’s a hospital that was born from an
initiative of the Argentine forces and has now had another kind of experience,
because it was in Mozambique, in Kosovo; it’s been in our country on
humanitarian-support missions also. It carried out its first mission when we had the
conflict with England, but just as a hospital that supplemented or complemented the
hospitals that we have in Patagonia. So this is not its first trip abroad, but it’s
true that it’s been in Haiti for quite a while. We’ve also put together a second
hospital, which is deployed in the Republic of Chile at the moment. So we have two
hospitals of practically the same model, deployed on two different missions, one as
part of military peace-keeping operations in Haiti and one that is for humanitarian
support or civil defense, in the case of the Chilean earthquake.
Diálogo: Besides the hospital, what other kind of humanitarian
aid does Argentina offer in the region? During the conference, it was evident that
Argentina is always the first country to arrive bringing aid. How do you succeed in
Brig. Gen. Chevalier: We succeed in doing this because we have
it incorporated as a secondary or subsidiary mission of the military forces in
Argentina. It’s a responsibility that we have. For example, in the case of Chile,
beyond the hospital itself, there’s a small engineering unit that supplies potable
water and electrical generation. We’re also doing things the same way in Haiti, and
we also did and are still doing this in peace-keeping operations in
Diálogo: Does the country act so quickly because the Argentine
Armed Forces are already prepared for this kind of aid?
Brig. Gen. Chevalier: Yes, it’s not a separate function. It’s, I
would say, a complementary function. Taking advantage of the armed forces’ resources
and the personal capabilities that match the needs, both those of our own country
and those of other countries, we come together to provide humanitarian aid. We’re
not authorized to acquire resources exclusively for this mission; instead, resources
are acquired as a function of the principal mission, which is national defense. If
these resources perhaps serve for these other purposes, well, that’s great, and we
take advantage of them and carry out humanitarian-aid missions, as we are doing in
the cases that you’re familiar with or that I mentioned.
Diálogo: With regard to a conference like this one, what are the
lessons that you take away from here?
Brig. Gen. Chevalier: I believe that we’re going away with some
homework to do. Here what’s important is that some things are being made concrete.
For example, as it happens, my Chilean counterpart and I put the finishing touches
on something that we already had underway, because Argentina has bilateral
humanitarian-aid agreements with Chile, agreements with Peru, and agreements with
Bolivia, in bilateral form, and as it happens, we’ve proposed that we’re now going
to carry out the first three-party exercise with Peru, Bolivia, and us. It will be a
tabletop exercise, because up to now, they’ve all been bilateral. In this case, now
it’s going to be trilateral. We already have an organization; we function jointly.
Everything goes through the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that is, the requisitions and the
offers are not specific to each of the military branches, but rather everything is
handled through the Civil Defense Agency, which is an agency that functions within
the Operational Command, with a specific task, Civil Defense.
Diálogo: Then, you agree that these preparatory exercises, as
General Fraser commented during the conference, are very important for preparing
Brig. Gen. Chevalier: They’re very important, and I believe that
we, humbly, are offering ourselves as part of this thing that is seeking to be born
on the continental level. To some extent, I believe that it can serve the purpose,
as a foundation that can be perfected, like everything, no? There should also be
other countries that have this; we shouldn’t be the only ones, but we do have
something functioning already. Also, we can take advantage of the structure of the
“Southern Cross” combined joint peace-keeping force, since the mission of this
combined joint peace-keeping force, as its name well says, is to offer it to the
United Nations in response to situations like those that can occur anywhere in the
world, the need for a peace-keeping force.
Diálogo: Have other countries in the region provided any aid to
Argentina in a natural or other disaster?
Brig. Gen. Chevalier: We’ve had that happen. At that time, I was
Air Operations Commander, and we had a flood in the city of Santa Fe. I had a unit
in place, from the Second Air Brigade, that acted as the distribution center, shall
we say, for the aid that came. I remember receiving planes from Italy, from Chile,
with humanitarian aid. I believe that we’re part of this world, and we should give
one another a hand. We’re here to give, and also to receive, why not?