A female officer deployed to Western Sahara, marking a first in the history of Honduras’s participation in peacekeeping missions.
The journey of six Honduran service members to Africa at the end of March 2018 was a momentous occasion for the Central American country: For the first time, a female Honduran officer participates in a peacekeeping mission. On March 26th, Honduran Army Captain Tarsis Dodanin Alvarado Guevara shipped out with her peers from the Honduran Armed Forces to the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO, in French).
“Including women in the day-to-day of the Honduran Armed Forces and involving them in all our military activities strengthens the image of Honduras,” Honduran Navy Captain José Domingo Meza, director of Public Relations of the Armed Forces, told Diálogo. “In addition, serving in peacekeeping missions strengthens the country, trains officers in General Staff tasks, and builds their confidence to successfully work with other cultures.”
The officers relieved the 2017 team participating in the mission to end the conflict between Morocco and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguía el Hamra and Río de Oro (better known as Polisario), the liberation movement representing the native Sahrawi people. Capt. Alvarado was assigned to the Smara operating base in Moroccan-controlled territory, where she performs peacekeeping tasks.
“The opportunity arose for me to participate in the officer selection process for the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara,” Capt. Alvarado told Diálogo from Smara. “I feel very proud and grateful to the military for choosing me [to] be the first woman to participate in this mission and represent women in the military so others can have the same opportunity in future missions.”
Contributing to the mission
Capt. Alvarado’s tasks include conducting land and air patrols with the operating base team. She also contributes to the mission as a senior staff assistant for logistics operations. Additionally, Capt. Alvarado serves as the base’s communications officer and sends daily reports to headquarters, among other necessary tasks.
“Fortunately, I was able to adjust to the new situation quickly, since as service members we are trained to complete missions whenever and wherever the high command sends us,” said Capt. Alvarado. “The work environment is very professional and respectful.”
Capt. Meza, who participated in MINURSO in 1997 and 2012, explained that although Western Sahara continues to be contaminated with anti-personnel mines, the “mission’s risk level is low.” Despite the remoteness of the area and the harsh climate, the mission is a unique opportunity for service members to consolidate and exchange knowledge.
“The military training that service members receive should prepare them to work in any operational environment,” said Capt. Meza. “Working in remote military outposts in the desert reinforces that training and military culture.”
Established in 1991, MINURSO aims to end the conflict between Moroccans and Sahrawis that dates back to the 1970s. The over 250,000 square kilometers of disputed territory borders Morocco, Mauritania, and Algeria and has an Atlantic coastline of 1,100 km.
Honduras has a long-standing commitment to MINURSO, having participated since the mission’s inception. Between 1991 and 2018, a total of 314 Honduran service members took part in the peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara.
In addition to MINURSO, Honduran service members participated in the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, and the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia. Yet Capt. Alvarado stands out as a pioneer in peacekeeping missions.
“There are several women interested in participating in this mission [MINURSO] and the other peacekeeping missions in which our country participates,” said Capt. Meza. “The directorate of Organization, Operations and Training of the Honduran Armed Forces will continue to offer this type of opportunity to its members, regardless of their gender.”
Capt. Alvarado will serve in Western Sahara until March 2019. Until then, she will continue to be an inspiration to other women in the Honduran Armed Forces, proving “that women are capable of taking on major challenges.”
“My experience on this mission is very gratifying,” concluded Capt. Alvarado. “Our job is to inspire confidence, build peace and help the parties in conflict through that transitional process, and promote lasting peace.”