Guatemalan and U.S. Troops Team Up to Provide Health Services to Citizens
By Dialogo May 16, 2016
Guatemala's Armed Forces and U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) are working together to provide free health services to residents in the department of San Marcos through the humanitarian exercise "Beyond the Horizon 2016
The joint exercise is part of SOUTHCOM’s Humanitarian and Civic Assistance (HCA) program, an annual initiative that provides medical, dental, and engineering services in Central and South American and Caribbean countries that need social and economic development.
Five hundred members from the Guatemalan Army’s Mountain Operations Brigade, which is based in San Marcos, joined 400 U.S. Military members from all branches of the Armed Forces for the exercise that will run from February 24th-July 3rd. The U.S. contingent is relieved every 22 days "as a display of support and commitment to our country," the Mountain Operations Brigade's Commander, Major General Byron René Bor Illescas, told Diálogo.
Guatemala's ministries of Education and Social Assistance, non-governmental organizations, and private organizations are also participating in the initiative. However, the Armed Forces of Colombia, Chile, Canada, and Trinidad and Tobago are participating as observers so they can all broaden their experience with these types of humanitarian relief missions.
Security and logistics
The Mountain Operations Brigade is providing security, logistical support, and facilities to U.S. personnel, who are administering medical and dental services to thousands of Guatemalans via three Medical Readiness Training Exercises (MEDRETEs). The Guatemalan Military is also serving as the liaison to San Marcos's residents throughout Beyond the Horizon 2016 ,
which will benefit 100,000 people in the Central American country.
The MEDRETEs are providing free medical exams, which include pediatric, optometry, dermatology, gynecology, and cardiovascular services to patients in Aldea Villa Hermosa, Esquipulas Palo Gordo, San Pablo, La Blanca, and San Marcos. Doctors are aided by a clinical analysis laboratory.
“Personnel have been participating during these medical campaigns and have been providing excellent Military-quality service," Maj. Gen. Bor said. "The final objective is to provide humanitarian relief to people and give them the perspective that we as the Military are at their service. Guatemalan doctors are providing free external consultations in all specialties, including surgeries.”
The U.S. government is also bolstering education in the Central American country by supporting the construction of two schools: one in Caserío Nueva Florida, in the town of Catarina, and another in the town of San Rafael Pie de la Cuesta. In addition, U.S. Troops are also constructing medical clinics in three villages and towns within the department of San Marcos.
History of cooperation
Guatemala's Armed Forces and the United States have been cooperating on humanitarian operations since 1993. Beyond the Horizon
was held in the departments of Jutiapa in 2001; San Marcos in 2007 and 2012; Puerto Barrios in 2010; Petén in 2010; Cobán in 2012; and Zacapa in 2014. The initiative has also been held in other countries, such as El Salvador.
This exercise gives U.S. Troops valuable training to hone the skills they rely on during combat. Troops receive training in engineering, medicine, and logistics by working on construction projects that include building community centers, schools, health clinics, and water wells in underdeveloped communities, Diálogo
reported in March.
Beyond the Horizon
is also educational for Guatemala's Armed Forces. “We are learning much as well. SOUTHCOM's help allows us to take stock of what the communities’ needs are," Maj. Gen. Bor said. “Reducing conflict and curbing illegal activity are essential to be able to satisfy the needs that these communities have. Education, health, and safety are equal to development."
Guatemala has a close and ongoing cooperative relationship with the United States. “Relations are at the highest point in their history," Maj. Gen. Bor stated. "We have open cooperation. It’s the best thing that could be happening to Guatemala through the modernization processes that has been implemented ever since the signing of the peace accords. Our action plan is focused mainly on respecting human rights."
Guatemala's Armed Forces and the United States also cooperate to fight organized crime by conducting joint training operations and maritime interdiction missions. The Guatemalan government, which views international cooperation as a key component of its national security strategy, is working with member countries of the Central American Armed Forces Conference, the Inter-American Defense Board, and the Organization of American States.
“Brazil has Military personnel working in our country on education issues,” Maj. Gen. Bor explained. “A team of Colombian Military personnel deployed in Guatemala deals with questions of how to fight drug trafficking. Our allies are ready to cooperate.”
Fighting poppy production
San Marcos borders Chiapas, Mexico, and its highland region, known as the "Golden Poppy Triangle," is home to most of the poppy fields that are cultivated for the production of heroin. The drug has a value of about $30,000 per kilogram at the Guatemalan border with Mexico, El Universal
reported on February 16, 2015.
“For these communities, poppy production represents their livelihood," Maj. Gen. Bor stated. "As the state, we have to go in, attack the activity properly, and bring other satisfactory ways for them to be able to survive. It’s not an easy task.”
The civilian population has a high level of trust in the Armed Forces. “ The presence of the Army in the fields of public safety, humanitarian relief, and many other fields is accepted and appreciated by the civilian population
," Maj. Gen. Bor said. "Fortunately, we have 85 percent acceptance of Guatemalans."