Guatemalan Armed Forces, U.S. SOUTHCOM Cooperate in ‘Beyond the Horizon’ 2016

Guatemalan Armed Forces, U.S. SOUTHCOM Cooperate in ‘Beyond the Horizon’ 2016

By Geraldine Cook
February 19, 2016

The two Militaries are cooperating to provide humanitarian assistance and will work together to build schools and medical clinics in the department of San Marcos.

Guatemalan Army Civilian Affairs officials and Civilian-Military representatives from the United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) met from January 25th-31st to define and standardize protocols for humanitarian missions. The officials developed approaches to building three schools and two medical clinics in villages and small towns in the San Marcos department as part of the “Beyond the Horizon” 2016 mission.

The countries agreed to work together, along with Guatemala’s Ministries of Education and Public Health and Social Assistance, from March 5th-July 7th. SOUTHCOM is investing $10 million in this humanitarian effort, while Guatemala is contributing 1 million quetzals (approximately $130,500).

Officials determined in 2014 that Military authorities would provide humanitarian assistance to Guatemala through the “Beyond the Horizon” initiative. The program’s objective is to bring civic and humanitarian support and medical and engineering assistance to civilians, Staff Sergeant Luis Alvarado, a native Guatemalan from SOUTHCOM’s Army South, told Diálogo
. Two other SOUTHCOM officials – Lieutenant Colonel Michael Caro and Sergeant Major Miguel Espinoza – worked as liaisons for the initiative during the January meeting, which was also attended by observers from Colombia, Chile, Canada, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Guatemalan officials considered bringing the humanitarian efforts to the departments of Jutiapa and Alta Verapaz, but decided to concentrate on San Marcos after evaluating the needs of these regions, Infantry Brigadier General Hugo Fernando Rodríguez Cifuentes, the Chief of the Guatemalan Army’s Press Department, told Diálogo.

Schools and medical clinics

Guatemala’s Armed Forces and SOUTHCOM determined that Nueva Florida, Santa Catarina, and San Rafael La Cuesta will each receive a school.

As for the medical clinics, the Guatemalan Military and SOUTHCOM officials will build one in the village of Pojopón in the municipality of Esquipulas Palo Gordo and another in the village of Tocaché in the municipality of San Pablo. The medical facilities will be staffed by physicians that will provide services to the San Marcos villages of Villa Hermosa, La Blanca, and San Pablo, according to Infantry Brig. Gen. Rodríguez.

“Beyond the Horizon” is an annual exercise funded by SOUTHCOM. The initiative, which began in 1993 when it was named “Strong Paths” (“Fuertes Caminos”), focuses on creating medical and engineering projects in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean each year. Various government agencies from the participating partner nations and the United States cooperate in each initiative.

San Marcos battered by earthquakes

The initiative will assist people who live in a department that sustained serious damage from two major earthquakes in recent years. Many buildings in San Marcos, a department located on Guatemala’s shared border with Mexico, were destroyed or seriously damaged when an earthquake registering 7.2 on the Mercalli-scale struck the region on November 7, 2012. Overall, the earthquake killed 48 people in Guatemala, including 30 in San Marcos.

Less than two years later, on July 7, 2014, San Marcos was struck by another earthquake that killed two people, injured 272, and forced 6,341 families to leave their homes because they were destroyed or sustained severe damage. About 765 of these families lived in shelters for months while authorities rebuilt their homes in San Marcos.

The Guatemalan Army’s Corps of Engineers coordinated rebuilding efforts after both tremors. The Military built homes for 5,011 families victimized by the two earthquakes.