Guatemalan Contingent Assists Haiti
By Lizeth Hernández/Diálogo October 18, 2016Strength through unity. After Hurricane Matthew left a trail of destruction in Haiti on October 4th, the Guatemalan Army deployed 52 blue beret soldiers serving the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH, per its French acronym) The tasks assigned to the Guatemalan soldiers include helping rebuild and developing public infrastructure. So troops are focusing primarily on removing rubble from the streets of Port-au-Prince and highways in the country’s interior, to reestablish communications and allow aid to reach the places that suffered the most damage. They also provide security support in collaboration with police operations. “It is very satisfying to know that our country provides assistance during natural disasters and especially to the people that need it most. In this case, Haiti is one of the countries hit hardest by Matthew, and we are proud to say that we have 52 soldiers giving their full support,” said Colonel William García Alvarado, press director of the Guatemalan Ministry of Defense. The blue berets are a group of soldiers trained to be part of the military police for peacekeeping missions organized by the United Nations in various countries around the world. The Guatemalan members are stationed in the Congo, and a military contingent was sent to Haiti in February of this year. Col. García explained that this group will help with the rebuilding effort and maintain security in the streets until February 2017. After the one-year tour of duty, a new contingent will be sent to continue providing assistance to the neighboring country. “They are trained to post guards and do rigorous work in the form of providing security. Our brothers and sisters need many kinds of support, but our group will provide security in the streets during this tragedy,” emphasized Col. García. Lieutenant General Ajax Porto Pinheiro, commander of the MINUSTAH Force, informed the media that they mobilized 600 peacekeepers to the hardest hit areas. Among them are Guatemalans representing the military police, as well as soldiers from Chile, the Dominican Republic, Uruguay, Peru, Brazil, and Paraguay. A herculean task UN Deputy Special Representative of MINUSTAH, Mourad Wahba, reported by telephone from Port-au-Prince that in the wake of Matthew, the members of the mission sprang into action to help rebuild this nation ravaged by natural disasters. “We focused on opening up these roads in order to allow humanitarian relief to reach these populations. So thanks to the combined efforts of MINUSTAH engineers and the local authorities in Haiti, the roads have been cleared and there is now access from Port-au-Prince,” he said. The Guatemalan Military Police are guarding Haitian police stations. In addition to this task, the soldiers help distribute water and purification systems to prevent the spread of disease. As of October 16th, MINUSTAH have reported approximately 560 deaths, but the number could rise as rescue work continues. Approximately 175,000 people are living in shelters, and more than a million and a half Haitians have been affected. The Guatemalan Army press office reported that despite the magnitude of the disaster, no further contingents of the Humanitarian Rescue Unit have been deployed because the Haitian authorities have not requested them. “We are completely willing to send more assistance and more soldiers if our sister country asks for them. We have every intention to help,” said Lieutenant Colonel Karen Pérez, spokeswoman for the Guatemalan Ministry of Defense.