Historic Binational Assistance Day in the Amazon
By Yolima Dussán/Diálogo April 17, 2017On March 18th and 19th, residents in the towns of Leticia and Puerto Nariño, Colombia, and Tabatinga, Brazil, benefitted from the first Binational Development Assistance Day, the result of collaboration between the two countries which share a 1,644-kilometer border in the Amazon. The yearly calendar of Development Assistance Days, coordinated by the Colombian Air Force (FAC, per its Spanish acronym), is extensive. Seventy-five missions of this kind are scheduled for 2017. But this event will go down in history as the most significant in FAC’s history, not only because it was the first joint exercise with Brazil, but also because it was the biggest in the force’s history. “Thanks to the prudent interagency coordination that brought the two country’s caregiving capacities together into one operations team, the day impacted over 22,000 people,” Colonel Javier Jiménez, director of the FAC’s Comprehensive Action, told Diálogo. “One-fourth of the area’s population received some type of medical care or benefit. A highly significant number that we had never before reached.” Inter-institutional solutions Development Day took place simultaneously in the three towns, and members of the Huitoto, Tikuna and Kokoma indigenous communities participated. Additionally, the services were spread out in order to ensure greater coverage. The contingent responsible for providing the care was composed of 200 medical specialists. Another 200 people provided development assistance in the areas of legal consulting, citizens’ rights and recreation. These included participants from other government offices such as the National Civil Registry, the Colombian Family Welfare Institute, etc. During the binational development day, almost 3,000 people received medical services. The specialists wrote 968 medical prescriptions, and handed out donations of basic necessities and various types of gifts to 13,000 people, while 2,282 others received specialized assistance. One hundred fifty-five animals even received veterinary care. Among the recreational activities, which were mainly focused on the kids, there was a popular music concert that was attended by more than 1,000 spectators. “With the goal of bringing all government services to the communities, we were fully prepared that day to facilitate the provision of citizen identity documents. Residents who did not have them received the pertinent age-appropriate papers, such as those of civil registry, identification cards, and citizenship cards. By these means we ensure the rights of citizens,” Col. Jiménez reported. Help for the neediest individuals Statistics for the binational day illustrated problems common to the three border towns. In terms of health, assistance was focused on psychiatry and neurology, including learning difficulties, cerebral palsy, and seizure disorders. The main internal medicine and cardiology issues were poorly controlled hypertension, diabetics with complications related to the limbs, and congenital heart disease. In the adult population, there were also dermatological issues, including severe fungal infections and urinary pathologies, while in the pediatric population there were cases of malnutrition, skin infections, and epilepsy. Organizing the event involved three months of coordination, which in Leticia was handled by the Amazonas Air Group. Its commander, Colonel Julián Gómez Lince, described the day as one of the Colombian Armed Forces’ best activities on the Brazilian border. “Leticia is a city at a triple border; our mission is to strengthen ties with Brazil and Peru. The slogan for the day was, ‘Help the neediest,’ and we are very satisfied with the way we helped the residents of Leticia, Puerto Nariño, Tabatinga, and the Amazon River communities, and with our commitment to carry out program follow-up,” he said. “Some residents of Peru even received medical care.” Military actions Poverty is the biggest problem in the border zone in southern Colombia. The population makes its living from tourism, fishing, agriculture, and trade. But geographic conditions cause major difficulties for development, which contribute, in turn, to the existence of transnational problems affecting the three countries: drug trafficking, street crime, logging, damage to the Amazon rainforest, and the illegal smuggling of arms and wildlife, among others. “We are working to counteract this on the front lines, where the population is exposed. We know that the better we provide aid and development programs to the needy population, [the faster] we will solidify the country’s movement through the new post-conflict stage,” Col. Gómez said. According to Col. Jiménez, Development Assistance Days put the force in a position of being an interoperable institution capable of impacting the entire region, both domestically and internationally. “We have been in Peru, Haiti, Chile, and Ecuador. The region knows they can count on the collaboration of the Colombian military. In the interior, the goal is to ensure that Colombia begins to develop like a country at peace. At this stage, we are bringing together a wide range of military actions to support development. We want to be part of this great group of government services and bring basic solutions where needs are not being met like we did in this bi-national day with Brazil,” he concluded.