Interview with Colonel Hedwig Gilaard, Suriname’s Chief of Defense
By Dialogo December 26, 2012
During the 2013 edition of the Caribbean Nations Security Conference (CANSEC), which took place at the United States Southern Command from 12 – 13 December, 2012, Colonel Hedwig Gilaard, Suriname’s Chief of Defense, talked to Diálogo about the main security issues faced by Suriname, and the importance of participating in the State Partnership Program, a U.S. Department of Defense sponsored program that fosters security cooperation among partner nations.
Diálogo: What are the main security concerns and priorities for your country at this time?
Colonel Hedwig Gilaard: Now we are dealing with transnational organized crime; I think the whole South America, Latin America and the Caribbean are dealing with it. We are in the mainland of South America, so we have that kind of problems. I don’t know if other CARICOM countries have the same problem, but we are dealing with illegal immigration, piracy, and we know that all of us are dealing also with illicit trafficking, related to illegal drugs, money laundering, and human trafficking, among others.
Diálogo: What are the benefits of working with the United States and other nations in confronting these security challenges?
Col. Gilaard: There are a lot of benefits, because we are a small nation. It is always good to work with others, like the United States, for example, because we know that they have a lot of experience and we can always learn from it to address these crime organizations.
Diálogo: How has Suriname benefitted from working with the South Dakota National Guard, as part of the State Partnership Program?
Col. Gilaard: Oh, that’s wonderful. It is one of a kind. We have a lot of friends over there now, and I will give you at least two names: Major General Tim Reisch [South Dakota National Guard adjutant general], and Colonel John Weber [South Dakota-Suriname State Partnership Program director]. They were in Suriname recently, and we talked about the things we are going to do together. I think this is the best partner relationship that we have, with South Dakota. We always want to see Colonel Weber and General Reisch again. We know that we are in good hands.
Diálogo: What’s the importance of participating in the annual Golden Coyote exercise, organized by the South Dakota National Guard?
Col. Gilaard: Let me say that it’s a great honor for us to participate in Golden Coyote, because we are learning from the best. So, when our guys are back, they all talk about the way they were treated and what they learned. They learn a lot there.
Diálogo: How are you preparing for your debut in Fuerzas Comando 2013?
Col. Gilaard: We are very excited for the opportunity to participate in this year’s Fuerzas Comando exercise. We were, unfortunately, unable to participate last year, so this will be the first year we will send representatives of our special forces to compete there.
Diálogo: The theme of this year’s CANSEC is maintenance and force sustainment. How do you plan for the maintenance and sustainment of your resources?
Col. Gilaard: In my opinion, education is one of the most important elements of maintenance. If you are well educated, things flow smoothly. If you see our fleet now, and I am talking about the Navy, our fleet is nearly grounded because of political problems in the past. We have the same problem with the Air Force. The airplanes are grounded due to small things. We have to invest in defense. If you don’t do that, then you will have this problem. But, normally, security costs a lot, it is expensive, so the politicians have to be aware that if you want to have continuity, you have to invest. We are still doing well, because we use small fisher boats to do our tasks, but we can’t go too far. We have a problem with small boats that come from Brazil through our rivers. If you don’t have big ships to go and see, you need to have small ones to control the rivers. We were very disappointed when we heard that we weren’t going to receive small boats from the United States [SAFE boats donated to some Caribbean countries as part of the Secure Seas initiative], so we have to look for other means to do that. But there are things that the governments have to provide, like boats and aircrafts. The main reason why we wanted to have those boats is to control vessels, boats that are coming to our waters after 8:00 p.m. They wait until it is dark. So we wanted to use those boats from the USA to do this task.
Diálogo: As a member of CARICOM, what are Suriname’s similarities and differences with other member-nations in your approach to regional security?
Col. Gilaard: We have the same problems but, on the other hand, we are not an island. We also have piracy and traffic in persons, and besides that, we have gold. That’s one of our biggest problems. Because we have gold, we have illegal garimpeiros [gold prospectors] who are coming to our country by land to do illegal gold mining, so this is one of our main issues. The CARICOM countries have their problems, but the mainland nations have other problems, not only drugs. It’s like I mentioned, piracy and human trafficking.
Diálogo: How do you see your relationship with the defense forces of Brazil, Guyana, and French Guyana, your neighboring countries?
Col. Gilaard: Let me start with Guyana. I think that we can do better. We are exchanging information, but in my opinion it could be better. With French Guyana we are doing a lot together, we do exercises together, we train together. And with Brazil, that’s a long story. Years ago we started to train our men in Brazil and we continue to do so. So, the relationship with Brazil is excellent.
Diálogo: Is there something else that you would like to add?
Col. Gilaard: Yes, about our partnership with CARICOM countries. I’m sure it can be better. The English-speaking countries are doing very well with the CARICOM partnership. We, the Dutch-speakers, have to go for it, to become better partners, to become more involved in CARICOM.
The opinion of the colonel is very interesting, he is very wise and intelligent to provide a briefing on his area; It would be good if he got some assistance since these are sensitive areas and can lead to transnational delinquency - drug trafficking.