Interview with Ecuadorean General Ernesto González Villareal
By Dialogo October 07, 2011
During the Third Annual South American Defense Chiefs Conference, which took place in Santiago, Chile, from August 29 to September 2, 2011, Diálogo spoke with some of the region’s top military leaders, among them the commander-in-chief of the Ecuadorean Armed Forces. General Ernesto González Villareal spoke about the role of military personnel in humanitarian-assistance efforts, both in Ecuador and in other countries.
DIÁLOGO: What is Ecuador’s current contribution in terms of humanitarian-aid missions, both locally and regionally?
General Ernesto González Villareal: The Ecuadorean Armed Forces are working hard on humanitarian-aid issues in several countries around the world. In Liberia, Darfur, Ivory Coast, South Sudan, and Southern Sudan, we have members of our forces serving as military observers.
In Haiti, our country is present with two contingents, one working with MINUSTAH on humanitarian assistance, and another that was sent as a consequence of the earthquake that struck that country in 2010. With regard to the latter, it’s necessary to note that the national Government made the decision to send a company of military engineers, the same one that has now completed a year there, executing different construction projects to support rebuilding and basically to support the population. In addition to the human contingent deployed to Haiti, Ecuador also contributed by sending machinery and economic and financial resources to support the country’s reconstruction; this human group has been dedicated especially to repairing bridges, roads, and canals.
I can affirm that on the scale of our possibilities, very significant work has been done, which constitutes the support that Ecuador can offer on the basis of its capabilities.
It’s important to stress that we also provide humanitarian aid within our country; the Armed Forces are the chief support agency for the National Risk Management Secretariat in response to events that in some cases are shared with other countries in the region, such as floods, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and tsunamis.
On several occasions, the Military has provided the assistance needed by the population, as in the case of the eruption of the Tungurahua volcano and the most recent tsunami alert, a consequence of the earthquake that occurred on the Japanese coast and that affected the Ecuadorean coast. In all these cases, the Armed Forces have participated very actively.
DIÁLOGO: What do Ecuadorean military personnel bring back from these missions in terms of personal experiences, etc.?
Gen. González Villareal: First, the exchange of professional experiences with other Armed Forces from around the world with regard to procedures, equipment, but above all, strengthened professional development for the individual. In the particular case of Haiti, we’ve been able to take away some lessons that will undoubtedly be very beneficial to us for future participation in similar cases, such as, for example, the importance of being able to act in coordination with other countries in order to multiply our capacities and so be able to offer better support. The Armed Forces with their capacities constitute the ideal tool for supporting the population in cases of disaster and humanitarian aid.
I had the opportunity to be in Haiti 48 hours after the earthquake. The first concern was to determine the situation of the Ecuadorean contingent; fortunately, we had nothing to lament there. Immediately after that, the next concern was to determine what the best contribution would be in order to support a brother country experiencing a very critical situation.
DIÁLOGO: With regard to the possible creation of a regional body for transregional aid among countries, as was mentioned at the conference, what is Ecuador’s opinion on that?
Gen. González Villareal: Yes, it would definitely be something positive. Our ministers of defense determined at the UNASUR level that all of our countries should have available special units to provide humanitarian aid and assistance. That is, special units that have an organization, equipment, training, and technical capabilities specific to contingencies of this kind. The Armed Forces have very good logistical capabilities, even better if we add to that the availability of units specialized in this area.
Having units of this kind available, together with a confluence of wills, would make it possible to confront the diversity of adverse phenomena and their risks more effectively and with improved capabilities.
DIÁLOGO: Do you think that the United States could have a significant role, then, in terms of technology, etc.?
Gen. González Villareal: We shouldn’t forget that dealing with risk management and humanitarian aid requires the application of a principle of mutual support, as is happening in the case of Haiti. This principle finds its complement, first of all, in the country affected, as a function of its own resources and capabilities, and even within a single country on a regional basis; that is, when one region has been affected, the other regions that were not affected come to its aid.
In the majority of cases, and unfortunately, the country’s own capabilities are outmatched; then there’s a need for the application of regional and international agreements that can make it possible to optimize the capacity for support to an affected state.
This same principle of mutual support can be applied at the level of the UNASUR countries. In this sphere, the support that countries like the United States, organizations like the Inter-American Defense Board, and many others can provide is very important in order to improve reaction capabilities under different circumstances. Personally, I don’t see any obstacle to having all these systems be complementary to one another; the important thing is to concentrate our capacities on these levels, to not let our efforts be scattered as they have been up to now. The great challenge, as I laid out at the conference, is to unite the efforts of UNASUR, of the Inter-American Defense Board, which are organizations that can fulfill this role.
DIÁLOGO: Is there anything more that you would like to add about this topic?
Gen. González Villareal: What I can add is that time is already running short; we’ve had a lot of conferences, and now it’s time to take effective action, outline a roadmap, impose commitments, in such a way that when the next emergency appears, we’re appropriately prepared and have the capabilities available to be able to respond to it.
DIÁLOGO: Perhaps Ecuador could be a leader in those actions, General, and start us down that road?
Gen. González Villareal: Yes, Ecuador until very recently held the posts of president pro tempore of UNASUR, in the person of our president, and of the South American Defense Council, in the person of our minister of national defense, with significant progress made. That period has come to an end, but I believe that we have the capacity to continue contributing and leading when the situation requires it.