With the support of the U.S. Embassy in Panama and units of U.S. Southern Command’s (SOUTHCOM) Joint Task Force Bravo (JTF-Bravo), the Panamanian government brought humanitarian assistance to 22 hard-to-reach indigenous communities as part of humanitarian exercise Mercury IV, November 30-December 14, 2022.
“The cooperation with the U.S. Embassy and JTF-Bravo is an excellent example of cooperation between the governments of Panama and the United States,” Panama’s Minister of Public Security Juan Manuel Pino told Diálogo on December 15. “We were able to provide humanitarian aid to populations in need in a joint effort, using the strengths and air capabilities of this Task Force, plus the support of the ministries that make up the Panamanian state.”
The main objective of Mercury IV was to airlift 32 modular classrooms for schools in 22 communities and deliver 17,535 bags of food from the Panama Solidarity Plan, among other efforts, the Panamanian National Air and Naval Service (SENAN) told the press.
Mercury IV was carried out in the Ngäbe-Buglé region in northern Panama, SENAN said. The humanitarian initiative involved the transfer of nearly 112 tons of cargo with the support of five helicopters: two Boeing CH-47 Chinook heavy-lift helicopters and three Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk medium-lift utility aircraft belonging to the U.S. Army. The JTF-Bravo team is set to return to the region in late January to move the remainder of the cargo (some 228 tons) that could not be delivered due to inclement weather.
“Thanks to U.S. support and their high-capacity helicopters, we are mobilizing these materials for 24 schools,” Ricardo Sánchez, Panama’s vice minister of infrastructure, Ministry of Education, told TVN2. “These areas of the comarca are very difficult to access and without U.S. assistance and material it would be very complex to access them.”
“Due to the great success in the previous operations in the Emberá-Wounaan Comarca area, we were motivated to continue with exercise Mercury IV in the Ngöbe Buglé Comarca area,” Pino said. “The Mercury operations have been the help that have made the delivery of all those resources and services possible, to which the people of these remote areas do not have access, and which are necessary for their daily lives.”
On June 13-14, 2022, U.S. Army General Laura J. Richardson, SOUTHCOM commander, made her first official visit to Panama, where she pledged to maintain and strengthen the strong partnership with the Central American country. During her visit, Gen. Richardson met with Panamanian President Laurentino Cortizo, Minister of Foreign Affairs Erika Mouynes, and Pino to discuss joint efforts to strengthen regional security. It was during that time that Cortizo asked Gen. Richardson to coordinate exercise Mercury, the U.S. Embassy said in a statement.
“Through this visit [by Gen. Richardson], SOUTHCOM strengthens its strong partnership with Panama, and its commitment to provide continued support to the country to keep its population safe,” the U.S. Embassy indicated. “This will be made possible through programs for emergency preparedness, medical assistance for vulnerable communities, and collaboration on border and maritime security.”