Air Force General Eladio Casimiro González Aguilar, commander of the Paraguayan Military Forces, met with Diálogo at his headquarters to discuss his goals and the unprecedented deployment of operational capabilities to support State institutions involved in the efforts to contain and mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic.
Diálogo: What are your immediate goals as commander of the Paraguayan Military Forces?
Air Force General Eladio Casimiro González Aguilar, commander of the Paraguayan Military Forces: Some of my goals are to consolidate the plan to improve defense capabilities in the Armed Forces to strengthen their mobility system in the national territory; to support security agencies in the fight against organized crime and any criminal activity that threatens the Republic’s internal order; to expand the role of the Armed Forces in tasks to reinstate internal order, such as the fight against transnational crimes, narcotrafficking, cattle rustling, smuggling, and arms trafficking, among others; and to increase civil-military actions to improve living conditions for Paraguayans.
Diálogo: Narcotrafficking is one of the security threats in Paraguay. How do the Paraguayan Armed Forces fight this threat?
Gen. González: The fight against narcotrafficking is one of the priorities of the national government. In Paraguay, the institution responsible for fighting this scourge is the National Anti-Drug Secretariat (SENAD, in Spanish), an entity to which we provide our support with personnel trained in special operations techniques, material resources, and intelligence. Similarly, our Internal Defense Operations Command, which includes the Army, Navy, and Air Force, executes counternarcotics interdiction operations to support SENAD through raids; destruction of crops, labs, and clandestine airstrips, and it arrests national and foreign citizens involved in illicit drug trafficking.
Diálogo: Why is it important for the Paraguayan Armed Forces to take part in United Nations (U.N.) peacekeeping missions?
Gen. González: Paraguay is a U.N. signatory nation and member, and through peacekeeping missions our personnel have the opportunity to project themselves professionally, participate in humanitarian activities, and build professional ties with service members, police officers, and civilians in nearly the entire world. This multinational experience gives them a broader vision of the new challenges in these types of conflicts, enabling them to gain international experience and knowledge in the area. Our participation dates back to 1965, when a 200-man contingent joined the Inter-American Peace Force. In the 1990s, we deployed officers as part of the Argentine Task Force in Cyprus, and since 2000, we have sent military observers to different missions in Afghanistan, Burundi, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Liberia, Nepal, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria, and Sudan, among others. From 2010 to 2017, we contributed to the mission in Haiti. Currently, we have 34 officers deployed, and we have deployed a total of 1,326 service members in U.N. peacekeeping missions, including 54 women.
Diálogo: What advances have [the Armed Forces] made in the training and professionalization of noncommissioned officers (NCOs)?
Gen. González: We have made very important steps in NCO instruction, training, and specialization, especially since I assumed command. We have implemented selection processes for the admission of NCO candidates to training institutions, which are equivalent to higher education technical schools. Upon graduation and gradually during their career, NCOs take specialization and training courses based on the profiles established in their respective forces, commands, and administrations. Similarly, we grant scholarships to the best NCOs to study abroad, especially in the United States. These NCOs’ professionalism, willingness to work, esprit de corps, and courage is a source of pride for me and all the components of the Military Forces.
Diálogo: What was the role of the Military Forces during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Gen. González: We have led the fight against COVID-19 since March 2020, when the president of the Republic declared a health emergency and ordered the necessary measures to isolate the country, due to the risk of virus spread. From that moment, we made available our operational capabilities, including personnel and resources, to the Ministry of Public Health and Social Welfare and other institutions through the Interinstitutional Coordination Center, which answered to the National Defense Council. We were part of the national awareness campaign for citizens to comply with health protocols; we adapted some military units as health shelters to quarantine nationals and foreigners returning to the country; we supported border and airport controls and street patrols to avoid unnecessary crowds. Under the National Vaccination Plan, we provide security, reception, transport, storage, and distribution of vaccines and supplies nationwide, and we have military units open as vaccination centers.