During a meeting with Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes in 2015, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon highlighted Paraguay’s contributions to peacekeeping missions, especially in Haiti. Proportionally, Paraguay’s population of fewer than seven million makes is one of the highest participants in peace keeping operations around the world. To speak about this and about other topics, Diálogo spoke to Major General Juan Ramón Benegas Ferreira, currently the general director for Information Technology and Communication for the Paraguayan Military Forces, during the South American Defense Conference (SOUTHDEC) 2016 held in Montevideo, Uruguay, from August 16th-19th.
Diálogo: How important is a conference, such as SOUTHDEC, which serves as forum for discussion at the highest military level in the region?
Major General Juan Ramón Benegas Ferreira: It is in this type of forum that all the specific characteristics of a country can be gleaned from, the particularities of each military force. All the threats to each of the countries are laid on the table, and what is most important is that there is a healthy intent to work to identify the scourges that threaten our region, and to work in a coordinated, comprehensive manner, and sometimes to share the resources that the armed forces of our countries have.
Diálogo: The topic for the 2016 South American Defense Conference is the evolution of the role of the military in Latin America in the last couple of years. But the Paraguayan Military has had this humanitarian assistance role and others for many years already.
Maj. Gen. Benegas: That’s right. In Paraguay, thank God, we do not have large natural disasters, but we do have our own problems, and ours are floods, sleet, storms, tornado-like events, and the Armed Forces are always present. Paraguay has an agency, a ministry under the Office of the President of the Republic, the Secretariat for National Emergencies, which is responsible for responding to these events. But the Armed Forces are always the first to respond to mitigate the impact of any kind of catastrophe.
Diálogo: Is that part of the Constitution or is it something that you have ingrained as a culture?
Maj. Gen. Benegas: Part of our constitutional mission is to provide assistance to civilians. In fact, civilian issues are part of our mission as Armed Forces, and it is from there that we provide cooperation. Not only for natural disasters. At the General Office for Civilian Affairs of the Military Forces Command, we assist other government agencies, such as the Ministry of Health, to conduct operations in areas with vulnerable populations in the interior of the country, operations that we call, in the Guarani language: ñipoanó. It means to cure, mitigate health. Then, the Armed Forces bring their military personnel, among which are physicians, dentists, specialists, hair dressers, and medications, to distribute to areas with vulnerable populations, where perhaps the government may be unable to fully reach.
Diálogo: Paraguay is a country with very regular participation in peacekeeping missions, as well as in other humanitarian assistance missions in the world. Could you speak about this?
Maj. Gen. Benegas: Yes, we have military personnel deployed in peacekeeping mission areas under the umbrella of the United Nations. In that sense, we can say that we have military observers in several countries in Africa. We have contingents under Paraguayan colors: a multirole company in Haiti with the Brazilian contingent [BRABAT], and a Paraguayan contingent in Cypress with the Argentinian Army.
Diálogo: Why is it important for the Armed Forces of Paraguay to participate in these kinds of missions?
Maj. Gen. Benegas: It is very important. As we were saying during the event [SOUTHDEC 2016], because it is one of the ways we can integrate and cooperate in restoring peace in the world to the countries that need it. And Paraguay has that obligation, as a member of the United Nations, to participate by sending human resources to those operations.
Diálogo: Another role for the military in the region that has changed over time is the participation of the armed forces to support each country’s law enforcement in the fight against drug trafficking. Does it also happen in Paraguay?
Maj. Gen. Benegas: In Paraguay, the agency in charge of fighting drug trafficking is SENAD, the National Drug Secretariat, which was created by law to be in charge of combating this scourge. The agency is made up of educated and trained special agents and of servicemen from the three services, the Air Force, the Navy, and the Army. These individuals have specific training, and they cooperate with this agency in the fight against drugs.
Diálogo: Are these Special Forces units?
Maj. Gen. Benegas: They are agents that have been trained for this purpose; furthermore, when SENAD needs or requires more staff and resources, the Armed Forces are always ready to assist.
Diálogo: Drug trafficking is a constant concern in Honduras, El Salvador, and Colombia. Are the Paraguayan Armed Forces concerned with this matter, or is it not something you face very often?
Maj. Gen. Benegas: Drug trafficking has been identified as a transnational threat for a while already. And it has been a concern, because drug trafficking has no borders, nor can Paraguay stay idle, waiting for someone’s invitation to take action. It is an obligation, a mission, to share any source that is impacting the nation.