Post-quake Relief in Chile
By Dialogo April 01, 2010Without the support of the Armed Forces during the earthquake, the natural disaster would have been nothing in comparison with what would have occurred if not for them. Lootings and total destruction of the city would have been the story.
More than a month after a major earthquake struck Haiti, a magnitude 8.8
quake struck Chile. Then-President Michelle Bachelet urged the people of her country
to remain calm and conserve food, water and electricity as the government worked to
restore order. The Chilean government called on the Armed Forces to provide vital
relief support, with the entire operation placed under the responsibility of Gen.
Cristián Le Dantec, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Chilean armed
forces. In this exclusive interview with Diálogo, conducted a few weeks after the
natural disaster killed hundreds of his countrymen, Gen. Le Dantec talked about the
crucial role played by the Chilean Armed Forces and the extent of relief efforts
DIÁLOGO: What were the specific measures developed by the armed forces
to confront the situation and provide help to the population after the earthquake?
Gen. Cristián Le Dantec: The Chilean armed forces are part of the
National Civil Protection Plan developed by the Interior Ministry, forming part of
the national capacity to confront catastrophic situations. The first actions taken
by the armed forces were to provide support with the capacities available in the
affected regions in order to assess the situation and set up a rapid evaluation for
The armed forces’ land, air, and naval transport capabilities were put at the
disposal of the government, together with the National Emergency Office, in order to
transport to the affected regions what was needed to meet the basic needs of the
people and respond to the emergency situations in the hospitals and among the
Following the decision of the political authorities and in light of the
public-order situation that existed in some cities, the armed forces assumed
military control of the three declared disaster zones in order to provide a secure
and stable environment and guarantee public safety for the affected population.
The state-of-emergency zone headquarters proceeded to take control of three
of the country’s 16 regions, which includes almost 50 percent of the national
population, turning their efforts to the tasks of rescue, re-establishment of basic
services [electricity, water, and communications], and distribution of both domestic
and international humanitarian aid, to ensure that the individuals affected had food
After achieving priority stabilization, the armed forces were assigned the
task of maintaining a constant flow of food distribution for the entire affected
population in the three regions, as well as that of finding shelter for all. After a
month, on March 31 of this year, the armed forces returned to the civil authorities
and to the law- Post-Quake Relief in CHILE Military comes to aid of fellow
citizensenforcement and security forces the functions they were exercising in virtue
of the state-of-emergency decree: public safety, basic services, distribution and
preparation of food boxes for families, re-establishment of public services, and
resumption of the school year.
DIÁLOGO: What were the priorities established by the government and the
armed forces in the first few days after the earthquake, and what are the priorities
for rebuilding the country after the disaster?
Gen. Le Dantec: The first thing, and in virtue of the
state-of-emergency decree, was that the armed forces turned their efforts to rescue
and humanitarian aid, together with an assessment of the situation that would make
it possible to make the appropriate decisions in order to confront the emergency.
After that came re-establishing and guaranteeing public order. This
additionally made it possible to achieve the adequate distribution and needed
coverage of humanitarian aid. Following that, public services were restored. Another
step was the field hospitals deployed in the two most affected regions, which
continue to function in light of the collapse of the base hospitals. At the same
time, basic items like tents, blankets and food were distributed to the population.
In the rebuilding stage, the armed forces will provide support in terms of
transport, technical capability and labor force in the tasks that the authorities
deem necessary: clearing away rubble, rebuilding houses, roads, bridges, hospitals,
DIÁLOGO: How were the Chilean armed forces received by the population?
Gen. Le Dantec: The Chilean armed forces have for some time been rated
very highly in public opinion polls. At the moment, their function, established by
the government, of supporting national reconstruction is highly valued by the
communities and the population in general. Declaring a state of constitutional
exception or a state of emergency was a political decision based on analysis of the
situation and also based on the request of the Chilean people.
The population requested the presence of the armed forces initially out of
concerns over public safety, for which their arrival was very well received
everywhere. Likewise, they succeeded in bringing food, medical assistance and
resources to places that had been left very isolated, even island territories that
were severely affected. Once again, it has been possible to confirm that the armed
forces belong to all Chileans.
DIÁLOGO: How was cooperation established between the Chilean armed
forces and the aid contingents sent by other countries and other armed forces?
Gen. Le Dantec: Cooperation was smoothly established through the Joint
General Staff, and the health, rescue, and other contingents were harmoniously
integrated into the regional military headquarters, which coordinated their
contributions, designating liaison officers and arranging logistical support when
needed and security for their installations.
DIÁLOGO: What lessons were learned from this crisis that might be
useful for other countries that have to confront the damage caused by natural
disasters on their territories?
Gen. Le Dantec: The collapse of the energy system, a result of the
earthquake, altered people’s way of living, since the systems that enable basic
activities were left unable to function; basic activities like commerce, banks,
service stations, telecommunications that drained the batteries of antennas, leaving
cell phones without service, etc. This should be properly studied in order to
appropriately strengthen the system for transmitting electricity, since the
production systems were in good condition.
In addition, the re-establishment of basic services, given the magnitude of
the disaster, was slow and difficult, since the entire transmission system had to be
inspected in an area 700 kilometers long and 150 kilometers wide. Another
significant lesson with regard to planning was the confirmation that the more
decentralized decision-making is made in these cases, the more timely and effective
those decisions are.
DIÁLOGO: How have the Chilean armed forces evolved in recent decades,
and what are the new roles performed by the armed forces in the current context?
Gen. Le Dantec: The roles of the armed forces are established in the
1980 Constitution. The 1985 State of Emergency Act clearly establishes what their
functions are in the event that the government declares a state of emergency in
which the armed forces assume control of public order and the designated military
authority assumes control of all subordinate government activities.
In this case, the situation lasted 30 days, at the end of which civil
authority was re-established and the armed forces returned to their activities of
providing humanitarian and reconstruction aid to the population.
Undoubtedly, the active participation of national contingents in United
Nations peacekeeping operations facilitated the use of the military to maintain
public order, demonstrating that contact with forces from other countries has
contributed to our forces’ evolution, making them more interoperable, polyvalent and
multidisciplinary, able to take on the obligations assigned to them under the