SOCSOUTH Teams Support Fishermen Program and MEDCAP in Dominican Republic

By Dialogo
June 18, 2013

Pristine blue waters, sandy beaches and palm trees were the backdrop for a Dominican-led two-day Civil-Military Operation event in the province of Pedernales, Dominican Republic, on June 6 and 7. These events kicked off a campaign called Costas Seguras (Safe Coasts) in Isla Beata and Cabo Rojo, which included a Medical Civic Action Program (MEDCAP) and boat registration for local fishermen and their families. Dominican officials have acknowledged these areas to be susceptible to drug trafficking organizations, which make the fisherman vulnerable to illicit activities.

Members of the Civil Affairs Team, 478th CA Battalion and Military Information Support Team, 1st Military Information Support Operations Battalion, who was in support of Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH), assisted the Dominican Republic Navy in the planning and concept development process, and were there to advise and assist. The two-day event provided much needed medical and social services to the fishermen and their families.

As the special operations component for U.S. Southern Command, SOCSOUTH, based in Homestead, Florida, is responsible for all special operations in the Caribbean, Central and South America. Through the command’s Theater Security Cooperation Program, special operations Soldiers work closely with their partner nation counterparts for better protection of their borders and to increase their capacity to conduct civic action programs such as the MEDCAPs.

Isla Beata is a tiny island off the southwest coast of the Dominican Republic where a small community of fishermen often work for weeks at a time while living on the mainland. The Dominican Navy, which has a small base there, became aware of the fishermen’s concerns, ranging from health to environmental issues, thus leading the Dominican Navy to want to form a mutually beneficial relationship with them.

“We want the fishermen to know that they are important and that they will get assistance from us,” said Dominican Navy Cmdr. Feliciano Perez Carvajal, director of Plans and Operations. “We want them to know that they can rely on the Navy and we want them to have confidence in us.”

For his part, U.S. Army Capt. Greg Metellus, CA Team leader, 478th CA Battalion, said, “The ultimate goal is for the fishermen to see the Dominican Navy as their ally and for them to feel comfortable reporting suspicious activities to Navy personnel. The Navy can’t be everywhere all the time, and they are eager to collaborate with the fishermen who know the area.”

Another MEDCAP and boat registration took place on the second day in the city of Cabo Rojo, Pedernales Province, on the southwestern coast of the Dominican Republic. At both locations, MEDCAPs were conducted by the Dominican Navy and non-governmental organizations which facilitated discussion groups on maritime security/safety and services such as medical consultations, dental hygiene and pharmaceuticals for the fishermen and their families.

Attendees were able to register their boats at no cost and get their boats painted orange to make them easier to spot if in distress, as well as be recognized as registered vessels.

At the end of each day, attendees received a bag of non-perishable food supplies, while the fishermen received their certificates of registration along with a first aid kit for their boats.

“This was a good idea,” said Bienvenido Urbaez, the mayor of “La Cueva de Cabo Rojo” and a fisherman of 44 years. “We need to be represented, and this project helps the community.”

In total, 233 residents attended and 88 boats were registered. The Dominican Navy will continue to check on the fishermen on Isla Beata and Cabo Rojo to ensure they have the registration and safety kits on their boats. The Dominican Navy also plans on conducting more boat registrations in the future in order to help more fishermen and to maintain a strong bond between the community and the Dominican Navy.