SOCSOUTH, U.S. Embassy support Paraguayan National Forces Civic Action Mission

SOCSOUTH, U.S. Embassy support Paraguayan National Forces Civic Action Mission

By Geraldine Cook
June 10, 2013

Life in the small farming district of Yasy Cany in Canindeyú department, Paraguay is tough, and it shows on the faces of its 30,000 residents.

Life in the small farming district of Yasy Cany in Canindeyú department, Paraguay is tough, and it shows on the faces of its 30,000 residents.

Located in the vast internal countryside 160 miles outside the capital of Asunción and bordering Brazil, the town lacks many basic services and its infrastructure needs to be revamped.

Its towns like these where members of the Paraguayan military and its Civil Affairs elements thrive and love to work in. This is their purpose since it was established eight years ago.

After several months of planning and with support from the Office of Defense Cooperation at the U.S. Embassy in Paraguay and Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH) Civil Affairs, based in Homestead, Florida, a two-day Medical Civic Action Program (MEDCAP), was held June 1 and 2 in the area’s largest school.

More than 3,000 residents received social and medical services to include pediatrics, gynecology general medicine, optometry, ophthalmology, dentistry, immunizations, identification registration and family planning. In addition, laboratory and pharmacy services were also provided.

Paraguayan officials also felt that Canindeyú department was an important area to provide these services due to the poverty of the region and in the wake of the June 12 massacres in nearby Marina Cue following a land dispute between land squatters and police, leaving 11 peasants and 6 police officers dead, and 80 wounded. The event shook many residents’ confidence and trust in the nation’s security forces, a misperception that authorities want to change.

“We plan and execute these missions because we understand the needs of the people in places like this; these services are important to their livelihood,” said Paraguayan Col. Leonardo Ibarrola, the operations officer for Paraguay’s Civil Affairs team. “This is a very poor area, and we understand our role as part of the government is to make sure our presence is felt and help those in the country who don’t have much and need our assistance.”

In order to provide these essential services to residents living in the country’s rural districts, the Paraguayan Military works closely with a number of different government agencies such as the Ministry of Public Health, Ministry of Justice and various other agencies and civic groups to provide the support and personnel for such a complex operation. It truly reflects Paraguayan’s ‘whole-of-government’ approach.

Despite a rainy, cool weekend in the area, word of the event spread quickly throughout town. Some residents walked three and four miles to arrive at the school and others packed themselves in pick-up trucks.

In order to ensure access to the services to as many people as possible, the Paraguayan Military also provided transportation to the MEDCAP by using its fleet of five-ton trucks to run a shuttle service to reach citizens living in rural areas with no or limited road access.

Sitting outside one of several classrooms used as makeshift clinics during the two-day event, 74-year-old resident Anadeto Furrez, a father of eight children, patiently waited for his prescription for free medicine. Anadeto, who also suffers from cataracts was also given a new pair of glasses to help him improve his sight.

“This day is a miracle and a blessing,” said the grandfather of 35 grandchildren. “These are services we truly need, and I am very grateful to our military and the support from the U.S. We hope things start to get better and more jobs come to our town. This is a start!”

Along with support for the MEDCAP, the U.S. Embassy in Paraguay donated $15,000 worth of medicine and medical equipment to the town’s public clinic, as well as an assortment of school supplies such as backpacks, coloring pencils, dry-erase boards among other items for two local schools.

The donation was a symbolic gesture by U.S. officials in Paraguay for continued cooperation between the allies for the people of Paraguay.

“The United States is committed to assist Paraguay and help improve the quality of life for all Paraguayans and build a lasting friendship based of mutual respect and cooperation between our great nations,” said Marine Col. Michael D. Flynn, the Senior Defense Official and Defense Attaché for the U.S. Embassy in Paraguay, during a small ceremony celebrating the event and donation.

Since 2008, the Paraguayan Civil Affairs section, which also teams up with the country’s national police during the planning and execution of these events, have averaged four MEDCAPs a year in ungoverned and under resourced areas across the country. This event marked the 22nd time this type of operation was accomplished.