The Ibero-American Defense College Directors Conference is an interregional forum, which involves countries of Europe and the Americas to bring together educational establishments dedicated to national defense. This year, the event was held at the Brazilian War College in Rio de Janeiro, August 9–September 2. In 2023, the conference will be held in Guatemala. Diálogo spoke with Colonel Edgar Leopoldo Fuentes Gómez, director of the Guatemalan Army Higher Education Command, who was his country’s representative at this year’s event.
Diálogo: What does Guatemala bring to a conference like this?
Colonel Edgar Leopoldo Fuentes Gómez, director of the Guatemalan Army Higher Education Command: What we bring to this conference is our experience, our lessons learned as the Armed Forces of the State of Guatemala, the ability we have to generate synergy with other state institutions to be able to contribute to the health response to a pandemic such as COVID-19.
Diálogo: And how did this response come about?
Col. Fuentes: There really was interstate cooperation. What happened in Guatemala, as in several countries around the world, is that all of the infrastructure capability of the Public Health Ministry fell short to provide a massive response in the face of a supra-massive demand from those infected by COVID. So, our barracks initially became a house center for the sick. Then, after they were transferred to the hospital, we responded as ambulances and later, in the vaccination phase, almost all our headquarters became COVID-19 vaccination centers. That is to say, it must be acknowledged, all public health infrastructures were overcome by the pandemic. So that’s the answer, because we were engaged in everything throughout the length and breadth of the country.
Diálogo: Do you feel that there was an overuse of the Guatemalan Armed Forces in this response?
Col. Fuentes: There was no overuse of the Armed Forces on this occasion nor on previous occasions. What there was, was the use of a military expression in support of other expressions of national power. This was understood by the population for other players, including nongovernmental ones, they understood it very well and there was a very favorable and cohesive response and the perception of credibility of the Guatemalan Army was 70-72 percent, now we are at 88-90 percent and I dare say, and I do not have the hard data at hand, but we are the first institution with the highest credibility in the country. Fortunately.
Diálogo: Is the Guatemalan Army Higher Education Command equivalent to the Brazilian War College, for instance?
Col. Fuentes: Totally equivalent. And we have mutual cooperation with Brazil. We have a superior warfare course. We prepare our officers to develop these types of plans for humanitarian aid contingencies and others by the nature of the armed forces of the countries in sovereignty issues. And we have a course of high strategic studies where we share more than the classroom, we share knowledge with civilian professionals, employees of other state institutions, the private sector, and nongovernmental organizations, in order to strengthen the defense community, because the defense of the country is a shared responsibility, although institutionally and legally, because the Armed Forces, in this case the Guatemalan Army, have to be at the forefront and a constitutional responsibility.
Diálogo: Who can take part?
Col. Fuentes: The Senior Strategic Studies course, any professional with a bachelor’sdegree and up, that is a magister or a doctorate can attend these classes. There are20 to 25 seats for non-military professionals and the class has another 20 spots for military personnel. That is, normally every six months we have a total of 45 students of which 20 are civilians, and in the last 17 years we have graduated more than 800 professionals who have had very important roles as State administrators, from presidents, congressmen, ministers of State. And we are generating a strong synergy for that.
Diálogo: What is the participation of women?
Col. Fuentes: They are participating at 7 percent. We would like to exceed 10 or get to 10 percent soon, and that’s coming. There has to be a response from society itself to take an interest in security and defense issues. And that is precisely our approach, to share the assessment we must make of threats and risks to subsequently strengthen our defense, as we are.