United Against Natural Disasters
By Geraldine Cook/Diálogo December 12, 2017
Aviation Major General Eladio Casimiro González Aguilar made a commitment when he took over as commander of the Paraguayan Air Force (FAP, per its Spanish acronym) in November 2016: to lead the FAP with ethical and moral standards. A year after, Maj. Gen. González reaffirmed his professional and institutional responsibilities.
Optimistic about the advances within FAP, Maj. Gen. González stressed his institution’s role in promoting regional integration as a tool to support natural disaster relief efforts. During his participation in the South American Air Chiefs Conference, October 31st–November 3rd, 2017, at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona, Maj. Gen. González spoke with Diálogo about FAP’s challenges, international cooperation, and threats to national security.
Diálogo: Why is FAP’s participation in this conference important?
Major General Eladio Casimiro González Aguilar, FAP commander: Because it allows for interaction with countries in the region and achieving greater interconnection among the continent’s air forces. It also gives us a chance to understand a little more about the assets of each air force to tackle humanitarian aid operations.
Diálogo: What is your assessment of the participation of South American air forces at this conference?
Maj. Gen. González: The conference allows us to gain knowledge about the air forces. There are issues we all deal with in general, but, through this event, with the presentations of different air forces, including the United States Air Force, we reach a much broader scale. It was quite interesting everything we learned and evaluated with each commander’s presentation on the particular situation of their country, the natural disasters that occurred in their territory, and the help they provided. The natural disaster issue doesn’t only affect our continent—it’s a global issue.
Diálogo: What is FAP’s experience with aid in response to natural disasters?
Maj. Gen. González: In comparison with other countries that experience natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, and tornadoes, I can say that our country is blessed because we don’t have many natural disasters. These tragedies hit us a bit less, but we also can’t escape climate change and what’s happening around the world. As we’re less exposed to severe conditions from natural disasters, our Armed Forces, and especially the Air Force, participates very little in this context. However, we’re always training for it.
Diálogo: Paraguay is a member of the System of Cooperation Among the American Air Forces (SICOFAA, per its Spanish acronym). What is your country’s participation in this organization?
Maj. Gen. González: SICOFAA is a very important system that facilitates closer ties among air forces and conducting air operations—whether through training opportunities or real operations. It’s a system of mutual aid among all countries and air forces of Latin America. One of the topics discussed during the conference is the need to optimize SICOFAA and be more in touch with different state and international bodies, like ministries of foreign affairs, diplomatic offices, etc. SICOFAA is a very useful tool.
Diálogo: How does FAP work with the rest of the air forces in the region?
Maj. Gen. González: We always work very closely with neighboring countries. Geographically, we are at the center of South America, which is why we are called “the heart of the Americas.” Overall, our country has a very good relationship with neighboring countries, even more so when it comes to air forces and the fact that we belong to SICOFAA. We always conduct exercises, and, if a real humanitarian emergency presents itself, we can use all the resources available to support a country in need. We also try to coordinate certain events and activities with other countries, especially at the regional level with Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Brazil.
Diálogo: What is your main challenge?
Maj. Gen. González: First and foremost to provide our personnel with the resources they need. And for that, we work on several projects, such as the acquisition of aircraft, radars, and all kinds of equipment. The second challenge is preparation, training, and specialization of all personnel, to keep our human resources up to date on anything related to technology. To that end, we work with other countries in the region, especially the United States, sending personnel to get training and skills in areas useful to FAP.
Diálogo: What is the importance of FAP’s relationship with the U.S. Air Force?
Maj. Gen. González: We are going through a great moment in our bilateral relations, directly with the U.S. Embassy’s Office of Security Cooperation in Paraguay, headquartered in Asunción. We work very well. We carry out personnel exchanges, primarily with education of military peers and military attachés in our country. FAP has a liaison officer who serves the Office of Security Cooperation, a situation that really facilitates coordination. For example, in these types of conferences, before meeting with Embassy personnel, invitations are handed out and our participation in an event or seminar is looked into. This not only happens with our officers; we also invest a lot in the education of our non-commissioned officers.
Diálogo: Narcotrafficking is one of the threats to security in Paraguay. How does FAP help fight this threat?
Maj. Gen. González: This is quite a complicated scenario because transnational organized crime not only transports drugs but also engages in smuggling arms and other contraband, money laundering, human and organ trafficking. We have land borders, especially with Brazil, that allow criminal gangs or narcotraffickers to pass through or establish themselves in certain areas of the country. We support other state institutions on a daily basis because, due to legal provisions, we cannot combat narcotrafficking directly. For example, we support the National Anti-Drug Secretariat and the National Police, the institutions responsible for combating drug traffickers.
Diálogo: What is your message to air forces of Latin America?
Maj. Gen. González: On behalf of FAP and all the men and women under my command, I want to tell them as a partner nation, as a partner air force, we are at their disposal in any way useful within our limitations. I know that the sentiment is mutual. Our message is one of friendship, professionalism, and unity to work better as a team for our region, for our continent, and have a short-, medium-, and long-term future beneficial to all.