Brazilian Marine Corps Major Fernando de Paula Lima and Brazilian Marine Corps Major Bruno Tiago Silva dos Santos have been in Colombia since January, providing instruction on humanitarian demining to Colombian service members. The goal is to contribute to the training of Colombian Navy personnel to qualify them to remove mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) used during the nation’s internal conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, per their Spanish acronym).
The Brazilian service members were trained at the Marine Engineering Battalion, the Brazilian Navy unit in charge of instruction and training for mock- and real-world demining missions, where the Neutralization and Deactivation of Explosive Artifacts, Bomb Disposal, and Humanitarian Demining courses are taught.
According to Colonel Dalton Araújo de Barros, the commander of the Brazilian Navy’s Marine Engineering Battalion, this bilateral agreement arose out of the Colombian Navy’s need to increase the number of service members trained in humanitarian demining. “This need was requested in 2014 and fulfilled in 2015, when the Brazilian Navy (MB, per its Portuguese acronym) sent two officers to the International Amphibious Training Center in Coveñas, Sucre, for a two-year period,” Col. Dalton said, adding that the team was replaced in early 2017 by the two officers who are now leading the mission.
The Colombian Military Forces face the challenge of increasing its humanitarian demining effectiveness to meet the 2021 deadline set by the Treaty of Ottawa, signed in 1997, for completing the clearing of minefields scattered throughout the country. Col. Dalton said that the Brazilian Marine Corps is making a crucial contribution to ensuring the deadline is met, as well as to reduce the suffering of the Colombian people. “These lethal weapons make economic and social development difficult and deprive the civilian population of the right to move freely,” he noted.
Course on humanitarian demining
Brazilian service members coordinate courses on basic demining for technicians, humanitarian demining leaders and supervisors. According to Maj. Fernando Lima, each course is taught twice a year. “Maj. Bruno Tiago and I teach the theoretical and practical instruction, and assist in the development and improvement of Colombian Navy doctrine through the drafting and revision of operational documents,” he said.
Initially, students receive the theoretical base in the classroom, and that knowledge is later put into practice in exercises on Humanitarian Demining Fields. The location simulates a minefield with the same conditions and types of artifacts found in the actual field. Maj. Fernando Lima explained that the practice is equivalent to approximately 70 percent of the total course time. “The students are accompanied and evaluated at all times so that by the end of the course, we are certain that they will graduate and that they have met the necessary technical, physical, and psychological conditions for working on humanitarian demining activities,” he assured.
According to the Brazilian instructors, the students are subjected to conditions during the practice sessions that are even harsher than those in a real-world situation. “The goal is to have the students appropriately execute the operating procedures so that they are trained to face any given situation that might come up in their daily work,” Maj. Bruno Tiago explained.
Since the bilateral agreement began in 2015, 329 technicians have been trained in humanitarian demining, 39 of them in 2017 alone, as well as 46 humanitarian demining leaders. In addition to the actual instruction, the mission includes the dissemination of information about land mines and IEDs to Colombian service members through courses and lectures at teaching institutions such as the Naval Officers Candidate School and the Corporals and Sergeants Course. “Roughly 500 service members have received the basic concepts in educational units since January of . These service members may have to face this problem at some point while on active duty,” Maj. Fernando Lima explained.
Mission expands Brazilian service members’ operational capabilities
For the Brazilian marines in Colombia, this mission represents an opportunity for operational and personal gains. “It’s a noble feeling, knowing that you’re contributing in some way to making the world better, safer. A mine that’s removed from the ground represents a person’s life that was saved. Therefore, one less victim. In this sense, our motivation is always running high,” Maj. Bruno Tiago stressed.
Maj. Bruno Tiago recalled the initial challenges during his period of adaptation and adjustment to the nation’s doctrine and peculiarities. In spite of that, he has been quite satisfied with his productivity, he says. “The trend now is that we increase our efficiency. And, when we speak of efficiency in humanitarian demining, we’re emphasizing the fact that demining technicians will be able to work ever more safely and competently,” he said.
Maj. Fernando Lima noted the operational benefits he has gained during the mission. “I’m getting to see new kinds of explosive artifacts used by FARC over the course of the conflict that Colombia, a nation bordering our own, went through. This provides us with a considerable operational benefit, expanding our response capacity for this type of threat,” he stressed.
He also recounted the congeniality of the Colombian Navy. “They’re very grateful for the support we’re giving their nation, and they’re always ready to support us whenever the need arises to improve the course design,” Maj. Fernando Lima said.
Maj. Dalton also noted the mission’s advantages for training Brazilian service members. “The Colombian service members’ sharing of the experiences they’ve acquired from 50 years of war inside their own nation, and with their longstanding experience with improvised explosive devices, is an excellent opportunity. In addition, this contact is very important for strengthening the bonds of friendship between our two nations, which will facilitate future cooperation agreements at all levels and in all areas,” he underscored.
Consequences of mined lands in Colombia
Colombia is one of the nations with the highest levels of mine contamination, according to the United Nations. From 1990 to June 2017, there have been 11,487 victims of explosive artifacts, 4,458 of them civilians and 7,029 military service members. Of that total, 2,208 detonations were fatal, according to information from the Bureau for Integrated Action against Anti-Personnel Mines, also known as Descontamina Colombia, the nation’s official body for addressing the issue of demining.
According to Maj. Dalton, 5,328 explosive artifacts found in minefields have been destroyed and more than two million square meters of Colombian soil have been cleared. There are 1,123 municipalities in Colombia, 688 of which have confirmed records of contamination. “Of that total, only five have been cleared. Another 25 municipalities are now being demined, and 67 are in the process of undergoing research to confirm suspected contamination. This means that there are still 596 municipalities that need some kind of intervention from demining technicians,” he said.