The 12th edition of the Colombia-Peru Binational Development Assistance Campaign kicked off May 19, 2018. Vessels set sail from the Peruvian Navy’s Southern Naval Force in Puerto Leguizamo, Putumayo province. The Colombian-and-Peruvian-led 60-day naval campaign provides medical and legal services to thousands of people in 60 communities in both countries.
Through this ambitious expedition, both countries seek to reaffirm national sovereignty and strengthen ties of friendship. The campaign, along its 2,000 kilometer route, will provide medical care in different specialties, recreational activities, help in formalizing government documents, and more than 120 tons of humanitarian aid.
“The campaign is a military victory, as demonstrated by the amount of institutional aid we bring to areas which were difficult to access during times of social conflict,” Colombian Navy Rear Admiral Ricardo Hurtado Chacón, commander of the Southern Naval Force, told Diálogo. “We have run this campaign for the last 12 years, but only now we can count on the collaboration of government agencies whose services locals need, along with support from the private sector, which now feels safe when travelling with us.”
The combined aid team consists of more than 80 members from the ministries of Defense and Health of both countries, legal and social aid civil organizations, as well as representatives from the U.S. Embassy in Colombia. “These are indigenous groups that lack identity documents, which are necessary to access services; they have no passport and are not recorded in the civil registry,” Colombian Navy Lieutenant Commander Julio Cristancho Rivera, head of the Southern Naval Force’s Department of Integral Action, told Diálogo. “Although these people spend their lives along a living border, they also need to have their documents in order to live like all the other citizens.”
A living border is a term for the existing relationship between one country and another along a formal border defined by the interaction between border communities rather than by a specific geographical boundary. On a living border, residents share geography, history, economy, social relationships, and family, among other things.
“The Colombian Immigration Service plays an important role during the campaign. Its mission is to inform communities about immigration procedures, the importance of having documents in order, and what these guarantee a citizen,” Lt. Cmdr. Cristancho said. “[Citizens] are used to crossing from one side of the border to the other without problems. But with the arrival of government services, their status and procedures need to be formalized.”
Partnership in service of the community
Peru and Colombia have carried out binational development assistance campaigns since 2007. During this time, the navies of both countries developed a special synergy for flexible and well-planned work.
Each navy has a mission, a budget allocated for its citizens, and some independent exercises that end in El Estrecho, a Peruvian town located across from the Colombian town of Marandúa. From there, vessels begin to travel together. “From that point on, our doctors join theirs to care for residents of a Peruvian town one day and people in a Colombian town the next,” Lt. Cmdr. Cristancho said.
The joining of forces, the growth and development of border communities, the improvement of quality of life, and the mission to provide government services to all form the backbone of the Peruvian and Colombian navies. “Our work is exemplary in terms of coordination and partnership. Seamen the world over speak the same language, we understand each other perfectly. It is very gratifying to work with the Peruvian Navy. We are similar, we are brothers, and we are Latin Americans,” Rear Adm. Hurtado said.
Transformation of the conflict
The Colombian Navy service members provide fun and entertainment, which residents anticipate and enjoy. At night they show films, thanks to a partnership with a private company and to military logistics, which allow the experience to be brought to areas without movie theaters.
Three ships and two barges from the navies of both countries take part in the voyage. “People in the communities have high expectations,” Lt. Cmdr. Cristancho said. “We only have one day at each town, we can’t stay longer. It’s a long route, and the idea is to serve the greatest number of people possible.”
The binational cooperation exercise will end on July 19th. By then, 25,000 Colombian and Peruvian children, adolescents, and adults will have received care and interacted with government services, most of which were previously unknown to them.
“Operations have matured to the point that we can think about making more permanent arrangements. But until permanent government frameworks are built, our boats provide the solution,” Rear Adm. Hurtado concluded. “The threat to public order from the presence of guerrilla groups diminished. Security is no longer the main concern. Now the issue is how to live together as citizens. People’s concerns change as their notion of security changes.”