U.S. Army, South participated in a workshop held in Asunción, Paraguay, between June 21st and 24th as part of an exchange program between Paraguayan and U.S. high-level non-commissioned officers. Diálogo took the opportunity to talk with General Oscar Luis González, commander of the Paraguayan Army, who spoke to participants at the Joint Training Center for Peacekeeping Operations, where he presided over the activities together with U.S. Army Colonel Barbara Fick, liaison officer at the Office of Security Cooperation within the U.S. Embassy in the country.
Diálogo: What is the main challenge of the present commander of the Paraguayan Army?
General Óscar Luis González, Commander of the Paraguayan Army: I think it is very difficult to determine what the main challenge is. I need to say that I am convinced that the institution really consists of its human elements. Starting with that premise, we can point to the qualifications of the personnel—their training, education and well-being. All of these things go hand-in-hand. You cannot have trained personnel if they are not educated. And you can’t have those things if personnel don’t also have the comfortable living conditions that military personnel deserve. In that sense, we must classify the non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and officers by hierarchies. Each hierarchy has its own nature, its own characteristics, and also its own inconveniences. We are putting a great deal of importance on NCOs because we believe that this level undergoes, in a way, some particular difficulties due to that same hierarchy they’re in. They need us to be more attentive to the NCO hierarchy, at least here in Paraguay.
Diálogo: And that’s the reason for this workshop, right?
Gen. González: Of course. A few months ago, I spoke in these same terms with Major General Clarence Chinn of U.S. Army, South, and he took this on almost as a personal challenge. He was very sensitive to my statements. So now we have sergeant majors from the U.S. Army here, which is not something easy to arrange, and I am sure that this very broad meeting will be fruitful.
Diálogo: Is it necessary to have a more profound change of mentality, not only among the sergeant majors, the other sergeants, the corporals, the soldiers, but also among other officers, so that this NCO professionalization project can be successful?
Gen. González: Of course. Yes, we have to change the officers’ mentality, mainly, and among the officers, most specifically that of the commanders. In reality, in the Paraguayan Army, there has always been a good relationship among officers and NCOs. It is also something that defines our nationality, since the Paraguayan nation is quite homogeneous. We really don’t have any differences among us other than economic conditions. Social and cultural conditions are very homogeneous among our population. And this fact is reflected in the Armed Forces. Thus, the Paraguayan officer does not discriminate against the NCO beyond the difference in rank. This is because of the discipline and the verticality that should exist in any army, and which must be maintained. But in this sense, and as a starting point, we have that advantage. From here on, we have to continue working so that the officer really has this concept in mind, which I am always trying to foster in our officers. The first responsibility of the officer is to care for the personnel under his command. That is really the point of reference for the officer. And those under his command are the NCOs and the soldiers, especially the soldiers. From there, the main concern should be their education, training, and well-being. If the officer understands this, I believe that he will fulfill his mission, and I believe that everything will go much better. I am convinced that we still have much to work on.
Diálogo: During your conversations with General Chinn of U.S. Army South, did you talk about other topics, such as the exchange of intelligence and joint exercises?
Gen. González: Yes, we spoke of exchanging intelligence and about training courses in peacekeeping operations in other operations as well. Considering the challenges that moving military people from one country to another entails, we are developing as best as we can. It is not so easy for U.S. personnel to come to Paraguay or for Paraguayans to go to the United States. There is always a budget issue and also problems in managing the trip, but we are alright. We have come quite far in putting into practice the matters that we discussed with General Chinn, and getting the decisive participation of the Office of Security Cooperation, headed by Col. Barbara Fick and her staff, because she always mentions them. Without their participation, this would be very difficult, if not impossible.
Diálogo: What is needed for Paraguay to have an increased exchange of information in military intelligence, more specifically, among the armies of the region and the United States?
Gen González: We are making a big effort. I think we need to let time pass. It is a matter of processes, because we have very good relations with the armies of Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay. We also have good relations with the U.S. Army. We are totally open to exchanges. Moreover, we already exchange information. You can’t imagine the fluid and friendly relations we have with the U.S. Office of Security Cooperation. They can come to me whenever they want. Also, in this sense, the exchange of intelligence is very fluid in my opinion. Of course, there is always more to do...
Diálogo: You mentioned peacekeeping operations, and we are in a peacekeeping school that is regionally recognized as one of the best of its kind. Could you speak a little more about the participation of the Paraguayan Army in peacekeeping missions around the world?
Gen. González: Yes, we have peace keeping contingents and
teams of observers in several countries. The Center for Peacekeeping Operations
here in Paraguay, as you have already mentioned, has well-earned prestige.
Officials come here from other nations for training; they also come to visit,
and they always praise the center’s capabilities in terms of its courses for
contingents, for observers, its logistics courses, and the multiple courses
offered for war correspondents. Not only is the center admired by other
countries, but I, myself, as commander of the Army have great admiration for
CECOPAZ. A father is not obligated to admire his son, but in this case, why
Diálogo: Does the Paraguayan Army work in operations against drug trafficking?
Gen. González: By law, under the Constitution, the Army has no direct participation in the struggle. We are not involved directly in that mission. But we support that type of operations with vehicles. There is even Military support for training for the National Secretariat against Drugs (SENAD for its Spanish acronym). We support the SENAD, but the direct participation of the Armed Forces as a whole is not permitted by law.
Diálogo: And in terms of humanitarian aid, even in other countries, what participation does the Paraguayan Army have in these activities?
Gen. González: We are convinced that the Army has an absolute
responsibility, moreover, the obligation, to help the population, not only in
cases of natural disasters, but in the case of anytrue catastrophe. We help the
civilian population with its needs. When there are floods – we have the
Paraguay River and the Paraná River – we support however we can. We provide
support with our scarce resources, we support with our personnel. Because the
quality of the Paraguayan soldier is very high, generally speaking, and he relates
easily to the population because we are part of the population. And we are
dedicated to this. But it doesn’t matter if there is no disaster. It is enough
to have a needy population that requires medical assistance. We pick up what we
have and we help them with medical or dental assistance. And in this case, I have
to speak exclusively of the military forces, because the Joint Staff carries out
a very large operation called Ñepohano in
the Guarani language, which in English means “to cure, to provide health care.”
The operation is quite large. It is performed periodically in the neediest
communities in the country. Although the Army has few resources, our units throughout
the territory also provide medical assistance. Recently, we supported a case in
the remote community of San Alfredo, practically on the border with Bolivia,
some 800 kilometers (497 miles) from Asunción, on the other side of the Chaco, across
a very poor road. The Fifth Infantry division, which is the major unit located
there, made a huge effort and members provided medical care to the local
population, which is also indigenous. We are convinced that we must help, and we
always do so, even in spite of our resources. All of the military units of the
Army know that we do not have to seek authorization to help people. They
provide assistance first, and then report it.