El Salvador Improves Quality of Life for Its People

Salvadoran and U.S. service members provided humanitarian aid to indigenous communities.
Julieta Pelcastre/Diálogo | 15 June 2017

Capacity Building

The Salvadoran Army, with guidance from Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH) Civil Affairs, held a combined medical brigade in Ahuachapán. (Photo: Salvadoran Armed Forces)

The Salvadoran Army, with guidance and support from Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH) Civil Affairs, is providing basic infrastructure and health services to communities in the central and western regions of the country. As a result of this combined civilian-military cooperation, residents of Guacotecti municipality in the region of Cabañas will benefit from the construction of a bridge so they will no longer be cut off during the cold season. The public works project began in 2016 and will be completed by about June 15th.

“This structure, which will facilitate pedestrian transit, is one of the most relevant public works projects that have been done in the region of Cabañas. The coordination project with the SOCSOUTH team will benefit the community, which used to end up being isolated in winter time,” Colonel Juan Antonio Guardado Cruz, head of Civil Affairs of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Salvadoran Army, told Diálogo.

This important infrastructure project was developed with guidance from SOCSOUTH’s military engineers and a unit of Salvadoran soldiers responsible for the command, control, and organization of the logistics to make the initiative a reality. The bridge was built using resources managed by city hall and labor from the community.

Physicians and medicine

As part of the ongoing cooperation in social outreach between El Salvador and the United States, SOCSOUTH, and the Military Detachment No. 7 of the Salvadoran Army also planned, organized, and carried out a medical campaign on April 22nd at the military base of Los Magueyes, and the surrounding areas in the region of Ahuachapán. This coffee-growing region was affected by the international coffee market crash in 2001.

“Its population, which is largely indigenous, was not only hit hard by the fall in the coffee sector but also has additional needs such as the lack of access to health services. Los Magueyes is one of the priority regions for the group of people who live there,” Andrés Monroy, municipal secretary at the Mayor’s Office of Ahuachapán, told Diálogo.

Approximately 3,000 people visited a temporary clinic set up at Cantón Los Magueyes Education Center. There they received medical care ranging from general medicine to the specialties of dentistry, ophthalmology, gynecology, pediatrics, and cytology, with prescription medicines delivered free of charge.

The humanitarian mission team was made up of 13 doctors and technical specialists from SOCSOUTH and 53 members of the Salvadoran Army. The group comprised medical and nursing staff from the Military Health Command and 109 people from various institutions involving healthcare, education, and civil organizations, as well as the National Police, USAID, and city hall.

Health professionals provided health care across various medical specialties during the civilian-military operation in Ahuachapán. (Photo: Salvadoran Armed Forces).

In order to provide comprehensive health services, the military detachment used vehicles to transport fuel and materials to install electrical connections and to adapt the location. SOCSOUTH members and the civilian entities brought their own equipment to perform their medical duties. A day before the joint medical campaign, the Salvadoran Armed Forces performed another prevention campaign in the department of Ahuachapán against the viral diseases of dengue, chikungunya fever, and the Zika virus, in coordination with units from the Ministry of Health.

“Other support was given to build rapport with the local children so that they see the Armed Forces as their friends,” Col. Guardado said. The joint healthcare assistance effort included other activities for those attending the civilian-military event, such as piñatas, comedians, concerts, and haircuts. “Civilian-military medical brigades are truly exercises that benefit society,” Monroy added.

The sum of the coordinated efforts

The governments of El Salvador and the United States have conducted joint operations in support of vulnerable populations for decades. “These aid efforts have been stepped up gradually since 2012, resulting in one joint military activity per month. We work hand-in-hand to aid the most vulnerable populations in order to improve their quality of life,” Col. Guardado stated.

Each civilian-military operation is part of the annual planning for El Salvador’s Armed Forces. At the beginning of each year, U.S. and Salvadoran military units hold a series of meetings in coordination with local authorities to determine the location where this kind of support is required. Each interagency effort takes an average of three months for the social outreach to materialize, as it requires coordination by several institutions.

From July 2014 to May 2015, there were 27 joint civilian-military operations with participation from 1,000 members of the Salvadoran Armed Forces and 49 health professionals from various national agencies, such as the ministries of Health and Education. These public outreach activities have assisted more than 28,000 people in different parts of the country, according to the 2016 Action Report issued by the Ministry of Defense.

In addition to these joint exercises, U.S. authorities have assisted El Salvador with Medical Readiness Training Exercises to provide free health care to hundreds of people in several communities. This SOCSOUTH-coordinated health care effort improves U.S. troop training abroad.

“As institutions, we must join forces in a coordinated way to minimize the needs of the poorest populations. Moving forward, we are going to carry out projects in cooperation with the United States government, from street infrastructure to violence prevention and youth development,” Monroy reported.

Other examples of U.S. military support to their Salvadoran peers are joint instruction and training, exercises, seminars, and operations against drug trafficking. “All of these actions have a positive impact on the population by creating profound life changes. Hopefully, these projects will continue for a long time, because there are many people in El Salvador who need assistance,” Col. Guardado concluded.

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