At least 20,000 people in the Guatemalan department of San Marcos benefited from “Beyond the Horizon,” (BTH) a humanitarian mission carried out jointly between the Mountain Operations Brigade of the Guatemalan Army and U.S. Army South with the Civil-Military Relations division of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM).
According to Lieutenant Colonel Karen Pérez, spokesperson for the Guatemalan Ministry of Defense, the mission began on February 24th and concluded on July 10th.
Lt. Col. Pérez specified that, in total, military personnel constructed three medical clinics: one in Pojopón Village, in the municipality of Esquipulas Palo Gordo; another in the municipality of La Blanca; and the third in the Tocache Village, a jurisdiction of San Pablo.
The humanitarian visit also resulted in the construction of two schools: one in the small village of Nueva Florida, in the municipality of Catarina, and another in San Rafael Pie de la Cuesta.
“The materials and machinery used for the constructions in these communities were donated by the U.S. Armed Forces,” Lt. Col. Pérez said.
“The BTH exercise was implemented to help people in Central American countries through construction projects and to provide medical services in these communities. This year, we are working in the San Marcos region in the west of Guatemala,” said U.S. Army Captain Roger Pearce, Coordination Officer at the Office of Security Cooperation in the U.S, Embassy in Guatemala.
Capt. Pearce announced that in 2017, BTH will conduct its operations in Belize.
“The facilities constructed by SOUTHCOM personnel have considerably improved the healthcare and education services in these remote communities,” said Ismary Cruz, spokeswoman for the municipality of La Blanca.
For example, the health care center in La Blanca, a municipality created by the Guatemalan Congress approximately two years ago, was located on land that did not belong to the local municipality. The Healthcare Center built by U.S. servicemen near the fairgrounds will serve more townspeople in facilities that have more space and more clinics, where it is expected that even childbirth services will be offered.
“The entire community is very thankful for the work of SOUTHCOM. The new clinic will begin to serve the townspeople next August,” Cruz said.
“The population was very friendly to us during the humanitarian exercise. SOUTHCOM personnel are proud of the projects we completed and we are proud of having helped. The population understands that we built facilities that can help improve their lives. These communities did not have enough clinics or schools to serve the people in the communities. All of these buildings are going to improve the infrastructure in the communities, and the services will also facilitate access to these basic services,” concluded Capt. Pearce.
Because the design of the facilities was based on pre-fabricated frames, both the schools and the clinics were erected in a matter of weeks in towns where there previously had never been schools or community healthcare centers.
Official data from the Ministry of Defense estimates that 20,660 people benefitted during the three medical-dental days held in the municipalities of San Pablo, Equipulas Palo Gordo, and La Blanca.
Beyond the Horizon is a U.S. Army South exercise deploying military engineers and medical professionals to Guatemala for training, while providing services to rural communities. The joint exercise is part of SOUTHCOM’s Humanitarian Civic Assistance program, an annual initiative that provides medical, dental, and engineering services in countries of Central and South America and the Caribbean which are in need of socioeconomic development.
According to Lt. Col. Pérez, BTH is the result of an agreement between the governments of Guatemala and the United States, which has allowed for similar activities in previous years in the municipalities of Jalapa and Jutiapa .
In January of this year, the Armed Forces of Guatemala and the United States agreed to work to reinforce the work of the local Ministries of Education and Public Health through an estimated investment of $10 million on the part of SOUTHCOM, while the Guatemalan Ministry of Defense contributed $130,500.
A total of 337 members of the Mountain Operations Brigade of the Guatemalan Army and 400 SOUTHCOM servicemen participated in the humanitarian mission in shifts during the five months that they worked in the department of San Marcos.
In addition, according to Cruz, personnel from the Armies of Chile, Trinidad and Tobago, Colombia, and Canada participated as observers.