Major Marven Van Huisduinen, deputy commander of the Suriname Air Force (SAF), is focused on growing his air force and partnering with sister air forces in Latin America and the Caribbean to reinforce their capabilities. The Suriname air chief participated at the third Western Hemisphere Exchange Symposium organized by the Inter-American Air Forces Academy (IAAFA), from March 12-16, 2018, in San Antonio, Texas.
At the symposium, Maj. Van Huisduinen met his counterparts and other high-ranking military officers from the region to share lessons learned on humanitarian aid and disaster response, maintenance of aircraft, command and control of airspace, and operations against narcotrafficking. During an interview with Diálogo, he discussed his concerns about drug trafficking and illegal activities within Suriname’s borders as well as regional collaboration to confront common threats.
Diálogo: Why is it important for the Suriname Air Force to participate at the Western Hemisphere Exchange Symposium?
Major Marven Van Huisduinen, deputy commander of the Suriname Air Force: It’s important because I am looking for possibilities of training and operations with partner nations. We don’t have the assets right now, but we have the personnel. If I can’t provide them with assets to work or train on, at least I can look for possibilities in terms of capacity-building, gaining knowledge and experience.
Diálogo: What is your assessment of regional air forces’ participation at the event?
Maj. Van Huisduinen: Everyone is doing their part. I want to be in that position in the future, doing my part as a partner of the region. If you need help, you ask for it, we supply it. It’s the second time I sat in on a symposium where I’ve learned that most of the South American countries work together if there is a need—a humanitarian need or whatever need. They work together, and I want to be a part of that. I want Suriname to have a part in that.
Diálogo: Has SAF had students participate in IAAFA?
Maj. Van Huisduinen: We haven’t had a participant yet, but I’m working on it. One of the main obstacles we have is we are Dutch-speaking people. There are certain numbers of people back home knowledgeable in the English language, but not that much in Spanish.
Diálogo: One of the main topics discussed was humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. How does SAF prepare to respond to these?
Maj. Van Huisduinen: We don’t have natural disasters like the rest of the countries in the region. The only natural disaster we have is during the rainy season.
Diálogo: What is your conclusion of the topics discussed at the symposium?
Maj. Van Huisduinen: The symposium was definitely a wealth of knowledge with the briefings and the places we visited. There are enough possibilities for what I plan to do with my personnel. I need to work on the possibilities and the benefits of having closer ties or partnering with IAAFA.
Diálogo: Is drug trafficking a security concern in Suriname?
Maj. Van Huisduinen: Drug trafficking is a main concern, but we also have other illegal activities like gold smuggling, illegal logging, and fishing. My main focus is how to command, control, and defend our air space to counter drug trafficking. There are a lot of drugs going through Suriname to Europe, the Caribbean, and the rest of the world. Unfortunately, we don’t have the assets to cover the whole air space or the borders, everything is open and everyone can do what they want.
Diálogo: Is terrorism a threat to your country?
Maj. Van Huisduinen: Not really. There was an incident where two people were arrested for terrorist activity, but there’s not enough proof they were planning anything.
Diálogo: How does SAF help counter security concerns?
Maj. Van Huisduinen: The only contribution we can provide now is to support the Army with helicopters–as we have just three. We support the police with personnel for the security of the inner city.
Diálogo: Does the Suriname National Army cooperate with other forces in the region to counter common threats?
Maj. Van Huisduinen: There were talks with the Brazilians to join the Surveillance System of the Amazon, which is a system that controls the Amazon region. With the United States we’ve had coast guard exchanges and training. We’ve had people trained in Brazil and there is an ongoing military cooperation with them on a small scale.
Diálogo: How is SAF integrating women?
Maj. Van Huisduinen: We have one non-commissioned officer. We don’t have many women in the military. In other branches there are a few, but not a lot have interest in the Air Force yet. Our Air Force was created in 1982 and is composed of about 120 people. It’s a small air force.
Diálogo: What is your message to the region?
Maj. Van Huisduinen: Looking at the world right now, the European Union, the Asian pact, and all the countries are getting together for different reasons, and they’re forming pacts. The integration of the Americas is important as together we’re stronger.