Colonel Henri Van Axeldongen, commander of the Suriname National Army, gave a clear message to Caribbean security and defense leaders: Suriname wants to cooperate and work together with regional partners to defeat criminal networks. Col. Axeldongen participated at the 16th annual Caribbean Nations Security Conference (CANSEC), in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, December 4-6, 2018.
During an interview with Diálogo, Col. Axeldongen discussed the importance of his participation at CANSEC, the security concerns his country faces, and the importance of working together and sharing information to counter illegal activities in the region.
Diálogo: What is the significance of Suriname’s participation at CANSEC 2018?
Colonel Henri Van Axeldongen, commander of the Suriname National Army: Our main goal at CANSEC is to look forward to creating a bilateral agreement with Guyana and to establish a good international relationship with all the partner nation’s armies, so we can exchange ideas and fight criminals as we cooperate with each other to bring security to the nations. CANSEC is a great platform to exchange information, to know how other partner nations are solving their problems, and find out what else we can do to consolidate regional security. CANSEC is a great platform to talk about security and to exchange ideas.
Diálogo: One of CANSEC’s main topics was to enhance the framework to counter regional threats. What does Suriname bring to the regional effort to counter security threats?
Col. Axeldongen: We cooperate by sharing information with each other when something needs to be discussed.
Diálogo: The regional crisis response mechanism was part of CANSEC’s agenda. How does Suriname contribute to the regional crisis-response effort?
Col. Axeldongen: In the event of a land disaster, we support responders from the logistics component. We provide support when a hurricane strikes as there are many needs, such as the need for restoration and for humanitarian aid.
Diálogo: What are the main security challenges Suriname faces?
Col. Axeldongen: We have our challenges, like transnational crime. For example, Suriname has open borders and that is one of our main challenges. It is a big job and not an easy task because we can have foot detachment along the river, but we cannot cover the river border. In terms of gangs and illegal weapons, Suriname’s law enforcement has found some small guns carried by criminals; sometimes we face gang activity and revenge between their members.
Diálogo: What joint and combined cooperation efforts does the Surinamese Army conduct with neighboring countries to neutralize narcotrafficking and reduce organized and common criminal activities?
Col. Axeldongen: We want to cooperate and share information with our neighbors. We have joined cooperation with our neighboring countries, such as Brazil and French Guiana. We have the yearly border patrolling of certain areas and hold a regional military meeting with both nations. We can work with other nations as partners, such as Guyana, as we are looking forward to a bilateral agreement with this country to fight illicit traffic and related things together. We hold a regional meeting with Brazil because we have a large Brazilian population in Suriname, and we also have cooperation between both police forces. We share intelligence in case something happens or in case they are looking for criminals, either from the Brazilian or the Surinamese side. We maintain the same information-sharing mechanisms with French Guiana.
Diálogo: Suriname’s National Army has a strong partnership with the South Dakota Army National Guard under the U.S. National Guard’s State Partnership Program. What kind of exchanges do you conduct?
Col. Axeldongen: We conduct many exchanges with the South Dakota Army National Guard. For example, in November 2018 we had a detachment of musicians visiting Suriname. In the area of leadership, we have had good exchanges as we have sent leaders every year to South Dakota to observe their leadership in planning and training, and they have come to observe us as well. As part of our partnership program with the South Dakota National Guard, they have sent their engineers to Suriname to help us build things better.
Diálogo: What regional exercises does the Suriname National Army participate in?
Col. Axeldongen: We participated in the Tradewinds exercise and we conduct exchanges. We would like to have the opportunity to participate in other regional exercises too, like FAHUM.
Diálogo: What steps has Suriname’s Army taken to integrate women?
Col. Axeldongen: We have integrated women in all military branches. We have women in the Army, Navy, and in the Air Force. We have women within all ranks, and even have women at the top sections. We have women that are lieutenant commanders and colonels. Through the U.S. State Partnership Program, the South Dakota National Guard and Suriname Defence Force have done some exchanges about gender integration and will continue to develop insight and foster ideas to better incorporate women into the military.
Diálogo: What is your message for CANSEC participants who talk about partnering in order to have better security for their citizens?
Col. Axeldongen: We should be cooperating more with each other and discussing more things amongst us. Let’s work together, be strong together, and pull together our resources for the prosperity of our countries and the region.