Exclusive Interview with Gen. Ernesto González, Ecuador

Por Dialogo
agosto 17, 2010

Ecuador is part of the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire and is affected by
natural phenomena, especially earthquakes and volcanos. As a result, the country has
much to share with others in the region in terms of humanitarian aid in response to
natural disasters.

Diálogo spoke with Gen. Ernesto González, Head of the Joint Command of the
Ecuadorean Armed Forces, during the 2d Annual South American Defense Chiefs
(SOUTHDEC) Conference, held in Lima, Peru, on 3 and 4 August, about this and other

Diálogo: What is the role of the Ecuadorean armed forces with
regard to humanitarian aid?

Gen. Ernesto González: The Ecuadorean armed forces are without
doubt the principal support organization of the national government, through the
Civil Defense Agency, which in our country today is called the Risk-Management
Secretariat. So, we’re the principal support organization.

Diálogo: And in relation to other countries in the region? How
does this synergy come into being? What is the exchange of humanitarian aid

Gen. Ernesto González: With Peru, we’d like to deepen our
relationship a bit more. We met with General Contreras (Gen. Francisco Contreras
Rivas, Head of the Joint Command of the Peruvian Armed Forces) in order to carry out
some joint maneuvers already next month (September), taking advantage of the fact
that there are going to be some search-and-rescue exercises. After that, we’re going
to do humanitarian-aid activities, for example. That is, our security relationship,
by the disposition of our presidents, is now going to be a relationship of
integration. Remember that UNASUR, the Union of Southern Nations, was formed in
South America.

Diálogo: Of course.

Gen. Ernesto González: So, one of the objectives of UNASUR is to
have this humanitarian assistance among all countries in the event of disaster, and
we’ve done things that way; we’re doing it in Haiti, for example. There, in addition
to being part of MINUSTAH, we’ve sent a company of engineers, but at the request of
the Haitian government, to provide support in the rebuilding. That is, giving that
authority a means with which it can help the country move forward. And other
countries are doing the same thing. For example, I was speaking with the general
from Paraguay (Brig. Gen. Carlos Alberto Bordón, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
of the Paraguayan Armed Forces), who is also already preparing a company of
engineers that will be in Haiti in two weeks. Our relationships with other countries
have been more in the area of humanitarian aid, like for example, the humanitarian
aid we gave Haiti, the humanitarian aid we gave Chile. But for example, one of the
marvelous lessons we learned today is that when two countries train together, adjust
to one another starting during peacetime, starting at a time when there is no
crisis, then the aid flows and happens more quickly, in a more timely way. As
General Le Dantec (Gen. Cristián Le Dantec, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of
the Chilean Armed Forces) was telling us, with Brazil and with Argentina, since they
already do joint exercises, the aid was quick.

Diálogo: So, you agree with Gen. Fraser, who said during the
conference that there need to be more joint exercises between countries in order to
prepare them?

Gen. Ernesto González: There need to be more. I agree with this
and also with the other proposal to have military units, not exclusively dedicated
to the task of responding to natural disasters, to catastrophes, but that have a bit
more training, a bit more equipment, that is, that have the duality to perform their
security missions, but also build up greater capabilities for responding to
disasters. I’m in favor of this idea. We’ve already been working on it in Ecuador,
and this unit would be the one to participate in training if the Southern Command,
or another country, were to invite us to this kind of training, which to me seems a
very, very important idea.

Diálogo: In relation to what General Contreras said that here in
Peru they haven’t yet determined whether it’s better to have one large support
center for humanitarian missions or small centers in each city, what is your opinion
in this regard?

Gen. Ernesto González: I think that it depends on each country’s
geography, isn’t that so? Let’s talk about Chile: four thousand kilometers long.
Perhaps they are thinking about having a large center, but also subcenters, no? On
the other hand, Ecuador is small. Ecuador is concentric. So, if I have a relatively
safe area that is not very affected by volcanic eruptions, perhaps I could have a
single location, or maybe two. It depends on the geographical situation, on the
resources that are available. But the lesson is also that you can’t have all the
resources at a single site; you run a risk, because that site might be affected. So,
maybe you choose a site that supposedly would not be so affected. But maybe I
wouldn’t dare to put it in a single location. Since Ecuador has very clearly defined
natural regions, I would put one center on the coast, one in the mountains, and one
in the eastern part of the country. Maybe I’d do it that way. We’re exchanging
information about this with Chile, which has had a good experience.

Diálogo: So, you believe that it would not be necessary to have
a military unit specifically for humanitarian aid?

Gen. Ernesto González: No, no. This unit has to have duality,
has to have its military capabilities and has to have its capabilities for
responding to natural disasters. A little more that the rest, since we also presume
that the rest of us, if we’re prepared for war, we’re prepared for anything. But I’m
referring to training, equipment … It should have something more.

Diálogo: The commander of the Peruvian battalion (Lt. Col. Darcy
Gomes Fernandez) in Haiti told us during our visit to that country that due to their
experience in combatting terrorist groups like Shining Path, they used those
experiences during their work on the border with the Dominican Republic. Do you
believe that this is an option, that is, training troops for one kind of exercise
and from there, learning to use that in other things, such as humanitarian

Gen. Ernesto González: Of course, because for humanitarian-aid
operations you need special tactics and techniques that perhaps you need in the
jungle, in the high mountains. That is, this knowledge that the troops have is
extremely useful, and if we add to it a little more training that’s more specific
and with resources that are also more specific, even better.

Diálogo: In relation to the general security situation of the
country, there’s a tendency on the part of some countries in the region to give more
powers to the armed forces, that is, more police powers, as happened in Brazil a few
years ago, or as just happened in El Salvador, which empowered the army to fight the
Mara Salvatrucha, Mara 18, and other groups. Is there a similar project in Ecuador?
Or since the problem of narco-terrorism is not as serious yet in Ecuador, has this
point not yet been reached?

Gen. Ernesto González: These are currents that exist in the
region and that are very real, and we in the armed forces have to restructure
ourselves, organize ourselves to adequately confront these new threats. In the new
Constitution of the Republic of Ecuador, which is a very new constitution, in
Article 158, there is a constitutional mandate that says, “The armed forces and the
National Police are institutions for the protection of rights, liberties, guarantees
… etc.” That is, we have a very wide area of competence. So, you know that in
the defense area we definitely have to turn our attention to the security areas.
This is a fact. We’re seeing climate change, we’re seeing disasters happening around
the world. And we’re also seeing that the armed forces are the principal instrument
at the state’s disposal. We’re seeing the terrorism in Colombia, which, well,
fortunately, we’re seeing being combated in a positive way, we’re seeing the issue
of drug trafficking. So, one strategy in Ecuador, for example, is to support the
police so that they can devote themselves more to public safety. But if we’re at the
border, and since we’re at the border, we’re combating all the illicit traffic,
perhaps this is the police’s job. But by freeing the police from this responsibility
at the border, we’re being a great help to the state. And the police are here, but
not with the force that should be here, and they’re in the large population centers,
isn’t that so?, where there are adverse factors of another kind to which the police
have to respond. That is, as a sine qua non conclusion, any country’s armed forces
have to move into this area of security.