With the advice and assistance of Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH) Civil Affairs planners, Paraguayan Military Civil Affairs soldiers teamed up with Paraguayan National Police units to provide medical attention and education to rural Paraguayans June 2-3. The two security services provided medical care to over 2,400 rural residents at the ’12 de Abril’ school, Arroyito, District of Horqueta, Department of Concepcion.
The area is only accessible by dirt and mud roads, providing no access to ambulances and little patrolling for National Police. The local residents had little to no past positive exposure to municipal or national security forces operating in their district. The Medical Civic Action Program (MEDCAP) provided the opportunity for the military and police to serve a vulnerable population, develop rapport between the two partner nation services, and build community relations.
“Projects like these are important in Paraguay because of the vast under governed parts of the country which are taken advantage of by either drug trafficking organizations or violent extremist organizations in the region,” said a Sgt. 1st Class Hansel Delgadillo, a SOCSOUTH Civil Affairs planner. “These programs portray a positive unified front on behalf of the local government, the national police and military in an area where residents routinely protested against the local government and had little to no trust in the police because of perceived corruption.”
General Gonzalez, the Paraguayan 4th Army Division commander, oversaw the entire military-police operation in Arroyito. He noted that due to the community outreach, this was the first instance his troops could fully operate in Arroyito.
The military and police brought a group of doctors, surgeons, dentists, nurses and dental technicians to provide medical services to the community members. The Ministry of Public Health deployed a mobile dental clinic unit for the event. Rural residents received treatment for a total of 9,379 different medical cases in the areas of internal medicine, gynecology, pediatrics, ophthalmology, dentistry, and outpatient surgery. In addition, laboratory and pharmacy services were provided.
“The medical staff was very attentive and we are very thankful for their services,” said a woman who attended the event. “This is the first time we have received this type of treatment. The hospitality has been great, along with the treatment and excellent service.”
SOCSOUTH Civil Affairs planners received a $70,000 operating budget from the U.S. Southern Command Humanitarian Assistance Program (HAP). The funds were used to pay for medical equipment and prescriptions donated to the Paraguayan government for the MEDCAP, as well as school supplies that were donated to the ’12 de Abril’ school and medical supplies donated to the local Arroyito clinic.
Arturo Rene Urbieto Cuevas, the Mayor of Horqueta, was ecstatic to have the military and police collaborate to provide needed medical screening and treatments to the residents of his district. To aid with the operation, he donated 100kg of meat for the meals that were served to the attendees.
“I’m thankful for the training the U.S. has provided us and I’m going to teach the police the same type of training so that they can build up their capability,” said Col. Monges, leader of the Paraguayan Military Civil Affairs directorate.
In the past, the police and military have not always presented a unified front. In the recent past, however, the military civil affairs and National Police have collaborated on civil registrations throughout Paraguay. This MEDCAP, named Plan Nepohano 17, was the first full partnership between the military and police for community medical outreach. Together, they provided medical screening and treatment, security for the event, transportation for rural residents, and provided a lunch meal both days of the operation.
“I’m very thankful and like the joint effort of everyone working together so we could answer the call for all the necessities that are out here,” said a general surgeon with the National Police’s FOPE (Fuerzas de Operaciones de Policias Especiales). “It feels good. It’s a good opportunity to work with another force.”
In addition to the medical care rendered, representatives from the Ministry of Justice and Work were present to register rural residents into the national database, update and issue identification cards, and register firearms. For many residents, this was the first instance of receiving a Paraguayan ID card.
In addition to sending the military and police medical staff to Arroyito, MEDCAP staff provided a shuttle, transporting residents from the outlying rural townships to receive the free medical services. Most residents of the Horqueta area live well below the poverty line. They are subsistence farmers, selling just enough vegetables or livestock to pay for gasoline for their motorcycles. Many families do not own cars and are not able to make regular trips to metropolitan areas for medical attention.
“Without them coming here, we would have to travel to Concepcion or Horqueta and we don’t really have the means to do that,” said a local elderly woman. “Sometimes when we go there, they do not give us medication, so this is big for us and we are very happy about it.”
“The objective is for the people to gain trust and for there to be a dialogue, for them to get closer in the relationship between the people and the police department,” said the Chief of the National Police’s Rural Operations Unit (Comandos de Operaciones Rurales). “It’s clear that when we talked to the communities, it’s about gaining their trust and letting them know that the government and police are here to support them.”
Commissioner Lara, the Chief of the National Police’s COR unit said, “The working relationship between the military and the National Police is coming along really well, they have invited me to come along and be a part of future MEDCAPs.”
“Working with our partner nation Civil Affairs counterparts was an incredible experience,” said Delgadillo. “Their long hours of work before, during and after an operation to ensure all aspects of the mission is covered and executed to standard makes our job in Paraguay that much easier.”
SOCSOUTH Civil Affairs planners are already coordinating the concept of operations for three more MEDCAPs to be conducted in collaboration with the Paraguayan military and National Police in the near future.