By Army Sgt. 1st Class Alex Licea
U.S. Special Operations Command South
YASY CANY, Paraguay, June 6, 2013 – Life here in this small farming district in the Canindeyú Department is tough, and it shows on the faces of its 30,000 residents.
Located in the vast internal countryside 160 miles outside of Paraguay’s capital of Asuncion, the town lacks many basic services and its infrastructure needs to be revamped.
Unemployment is high and most families live on $100 monthly to feed a family of six and in some cases up to 10 people. Every day is a struggle.
In towns like these, members of the Paraguayan military and its civil affairs elements thrive. After several months of planning and with support from the Office of Defense Cooperation at the U.S. Embassy in Paraguay and U.S. Special Operations Command South Civil Affairs, based in Homestead, Fla., a two-day Medical Civic Action Program, commonly referred to as a MEDCAP, was held June 1-2 in the area’s largest school.
More than 3,000 residents received social and medical services including pediatrics, gynecology general medicine, optometry, ophthalmology, dentistry, immunizations, identification registration and family planning. Laboratory and pharmacy services also were provided.
Paraguayan officials felt the Canindeyú Department, located in the northeastern part of Paraguay and bordering Brazil, was an important area to provide these services due to the poverty and in the wake of the massacres in nearby Marina Cue following a land dispute. That event shook the confidence and trust among many of the residents toward the nation’s security forces, a misperception they want to change.
“We plan and execute these missions because we understand the needs of the people in places like this and these services are important to their livelihood,” said Paraguayan Col. Leonardo Ibarrola, the operations officer for Paraguay’s civil affairs team. “This is a very poor area, and we understand our role as part of the government is to make sure our presence is felt and help those in the country who don’t have much and need our assistance.”
In order to provide these essential services to residents living in Paraguay’s rural districts, the Paraguayan military works closely with a number of different government agencies and civic groups to provide the support and personnel for a complex operation that reflects Paraguay’s whole-of-government approach.
Word of the event spread quickly. Some residents walked miles to arrive at the school and others packed themselves in pick-up trucks.
The Paraguayan military also provided transportation to the MEDCAP to ensure as many people as possible could benefit.
Sitting outside one of several classrooms used as makeshift clinics, 74-year-old Anadeto Furrez, a father of eight, patiently waited for his prescription for free medicine.Furrez, who suffers from cataracts was also given a new pair of glasses.
“This day is a miracle and a blessing,” said the grandfather of 35. “These are services we truly need, and I am very grateful to our military and the support from the U.S. We hope things start to get better and more jobs come to our town. This is a start!”
Along with support for the MEDCAP, the U.S. Embassy in Paraguay donated $15,000 worth of medical supplies to the town’s public clinic as well as supplies for two local schools.
“The United States is committed to assist Paraguay and help improve the quality of life for all Paraguayans and build a lasting friendship based of mutual respect and cooperation between our great nations,” Marine Corps Col. Michael D. Flynn, the senior defense official and defense attaché for the U.S. Embassy in Paraguay, said during a small ceremony celebrating the event and donation.
Since 2008, the Paraguayan Civil Affairs section, which teams up with the country’s national police for these events, has averaged four MEDCAPs a year in ungoverned and under-resourced areas across the country. This event marked the 22nd time this type of operation was accomplished.
“These guys [Paraguayan Civil Affairs] are truly professional and have a passion for what they do,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Hansel Delgadillo, who is the lead civil affairs planner for U.S. Special Operations Command South in support of the Office of Defense Cooperation in Paraguay.
Delgadillo has been working with his counterparts for the better part of three years and has seen the Paraguayan Civil Affairs unit develop each year.
“From planning to coordination and execution, they are really in control of each event, and the leadership demands nothing but the best to ensure every citizen is treated and cared for,” he said.
Paraguayan Civil Affairs planners, with support from SOCSOUTH, are already coordinating the concept of operations for another MEDCAP this September in another rural community.
There is no question that living here is tough, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. However, during this most-recent MEDCAP, there were two expressions on people’s faces: pain and joy. Blame the pain on the dental work, but such pain produces a healthy smile.