July 29, 2021

Uruguayan Army reinforces Latin American security against chemical weapons

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By Julieta Pelcastre From Diálogo

Service members and rescue workers from the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries are ready to deal with toxic substances.

The Uruguayan Army’s Engineers Training Center, in collaboration with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPAQ, per its Spanish acronym), has trained personnel from the 16 nations of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries (GRULAC), a United Nations group that brings together all the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean, on chemical agents. Uruguay hosted the initial and basic module of the training’s three modules. The advanced module was taught a few days later in Argentina, while the final “Specialist” module will be taught in Brazil in August.

The “Regional Chemical Warfare Agent and Toxic Industrial Chemical Incident Basic Response Course” was held at the Uruguayan Army Engineers Training Center from May 8th to 12th. Ten Uruguayan personnel and 17 others from the various armed forces and civil services of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, and Paraguay attended.

“Uruguay was selected to develop the first module because of its instructors in technical operational aspects, tactics, and emergency response management strategies,” Colonel Alejandro Pérez, the head of the Uruguayan Army’s Engineers Training Center, told Diálogo. The program was designed mainly for first responders who take part in emergency response during chemical incidents within the framework of the International Chemical Weapons Convention treaty.

This academic and hands-on training was provided by Uruguayan instructors and two specialists, an Argentine and a Peruvian. The training helped Latin American and Caribbean service members, police officers, and rescue workers to increase their knowledge about different kinds of chemical agents and industrial toxins, and how they impact the population and the environment. They also received technical equipment training, as well as instruction on emergency management and protection while dealing with chemical weapons.

Participants worked with chemical agent simulators that mimicked nerve agents. They also had the opportunity to learn about historical precedents, places where emergencies can occur, the conditions in which they may occur, actors who pose a threat, and personnel who offer protection and aid against those actors. “Having highly trained personnel is vital for confronting the global problem of chemical weapons,” First Lieutenant José Araujo, the chief of the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (Q.B.R.N., per its Spanish acronym) Section of the 6th Combat Engineers Battalion of the Uruguayan Army, who attended the basic module, told Diálogo. Chemical weapons represent a threat to the safety and well-being of the global community. The Q.B.R.N. section comprises a group of Uruguayan specialists who have been educated, trained, and equipped to confront threats that may involve chemical, biological, or nuclear liquid and solid contaminants. This specialized group is continually adding members to its ranks.

Advanced and Specialist courses

The basic course provided the foundation needed for the next two phases. The completion of these phases allows participants to meet OPAQ requirements on how to handle these types of situations.

During the second module, the “Regional Advanced Course on Assistance and Protection in Response to Chemical Emergencies,” taught in Argentina from May 15th to 19th, students applied their basic module academic knowledge in a more in-depth manner. Regional participants received instruction on technological accidents, risk analysis and vulnerabilities, detection systems, control techniques, and operational procedures in response to accidents or terrorist attacks involving chemical agents.

For the Specialist module, to be held in Brazil in August, emergency scenarios in which participants will apply all of their acquired knowledge, under the strict supervision of the instructors will be implemented. Its purpose will be to strengthen the responders’ teamwork capabilities at the regional level (GRULAC), improving coordination among them in order to unify standards and produce a more efficient and effective response.

Other emergencies

“Our increased knowledge about chemical weapons provides us not only with the ability to act but also to transmit that knowledge to various state security agencies, as well as to use such knowledge in humanitarian landmine removal, an activity which presents similar risks in terms of sending specialists into dangerous environments to protect a vulnerable civilian population,” 1st Lt. Araujo stated.

With these types of training, OPAQ is increasing the capabilities of service members, police officers, and rescue workers in Latin America and the Caribbean to respond to Q.B.R.N. attacks. The mission of this international organization is to free the world from chemical weapons. One hundred eighty-eight nations, including 33 from Latin America and the Caribbean, have now joined forces to achieve that goal.

GRULAC has benefitted from OPAQ’s international cooperation programs. As of November 18, 2016, more than 600 participants throughout the region had received training in protection against chemical weapons and aid against their effects, according to the OPAQ website.

A global threat

Threats from isolated groups to cause massive harm, such as international terrorism, give rise to a need for broader training and additional resources in order to confront them. In order to have the capacity and flexibility to confront changing and uncertain situations, the Uruguayan Army trains in several different areas.

“Today, any nation can be the victim of a chemical weapons threat. Non-state actors, such as terrorist groups, are a global threat, even more so at a time when our nation is joining the United Nations Security Council, where the decisions taken might not be to the liking of these groups,” Col. Pérez noted. “In a globalized world, no nation or region of the world is free from threats to its citizens or to foreigners who live there.”

“More than 90 percent of the declared chemical weapons arsenal around the world has been destroyed. We are hopeful, but we are not satisfied,” said Shawn DeCalue, the head of the Assistance and Protection Division of OPAQ’s Technical Secretariat, in an Uruguayan Army press release.

“It’s important to act based on the notion that we are better off with the capability to develop and maintain it, and not use it, than it is to need it and not have it,” Col. Pérez said. “We need to be conscious of the importance of being prepared in this area, to make the right decisions in real-world conditions of accidents or attacks involving chemical substances,” 1st Lt. Araujo added.


Uruguayan service members receive instruction on the use of equipment to deal with chemical threats. (Photo: Uruguayan Army)

A course instructor explains to the group how to find information relating to protection against chemical weapons. (Photo: Uruguayan Army)

For more on this story go to: https://dialogo-americas.com/en/articles/uruguayan-army-reinforces-latin-american-security-against-chemical-weapons

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