The map displayed on his work table summarizes where the brigadier general has his energies concentrated today Juan Martín Paleo, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces and head of military operations, to help mitigate the effects of the coronavirus. “The President was very clear: he ordered the absolute disposition of the Armed Forces for that task and we are in it”Paleo explained in an interview with THE NATION.
At 58, he is the country’s highest military authority since Alberto Fernández appointed him in February. In the Senate is the specification of his promotion to division general, but he does not divert his attention from the deployment against the pandemic, whose central point is the distribution of food in hot areas of the suburbs.
He does not stray from that path and says: “The military does not need to reconcile with society, because we were never in a fight. The pandemic perhaps helped the political power to discover the phenomenal tool that the Armed Forces mean for civil protection and humanitarian assistance tasks. “
-How did the Armed Forces receive the President’s decision to eliminate the payment of black sums?
– it is not a wage recomposition because there is no an increase. Non-remunerative supplements, which reach between 20% and 30% of assets, will become remunerative in October. It is a stimulus for active personnel, but it especially impacts retirees. In addition, the trial industry, which had generated inequalities, is ending: 11% of the staff were already charging with the judgment won. There were soldiers who with different degrees and functions received different salaries.
-How was that demand resolved?
-The President and the Defense Minister interpreted that The most valuable of our institutions are human resources. A truck, an armament, with money can be solved, but what the State invests in the training of its personnel is not replaced. Another positive factor is that it helps improve the collection of the Institute of Social Works of the Armed Forces (Iosfa), which carries a debt of $ 4.8 billion and has severed benefits.
-How many troops are involved in operations related to the pandemic?
-The mass of the three forces are affected. It works in thirds, to preserve people. 30% of our 84,000 men and women are engaged in operations. Another third, after the activity, remains in their homes for 14 days in quarantine and a third group awaits their turn in enlistment. Every day we pawn about 1,000 men. But for each one there is a large logistics behind.
-Did you have infections?
-We have 102 positive cases (87 from the Army, 11 from the Navy and 4 from the Air Force), but none were infected during operations. Basically it is personal in offices and logistical tasks, who contracted the virus in close or family contacts. We also have 245 recovered.
-What are the main missions?
-We have already distributed 6,223,410 servings of hot food and 1,308,023 bags for food, mainly in the suburbs. A total of 7,531,433 food units in 123 days of operations. We also participate in the preparation of sanitary infrastructure, flights to repatriate stranded, aerial examinations in areas of restricted circulation, transportation of personnel, respirators, blood samples and medical supplies, among other valuable actions.
-What demands do you find in people when they distribute food?
-Every place has its own particularity. We were in La Matanza, Quilmes, Moreno and La Cárcova villas, in San Martín, and 1-11-14, in Flores, among other emergency neighborhoods.
-How do you define places?
-The requirement always arises from politics. We go to the field, we meet with neighborhood organizations. The operational commander, General Martín Deimundo Escobal, accompanies the Secretary of Military Coordination in Emergencies of the Ministry of Defense, Inés Barboza, and they see what the need is, the magnitude of the task. We do the planning and assign it to the emergency zone commander. Officers, NCOs and soldiers go, from the regiment chief, the staff, company head, officers, NCOs and soldiers.
-Do military personnel go without weapons?
-Exact. It is a civil protection task. We ask the political authority to guarantee us security. There is a presence of national or provincial security forces. We have not had an incident with the population. On the contrary, the demonstrations are always of affection and gratitude.
– the decision not to carry arms is yours or imposed by the political authority?
It is an orientation of the political authority, which we fully share.
-Did you have difficulties in popular towns and neighborhoods?
-Even in the first admission of recognition our staff was received with applause, at the sole identification of the uniform, both in Villa Azul, in the San Jorge neighborhood and in the villas La Cárcova and 1-11-14, in Flores.
-Are you warning in the neighborhoods that you are attending of a growth of acts of insecurity?
-Not. We have not seen in the areas where we operate.
-Is planning sufficient or does the demand for food sometimes exceed expectations?
-We plan the task and take that possibility into account. The commander of the metropolitan emergency zone is General Néstor D’Ambra, who was head of the Argentine battalion in Haiti when it was the 2010 earthquake. He has strong experience in humanitarian missions.
We have 102 positive cases (87 from the Army, 11 from the Navy and 4 from the Air Force), but none were infected during operations.
General Juan Martín Paleo
-Are the Armed Forces reconciled with society today?
-The pandemic made the activity of the Armed Forces more visible. With the population, we had been carrying out civil protection tasks. Perhaps not on the scale and magnitude that we develop now. But we always support with emergency plans against fire, water purification, evacuations, floods. Contact with people always existed. That does not close me off talking about reconciliation with society, because we have never been at odds with society.
– Do you receive a different treatment?
-Maybe this made the activity visible and allowed the political leadership to see the phenomenal tool that the Armed Forces mean for civil protection and the need to invest more in the area of defense. As Minister Rossi says, if we are doing all this with what we have, which is old, old material and needs to be renewed, imagine what we could have done with a higher level of military equipment.
-The President ratified the prohibition for the intervention of the military in internal security.
-We do not have any security function. If there is something clear in the current regulations, it is the separation between defense and security. For us it is not a problem. We are clear about the framework in which we must intervene. It is perfectly determined by the national defense law.
-Is the military budget sufficient?
– We move with budgetary reinforcement, like all the public administration. The 2019 budget was repeated, totally insufficient. Anyway, when the operation began, we reconfigured the budget and tasks were suspended in the training institutes, the Military College, training exercises, the incorporation of new personnel, training trips abroad. The President was very clear: he ordered the absolute disposition of the Armed Forces to mitigate the effects of Covid-19 and we are in it.