Saturday, March 28, 2020

Military Back on the Streets As Chile Goes on Coronavirus Lockdown

Chile has locked itself down to fight the spread of coronavirus, and the president has ordered the armed forces to help enforce the quarantine. Chile closed its borders, imposed a nighttime curfew and placed limits on gatherings and movement. The military also is being tasked with sanitation work and is deploying field hospitals. The armed forces' response is similar to what they've done in natural disasters in the past, when troops responded with mobile hospitals and humanitarian aid. It's the second time in six months that President Sebastian Piñera calls on the military to patrol the country. In October, Piñera sent out the military to help quell violent protests across Chile. Soldiers returned to their barracks after a 10-day deployment, but the government left open the option to again use the military to safeguard critical infrastructure. With a medical crisis being the new mission, the Army, Navy and Air Force (FACH) find themselves in a less-controversial role than in October.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Hercules Investigation Focuses on Dangerous Load, Malfunctions

Nearly three months after an Air Force C-130 Hercules was lost near Antartica, investigators are turning their attention from an accidental cause to a malfunction or even negligence. A report in El Mercurio notes that the plane was carrying a dangerous load. Whatever material was in the plane, it was cleared by FACh maintenance for the flight. Also, investigators are looking into two malfunctions known to have occurred on the flight, which went down Dec. 9, killing all on board.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Hercules Plane Lost at Sea; Searchers Find Debris, Parts

A piece of the missing Herc?
An Air Force C-130H Hercules disappeared Dec. 9 en route to Antartica, and debris located near the point of last contact appears ti be from the missing aircraft. Pieces of foam that may be from the fuel tanks were spotted about 30 km south of the last known location, FACh announced Nov. 11. Later in the day, Brazil's government said its polar ship found more pieces of wreckage and personal belongings. On Twitter, photos showed an aircraft wheel being pulled from the water. The search area had been expanded to an area of 700 km by 250 km, basically between the southern tip of South America and Antartica. Chile's Air Force is using F-16 and F-5 fighter jets, transport planes and helicopters to scan the ocean, while the Navy assigned patrol planes, two frigates, an offshore patrol vessel and its multi-role ship to the search. Teams from Argentina, Peru, Brazil and Uruguay joined the mission. The U.S. sent a Poseidon P-8A maritime reconnaissance plane from El Salvador to aid searchers. Satellites are taking images of the search zone as well. The Hercules was on a routine mission to resupply one of several bases Chile operates in Antartica. The 38 passengers and crew were mainly FACh personnel, plus three Army officers, two contract workers and one university engineer. The bases are used not just to plant the flag on the Antartic territory, but to conduct a number of scientific projects. The plane went down in the treacherous and frigid waters of what's known as Drake's Passage, complicating search efforts. There was no distress signal, and the plane was declared lost once it became clear it would not make its destination. The C-130H is said to have been in good operating conditions, although it had a long service life since it was built in 1978. It was acquired from the U.S. in 2015. Update: Searchers have found more wreckage of the plane and human remains. Officials say all 38 on board are presumed dead.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Possible Consequences Chile's Military Faces in the Post-Revolt Era

Chile's military has been withdrawn from the streets after spending a 10-day deployment in security tasks during the state of emergency. As short as the mission was, it has left an indelible mark on the military. Not only is it dealing with the aftermath of shooting incidents, but its future could be altered as Chile deals with a populace seeking fundamental societal changes. These are some changes the armed forces could face:
  • For many years, the Army, Navy and Air Force found enough volunteers to fill its ranks, avoiding a need to draft young people. Will this year's revolt cause fewer to enlist?
  • With bigger security problems on the domestic side, can the military justify spending on strategic weapons such as armor or air defense systems? Will the Navy delay replacing two frigates? Meanwhile, the exit of Bolivian leader Evo Morales eases Chile's peskiest international threat.
  • The armed forces nurtured an image of community service, providing aid during natural disasters and staying neutral in politics. That image took a hit with the deployment, although many Chileans welcomed troops. To be fair, the protests showed there's a faction in Chile that is always hostile against the military.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Why Chile's Military Finds Itself in a No-Win Situation as it Faces Protesters

It didn't take long for Chile's military to register its first casualties in the country's mass protests. In the city of Curicó, an Army soldier is being held in the shooting death of a 25-year-old protester. In La Serena, an Ecuadorian man was killed by gunfire that is said to have come from a military patrol. In Coquimbo another fatal shooting may have been caused by troops. In Talcahuano, a man was run over by a military truck. These and other incidents are making the military's role one that's increasingly difficult and controversial -- and one it didn't want. The armed forces reluctantly joined the efforts to pacify thousands of demonstrators. Asked about President Sebastian Piñera's description of events as a "war," Army chief Gen. Javier Iturriaga replied, "I am not at war with anyone." Indeed, the military finds itself in a tough spot, facing hostile crowds and unable to control the crisis the way it did in 2010. Back then, troops took to the streets to stop looting in the wake of a great earthquake. People welcomed soldiers. But this time, the armed forces are combatants. It didn't help that before this month's violent outbreak, several cases of corruption had tarnished the military's reputation. Gen. Iturriaga and other commanders may spend years dealing with consequences of the October revolt.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Military Breaks Long Tradition Of Avoiding Protests As Chile Struggles To Control Riots

For the first time since military rule, Chile's Army and Marines have been ordered into the streets to quell massive protests. The order came after protesters set fire to subway stations, buses and stores in Santiago in a movement that quickly spread to other provinces. President Sebastian Piñera, overwhelmed by the scale of destruction, ordered the armed forces to help restore order Oct. 19. Much of the country was place under a state of emergency. Defense Minister Alberto Espina said troops were deployed to protect critical infrastructure installations, such as power plants and water facilities, that were threatened or came under attack. But troops are also patrolling streets and facing protesters. Soldiers are armed with assault rifles and live ammunition, and shots have been fired at rioters. All this makes for a messy situation for Chile's military, which had stayed away from public strife since the return of democracy nearly 30 years ago. Troops were deployed after the February 2010 earthquake to control massive looting. But this time, the military is in the thick of a political convulsion that has no easy or short-term answers. Troops are facing threats that are not part of their regular training, creating a risky mix of tension and firepower. As of Sunday, Oct. 20, troops remained on patrol with Humvees, trucks, Mowag 6x6 and 8x8 armored vehicles. More than 9,000 troops were deployed over the weekend, but even then it was not enough to cover all the flashpoints. Local television showed some neighborhoods organizing their own security, with whatever weapons they could muster.