By Chandra Lye
It appears that Canadian Forces are being prepared for possible deployment in the towns and villages in Latin America. A long running military training exercise will now be using small Spanish locales as its setting. While it is still not clear whether or not the forces will be deployed, Canada has agreed to cooperate with South American governments on security.
According to reports about a leaked document, Canada is seeking a bigger influence in South America. In her article for Embassymag.ca, Canada’s foreign policy newspaper, Kristen Shane says, “The cable suggests the government scrapped more than a year’s work to draft a whole-of-government policy strategy that would guide Canada’s involvement in the hemisphere. … the government decided to dump the written strategy in favour of ‘discrete actions’ by, for instance, increasing staff at embassies throughout the hemisphere.”
In another article in Embassy last month, Carlo Dade writes, “Security was the focus of the just-completed Organization of American States’ General Assembly and will be the featured topic at next spring’s Summit of the Americas in Colombia, where the prime minister sees himself and Canada playing a leading role. If that is to be the case, then he and the government will need something credible to say.”
The training program based in Wainwright, Alberta might be just that. The program uses film industry professionals to create realistic villages and towns to help soldiers get a feel for what it will be like to work in non-English speaking countries. According to those planning these exercises they have now put away the Afghan flavour villages in favour of Spanish-speaking set-ups.
But it is not for entertainment.
“It just adds a more robust training to fully prepare the soldiers before they deploy,” one of the exercise planners, Major Stu Smoley, said.
“It’s training formed units. It has nothing to do with recruit training. It has nothing to do with recruiting. It has everything to do with preparing soldiers for when they go off on operations.”
Although the military deny they have plans to deploy they do say, “Exercises conducted by CMTC (Canadian Manoeuvre Training Centre) are generic in nature, but specific enough to be tailored to whatever the Canadian Forces expect to encounter when deployed.”
The news has one professor with the University of Calgary concerned.
“I am puzzled, and possibly alarmed, by what this may mean,” Pablo Policzer, an associate professor in the political science department said.
Policzer said Canada’s interest in Latin America has centred on trade, democracy and most recently, security.
“The Harper government also favours a ‘tough on crime’ policy domestically, and has signalled that it wants to work together with Latin American partners to develop common regional approaches to combat crime.
“Crime in the region is seen as a common concern, insofar as some gangs operate trans-nationally, including in Canada,” he said adding that Canadian troops have not been involved in South America so far.
“If it does, it would be a major policy shift.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has just returned from a trip to Latin America and, according to AFP he committed over $9 million toward security plans for Honduras. Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird held meetings with the Mexican foreign relations secretary.
According to the press notice, security was part of the discussions between Baird and the Secretary.
Steve Rennie, of The Canadian Press wrote in an article on Aug. 12 that, “On Aug. 4, the National Congress of Honduras approved the entry of Canadian soldiers into the country to take part in a joint training exercise. The results of three votes on the matter were posted this past Monday on the National Congress’ website”.
“Canada’s Department of National Defence has not announced any training exercises in Honduras. The Prime Minister’s Office said it was unaware of any joint training exercise taking place,” Rennie wrote.
Rhonda Fisekci, who hires the actors to play the parts, says they have been holding three or four mock-village sessions each year.
“It’s cultural sensitivity training for the soldiers prior to being deployed overseas.
“I have been recruiting for a couple of months now – Spanish speakers – to do the role playing,” she explained. “We have different roles. We have interpreters, we have police officers, and we have levels of government – mayor, deputies and stuff like that within the government, police officers and military guys that we ask them to play.”
Fisekci said she provides actors with letters from the national department of defence explaining why they need to be away from work for two full weeks. “We have done this in the past with the Afghan (scenario) and it worked really well. Employers have really embraced it and have given their employees leave of absences.”
“Anytime you can put realism in training it’s always beneficial,” Major Smoley said. “It’s a great opportunity for soldiers to train at a high level.