Representatives of the air forces of 21 Western Hemisphere nations are meeting in El Salvador this week to discuss ways to better work together, including ways to improve humanitarian relief to Venezuela.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein is co-hosting the three-day Conference of the American Air Chiefs in El Salvador this week. The nations represented there include Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru and Uruguay.
“This is all about partnerships … here in this hemisphere, among neighbors,” Goldfein said. “This extensive engagement, which is really guided by these interests, reflects our enduring promise of friendship, partnership and solidarity within the Americas.”
Goldfein said that humanitarian assistance and disaster relief will be a central topic at the conference, which began Monday and will end Wednesday. The deteriorating political and economic situation in Venezuela has resulted in 3.8 million refugees, Goldfein said, while the United Nations puts the number even higher, at more than 4 million.
The discussions about Venezuela will include finding ways to more efficiently deliver humanitarian aid, and seeking more commitment to provide supplies and other humanitarian relief, Goldfein said.
“This is a regional challenge, and it’s a global challenge, and it’s a threat to the region,” Goldfein said.
The conference also seeks to find ways to improve interoperability between the various nations’ air forces and building the capabilities of partner nations.
Goldfein said the Navy’s recent deployment of the USNS Comfort hospital ship to the Caribbean and South American regions, where it will stay for the next five months, is an example of the kind of joint missions the military can provide. The Comfort’s primary mission will be to provide medical treatment to refugees fleeing Venezuela.
The military needs to have a “winning narrative” about the benefits of U.S. assistance in the region, he said, to counter narratives from nations such as China and Russia.
Maj. Gen. Andrew Croft, head of the 12th Air Force and Air Forces Southern, said the U.S. Air Force engages with allied nations in exercises such as fighter and transport aircraft training, and personnel exchanges as part of military education and training.