From 22 – 27 August 2021, Dr Michael Delacruz, representing Blue Shield International (BSI), supported Joint Task Force Bravo (JTF-B) of US Southern Command in conducting a Cultural Heritage Protection (CHP) Subject Matter Expert Exchange (SMEE) in conjunction with the Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia (IHAH), members of the Honduran Army, and supported by the Guatemalan Committee of the Blue Shield.
The purpose of the exchange was to develop partner military capacity in assessing culturally significant places and artifacts, in order to protect them from destruction, misuse, or theft, particularly in response to severe weather events. After the devastation left by Hurricanes Eta and Iota, IHAH and the Honduran military identified the need to strengthen the capacities of their organizations, specifically during response operations, making the Blue Shield and U.S. military an ideal partner to further develop their capabilities.
The event began with a number of presentations from BSI, JTF-B, amongst others. These covered basic understanding of CHP and on-site assessment, as well as familiarising military personnel with the tools used by professionals to record data. Blue Shield Guatemala spoke on regional heritage protection issues, focusing on the problems of climate related vulnerabilities (fires, floods, mudslides, etc.) and illicit trafficking. Presentations were supported by a field trip to the ‘Casa de la Cultura’ in Juticalpa, Olancho, hosted by the local IHAH art historian, and a tour of local architecture to reinforce the specificities involved in local cultural heritage. These were followed by a series of field exercises over two days, designed and overseen by BSI to enable the training audience to put theory into practice.
Doctor Michael Delacruz said
The response by all those present was overwhelmingly positive, particularly at the soldier level. The work was tactical, field oriented, but eye-opening from a cultural heritage perspective, and the value of the exercise was clear to all involved. It is our hope that next year we will be able to repeat this work during the hurricane season, increasing the CPP expertise in Honduras, and better protecting its valuable heritage.
This unique exchange has been the first of its kind in Central America and enhanced partner nation capacity while strengthening ties between the US, Honduras, and the Blue Shield Network. It is our firm hope that this work will form the foundation for future cooperation in cultural heritage protection.