Interview of U.S. Southern Command’s (SOUTHCOM) Diálogo magazine with Air Force General Rodolfo Daniel Pereyra Martínez, head of the Uruguayan Defense General Staff (ESMADE).
Diálogo: What is the importance of the inauguration of the western naval base located on the banks of the Uruguay River, next to the General San Martín Bridge, to combating smuggling, illegal fishing, and drug trafficking?
Air Force General Rodolfo Pereyra, head of the Uruguayan Defense General Staff: It is of great importance for our National Navy and for our country as a whole. The National Navy had two bases, the one in the Port of Montevideo and the naval base in La Paloma, in the department of Rocha, and we had not yet achieved the capacity to have ships stationed to provide support on the Uruguay River, an area where we are now strengthening our presence on the border with Argentina, since previously our ships generally had to move from Montevideo and make their logistics landfall to reach the Uruguay River, which implied time and logistical wear and tear. Today, with this base in Fray Bentos, all this movement is made easier for us and allows us to have a presence and a response in less time and to fulfill our function of protecting sovereignty.
Diálogo: The Navy and the Army support the work of the National Customs Directorate at the border crossings with Argentina by having a greater presence on the international bridges. Why is this joint work important?
Gen. Pereyra: It is important because with Law No. 19677 of 2018, regulated in 2020 through Decree No. 92, the Armed Forces were entrusted to carry out border activities in support of those agencies that have competence in that area without affecting populated areas while carrying out patrols and checkpoints. Border crossings, in this case the Libertador General San Martín Bridge, the General Artigas Bridge, and the International Ferrovial Salto Grande Bridge, are all outside the populated area and this regulatory framework allows us to provide support in posts that are precisely on the bridges. These activities allow us to prevent the entry of illegal merchandise and substances.
Diálogo: What progress have you made in the process of modernizing the Armed Forces?
Gen. Pereyra: We’re in a process in which the state and our authorities detected that the seas under our national sovereignty were unprotected and we didn’t have ships that would allow us to exercise that control, specifically illegal fishing that today takes place in different parts of the world. On this issue, our authorities made every effort, specifically the Ministry of National Defense, to acquire ocean patrol vessels. And at this moment we are in the process of purchasing them, through a Spanish shipyard that is going to build them. We hope that by 2025 we will have them ready to sail, and thus be exercising our authority over our jurisdictional waters.
Diálogo: How advantageous for the Armed Forces is the recent agreement between Uruguay and Brazil on the bi-nationality of the Rivera Airport, which is physically located in Uruguay?
Gen. Pereyra: This issue is related to connectivity with our neighboring country, Brazil. It is not directly related to defense, but rather to air connectivity, broadening the horizons of two sister cities, Rivera (Uruguay) and Santana do Livramento (Brazil).
Diálogo: What progress has been made with the creation of the Joint Operations Command?
Gen. Pereyra: The Joint Operations Command was created under the 2010 National Defense Framework Law, which considered the presence of a chief of operations in charge of joint operations, who will report to the chief of the Defense General Staff. The issue itself was that there was no structure where that commander was going to exercise command and therefore the Joint Operations Command was created. Today we have to give it shape and, of course, we have to give it tools. What we are doing now, while the designation of the chief of operations is being studied, we are working on the process of purchasing all the necessary inputs to execute the command and the joint leadership. We will also begin to develop subordinate levels for the purpose of coordinating operations.
Diálogo: How does the U.S. donation of the Bell 212 helicopter help national security?
Gen. Pereyra: It’s very helpful, because of our helicopter equipment, the Bell 212 represents our backbone. And that is precisely the helicopter we are using in the Congo peacekeeping mission. The continuous wear and tear that the material had at one point left us without helicopters in our country to prepare the pilots to go to the peacekeeping mission. Today, with this donation, since it is not the first, but already the second helicopter that we are receiving, it has allowed us to carry out training in our unit and to prepare our personnel to go on the mission.
Diálogo: What coordination is being done between the Uruguayan Armed Forces and the Connecticut National Guard as part of the State Partnership Program?
Gen. Pereyra: This program has already been in place for years with many benefits, particularly because of what the National Guard develops in all its activities, beyond the fact that it has a relationship with the military component, but that are easily transferred and that help us both to later put them into practice in peace missions and also in our country, because they are operations in which personnel train in response to needs that society may require at any moment in case of emergency, fires, floods, or perhaps in the case of a health rescue that occurs in places that are difficult to access. And this allows us to have not only tools, but also a team prepared to deal with all situations.
Diálogo: What is the objective of carrying out combined and simultaneous operations between the Uruguayan and Brazilian armies, each on its own side of the border?
Gen. Pereyra: Combined means to be under a single command; in this case it’s a joint activity; it’s a mirror operation. It’s based on an information transfer operation. Each force operates in its territory, adjusted to the rules of each of them, without affecting the sovereignty of one or the other, but it is a coordinated work and exercises have been done in which we simulate that certain threats, certain crimes that are being committed on one side go or intend to go to the other territory and that is what is reported, it is to take a preventive measure, anticipating what may happen, in order to collaborate with the other force.