Diálogo spoke with Admiral Fernando Pérez Arana, chairman of the Uruguayan Defense Joint Chiefs of Staff, during the South American Defense Conference (SOUTHDEC), held in the city of Natal, Brazil, in August 2019.
Diálogo: What are your immediate goals as chairman of the Uruguayan Defense Joint Chiefs of Staff?
Admiral Fernando Pérez Arana, chairman of the Uruguayan Defense Joint Chiefs of Staff: Improving command and control, surveillance, and intelligence capabilities and presence in the air, land, maritime, and cyber defense domains are some of the goals.
Diálogo: Why does Uruguay have a tradition of humanitarian assistance and participation in peacekeeping missions with the United Nations (U.N.)?
Adm. Pérez: The Uruguayan Armed Forces are committed to the defense and protection of human rights. The deployment of the Armed Forces in peacekeeping operations has been a constant in Uruguayan foreign policy, showing their commitment to international peace and security, in the framework of international law.
In addition, at the national level we take part in the National Emergency System; we are part of this system on a permanent basis with other State agencies, as a first response to support all agencies that help in emergencies caused by natural disasters, such as floods, wildfires, or polluting activities in riverine or maritime areas.
Diálogo: Wouldn’t it be interesting to have a regional or hemispheric system?
Adm. Pérez: There is constant interaction between the Air Force, the Army, and the Navy through bilateral relations with neighboring and regional countries. For example, we take part in the Conference of American Armies, in the Inter American Naval Conference, and in the System of Cooperation Among the American Air Forces. The exchange of experiences and coordination has evolved into a system of ongoing exchange of capabilities to always have forces and equipment available for response in cases of emergency or humanitarian assistance. This transforms into protocol development and participation in bilateral and regional exercises, where we train and improve each country’s use of its capabilities in order to provide timely help to the state that needs it, in a situation involving humanitarian assistance or natural disaster.
Diálogo: Can you give us examples of bilateral exercises with Uruguay’s participation?
Adm. Pérez: For example, exercise Ceibo conducted with Argentina, where we plan for the effects of a natural disaster and mutual help in flooding areas; the multilateral exercise ACRUX to protect and support the Paraná waterway in Paraguay; the RÍO and URUBRAS exercises for air control between Air Forces; the ATLASUR exercise for surveillance in the South Atlantic; the Land Border Information Exchange exercise with the Brazilian Army; and the multinational and interagency PANAMAX operation.
Diálogo: During SOUTHDEC, it was discussed what would happen in the case of a regime change in Venezuela; in other words, a joint humanitarian assistance operation including the United States. Would Uruguay take part in an event like this?
Adm. Pérez: Coordination and planning for the use of regional armed forces’ capabilities in humanitarian assistance operations would enable a timely, appropriate response, in case it’s requested by any country in the region. The Inter-American Convention to facilitate assistance in case of natural disaster and the bilateral agreements between governments (assisted and assisting) are some of the legal instruments that might be used. We already have humanitarian assistance capacity in South America, and the Uruguayan Armed Forces are always willing to help and provide all the support that the government has at its disposal to contribute to stability and to necessary humanitarian assistance, with respect for international law.
Diálogo: What’s the importance of taking part in a conference such as SOUTHDEC?
Adm. Pérez: Keeping our vision up-to-date about the situation in the region with exchanges between the heads of armed forces’ Joint Chiefs of Staff and Joint Commands enables us to coordinate and develop regional strategies to confront transnational threats.
These encounters help us to know our differences and commonalities when using our competences in each country or subregion. They allow us to develop or choose the best channels in accordance with international law to provide a prompt solution in the case of crisis situations, and to advise our governments when it comes to providing help and a rapid response to another country in need.
They also contribute to commitments to promote peace and a peaceful solution to conflicts that our countries have adopted at the United Nations, at the Organization of American States, and in bilateral agreements, among others.