Interview with Gen. Jorge Washington Rosales Sosa, Commander-in-Chief of the Uruguayan Army
By Dialogo August 10, 2011
When Gen. Jorge Washington Rosales Sosa assumed the post of commander-in-chief of the Uruguayan Army in October 2006, he brought with him four decades of experience in his country’s Armed Forces. A 1971 graduate of the Military Academy (Escuela Militar), he headed the 2d Uruguay Battalion in Mozambique in 1994, was assistant commandant of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation during 2002 and 2003, and is the current president of the Uruguayan Fencing Federation. During his visit to the U.S. Southern Command this week, Gen. Rosales took a break to speak with Diálogo.
Diálogo: What is the chief challenge that the Uruguayan National Army is facing at this time?
Gen. Rosales: As a result of the fact that our country has a defense law for the first time, we have a series of prescriptions to meet, a significant reduction in personnel among them. That reduction is going to require us to restructure our organization, fundamentally in the Montevideo and Canelones area. Over a five-year period, it’s been established that we’re going to have a reduction of up to 6,500 men. In a small force like ours, that’s quite significant. It means redimensioning our resources in order to be able to continue fulfilling the missions we have efficiently. Today, the Army performs tasks in very diverse areas. We’re linked to diverse sectors of society, with diverse kinds of missions that require personnel. All of that has to be looked at again, restructured, and on the basis of that reduction in personnel, we have to see how we will best continue fulfilling our assigned mission.
Diálogo: Is that also going to influence Uruguay’s peace missions? Is the number of MINUSTAH personnel going to be reduced?
Gen. Rosales: There’s not such a straight line between the reduction in personnel and a reduction in the missions we perform. With regard to MINUSTAH, in Haiti, there is indeed going to be a reduction that’s going to be imposed by the mission itself, but since we already have a signed agreement for missions of this kind, we hope that our deployment will not be affected by the reduction we’re going to suffer. In principle, my answer would be that we’re not going to reduce the number of personnel deployed in Haiti for this reason. If the United Nations decides on a decrease in Uruguayan personnel sometime in the future, then I believe we will. Today, the mission’s second-in-command is an Uruguayan general, and from the discussions I’ve been able to have with him, there’s a reduction planned that may affect us, but by around 100 men maximum.
Diálogo: What can you say with regard to Uruguay’s participation in exercises and other joint activities with other forces in the region?
Gen. Rosales: We have a long history of carrying out peace missions, beginning in 1935 at the time of the War of the Northern Chaco, when there was a peace mediation commission made up of Uruguayan officers. The last 20 years, since the beginning of the 1990s, which we began with a very significant contingent in Cambodia, is when we’ve really begun to carry out missions of this kind. Contingents that were then repeated in Congo, in Mozambique … We’ve been in almost all the conflicts in Africa. The foundation of our participation, our training, has always been linked to an enormous number of countries in the region.
We have ongoing exchanges with countries in the region: Brazil, Argentina, Chile … Paraguay draws quite a lot on our peace training school. In Montevideo, we have a school for peace missions that offers courses in three basic areas: military observers, participation as members of an international team, and a course that has a common core for all aspects of deploying contingents on peace missions. In all those courses, we always have guests from other countries, not only as students, but also as guest instructors. We in our turn send people to other courses, which exist both in Brazil and in Argentina, Spain, Germany … So the exchange is ongoing; I value it very highly, not only for what we can transfer to others from our experience, but also, even more importantly for us, for everything we can gain from others’ experience.
Diálogo: What is the participation of the Uruguayan Armed Forces in the fight against illicit trafficking?
Gen. Rosales: The Uruguayan Armed Forces do not participate directly in controlling drug trafficking. In my country, that is a strictly police task, which falls under the Interior Ministry. The Armed Forces have the mission of providing support in the event that police forces are outmatched in some excessive situation. The Navy and the Air Force do participate directly in controlling drug trafficking.
Anyway, I believe that, happily, our country is a rather particular case. First, due to its geographical location very far to the south, it has been distant from the historical drug-trafficking corridors, the sites of mass production, and the outlets to the United States, Europe, or the Middle East. In addition, it’s a question of scale: our country is very small, with some very strong institutions, where the entire system operates with a firm hand. We have a customs system that turns up some illicit trafficking every so often. I believe that the secret lies more in institutional strength than in anything else.
Diálogo: How is the conversion of military personnel into police officers going to take place?
Gen. Rosales: This arises from the fact that for our country today, our chief social demand is security. Happily, compared to other societies, our country is still extremely safe, but everyone lives in accordance with his own needs. We’re looking for ways to improve, and among other things, the whole Interior Ministry is going to expand noticeably, specifically the police. They’ve had a special budget, and now, thanks to this increase in the budget, they’re also going to be able to have more personnel. There’s an idea among the politicians of making an orderly transfer of some resources from the Armed Forces to the police. This is totally voluntary; the members of our Armed Forces are professionals under contract, so that an individual signs a two-year contract, and once that contract is up, he’s free to do as he pleases. Even today, however, a soldier with a contract in effect could, through a legal mechanism, move from the Armed Forces to the Interior Ministry. Obviously, he has to take an entrance exam with physical requirements, a physical test, an intellectual test, and he has to go through a period of instruction, which in the case of a member of the Armed Forces is three months. That’s the structure that exists, and that’s what, from the political perspective, we’ve been directed to try to ramp up quickly, and at the same time, it’s a voluntary outlet for the decrease we have to implement in our personnel.