Proficiency Confers Legitimacy
By Marcos Ommati/Diálogo March 05, 2018
María Inés Uriarte hails from a large family. The oldest of nine siblings, she was born September 1, 1954, in the small Argentine town of Lamarque, in the southern province of Río Negro, Patagonia. Her mother was a teacher and the principal of the local elementary school. Her father worked in the railroad industry. Later she was sent to boarding school in Bahía Blanca, a port city in the province of Buenos Aires. Far from family, she learned to take on responsibilities and became self-sufficient.
Years later, with an engineering degree under her belt, she enrolled in the Naval Military Academy and graduated in 1982 as a lieutenant junior grade. On December 31, 2015, she was promoted to the rank of rear admiral. To learn more about the life and challenges of the first woman to reach the grade of general officer in the Argentine Navy, Diálogo traveled to Buenos Aires to speak with Rear Admiral María Inés Uriarte, director of Research and Development of the Argentine Navy.
Diálogo: What was it like to have your mother as the principal of the school where you studied?
Rear Admiral María Inés Uriarte, director of Research and Development of the Argentine Navy: Very difficult. In those days, it was complicated to have parents both at home and at school. Because it’s not like today, where parents defend their children under any circumstance. In those days, children were never right and less so if an adult accused them of committing some sort of mischief. It was always demanding, in the sense that there were demands at home and also at school, but in my case, it was the same person making the demands. There was no escape. My mother always said: “You have to set the example because you’re the principal’s child.”
Diálogo: Did you have time for friends with so many siblings?
Rear Adm. Uriarte: It was a happy childhood with so many siblings, but I didn’t have time for friends. Siblings end up sharing everything with you, and it was a very small town.
Diálogo: As a boarding student, when did you see your parents and siblings?
Rear Adm. Uriarte: Only during vacation. Since my father traveled extensively because of the railroad, he was obviously coming and going, and when he came through Bahía Blanca, he would make time to pay me a brief visit, school schedule permitting. But otherwise, I only went home during vacation.
Diálogo: …Which is tough for such a young girl.
Rear Adm. Uriarte: True. When asked about the Naval Academy, I always say it’s very tough, but for me it wasn’t that tough because I was older. It’s not the same at 12 years old. When I enrolled in the Naval Academy, I had graduated as an engineer, and I was married.
Diálogo: What was your first interaction with the Navy?
Rear Adm. Uriarte: My mother was transferred to teach at a school on the Marine Corps base. I had my first encounter with the institution there, from a different perspective. But I got to know the institution because I lived on the base.
Diálogo: What was it like to live on a military base?
Rear Adm. Uriarte: I spent some wonderful years there because, as an adolescent, it was very protected. Parents don’t have to worry when children go outside, where they are, who they’re with, if they’re at risk. We had many activities, and we weren’t at risk, which meant we were very free and could really enjoy adolescence, a difficult stage. I finally made many friends there. And I used to think, “I’m never going to marry a service member.”
Diálogo: Why not?
Rear Adm. Uriarte: Because I saw the sacrifice. I saw how much family life was sacrificed, how children longed for their parents when they were away or at sea, or on deployment, and they had an event and their father wasn’t there. And so I thought, “I couldn’t stand being part of a family where my husband lived away all the time, and I never knew where he was.” Well, you should never say never because I very gladly participated.
Diálogo: Before joining the military, you graduated as an engineer, another uncommon field for women. Why did you pursue that field?
Rear Adm. Uriarte: Since I was little, I have always been interested in physical and chemical phenomena: why they occur, what causes them, and why something happened. I have always been interested in the fields of physics, chemistry, and mathematics. These subjects were very easy for me in secondary school, but they were easy because I enjoyed them. And when any sort of research projects came up at school, for a science fair or to compete in some math contest, I was there because it fascinated me. I naturally gravitated toward fields of study that had something to do with that. And actually, though it appears contradictory, I also really enjoyed law.
Diálogo: Exact and human sciences at the same time.
Rear Adm. Uriarte: Exactly. I really enjoyed law, but at that time there was no law program available to study in Bahía Blanca. There were biology and biochemistry programs at the Universidad Nacional del Sur, but its strongest and most prestigious programs were in engineering, accounting, and business administration. I also didn’t consider it because it meant moving to a new city, and that was economically unfeasible for my family, as it would have limited my siblings’ chances to go to college. So I chose to study Chemical Engineering, which is a subject I enjoyed and believed wouldn’t be too difficult. It was a heavily advertised program at the Universidad del Sur because the Bahía Blanca petrochemical pole was under construction. With this program, university authorities, exercising good judgment, began to train professionals to be able to address the pole’s industrial significance.
Diálogo: How many female students were there?
Rear Adm. Uriarte: I don’t recall the exact number, but no more than 10 percent.
Diálogo: Out of more than 150, in total?
Rear Adm. Uriarte: Yes, but there were less than 30 of us in the group that graduated at the same time, of which six were women. It was a good average.
Diálogo: Did you immediately join the Navy?
Rear Adm. Uriarte: No. I worked as a teacher for two years, and when I learned that there was an opportunity to enter the Navy as a professional, I signed up. I joined as an engineer, but I worked in the field of information technology. That is an Information Technology specialization within the engineering field.
Diálogo: But information technology was in its infancy back then, right?
Rear Adm. Uriarte: Yes. I had already explored the field of information technology at the university; the first computer at the Universidad del Sur was in the Chemical Engineering pilot plant. It was a Digital Equipment Corporation PDP–8, with paper tape punch operation. As computers and the field of information technology began to proliferate throughout the country, it was necessary to acquire new skills to apply them in a field of expertise.
Diálogo: How did you become a service member?
Rear Adm. Uriarte: There were four months of military training where I studied different subjects, such as maritime law, regulations, military operations, etc. related to the organization’s dynamics and to activities performed as part of the organization’s mission. Although I had academic training, the military course was a necessary supplement to understand the institution, its structure, rules, culture, as well as which activities are developed at that organization and where one will be able to contribute.
Diálogo: In your opinion, what is the greatest achievement in terms of gender integration from the time you graduated as a lieutenant junior grade at the beginning of the 1980s?
Rear Adm. Uriarte: A lot changed, essentially with regard to regulations and laws. All existing regulations were standardized and adapted in some way, taking into account women’s particularities. That is, so that things are clear and transparent and you don’t have to fight and ask, “How do I do this? How do I do that?” [So that you] don’t encounter uncertainties when you arrive at your destination and not know if the conditions accommodate women’s everyday need. “Do I have my own bathroom, where will I stay?” Everything related to living conditions, infrastructure, in addition to regulations concerning specific women’s needs concerning maternity, breastfeeding, family care; everything that’s very specific to women, which wasn’t taken into account in the institution at the time. This was adapted from a regulation standpoint to make it easier for women to perform their duties. Although maternity leave was provided, there were other everyday details, such as uniforms, which may seem trivial, but actually, are important matters. Today, if you ask someone who recently joined, none of these things are an issue because they’ve all been resolved. So, they don’t have the same experience. Everything is organized, their accommodations; they have their facilities, their places, their well-defined uniform, their well-defined duties.
Diálogo: Do you believe there are still doubts in the institution about women’s ability to do a specific task?
Rear Adm. Uriarte: I believe that there is an awareness within the institution about the skills women can develop; there is no doubt that a woman can fill a position, fill it well, and meet its demands. Logically, there are positions that still haven’t been reached. The mission of the pioneer or pioneers who fill those positions will be to show that it can be done.
Diálogo: Could you give us an example?
Rear Adm. Uriarte: In my case, I’m a pioneer, and for me each instance was always a challenge. What for men was something natural, today he’s a lieutenant, tomorrow he becomes a captain—nobody was going to scrutinize him because he was promoted to captain whether he was a true captain—in my case, because I was the first woman cadet to graduate, I was always the first to go through each situation. Like what happened to me in the fleet the first time I joined a general staff. Can you imagine? In the Maritime Fleet, the first time a woman showed up, everyone stared wondering what was going on. This, logically, is the first time, and you know that you’re being watched around the clock. Being in the general staff meeting wondering what was the expectation; perhaps the expectation was that I hide by the end of the table and not express an opinion, which wasn’t something I did.
Diálogo: And everyone there had more seniority?
Rear Adm. Uriarte: Exactly! They were all captains. I was in charge of the Fleet Command’s information technology department as a direct advisor to the commander. The commander was eager to computerize and automate procedures, process data, and obtain statistics, and I was his right hand in that regard, which always gave me room and authority to act accordingly. So, they quickly, either got used to it or had no other choice. [Laughter].
Diálogo: You earned your place based on proficiency.
Rear Adm. Uriarte: Exactly. Because it’s not easy to implement a computerized system. I remember the commander said, “I don’t want anyone waiting here in the office hallway. Communicate by computer.” Imagine, in those days, not everyone was used to the computer, and so, I functioned a little bit as technical support, to help them, and from that point I earned the whole team’s complete appreciation and respect. Also, I had to teach software classes, where I explained the scope of the application, how to use it, etc. I imagine that it must not have been very easy for them. “That lady over there, why doesn’t she stay in the kitchen instead of coming here to bother us?” [Laughter].
Diálogo: Did all of that help make you strong?
Rear Adm. Uriarte: I believe so, that it strengthens you. But because of my training and what I went through during my childhood, I was already strengthened. Of course, it depends on each person’s character. There are people who show strength and there are people who don’t. There are people who, when exposed to certain situations, instead of showing strength, become inhibited, or become depressed. In general, for me, each step was to see if I could step up to the plate. An obstacle never meant, “Ugh, what a catastrophe, I’ll never be able to do it.” No, no.
Diálogo: Which was more difficult, when you first joined or after being promoted to general officer?
Rear Adm. Uriarte: When I first joined, without a doubt. Keep in mind that to reach this rank, I fulfilled countless duties with different degrees of difficulty. For example, I was second chief and then chief of operational analysis, a service where I was in charge of more than 180 people, among which were some 39 civilians, the majority of whom were skilled professionals, engineers, with master’s and doctoral degrees in various disciplines. Regarding military personnel, I had subordinate officers and noncommissioned officers. Specifically, besides professional officers [engineers], I had officers who had been ship commanders and they were my subordinates. So, throughout my career I developed experience, knowledge, management, and leadership of personnel. Somehow, the Navy equipped me with all those tools so that I could do it.
Diálogo: What does it mean to be the only female admiral in the Argentine Navy?
Rear Adm. Uriarte: Actually, for me, being the only woman doesn’t mean much because I was always the only woman for each promotion from lieutenant commander onward. In each instance I was always the only one. But others came after, and I hope that’s how it will be [laughter]. Beyond being admiral, I believe, for me, what was really important and unexpected was the appointment as naval attaché in Spain. That was stunning. Although reaching the institution’s highest rank is a source of pride, the scope of activity when going on an overseas mission is much more comprehensive. It’s incredible to have the honor of being able to represent your country, especially the Navy, in a foreign country. That the country trusted a woman to be deployed for the first time as attaché, and to Spain! There is no greater vote of confidence. From that perspective, when you ask about evolution, this is an example of evolution of the institution. For me, yes, it had great significance beyond the experience, which was truly rewarding, not only professionally, but also personally. I always participated in everything, and it was a surprise for the Spanish Navy because they still don’t have women at the highest ranks.
Diálogo: Perhaps personally it isn’t so important, but do you realize how much it means to a girl who considers joining the armed forces?
Rear Adm. Uriarte: Yes, of course. It’s very important from the perspective of a woman’s achievement in an institution such as a military force. It is already difficult for women to reach a high decision-making position, and in a military institution, it seems to be more so because it has historically been a very male-oriented institution. What happens is that a lot of water has gone under the bridge, and it’s not so far-fetched at this time. Yes, it’s very important, and of course I believe the most important thing is to be able to fulfill the mandate in the best way possible so as not to leave any doubt that this can be accomplished in the area in which I work. Obviously, we have to keep in mind that although there is a female admiral in the Navy, the female command officers are lieutenants.
Diálogo: Are you referring to the first women who attended the Naval Academy with men?
Rear Adm. Uriarte: Yes. There is a long way to go. I think a very important milestone, one that I would love to see, is a female ship commander. The first ones will always be pioneers and be subject to scrutiny, and are obviously going to feel that pressure. Then we will really be able to say that a woman developed a full career within the institution because they are command officers. I’m a professional officer. Much more is required of a female command officer. Throughout her career, much more will be required of her than what I may have had, primarily the difficulty of reconciling family life with professional life. In the case of women in command, that will be worked out as they progress in their careers. But it’s difficult because a military career is very demanding. Added to that are social norms imposed on women as ongoing protagonists in family care beyond inherent ability to procreate. Child care, active school participation, household activities, all involve excessively challenging demands; it’s difficult to juggle.
Diálogo: What is the solution?
Rear Adm. Uriarte: I think planning is the only way. You have to keep in mind that the reproductive age range coincides exactly with the military training period. In other words, when officers are being trained to fulfill their higher level duties. This requires time at sea, missions, courses, commissions; these activities heavily affect this stage, which in general, implies lack of availability, absences, time away from the port area or unit to address personal issues. If we add to this starting a family and she has children, it’s not very compatible if it is not well planned.
Diálogo: However, wasn’t all that used as an excuse for all those years to limit women’s participation in the military?
Rear Adm. Uriarte: Sure. The issue is that we shouldn’t look for excuses to see what would happen to a person in this or that situation. We should allow it to happen and allow the person to resolve it. I can say, “No, that person, honestly, based on her profile, it seems to me that she won’t be able to do that.” It doesn’t matter what anything seems to me, rather, the person must get an opportunity. If she fails, fine, she fails for this or that reason. But I shouldn’t prejudge; that’s why I don’t think it’s a valid argument. Yes, I believe that a woman has to plan her life in order to pursue a military career. She doesn’t have total freedom to act like a person who pursues another profession might have. Why? Because she has to build a career. And it’s a career that demands that these skills be acquired during this stage to reach the next stage. And keep in mind that the occupation developed is a critical occupation. It’s a defense occupation. So, I can’t accept, “No, we should demand fewer hours of training, fewer days at sea.” Why? “Fewer hours of target practice, fewer hours of that.” Excuse me; am I preparing her for war? If I’m training her for war, these different conditions hamper my training. She won’t be able to defend herself. I have to give her as many tools as possible so that she can defend herself properly and fulfill her defense mission. If I didn’t, it wouldn’t be fair. Now, this, what does it entail? That women be available. So that’s a woman’s problem, and she must make a decision.
Diálogo: And the partner’s expectations? The children’s expectations?
Rear Adm. Uriarte: That’s her decision. It’s not the institution’s problem.
Diálogo: Like in other professions.
Rear Adm. Uriarte: Exactly. It’s a personal issue. As happens in many occupations; a female flight attendant also lives away from home, constantly traveling. Perhaps it’s a rough comparison, but there are many professions that require women to plan their life, the woman and the man, her partner, whoever that may be. That’s why I say, “Plan your life.” Because if you don’t, you can’t do both things. And one ends up taking precedence over the other, or you resign yourself to accepting less demanding duties or activities.
Diálogo: Do you agree with allowing women to participate in combat zones?
Rear Adm. Uriarte: I agree because really, women historically voluntarily participated in combat zones in different ways. And women involuntarily participate in combat zones as part of the civilian population, and in those cases they are the most affected even though they aren’t combatants. In general, women in combat zones have shown the ability to be resilient in every sense of the word. From trying to withstand different attacks, different types of sexual violence simply for being a woman. Trying to safeguard their children, the elderly left behind; trying to find food so that their family survives; trying to reunite the family again. They develop skills no matter what, even as civilians. And they have shown to have the spirit and strength to do that. I think that if a woman chooses to be a combatant or chooses to be an active part of an armed force and enters combat, she won’t be at higher risk than the others. Currently, I believe it’s allowed in some cases, but the restrictions remain, and it’s still hotly debated.
Diálogo: There are several papers about this.
Rear Adm. Uriarte: Yes, and they don’t reach an agreement! Some say one thing; others assert the opposite. Some argue that it weakens the troop’s readiness because actually, the men worry about protecting women. I don’t know why they worry about protecting them, but well, to me it seems like a very weak argument. Others say, “No, because they are a temptation; in an adrenaline-producing situation, seeing women is a temptation.” These are stupid arguments. In reality, I think it’s a cultural issue because women at war die like men. Or is the death of a mother more painful for a child than the death of a father? Are we aware [of this implication]? I mean, both are human beings. What’s the difference? In a war zone, even if women perform support tasks, they run the same risk as any other combatants. Also, when you enter an armed institution, the first thing you do is take an oath to defend the nation or homeland, even sacrificing your life if necessary. The men do it and the women do it. So, if I swear to defend the homeland and sacrifice my life if necessary or because the situation calls for it, well the commitment is already made, so the actions are a result of this commitment. If not, women shouldn’t take the oath. It seems to me that there’s a series of inconsistencies that have nothing to do with abilities.
Diálogo: In addition we must keep in mind that war changed, the traditional war we see in movies no longer exists.
Rear Adm. Uriarte: That’s true. The entire cavalry on this side facing the cavalry on the other side, hand-to-hand combat, no longer exists. Today, although the objective is defense, defense isn’t war; war is the last resort. Defense is something else. Defense requires intelligent people skilled in many areas of expertise to achieve a stable balance that creates deterrence. And in the event that it occurs, the duties women now fulfill on peace missions, whether for reconstruction, intervention, or restoring peace so that the host nation or country successfully reclaims its autonomy and its capabilities, institutionally speaking, the work women perform in these interventions is truly outstanding. I think this is one of the areas where, today, women’s participation is indisputable. And in fact it’s highlighted in many publications. We have our own experience, but there are countries that have much more experience, and all of them claim that the work women perform in this type of activity is truly very important.
Diálogo: Why do women perform so well on peace missions?
Rear Adm. Uriarte: It’s because women have a different perspective. And in those environments that are so critical, so complex that aren’t only war, there are social and economic issues of all kinds, where a woman’s influence is truly essential. Seeing a woman in uniform is not the same as seeing a man, mainly because of the style they have or because of the degree of impact they’ve had. So, finding a way to approach and reach a person is much easier for women because they inspire more trust. And a woman can, in some way, intervene more directly. Because men, in general, as good-intentioned as they may be, tend to be shunned by the civilian population. Due to history, due to culture, this doesn’t happen to women. The ability to leverage this situation to directly intervene and in some way successfully reclaim and restore peace is important. It seems to me that it’s essential, regardless of specific tasks women traditionally carried out in the field of health care.
Diálogo: Which ones?
Rear Adm. Uriarte: It seems to me that in the connection between building and restoring life with the civilian population, a women’s presence is vital because of her ability to be supportive and empathetic. In fact, if one observes the countries where security and defense are intertwined, women’s participation is significantly higher. Because in the area of security, where there is more contact with the civilian population, there are more women than in the specific area of the military branch. And I believe it’s out of the question, that is, today it’s difficult for someone to ask why women are members of the internal security forces, policewomen, it seems natural, right?
Diálogo: Do you agree with the quota system to encourage more women to join the military or security forces?
Rear Adm. Uriarte: No, honestly, I don’t. I don’t agree with the quota system because actually, I believe that when it’s analyzed from a numbers perspective, the number doesn’t say much about the true level of women’s integration in the institution. There could be a low number and good integration, and there could be an excessive number and they continue to be sidelined. A number doesn’t give us a proper measure to ensure equality. Yes, it’s a start, but it doesn’t clarify what’s going to happen next. If there is no willingness, and there is no organizational culture in the institution, which requires women’s contributions, numbers will be numbers because they won’t overcome obstacles, and in many cases the institution won’t retain those women. True integration isn’t associated with a number. It seems to me that quotas are dangerous in an military institution because in reality they undermine effective selection. The ability to select the most suitable and skillful person for the job is essential, regardless of whether they’re a woman or a man.
Diálogo: What should be done to avoid falling into a kind of discrimination? And affirmative action?
Rear Adm. Uriarte: In fact, the selection process, both for entry as well as for promotions, posts or ranks, should be transparent. The procedure in itself should be transparent to ensure that there is no discrimination. If preconceptions related to gender are introduced into the selection or promotion procedure during analysis or assessment, we evidently will, in some way, place obstacles for women to join, be promoted, or hold a rank. I don’t believe in affirmative action either. If I have a group of people and I have to make a decision about a promotion to an important rank, I will analyze careers, profiles, performance, skills, and relevant experience. But I analyze that information regardless of whether it’s a woman or a man. “And who is best qualified? This one. Oh, it’s a woman; oh, no, it’s a man.” It has to be transparent; if that process is transparent it ensures that anyone has the same chance. There are equal opportunities and unequal numbers because it’s voluntary; joining an institution such as a military force is voluntary. Choosing or not choosing a given specialization is voluntary. When there was talk, for example, of implementing a quota system in the closed branches [infantry, cavalry], where women originally weren’t allowed, it was suggested, “Well, let’s set a quota.” Why? If we set a quota, we force women who don’t want to do it, because selection of the branch of service is done during the second year of military academy, not the first. So, if we set a quota: “At least 10 have to go into that specialization.” If there aren’t enough volunteers from the group of available women, they will force the rest because the quota has to be met. On a different note, let’s say there are 10 volunteers. Now, are those 10 volunteers capable, suitable, the best out of the entire group we have? Or did we assign them because they’re women? It doesn’t work. That doesn’t contribute. Proficiency confers legitimacy. And there is no worse situation than not having legitimacy. And much less so in a military institution, where you must lead personnel and train them to go to war. If my subordinates assume that I’m in charge of that battalion or that vessel or whatever it may be because I’m the daughter or friend of someone or because I’m a woman, they wouldn’t see me as a leader or completely trust the decisions I make.
Diálogo: Do you believe the environment is more favorable for women to be promoted to general officers?
Rear Adm. Uriarte: I believe that in our country, and in many Latin American countries, the fact that women have reached senior decision-making political positions had a strong impact. That’s what occurred in many Latin American countries’ defense ministries, presidencies, and important political positions. For me, that was essential for progress in this regard. Because say, if a woman can be defense minister, or can be a nation’s president, if she can lead a country and make decisions regarding that country, why are we discussing if she’s allowed to sit in an armored tank?
Diálogo: Is a cultural change necessary?
Rear Adm. Uriarte: Yes, it seems to me that it’s essential for evolution; yes, a cultural change is needed. If an organization makes the cultural change, the path is being cleared. It’s just a matter of willpower and determination. It’s not about fighting the organization because the organization isn’t receptive. The organization is receptive when the cultural change takes place. When there are social changes, they spill over into all activities. Today, there is a great deal of change in all fields concerning education with a gender perspective. Education begins at an early age with the premise that roles are not connected to biology. Roles are connected to willingness and abilities, but not to biology. When a person is educated according to this concept from a young age, these things are innate in adulthood. Today we’re in a transitional stage; some generations didn’t experience this, and they had another concept, another paradigm, and another stereotype, such as, “women indoors, in private, taking care of the house, there is no one who can manage it better, there is no one to care for the children.” Or, “a child without his mother at home would be handicapped.” I was raised in a household in which my mother was seldom at home, and I wasn’t handicapped. Another paradigm was that the manmade decisions. For example, I remember that in the beginning, people asked me, “And you’re a service woman?” “Yes.” “And what does your husband think about that? ” “I don’t know, but must my husband have an opinion on this?”
Diálogo: Do you have any anecdotes about your husband and your military career?
Rear Adm. Uriarte: Well, in fact I was always less of a novelty than my husband because he generally stirred up a lot of concerns. “What did he think? How did he feel? What was his opinion? Or, how did he put up with it?” To mention a more recent anecdote, when we deployed to Spain, my husband requested leave from work to accompany me. When people met him, the first question was, “Pardon me, and what do you do?” My husband responded, “I’m the attaché’s husband; you don’t think that’s enough? The attaché’s husband has lots of work to do, and I’m the attaché’s husband.” [Laughter]. The man is on leave and accompanies the wife to events and performances as a husband? That really was a surprise.
Diálogo: Do we need to continue celebrating International Women’s Day?
Rear Adm. Uriarte: Normally, when a holiday is established, it’s for a reason. One reason is to commemorate a distinguished person or an occurrence that needs to be remembered, or to highlight a historical event, etc. But there are times when holidays are created to raise awareness, place an issue on the public and private agenda of scholars and the entire society, and in this case, the topic is women. Is it necessary? Yes, it’s necessary. International Women’s Day has been celebrated since 1975. It was established within the framework of the United Nations so that for at least one day someone would discuss the topic. Someone speaks, is forced to speak; intellectuals give opinions, psychologists make assessments, analyses. They say, “we progress, we don’t progress,” “this occurs, that doesn’t occur.” I think it’s important to maintain awareness of this topic, because we’re still far from achieving the objectives.
Diálogo: Speaking of breaking down barriers and serving as a role model for other women, what are your thoughts about Eliana María Krawczyk, the first female submarine officer in Latin America, who unfortunately was lost with the Argentinian Navy submarine ARA San Juan?
Rear Adm. Uriarte: Unfortunately, it’s a deep sorrow for everyone. But she was truly a pioneer in every sense of the word and a role model for young people who dream of becoming service members. I trust in the strength of women. I’m an unconditional defender in the sense that they are capable of giving everything for what they believe in, for their calling. They can face the most critical situations, so I don’t believe this will have a negative impact; on the contrary, it will be something positive. To those women who truly enjoy the profession, I suppose they won’t hesitate to do it because they now have a reference point.
Diálogo: Is there a legacy you would like to leave to your successors?
Rear Adm. Uriarte: Really, I don’t believe I’m anyone’s role model, considering there are many invaluable people. In general, I had the benefit, occasional, and circumstantial of course, to have joined the first class. Perhaps if I had joined the second one, I wouldn’t be in the same situation. Obviously the effort has to be made, but the circumstances help. I believe I had the appropriate opportunities, and I knew how to take advantage of them, nothing more than that. I am convinced that when one goes through a given place, they have to leave a footprint; the only thing I intend to do is leave a footprint on the path I traveled and to have somehow worked and provided guidance so that the institution evolves, so that the institution trusts in women’s abilities. From my modest place, I hope to have contributed so that somehow gender perspective and gender integration become something real. I would only tell women, “In the Navy, the only obstacle is lack of willingness and commitment. Nothing in life is free.”