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Uruguayan Armed Forces Participation in Peacekeeping Missions is an Example for the World

Uruguayan Armed Forces Participation in Peacekeeping Missions is an Example for the World

By Dialogo
September 16, 2015


The volume and persistence of contributions to United Nations (UN) peacekeeping operations by Uruguayan military personnel over the past two decades have made the country an example not only in South America but also worldwide.
Uruguay's calling to serve in the interests of peace and international security dates back decades. However, their permanent participation began in 1982, when the country sent a contingent to join the UN Multinational Force and Observers on the Sinai Peninsula. Throughout the years, Uruguayan forces have participated in observation missions and have provided support for peacekeeping efforts in various corners of the world.
To discuss this and other issues, Diálogo spoke with Army General Nelson Eduardo Pintos González, Chief of Staff of Uruguay’s Department of Defense, during the South American Defense Conference (SOUTHDEC 2015), held in Asuncion, Paraguay, on August 18-21.
DIÁLOGO:
Uruguay is well known internationally for being a very active in UN peacekeeping missions...
General Nelson Eduardo Pintos González:
Uruguay has always had a rich history of participation in peacekeeping missions. We are an army dedicated to peace that has participated with contingents – much more than our previous sporadic participation – beginning with Cambodia in 1991, where we began our participation and have never stopped. Then we went to Mozambique, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo – where we still remain - to Haiti, as well as participation with observers in different areas. And in Uruguay there is a School of Peacekeeping Missions that is based on the participation of officials in different peacekeeping operations and that provides training to future observers and staff members.
DIÁLOGO:
With regard to disaster relief efforts, what do the Armed Forces of Uruguay do within the country?
Gen. Pintos:
In Uruguay there is a National Emergency System, which operates under the presidency of the republic, whose director is the deputy secretary of the presidency, and the secretary is an Army colonel who is a member of what we call the National System. This system has representatives in all of Uruguay’s departments, who carry out ongoing activities regarding plans and anticipating possible disasters that may arise. When warranted by the occurrence of an incident, local committees are formed. For example, right now there are floods in the department of Durazno and the local Durazno departmental committee is operating to provide support to the evacuees.
DIÁLOGO:
What is your biggest challenge as Chief of the Armed Forces?
Gen. Pintos:
We are clearly aware of an issue that will be very important, which I mentioned yesterday at the conference, which is to protect the environment. I said yesterday that when we went to Mozambique in 1992, we had to drink bottled water and in Uruguay we were used to drinking water directly from the tap. These days, we no longer drink water directly from the tap, and many have started to drink bottled water; the water does not have the same standard of quality that it had 20 years ago. The basin of the Santa Lucía River, which is the river that supplies water to the city of Montevideo, the capital, which is home to 50% of the population of Uruguay, is showing a degree of pollution that is making it necessary to take steps to recover the water quality levels it had in previous years.
DIÁLOGO:
And you believe that this could be a new role for the Armed Forces?
Gen. Pintos:
It has to be, because the Defense Framework law establishes the protection of our country’s strategic resources as an obligation of the Armed Forces, and water is a strategic resource, it is an asset to be protected. In the future, there will come a time when the soil will also have to be protected, the places where there are signs of soil degradation through overproduction or the overuse of pesticides. There is a lot of harm to the environment being caused by humans and we must begin to implement regulations. I believe that the Armed Forces, primarily through our territorial deployment, given that there are military units throughout the country, in every department, can reach all parts of the country and exercise control everywhere. This is a role that we have to adhere to. We are also working to advance an idea presented by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, which is to control our borders against the entry of products that may cause pollution for agricultural production or livestock production. We had this type of experience many years ago. Uruguay was a country that was free of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), without the need for vaccination, but the disease entered the country and now we are a country free of FMD through the use of vaccinations. It is an inferior status and it limits our ability to access markets for the sale of meat. At that time, with the outbreak of the disease, sanitary barriers were erected to try to stop the disease from entering the country, but it was not possible. While FMD is now under control, there are other diseases that can affect agriculture and livestock and there need to be sanitary controls along our borders, particularly along the coast with Argentina and the land border with Brazil, in addition to the controls carried out at airports and at the port. There has been contact between the Ministry of Livestock and the Armed Forces to see if we can arrange a system of mobile barriers to prevent the entry of potential health contaminants, for both plants and livestock.
DIÁLOGO:
General, what can you tell us about the legalization of marijuana as it relates to the Armed Forces in Uruguay?
Gen. Pintos:
There is a law that has legalized marijuana use, but it has never been regulated. In other words, the law exists but it has not been implemented because, given that it is not regulated, it is not known what it authorizes with regard to marijuana. It is believed that it will authorize marijuana use and plantations at home for personal use, all of which will be controlled. Production would be at home and sales would take place through pharmacies. That is what is expected to happen, but it has not been regulated, so we cannot establish how it will ultimately be. But within the Armed Forces, drug use is still prohibited. Military personnel handling weapons cannot be exposed to withdrawal symptoms, so there is still a ban and there are still controls within the Armed Forces, and if any personal use of drugs is found, they are dismissed.
DIÁLOGO:
But are the Armed Forces actively participating in the fight against drugs?
Gen. Pintos:
No. The law does not stipulate that the Armed Forces have to exercise control over drugs, but one of the biggest drug shipments was seized by the Navy, through the Naval Prefecture, on a yacht entering the port of Santa Lucía, where, thanks to advance information, a shipment of cocaine was found. The Air Force, in turn, on more than one occasion has found irregular flights entering our airspace and upon intercepting them have made seizures; some of them have jettisoned their cargo. While it is not a specific responsibility, there is a responsibility for prefectural maritime policing and aerial policing by the Air Force, which indirectly obliges us to exercise some control over drugs.
DIÁLOGO:
Is Uruguay a transit country for drugs?
Gen. Pintos:
In my opinion, yes ... because the market for drug trafficking is not profitable. Our population is small. We have 3 million inhabitants and the drug trade is not profitable. We are a transit country for heroin to the United States, cocaine going to Europe and a place of transit and consumption of marijuana on a smaller scale. What has become widespread with respect to drug use among young people in Uruguay is what is called cocaine paste, which is a byproduct that is produced when purifying cocaine. Drug traffickers used to throw this out and now it sells very cheaply and is very accessible. Cocaine paste creates a very strong addiction and generates significant damage, to the point that within a few years a frequent user can develop limitations, including with their motor skills, that prevent them from performing activities as simple as sweeping, when use is frequent and prolonged.
DIÁLOGO:
The commander of the U.S. Southern Command, General John Kelly is about to retire. Do you think there has been more interaction between the Armed Forces of the two countries in recent years?
Gen. Pintos:
Relations between our country and the United States, through the U.S. Southern Command, are very good. But beyond that the work of Air Force Colonel Kirk Carver, the U.S. military representative in Uruguay, has been noteworthy. He is always available, always in good spirits. I think there is very good group of soldiers who work very hard and have achieved an excellent relationship with the Armed Forces of our country. Our direct link passes through the Defense Attaché of the United States to reach the Southern Command. I can tell you that right now we are experiencing, in my view, one of the best relationships between the Army and the Armed Forces of Uruguay and those of the United States.
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