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Uruguayan Navy Committed to the Fight Against Narcotrafficking

The military institution joins regional efforts to counter transnational criminal organizations.
Geraldine Cook/Diálogo | 3 December 2018

Admiral Carlos Eduardo Abilleira Aris, commander of the Uruguayan Navy, works to transform his military institution into a more efficient and operational force. (Photo: Geraldine Cook, Diálogo)

Admiral Carlos Eduardo Abilleira Aris, commander of the Uruguayan Navy, wants to transform his military institution into a more efficient and operational organization. To do so, he focuses on consolidating the Marine Corps Command and unifying Maritime Traffic Control centers.

Adm. Abilleira participated at the XXVIII Inter-American Naval Conference (IANC) in Cartagena, Colombia, July 23-26, 2018. He spoke with Diálogo about his participation at IANC and the combined work with neighboring countries to control narcotrafficking and criminal activities, among other topics. 

Diálogo: How important is Uruguay’s participation in this conference?

Admiral Carlos Eduardo Abilleira Aris, commander of the Uruguayan Navy: For most participating nations, this topic is substantially important, and I think it impacts us in a similar way. The difference in focus arises because narcotrafficking, the topic we covered at this conference, affects countries in a different way; some with a greater degree of internal intervention because they produce [the drug], others have problems that facilitate its trade, and others address this issue at the end of the chain, which has to do with consumption. Although Uruguay is not a drug producer, it contributes and fulfills its commitment to the international cooperation effort to eliminate this threat to the peace, security, and health of our people.

Diálogo: Why do you believe in the importance of addressing this topic for the armed forces?

Adm. Abilleira: Specifically because narcotrafficking uses every means of transport to do business: air, land, and sea. Maritime means are very convenient for narcotrafficking because they can move large quantities. Ships are responsible for transporting more than 80 percent of cargo worldwide, and the system that regulates maritime trade provides an opportunity to misuse or hide illegal (drug) loads within legal shipments or containers. 

Diálogo: How important is IANC for the Uruguayan Navy in the fight against narcotrafficking and common threats?

Adm. Abilleira: This conference is very valuable. I’d like to point out that one element all commanders need is to improve maritime traffic information and intelligence. We agree that our best chance for success is for intelligence to flow at the right time, in real time. 

Diálogo: How does the Uruguayan Navy support the region’s naval forces in this struggle?

Adm. Abilleira: We have different organizations; we are part of maritime traffic control networks by which we exchange information on vessels and cargo movement. Also, we carry out exercises and use different types of units operationally, depending on the setting or theater of operations. We use procedures and try to standardize them not only to improve interoperability, but also to address complex cases, such as rivers in border areas, where bilateral agreements and cooperation are essential. 

Diálogo: The training ship Capitán Miranda is being refurbished. What progress has been made?

Adm. Abilleira: The ship received what is called a long-life repair. It got new engines, and all systems in the engine room were updated, including its control system, which was duplicated like the navigation bridge systems, to enable instruction for midshipmen who embark on their graduation trip. Other transformations were also carried out in the structure and hull. With these changes, we expect to have a ship with modern equipment—the vessel was built in 1930—that we will be able to use for many more years.   

Diálogo: What is your most important effort?

Adm. Abilleira: Being more efficient in our tasks, meaning the same tasks with less funds and personnel, as a result of restructuring and armed force reduction, which must also be adapted to a lower budget. In this respect, as I mentioned, we started to restructure infantry forces, unifying the Prefecture infantry forces (with maritime police missions similar to the Coast Guard) with infantry forces of the Fleet Command (that had national defense functions) in one single Marine Corps Command, so it can be managed with both purposes: defense in typical Marine Corps missions, and in missions to counter narcotrafficking and support the Maritime Police.

This year, we’re thinking of unifying the three Maritime Traffic Control centers. We have three separate centers that coordinate and supervise all maritime traffic in our jurisdiction: One depends on the Fleet Command to control its deployed units and search and rescue missions; another depends on the Prefecture Maritime Traffic Directorate to control and assist entry and exit of ships at ports, and help with coastal navigation; and the third, the Maritime Traffic Naval Control Center, which works within the program of the CODEFTRAMI [Maritime Traffic Defense Coordination] plan with all the navies of the South Atlantic Maritime Area [AMAS, in Spanish] to favor the security of these lines of communication.

Diálogo: Since you took office in February 2018, what has been your most important challenge?

Adm. Abilleira: Making these transformations and trying to achieve those I mentioned about the Marines Corps and traffic control. We also need to acquire new means, especially surface means, since our patrol capabilities beyond 200 miles are quite reduced. We are thinking of a less expensive configuration, such as offshore patrol vessels. We also worry about technology, since we have to get more technology to better safeguard borders, especially to become more effective in countering narcotrafficking.

Diálogo: What agreements, exercises, or activities does the Uruguayan Navy conduct with Argentina and Brazil to control narcotrafficking and criminal activity?

Adm. Abilleira: Particularly, AMAS, which I previously mentioned, is an organization created in 1959 to carry out missions against narcotrafficking. Not only do South American countries on the South Atlantic coast—Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina—take part in this organization, but also Paraguay. This network is permanently active, and the coordinator is an admiral who is replaced every two years. Uruguay coordinates it since March 2018, and Brazil will take over in March 2020. We have a common doctrine of use that not only includes information analysis, but navies also take part in annual exercises. One is ACRUX, for coastal operations, and we conduct bilateral operations, such as Operation Fraternal with Brazil and the combined naval exercise PASSEX. 

Diálogo: As a signatory nation to the Antarctic Treaty, do you carry out operations in Antarctica?

Adm. Abilleira: We provide support to the General Artigas Station on King George Island, and to the Ruperto Elichiribehety Scientific Antarctic Station, both in Antarctica. We provide logistic support by sea via our Antarctic ships, ROU 4 Artigas and ROU 26 Vanguardia, which are multi-purpose ships capable of taking all supplies for those bases to be operational for one year. 

Diálogo: What is your message for all IANC admirals on combined work?

Adm. Abilleira: We have to work on our relationships, attend these conferences. Face-to-face contact gives us new opportunities for trust, to build better bonds of friendship that help create other cooperation agreements and, essentially, intelligence exchanges, without the usual reluctance proper to specialized agencies. 

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