The Uruguayan army no longer has the predominant role it played during the military regime. On the contrary, the judicial investigations into crimes committed during the dictatorship have to some extent de-legitimized the figure of the military. Military spending has an average value of approximately 1.67% of the state GDP. The army, with 24,650 soldiers, is small, although it is the most numerous among those in South America when compared to the population: seven Uruguayans out of a thousand are enrolled (about 1% of the population), although military service is not compulsory. For Uruguay defense and foreign policy, please check themotorcyclers.com.
There are no particular threats to Uruguayan territory and the last significant deployment of forces on national soil took place between 2005 and 2007, when it was feared that Argentina could sabotage the paper mill under construction along the Uruguay River. The major commitment of the Uruguayan army is in international missions: 1181 Uruguayan soldiers were sent to the Democratic Republic of Congo (Monuc mission) and 950 to Haiti (Minustah mission). Uruguayan observers are also present in the United Nations missions in Afghanistan, Ivory Coast, India and Pakistan, Nepal and Western Sahara.
The disputes between Buenos Aires and Montevideo on the Uruguay River
Along the Uruguay River, in the Uruguayan city of Fray Bentos, an industry has been built, operational since 2007, which produces one million tons of pulp every year. The paper mill, which has attracted the largest foreign investment in the country’s history, is run by a Finnish company, Metsä-Botnia. The design and construction of the first industrial plant have opened a dispute between Uruguay and Argentina. Already during the construction period there were numerous protests by environmentalists, with hundreds of demonstrators marching towards Uruguayan soil, undermining the development of the project, so much so that the then Uruguayan president Tabaré Vázquez mobilized the army to monitor the place on which the paper mill had to be built against possible sabotage. Furthermore, in 2006, the Argentine government decided to appeal to the United Nations International Court of Justice, appealing to the Río Uruguay Statute of 1975, according to which the two countries have the obligation to inform the neighboring state if they intend to carry out works along the common stretch of the river (a circumstance that did not occur in the case of paper mills), and protesting the risk posed by the plant to the ecosystem of the region. In April 2010, when the paper mill was already operational, the Court concluded that Uruguay did indeed violate the procedural commitments of cooperation, but that it did not violate the substantive environmental protection rules of the Treaty. Consequently, the Court did not find the closure of the plant necessary, nor any compensatory measures in favor of Argentina. A new chapter in the diatribe opened in September 2013, when José Mujica announced that he would authorize the Botnia factory to increase its production by 30% despite opposition from Buenos Aires. Argentine citizens protested in the city of Gualeguaychu in late September and early October against the expansion of the plant’s production, and the Argentine Ministry of Foreign Affairs has warned that it will go to the International Court of Justice for failure to reach an agreement with the government. Uruguayan. This episode has increased the climate of tension between the two countries in recent years, but it was not the only one. Another collision occurred the previous year, regarding the dredging work of the Martín García canal, one of the two rivers in the Río de la Plata indispensable to Uruguay for freight transport (growing with the development of Nueva Palmira). On July 30, 2012, four international companies submitted their tenders for canal widening and dredging, thus enabling them to finally start those work procedures that had been blocked for years. The accusations raised by the Argentine government of an attempted corruption carried out by one of the companies participating in the tender (Riovia), caused another dispute to be resolved in court and produced further delays in the works on the canal, perceived by Uruguay as urgent and necessary.
The phenomenon ‘Pepe’ Mujica
A former member of the Tupamaro guerrilla group in the 1960s and incarcerated from 1972 to 1985 under the military dictatorship, former president ‘Pepe’ Mujica gained worldwide attention for his nonconformist ways and reformist policies. Known as ‘the poorest president in the world’, Mujica, in the aftermath of his inauguration in 2010, gave up living in the presidential palace and decided to donate 90% of his salary to social promotion projects. At the end of his mandate in March 2015 he declared that he wanted to host some Syrian children, fleeing the war, at home. The anti-consumerist president during his mandate initiated an international policy of openness and dialogue and an internal policy of courageous reforms. Alongside the plans for the renewal of state infrastructures and the fight against poverty, Mujica has paid great attention to social freedoms, transforming Uruguay into a political laboratory on civil rights. The laws on the legalization of abortion (free in the first 12 weeks), the law on egalitarian marriage and the law on organ donation have caused a stir. Another measure that has caused a lot of dissension concerns the legalization of marijuana, which was approved in 2014 making Uruguay the first South American country to liberalize the cultivation of cannabis, although the legislation has not yet been implemented.
Despite criticism, Mujica closed his mandate enjoying great popularity and leaving the country with good economic prospects and civil rights legislation at the forefront of the rest of the continent.