Uruguay is considered one of the most democratic, transparent, and stable countries in the world, an outlier in the Latin American context. The institutionalized nature of Uruguay’s party system contributed significantly to democracy, but was not sufficient to prevent a military dictatorship period in the context of the Cold War (1973–1984). Eventually, the political party system adapted to accommodate the emergence of the Broad Front (left), which gained the most votes of any political party in 1999 and won the election in 2005. The recent wave of progressive reforms in Uruguay, such as the introduction of universal healthcare, abortion laws, same-sex marriage laws, and cannabis legalization can be explained by the strong links political parties (particularly on the left) maintain with social movements. Further, this link also helps to explain the legitimacy that political parties still retain in Uruguay. Nevertheless, Uruguayan democracy faces challenges in terms of transparency, equality, and the risk of democratic “deconsolidation.”
Rafael Piñeiro Rodríguez and Fabrizio Scrollini Mendez
Kai Michael Kenkel
Latin American states have become major providers of troops for UN peacekeeping operations (PKOs) since the early 2000s. MINUSTAH (Mission des Nations Unies pour la stabilisation en Haïti), the UN mission in Haiti, 55% of whose troops were from the region, was a major watershed for local security cooperation and PKO contributions. Led by Brazil, these states were able to develop a specific approach to peacebuilding that reflects regional strengths and experiences, rooted in minimizing the use of force and bringing successful domestic development policies to bear abroad. This approach also reflects the common security and intervention culture that underpins policy in the region. Two states in particular have taken on a role as major providers of peacekeeping contingents. Tiny Uruguay, with a population of 3 million people, has maintained over 2,000 troops deployed on UN PKOs (more than 10% of its armed forces) since 2005. While Uruguay’s motivations are mostly economic—UN reimbursements exceed the country’s costs—Brazil’s ascendance as a major peacekeeping provider during MINUSTAH was part of a larger emerging-power foreign policy project. Participating in peacebuilding allowed the country to provide security through actions in the development realm, bridging a key gap in many rising states’ capabilities, and to mount an incipient challenge to the Western-led peacebuilding paradigm. The remaining states of Latin America show considerable diversity in their peacekeeping engagement, with many others sending small or token contributions and some no troops at all. Latin American states’ involvement in PKOs cannot be understood without looking at their interaction with patterns of civil–military relations in the region. In the case of such states, the effect of peacekeeping participation on civil–military relations, while a key point in need of monitoring, has not been decisive, as other factors prevail. Finally, PKOs have served as the locus for a significant increase in policy coordination and cooperation in the defense arena in the region. As the UN moves toward stabilization operations which privilege counterterrorism measures over the peacebuilding paradigm that is a strength of Latin American countries, PKOs may lose attractiveness as a foreign policy avenue in the region. Additionally, the swing to the right in recent elections may serve to reduce the appeal of a practice which came to the fore under previous left-wing governments.
David Altman and Nicole Jenne
Scholars have paid little attention to the Uruguayan armed forces, an institution that has never been fully entrusted with the country’s external security. This is explained by Uruguay’s geographical condition as a buffer state, sandwiched between South America’s biggest countries, Brazil and Argentina. The power differential with either one of them has rendered the prospect of a viable defense futile. Accordingly, those who have studied the Uruguayan military concur that it has traditionally had difficulties finding a place and recognition within the state and society. Throughout its history, the military has been a rather weak institution mostly subordinate to democratic control. After the creation of Uruguay in 1828, it took several decades until a truly national military was established. The late 19th and early 20th century represent an exception in the country’s history as the armed forces underwent a modernization process backed by government resources. Military professionalization consolidated civilian control. Yet, soon after, the strengthening of democratic institutions and a high degree of social stability maneuvered the armed forces into a position of political neglect. This changed rather abruptly in the late 1960s, when a severe social, economic, and political crisis drove the ruling elites to call upon the armed forces to restore order. The military launched a coup d’état in 1973 and remained in power until 1985, when a negotiated transition put an end to the dictatorship and the U.S.-supported National Security Doctrine. Subsequent democratic governments gradually reestablished civilian control and reduced the budget and size of the institution. However, given the stigmas from the dictatorship, together with the traditionally low esteem in which the military has been held, politicians have been slow in taking on necessary reforms in the military and defense sectors. Political neglect has allowed the armed forces considerable autonomy in military and defense policymaking, due to lack of civilian involvement. The decision to have the armed forces participate in UN peacekeeping—since 1992, Uruguay has almost consistently been among the top peacekeeping contributors per capita—has provided solutions to a number of pending questions regarding the role of the armed forces. Participation in peacekeeping allows for financial resources to supplement military salaries and acquisition funds. It provides the armed forces with a mission and has brought them closer to the civilian foreign policy elite. Yet, Uruguay still seems to wonder whether the country wants to have its armed forces.