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Uruguay - Military Personnel

Until the 1960s, the military was mostly ignored by politicians and played a marginal role in Uruguayan political life. A military career lacked prestige and respect. Officers came mainly from the lower middle class in the small towns and cities of the interior; troops were recruited from the lowest strata of the rural sector, mainly from the estancias (ranches) or from the ranks of the unemployed in the urban shantytowns (cantegriles).

By offering early retirement incentives, the government has trimmed the armed forces to about 14,500 for the army, 6,000 for the navy, and 3,000 for the air force. During the 1973-80 period, the military moved ruthlessly against all it deemed a security threat. During the same period, the military grew from some 22,000 to an estimated 30,000, and military officers began to serve as heads of state enterprises and as governors of departments.

Acknowledging reluctandy that the nation faced no serious threat to internal order and sensitive to the dictates of a constrained national economy, during the late 1980s the military accepted an approximately 20 percent reduction in personnel, as well as a sigficant reduction in spending. As of 1990, armed forces strength was about 25,200, somewhat higher than the level maintained during premilitary rule.

The most difficult issue facing the nation in the wake of the return to civilian rule was how to treat military officers who had committed offenses during the period of military rule. In an effort to calm military and police fears and to put the nation's troubled past behind it, the Chamber of Representatives passed, by a vote of sixty to thirty-seven, an amnesty bill on December 22, 1986, to prevent prosecution of nearly all such offenses. Almost immediately, opponents of the law launched a movement to bring the bill to a public referendum.

After protracted legal deliberations, the bill was placed before the voters in 1989, and the public voted to retain the amnesty provisions. As of the end of 1990, the military continued to play a very minor role in the national economic and political life, and officers were no longer seconded to serve in the civilian administration.

Unlike most Latin American countries, entrance into the armed forces was entirely through voluntary recruitment; there was no system of compulsory service. Initial enlistment was for one- or two-year terms, depending on the service and the assignment, and there was litde difficulty in filling vacancies. Recruits were attracted by benefits, which included early retirement with pension, and by the opportunity to attend armed forces schools, which provided skills useful in civilian occupations. Noncommissioned officers (NCOs) were career soldiers, sailors, or airmen who were chosen from the recruits toward the end of the initial period of service. The small size of the armed forces permitted selection of physically qualified applicants; in keeping with the country's high literacy rate (96 percent in 1990), recruits generally had at least a basic education.

By 1990 over 573,000 males were fit for military service; enlisted personnel were between eighteen and forty-five years of age. A loosely organized reserve was made up of approximately 120,000 former members of the armed forces. Constituting only about 0.8 percent of the total population, the armed forces were not a drain on the country's work force.

Morale in the military services was generally adequate in the 1990s. The 1989 defeat of the referendum to overturn amnesty provisions for most military personnel who committed offenses during the period of military rule appeared to quell any lingering uneasiness in the armed forces over the relinquishment of power. The decrease in personnel during the 1985-87 period drew some protest, especially among those forced to leave service. Low levels of pay continued to be a major morale problem, despite a number of partially compensating benefits. The Ministry of National Defense reported in mid-1988 that from 1973 to 1988 enlisted men's salaries lost 34 percent of their purchasing power; officers' salaries, 44 percent; and auxiliary personnel's, 21.5 percent.

Military personnel, active-duty and retired, as well as their dependents, were entitled to medical care provided by the armed forces medical services. Officers could retire on partial pay after twenty years of service and on full pay after thirty years. NCOs received the same benefits after fifteen and twenty years of service, respectively. Additional allowances were provided for hazardous duty.





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