The Military in Uruguayan Society–Part I

Santa Clara de Olimar is a military town, both today and historically. This is reflected in its football club Artigas, which is mostly made up of servicemen. I’ll ask my friends what team they’re playing on a given weekend, and they’ll say “chocamos contra los militares” rather than giving the name of the club (as if Artigas were a taboo word). As the crucible of Aparicio Saravia and his forces, it is one of the most staunchly Blanco towns in the country. People in Cerro Chato will tell you that people in Santa Clara tend to be more right wing and benevolent/connected to the military. Each town has its own reputations, its own curiosities, even if the underlying culture and infrastructure is basically the same.

Popular reception of the military in Uruguay differs from that of our own. On the one hand there’s a bit of a distance because of the connotation with the dictatorship, and the fact that many right-wing elements are still firmly planted within the military apparatus. However, I never heard anyone complain or snicker about someone in the military. For middle/lower-middle class youths (especially men) in the Interior, employment options tend to be limited to join one of the three forces, teaching, military, or police. More than any kind of ideological or political statement, joining the military is a secure career path. The more politicized elements tend of the military tend to be at the top, or behind the scenes, rather than the young men and women enlisting.

Since Uruguay is a peaceful country not getting involved in anyone’s wars anytime soon, much of what its military does are peacekeeping missions. Upper middle class people, especially in Montevideo are most likely to know the outside world from vacations and business in Brazil, Argentina, Europe, or the US. But for many people outside that sphere, it’s Haiti, Congo, and Angola that are Uruguayans vision of the world. A more comprehensive study on the cultural interchange between these third-world nations and Uruguay could lead to some interesting findings.

The Liceo Militar in Montevideo’s Prado is a common recourse parents use on children, restless, unruly, or with ambitions that normal public or private high schools won’t provide. Another example of Uruguay’s benevolent state, it is free of charge, provided prospective students pass a written and physical exam. Parents in the Interior will send their kids there because a) it’s in the capital and thus closer to more opportunities military or otherwise, and b) provides a more structured education in an age where public instruction has become less and less disciplinarian, ironically because it has tried—and succeeded—in distancing itself from the stricter pedagogical methods espoused by the military dictatorship.

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Club Deportivo Militar Artigas of Santa Clara de Olimar takes on Cerro Chato’s River Plate

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