The Tupamaros, Terrorists of Uruguay – Part 2: The Formative Years


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.Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

 

Tupamaros flag

The first Tupamaro robbery operation was a raid on the Swiss Rifle Club in the city of Colonia del Sacramento in southwestern Uruguay on July 31, 1963. They stole 28 World War I and World War II-era guns. It was the first of the many raids conducted by the Tupamaros to enhance their stockpile of armaments.

This armed action signaled the birth of Latin America’s most famous urban guerrilla group, the Tupamaros. From then on, the Tupamaros pursued a strategy that combined political activities and guerrilla tactics. They forged the slogan “Words divide us; action unites us.

At this time José Mujica was an active Tupamaro. Though the Tupamaros numbered less than a hundred, they pulled off some spectacular feats.

During the formative years the Tupamaros faced both success and failure.

In September 1963, some Tupamaros were involved in a normal car accident and refused medical assistance. This created suspicion and when they were interrogated, they revealed that Raúl Sendic was their leader. The authorities arrested Sendic.

In December 1963, around 20 Tupamaros attacked a food delivery truck and distributed the food among the poor living in the slums of Montevideo. This earned them a Robin Hood-like following among the poor in Uruguay. The international media immediately labelled them “Robin Hood guerrillas.”

In raids conducted in January and April 1964, they stole more weapons and explosives from a customs warehouse and a munitions manufacturing plant.

In March 1965, three Tupamaros were arrested after they made a mess of an attempted robbery.

On August 8, 1965, the Tupamaros attacked and bombed of the Bayer chemical plant in Montevideo. And, for the first time the Tupamaros claimed responsibility for an attack.

In December 1966, two Tupamaros were killed and several more arrested after a failed attempt to steal a car.

They broadcast their propaganda by hijacking radio stations during major football games.

The urban guerillas faced the problem of operating in a purely urban environment such as the capital city of Montevideo and the invariably flat rural areas of Uruguay in contrast to the terrain that provided refuge for revolutionaries in other countries like the Sierra Maestra mountain range of Cuban revolutionaries, and the Ya’nan mountainous region of Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung).

At the beginning, Tupamaros abstained from armed actions and violence. They claimed that they were not a guerrilla group, but a political movement. But later on, use of violence became a part of their ideology. They considered the use of violence as legitimate and desirable to achieve their goals.

At the beginning, Tupamaros abstained from armed actions and violence. They claimed that they were not a guerrilla group, but a political movement. The leaders of the Tupamaros said that to achieve improved social justice in Uruguay, violence and bloodshed would be used only as a final recourse. Nevertheless, later on, they resorted to kidnappings and their methods became increasingly murderous like any other insurgent movement. Use of violence became a part of their ideology. They considered the use of violence as legitimate and desirable to achieve their goals. The MLN-T dedicated to Marxist ideologies was the first organization in the free world to direct violence in the name of revolution against fellow countrymen.

The Tupamaros used violence intentionally with the knowledge and expectation that the government would retaliate with harsh and repressive security countermeasures, which would increase support of the masses for the Tupamaros. In fact, they were successful in gaining support of the masses in the early stages of their campaign.

Tupamaros Signboard

Robert Moss, the Australian historian writes that a key element of the Tupamaros’ strategy was “to drive the government towards the use of ‘counterterrorism‘ in the hope that this would arouse liberal critics at home and abroad and weaken [the government].”

The Tupamaros started robbing banks and other businesses to finance their movement. They also raided investment banks and publicized their fraudulent bookkeeping methods. They even took up judicial proceedings against the owners of these investment banks.

In 1967, with their successful robberies and Robin Hood-type activities the Tupamaros gained popularity among the subjugated masses.

On March 18, 2009 in “La columna de Pepe Preguntón” in the Uruguayan newspaper El País quoted José Mujica justifying the robberies:

Yo expropié recursos para la lucha en la que soñaba con cambiar la realidad, ¿tá? Robar es cuando usted se la guarda (la plata) para usted y se la gasta usted.

Translation: “I appropriated resources for the fight in which I dreamed of altering reality. Stealing is when you keep the money to spend yourself.”

The column also listed, in the words of Mujica, some of the “appropriation” perpetrated by the Tupamaros:

Date

Appropriated from

Amount in US$

10/14/64 Banco de Cobranzas

5,800

10/09/68 Banco de Londres

20,000

10/03/68 Banco Comercial

12,860

18/10/68 Sociedad de Bancos

23,560

24/10/68 Banco Comercial

13,700

01/11/68 UBUR

13,316

29/11/68 Casino Carrasco

25,000

10/12/68 Banco Mercantil

1,880

12/12/68 Banco Popular

13,668

30/12/68 From 2 assaults

48,000

07/01/69 From assaulting a firm

32,000

14/02/69 Financiera Monty

2,400

18/02/69 Casino San Rafael

222,000

13/03/69 Bancaria de Fray Bentos

60,000

05/06/69 The combined total robbed from two banks

54,000

And the list goes on.

On April 24, 2009, in his article NOTICIAS CULTURALES CUANDO EL PEPE MUJICA ERA JOSÉ ANTONIO MORELLI (News and Views of the Colarado Party When Pepe Mujica Was José Antonia Morelli), published in Colonia Total, R. Villasuso admonished José Mujica saying:

“Debería saber el señor Mujica, que el que mata es ASESINO, el que secuestra es SECUESTRADOR, el que roba es un LADRÓN, y el que miente, MENTIROSO.”

Translation: Mr. Mujica should know that one who kills is a MURDERER, one who kidnaps is a KIDNAPPER, one who steals is a THIEF, and one who lies is a LIAR.

In June 1968, President Jorge Pacheco, aiming to suppress labour unrest, imposed a state of emergency and repealed all constitutional safeguards. The government started repressing various groups, particularly the Tupamaros. The government locked up political dissidents, used torture during interrogations and banned public demonstrations.

The Tupamaros retaliated by more robberies, political kidnappings and assassinations.

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 Previous – Part 1: The Beginnings

Next  Part 3: Armed propaganda

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