The Tupamaros, Terrorists of Uruguay – Part 7: The Coup d’état of 1973


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.Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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On December 16, 1971, a Board of Commanders in Chief (Junta de comandantes) consisting of the Chiefs and the Joint Staff (Esmaco) of the Armed Forces was formed in Uruguay. The role of the military in political life continued to increase.

Juan Maria Bordaberry at a public ceremony in Montevideo in 1972. (Photograph:  Panta Astiazaran/AFP)
Juan Maria Bordaberry at a public ceremony in Montevideo in 1972. (Photograph: Panta Astiazaran/AFP)

On February 15, 1972, Juan María Bordaberry Arocena, a Uruguayan politician and member of one of the most powerful families of cattle ranchers was declared the winner in the presidential election. On March 1, 1972, Bordaberry took office of the president for a term of five years.

Bordaberry after being elected president at first bowed to military demands for control of the executive. Then, he became an enthusiastic advocate of military rule. As president, Bordaberry continued to follow the path taken by his predecessor Jorge Pacheco-Areco’s authoritarian methods: suspending civil liberties, banning labor unions, and imprisoning and killing opposition figures. He appointed military officers to most leading government positions.

On April 15, 1972, the Uruguayan Congress introduced the “state of internal war” with restriction of constitutional guarantees.

On October 31, 1972, Augusto Legnani, the Minister of Defense, had to resign for failing to remove a chief in charge of a mission of high importance for the ministry.

On February 8, 1973, with the purpose of controlling the buildup of military pressure, President Bordaberry replaced Armando Malet, the Minister of National Defense with retired General Antonio Francese. The chiefs of the armed forces opposed the appointment of a civilian as minister of national defense. This led to a deep conflict between President Bordaberry and the chiefs of the armed forces. The military commanders balked at the president’s fascist ideas and wanted to replace him with a pliant “yes-man”.

At 8:00 pm on the same day, the commanders of the Army and the Air Forces announced from the state television network that they would disavow any orders by minister Francese and demanded the president to withdraw his appointment. However, at 10:30 pm Bordaberry announced from the (private) Canal 4 that he would keep Francese in the Ministry and called on the citizens to gather in Plaza Independencia, in front of Casa de Gobierno (Government House).

On the morning of February 9, 1973 the new minister met with the commanders of the three forces and found support only in the Navy.

In the early hours of the morning of February 9, Naval Infantry barricaded the entrance to Ciudad Vieja of Montevideo. The army responded by putting its tanks onto the streets and occupied various radio stations, from which they exhorted the members of the Navy to join them.

On February 9 and 10, 1972, the army issued two communiques proposing a series of political, social, and economic measures.

On February 10, 1972, three ministers sought a reconciliation with the rebel commanders, so that President Bordaberry could continue to retain his position as the president of the nation.

On February 11, 1972, Vice Admiral Juan José Zorrilla resigned from the Navy Command, after several Navy officers who initially pledged their allegiance to the president, supported the stand taken by the commanders of the Army and Air Force.

On February 12, 1972, President Bordaberry reluctantly accepted all the demands of the military commanders. After negotiating his continuation as president, he signed the Pacto de Boiso Lanza that guaranteed their advisory role and their participation in political decision making.

The day after signing the pact, Néstor Bolentini was appointed as Minister of Interior and Walter Ravenna as Minister of National Defense. This completed the slide into a civil-military government, which formally ruled civilians, but in fact the center of power had moved into the ambit of the military.

In effect, the pact constituted a quasi-coup that relegated the responsibility of providing security for national development to the Armed Forces.

From this point in Uruguayan history, the Spanish word “bordaberrización” came into existence, to refer to the way a civilian president, cloaked a military dictatorship under a democratic guise. Hence, the term “bordaberrization” now refers to “dictatorships in civilian clothing.”

On February 23, 1973, by Decree No. 163/973, the Consejo de Seguridad Nacional de Uruguay, (National Security Council of Uruguay) abbreviated as “COSENA” was created as an advisory body to the Executive Power of Uruguay. Initially, its permanent members were the president of the Republic, the Commanders in Chief of the Armed Forces, the Ministers of Interior, Foreign Affairs, Defense and Finance, and the Director of the Office of Planning and Budget.

The conflicts between the chiefs of the armed forces and the General Assembly, which was investigating charges of torture perpetrated by the military and felt that the military had exceeded its powers, escalated. The military then pushed for the final approval and implementation of the State Security Law.

The real coup d’état took place on June 27, 1973, when President Bordaberry supported by the Armed Forces, dissolved the Cámaras de Senadores (chambers of senators) and Representantes (representatives) and created a State Council with legislative, constitutional and administrative functions, restricted freedom of thought and speech. The president empowered the armed forces and the police to ensure the uninterrupted provision of public services ostensibly, to subdue the Tupamaros.

On that day of the coup, in a speech broadcast on radio and television, Bordaberry said:

Afirmo hoy, una vez más y en circunstancia trascendentes para la vida del país, nuestra profunda vocación democrática y nuestra adhesión sin reticencias al sistema de organización política y social que rige la convivencia de los uruguayos. Y va con ellos entonces el rechazo a toda ideología de origen marxista que intente aprovechar de la generosidad de nuestra democracia, para presentarse como doctrina salvadora y terminar como instrumento de opresión totalitaria.

Este paso que hemos tenido que dar no conduce y no va a limitar las libertades ni los derechos de la persona humana.

para eso además hemos cometido esas funciones al Consejo de Estado y más allá, aún por encima de todo ello, está el pueblo uruguayo que nunca dejó de avasallar sus libertades (…).

Translation:

“I affirm today, once again, in circumstances of extreme importance to national life, our deep commitment to democracy and our unreserved commitment to a system of political and social organization governing the coexistence of Uruguayans. And together with this goes the rejection of all ideology of Marxist origin attempting to exploit the generosity of our democracy, to appear as a doctrine of salvation and end as a tool of totalitarian oppression.

This step that we had to take, will not limit the freedoms and rights of the individual.

We ourselves are here monitoring and furthermore, we have committed these functions to the State Council and beyond, and yet above all, are the Uruguayan people who have never permitted their freedoms to be trampled (…).”

Inherently, this speech, marked the inception of dictatorship in Uruguay. The military’s “Doctrine of National Security” was a pseudoscientific analysis of society grounded in geopolitics. It postulated that sovereignty no longer resided in the people, but derived instead from the requirements of state survival.

Some Colorados (the Pachequist faction) and some Blancos (Aguerrondo’s Herrerists) supported these moves. But the leftist trade union federations, namely, the National Confederation of Workers (CNT) called for the occupation of factories and struck work.

The civil-military dictatorship banned the CNT, the PCU, and other existing and alleged Marxist-Leninist organizations, all political parties, trade unions, and associations declaring them as illegal. The armed forces entered the university to quell dissident activities by students.

The general strike, the longest in the history of the country, lasted 15 days, and ended with most of the trade union leaders in jail or dead. Some sought refuge in Argentina.

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 Previous – Part 6: Operation El Abuso, the Great Escape 

Next   Part 8: The Military Government (1973-85)

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