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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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The Tupamaros, Terrorists of Uruguay – Prelude


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.Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Map of uruguay
Map of present-day Uruguay

 Guerrilla Warfare

Guerrilla war is a form of unconventional warfare in which members of an irregular military organization or a small group of armed civilians who rebel against the constituted government and carry out harassment and sabotage.

The Guerrillas use military tactics and mobility in concert with an overall political-military strategy to combat on a small-scale, a larger and less-mobile conventional military and police forces. The Guerrillas involve in petty hit-and-run tactics with constantly shifting attacks, ambushes, traps, sabotage, and terrorism.

The word “guerrilla” is derived from the Spanish “guerra” meaning war. It was first used to describe Spanish-Portuguese irregulars who helped drive Napoleon’s French army from the Iberian Peninsula in the early 19th century. In correct Spanish usage, a male member of a guerrilla is a guerrillero, and if female a guerrillera.

The term “guerrilla” was used in English in 1809 to describe combatants. Since then, in most languages guerrilla denotes the specific style of warfare – any war fought by irregular (if not civilian) troops using hit and run tactics fighting their own or an invading government.

The strategy of the guerrilla is to wear down their enemy (the government), until the enemy can be defeated in conventional battle or subject the enemy (the government) to so much military and political pressure that it sues for peace.

Irregular wars existed long before the Peninsular war and several such wars can be seen in the campaigns of Alexander the Great and the Romans. The end of the Second World War brought an upsurge in Guerrilla Warfare.

After World War II, the Colonial powers weakened and many saw their opportunity to acquire power. Some were successful, as with the Viet Cong in the Vietnam War, while others, such as the communist guerrillas in Malaya met stiffer opposition from the British army in what was to become known as the “War of the Running Dogs.”

Even today, Guerrilla Warfare continues in many countries. The term “guerrilla” is gradually being replaced by the word “insurgent”, and its combating is termed COIN (Counterinsurgency).

Statue of Sun Tzu in Yurihama, Tottori, in Japan
Statue of Sun Tzu in Yurihama, Tottori, in Japan

The 5th century BC Chinese general Sun Tzu (544 BC – 496 BC), a high-ranking military general, strategist and tactician, was one of the first to write the theories of guerrilla warfare in his military treatise “The Art of War“.

Mao Zedong, First Chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China
Mao Zedong, First Chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China

The Art of War is often cited as having profoundly influenced Chairman Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung) to respond with guerrilla tactics in the mountains in 1928. Mao said:

“We must not belittle the saying in the book of Sun Wu Tzu, the great military expert of ancient China, ‘Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a thousand battles without disaster.‘”

Mao has shown that a Guerrilla army could succeed in taking control of a country against the regular opposition. Other Communist revolutions, copied and extended his theories.

Guerilla warfare of Che Guevara inspired other Guerrilla outfits including the Tupamaros in Uruguay, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the Tamil insurgent outfits such as the LTTE in Sri Lanka, the various Naxalite groups in India that are mostly associated with the Communist Party of India (Maoist), the Kashmiri ultras funded by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan, and many other worldwide terror outfits.

The Urban Guerrilla Warfare

The use of guerrilla warfare in the city is not new. It is not a weapon used solely by the left. In Cyprus, General Grivas used this a form of guerrilla warfare to realize his dream of uniting a fascist Cyprus with a fascist Greece.

Since around 1968, urban guerrilla warfare has been used in Latin America, in Ireland, in Vietnam, in Northeast India, in Sri Lanka, etc., and emerged as a dominant form of armed struggle.

Tupamaros flag

A decisive factor was the emergence of the Uruguayan Tupamaros, the subject of this series of articles. Though the Tupamaros movement was squashed by outright military action, it set a standard for an intelligent violence unequaled in modern times except by the LTTE in Sri Lanka. Though there is no doubt about the flair, bravery and genius of the Tupamaros, there lingers doubts about their politics. The German strategist, Von Clausewitz, much admired by Lenin, wrote:

War is only the violent extension of politics; if the politics are wrong to start with, the war will probably go the same way.

Some scholars have contended that the Tupamaros should not be labeled as terrorists; instead they should be characterized as urban guerillas or merely organized criminals acting on behalf of the poor of Uruguay.

Writing in 1969, Marysa Gerassi claims, “The Tupamaros have achieved the first stages of their strategy without terrorism.” She says that the Tupamaros fought with the police only when they were forced to, and that they warned civilians before exploding their bombs.

Micahel Freeman in his book “The Consequences for Democracies Using Emergency Powers to Fight Terror”, wrote:

“Although the Tupamaros may have been ‘considerate’ in their attacks, violence in the form of bombings, kidnappings, and executions intended to frighten a population still constitutes terrorism. Importantly, recall that I do not define terrorism as violence directed only against civilian targets. Terrorists make no distinctions between the military and civilians; attacks on off-duty military personnel can terrorize as much as attacks on civilian targets. For example, the Tupamaros assassinated Emet Motto, a frigate captain, and Colonel Artigas Alvarez. the brother of the commander of the joint polite-army forces. These assassinations created a climate of terror in the security forces and may have led to their desire for a fast and vigorous response to fight terrorism.

This climate of fear was also prevalent in the civilian population. Alphonse Max, a Bulgarian writer of Flemish-German descent and General in Montevideo, wrote that, while in the early years, the Tupamaros

managed to retain an image of well-mannered, considerate, polite. friendly, humane and educated young men and women.., with the robbery at the Casino in Punta del Este and the shooting of policemen and innocent bystanders in ever-increasing numbers, the true picture emerged. The public saw the terrorists as cold-blooded, ruthless criminals, determined to achieve their objectives, however vague and contradictory by means of violence and terror and with utter disregard for the innocent lives they might take.”

The Tupamaros bombed military, police, business, and government buildings, kidnapped a variety of people, shot many policemen, and even searched policemen’s homes, taking their weapons and humiliating the officers in front of their families.

All of these actions made the Tupamaros terrorists. After 1968, the Tupamaros was much more aggressive in their attacks on the Uruguayan state, particularly President Pacheco’s government.

The Uruguyan Economist Arturo C. Porzecanski wrote:

“[after 1968] the Tupamaros began applying the full range of guerrilla tactics in accordance with their strategic scheme. Robberies of money and arms became a monthly and then a weekly event; political kidnapping was launched and repeatedly applied; propaganda actions were initiated and continued until, by the end of 1969, the existence of the urban guerrilla organization could escape no one and ‘Tupamaro’ became a household word.”

The Tupamaros became the role model for urban guerrillas in Europe and in Asia.

José Mujica

José Mujica - president of Uruguay
José Mujica – president of Uruguay

Do you know that José Mujica, the current president of Uruguay used to rob banks when he was young?

José Mujica was Minister of Livestock, Agriculture, and Fisheries from 2005 to 2008 and a Senator afterwards. As the candidate of the Broad Front, Mujica won the 2009 presidential election and took office as president of Uruguay on March 1, 2010. Hailed as “the world’s ‘poorest’ president”, due to his austere lifestyle, José Mujica donates around 90 percent of his $12,000 (£7,500) monthly salary to charities that benefit poor people and small entrepreneurs.

 

Next   Part 1: The Beginnings

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