In 1973, after the military staged a coup, the Uruguayan military’s “Doctrine of National Security,” a pseudo-scientific analysis of society grounded in geopolitics, postulated that sovereignty no longer resided in the people, but derived instead from the necessities of state survival.
This was in essence the same ideology made famous by the Brazilian generals after their takeover in 1964. The core of this doctrine was expressed by Brazil’s General Artur Golbery do Couto e Silva in his book “Geopolítica do Brasil,” which basically, describes a world split into two opposing blocs. The capitalist and Christian West on one side, and the communist and atheistic East on the other, each with its own beliefs that were deemed implacable.
Like the Brazilian generals, the Uruguayan generals too considered themselves factored in the Western bloc and were accordingly involved in a relentless confrontation with the resistance. This struggle warranted a conflict wherein there was absolutely no room for wavering or doubt against a clever, cunning and ruthless antagonist. Consequently, it was essential to compromise on a number of secular freedoms to protect and save the country.
The Uruguayan military regime intensified its “Preventive” repression. Thousands of Uruguayans were jailed, accused of politically motivated crimes. Many were sacked from their government jobs for political reasons. While many were tortured and killed. A whole lot of people, considered by the dictatorship as political or ideological threat to the military junta, just disappeared – another method of the military to silence the opposition and break the determination of the guerillas.
The civil-military dictatorship restricted freedom of the press and associations, and banned political party activities. The junta imprisoned, killed, and tortured hundreds of Tupamaros including most of its leaders.
José Mujica spent most of the 1970s in and out of prison. He escaped several times, only to be caught again.
After the military coup in 1973, Raúl Sendic and other MLN-T leaders including José Mujica were apprehended. They served 14 years of imprisonment.
Sendic and eight other leaders were singled out as “special” prisoners. They were shuttled around in groups of three between military prisons and were placed in solitary confinement in dungeon-like cells with revolting sanitary conditions. At a military base in Paso de los Toros, a city of the Tacuarembó Department in Uruguay, Mujica and other Tupamaro guerrillas were confined for more than two years at the bottom of a drained pool, with sheet metal placed atop to block the sunlight.
The Tupamaros were subjected to continuous physical and psychological torture. At one stage, Mujica went mad. He started hearing static, as if a radio stuck between stations had been left on. He would scream for someone to turn it off. However, even while serving his prison sentence, Mujica continued to maintain his contact with other Tupamaro leaders, including Raúl Sendic.
Some Tupamaros became insane, while others slowly changed their ideological outlook.
In 1973, when the military took power into their hands, they did so in the face of a decade and a half of economic stagnation, high inflation, and increased social unrest. Massive repression by the armed forces brought the social unrest under control and eliminated the urban guerrilla threat. Economic policy and performance soon became the regime’s ultimate claim to legitimacy and justification for its harsh rule.
In 1976, as reported by Amnesty International, Uruguay had more political prisoners per capita than any other nation around the world, and around 10% of its population emigrated for economic or political reasons.
Operation Condor (Spanish: Operación Cóndor; Portuguese: Operação Condor) was formally launched in 1975 by the right-wing dictatorships of the Southern Cone of South America. Condor’s key members were the governments in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil. The governments of Ecuador and Peru joined later in more peripheral roles.
This clandestine operation was created to expunge communist and Soviet influence and ideas, and to suppress active or potential opposition movements against the participating governments. It was a campaign of political repression and terror involving intelligence operations and assassination of opponents.
By 1976 Operation Condor, which had already accumulated centralized information from South American intelligence agencies for years, was at its peak.
Operation Condor, took place in the context of the Cold War between Western societies and the Soviet Union and its Eastern Bloc.
According to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) documents released in 2002, Operation Condor’s policies and brutal methods were known and tolerated by the State Department of the United States, led by Henry Kissinger under the Gerald Ford’s presidency. In fact, Operation Condor had the tacit approval of the United States, which provided technical support and supplied military aid to the participants until at least 1978, and again after Republican Ronald Reagan became president in 1981.
Some estimate the actual number of deaths directly attributable to Operación Cóndor to 60,000, and possibly more.
National elections were to be held in Uruguay in 1976. Unfortunately, on May 18, 1976, Héctor Gutiérrez Ruiz, a Uruguayan political figure and member of the National Party, was abducted by a paramilitary group of Operación Cóndor. On May 21, 1976, his body along with three other bodies were found in an abandoned Torino sedan, at the corner of Perito Moreno and Dellepiane in Buenos Aires. The other three were Zelmar Michelini, former senator and member of the Broad Front, and two Tupamaros militants, William Whitelaw and Rosario del Carmen Barredo. All four of them had been tortured before they were killed.
On June 1976, President Bordaberry submitted a proposal to the military calling for the elimination of political parties and the creation of a permanent dictatorship with himself as president. The armed forces forced him to resign. Bordaberry was replaced by Alberto Demichelli Lizaso, president of the Council of State, who, through Institutional Act No. 1, decreed the suspension of elections. Three months later, Aparicio Méndez, succeeded Demichelli. Méndez essentially decreed the political participation of all individuals who had taken part in the 1966 and 1971 elections. Political life in Uruguay came to a halt.
In 1977, the military government made public its political plans, namely, over the following few years, the National Party and the Colorado Party would be purged, a new constitution would be submitted to a referendum.
In 1980, a charter that bestowed the military implicit veto power over all government policies was drafted up by the chiefs of the armed forces, and they chose to legitimize themselves by submitting this constitution to a referendum. This constitutional project was opposed by Batlle Ibáñez, Carlos Julio Pereyra, Pachequist dissidents, a Herrerist faction led by Luis Alberto Lacalle de Herrera, and the Broad Front. They considered it authoritarian and in conflict with Uruguay’s democratic way of life.
When the citizens of Uruguay voted, they expressed their dissent by rejecting the proposed new constitution by 57% to 43% thereby dealing a tremendous blow to the military regime.
The Reemergence of Political Parties (1980-84)
After the electoral defeat of the military’s constitution, retired Lieutenant General Gregorio Alvarez Armelino, one of the leaders of the coup, became president of Uruguay. Political dialogue was slowly restored and the “1982 Political Parties Law” was enacted to regulate the election of political leaders, the functioning of political conventions, and the preparation of political platforms. The new law excluded the left from participating to avoid a return to the situation prior to 1973.
In 1982, the candidates of the National Party, the Colorado Party, and the Unión Cívica, a small conservative Catholic party, were elected. Although officially banned, candidates belonging to a divided left also participated. Some Uruguyans cast blank ballots, while others believed it would be more useful to back the democratic sectors of traditional parties.
The election results were once again a blow to the military because sectors in both traditional parties opposing the dictatorship won overwhelmingly.
After the 1982 elections, the dialogue between politicians and the military gathered momentum though there were setbacks.
In 1964, the Convención Nacional de Trabajadores (CNT) was founded, but it was dissolved in the wake of a general strike in 1973, when 18 council members just “disappeared”. The Plenario Intersindical de Trabajadores (PIT) reclaimed the banner of the CNT and was authorized to hold a public demonstration on May 1, 1983. Later, the union was restored under the present name Plenario Intersindical de Trabajadores – Convención Nacional de Trabajadores (PIT-CNT) to show its link with the earlier organization.
In November 1983, all opposition parties including the left staged a massive political rally, demanding elections with full restoration of democratic norms and without political proscriptions.
Students, united under the Asociación Social y Cultural de Estudiantes de la Enseñanza Pública (ASCEEP), were allowed to march through the streets of Montevideo.
In March 1984, the PIT organized a civil strike and freed General Líber Seregni Mosquera, leader of the Broad Front, imprisoned since January 11, 1976, by the military regime.
By mid-1984 yet another civil strike took place, this time organized by political parties and social groups.
On November 25, 1984, general elections were held in Uruguay. Julio María Sanguinetti Coirolo, a Uruguayan politician, lawyer and journalist, and former Minister for Industry and Commerce, during the presidency of Jorge Pacheco, won 31.2% of the votes, defeating Alberto Zumarán of the National Party.
After being sworn in as president on March 1, 1985, Sanguinetti led the transition to democracy with dignity and fairness, although the legacy of human rights violations under the dictatorship proved a fly in the ointment.
Previous – 7: The Coup d’état of 1973
Next Part 9: Restoration of Democracy in Uruguay
- The Tupamaros, Terrorists of Uruguay – Prelude (tvaraj.com)
- The Tupamaros, Terrorists of Uruguay – Part 1: The Beginnings (tvaraj.com)
- The Tupamaros, Terrorists of Uruguay – Part 2: The Formative Years (tvaraj.com)
- The Tupamaros, Terrorists of Uruguay – Part 3: Armed propaganda (tvaraj.com)
- The Tupamaros, Terrorists of Uruguay – Part 4: The Kidnappings (tvaraj.com)
- The Tupamaros, Terrorists of Uruguay – Part 5: Assassination of Daniel A. Mitrione (tvaraj.com)
- The Tupamaros, Terrorists of Uruguay – Part 6: Operation El Abuso, the Great Escape (tvaraj.com)
- The Tupamaros, Terrorists of Uruguay – Part 7: The Coup d’état of 1973 (tvaraj.com)
- The Tupamaros, Terrorists of Uruguay – Part 9: Restoration of Democracy in Uruguay (tvaraj.com)
- The Tupamaros, Terrorists of Uruguay – Postlude (tvaraj.com)
- A Short History of Uruguay – Part 1 (tvaraj.com)
- A Short History of Uruguay – Part 2 (tvaraj.com)
- Is José Mujica The World’s Poorest and Humblest President? (tvaraj.com)
- Folclórico deslumbramiento primer mundista (eldiario.com.uy)
- Ejemplo (historico.elpais.com.uy)
- 1973 Uruguayan coup d’état (en.wikipedia.org)
- La Dictadura en Uruguay (monografias.com)
- Uruguay – THE MILITARY GOVERNMENT, 1973-85 (country-data.com)
- The Opposition and the Reemergence of Parties, 1980-84 (country-data.com)
- The Transition to Democracy, 1984-85 (country-data.com)
- The Military’s Economic Record (country-data.com)
- Operation Condor (en.wikipedia.org)