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The Tupamaros, Terrorists of Uruguay – Part 9: Restoration of Democracy in Uruguay


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.Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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In March 1985, after the restoration of democracy in Uruguay, a law was passed granting amnesty to people who had been prosecuted by the dictatorship due to ideological reasons. The Tupamaro prisoners were set free under this law that covered political and related military crimes committed since 1962.

Former guerrilla José Mujica (left), with fellow political prisoners Adolfo Wassen Jr., and Mauricio Rossenco on March 14, 1985, the day they were freed. (Source: AFP/Getty Images)
Former guerrilla Jose Mujica (left), with fellow political prisoners Adolfo Wassen Jr., and Mauricio Rossenco on March 14, 1985, the day they were freed. (Source: AFP/Getty Images)

Raúl Sendic and José Mujica were released after imprisonment for over 14 years.

The MLN-T publicly renounced armed struggle and committed itself to left-wing parliamentary politics.

When academic freedom and university autonomy were restored in 1985, student organizations, repressed during the military regime, reestablished themselves. Several professors, dismissed for ideological reasons during the repression, were allowed to return to their posts.

During the late 1980s, labor unions and labor activists, targets of repression under the military regime resumed their labor activities leading to several labor actions and strikes that caused localized disruption of day-to-day activities.

Almost all labor grievances were resolved quickly, and none of the labor actions and strikes led to serious violence. In 1986, during a strike by the staff of the state-owned Administración Nacional de Combustibles, Alcohol, y Portland (ANCAP), the military stepped in to ensure distribution of fuel, but did not act in a law enforcement capacity.

During the late 1980s, human rights groups – local and international – were allowed  to operate freely in Uruguay and these groups did not publish any credible reports of killings or disappearances during this period because the constitution forbade brutal treatment of prisoners, and there were fewer accusations of torture of prisoners after 1985. The most dramatic exception took place in mid-1989, when a bricklayer died while in police custody. This led to charges of police brutality and mistreatment. Although the police maintained the man hanged himself in his cell, controversy over the case led to the resignation of the minister of the interior and to the conviction of a deputy police chief for misconduct.

Raúl Sendic was afflicted with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). He died on April 28, 1989 in Paris. His remains rest today in Montevideo.

José “Pepe” Mujica addresses a crowd at the beginning of his legitimate political career, on September 29, 1985. (Photo:  Marcelo Isarrualde)
José “Pepe” Mujica addresses a crowd at the beginning of his legitimate political career, on September 29, 1985. (Photo: Marcelo Isarrualde)

In July 1986, a reorganized MLN-T appeared in the political arena with a marginal force of some several hundred members, and so, was politically insignificant. It was not legally recognized until May 1989. In order to run candidates in the November 1989 elections, the MLN-T, together with other ultra-leftist forces – the PVP, PST, and MRO – created the Movimiento de Participación Popular (MPP), a political party that was accepted within the Frente Amplio coalition.

At the end of 1986, Ley de Caducidad de la Pretensión Punitiva del Estado (The Law on the Expiration of the Punitive Claims of the State), called in short Ley de Caducidad (the Expiry Law) granted amnesty of sorts to the members of the military who committed crimes against humanity during the civic-military dictatorship of Uruguay. This law, co-written by legislators of Colorado and National parties and supported by the main opposition leader, Wilson Ferreira Aldunate was proposed by the first government of Julio María Sanguinetti. The Frente Amplio and other political and social organizations vehemently opposed the law. However, the law was passed by the Uruguayan Parliament on December 22, 1986 and published bearing the number 15848.

Ley de Caducidad de la Pretensión Punitiva del Estado (Source: federaciondebasespatriagrande.blogspot.in)
Ley de Caducidad de la Pretensión Punitiva del Estado (Source: http://federaciondebasespatriagrande.blogspot.in)

Human rights groups took serious exception to this law providing amnesty for military and police personnel charged with committing human rights abuses under the military regime. According to a study by the General Assembly, about 46 members of the military and police benefited from the amnesty. Human rights groups, however, claimed that the real number was well over 100. Military and police officers charged with corruption or with financial irregularities were not covered under the amnesty.

Though extremely controversial in nature, this law is still in force. In 1989 and 2009, Uruguayans voted in referendums and both times decided to keep the law.

Frente Amplio (English: Broad Front)

Until the 1971 elections, the Colorado and National parties together accounted for 90 percent of the votes cast; the remaining 10 percent of the votes were divided among various small parties. From 1984 onwards, some of the minor parties followed the lead of the major parties and sought to enhance their electoral chances through coalitions, such as the Frente Amplio (FA) (English: Broad Front).

Bandera del Frente Amplio (English: Flag of the Broad Front)
Bandera del Frente Amplio (English: Flag of the Broad Front)

Frente Amplio was founded in 1971 as a coalition of more than a dozen fractured leftist parties and movements. General Liber Seregni was the inaugural president of the front and its first nominee for the presidency of the nation. The front was declared illegal during 1973 military coup d’état. It emerged again in 1984 when democracy was restored in Uruguay.

In July 1986, a reorganized MLN-T appeared in the political arena with a marginal force of some several hundred members, and so, was politically insignificant. It was not legally recognized until May 1989. In order to run candidates in the November 1989 elections, the MLN-T, together with other ultra-leftist forces – the PVP, PST, and MRO – created the Movimiento de Participación Popular (MPP), a political party that was accepted within the Frente Amplio coalition.

By May 1989, the Frente Amplio consisted of a coalition of 14 political parties.

In 1989, the Frente Amplio won in the Montevideo municipal elections, its first win on the national level. The traditional two-party system was threatened for the first time by the victory of Frente Amplio.

The Frente Amplio was organized like the communist party. It had a party congress with decision-making powers, under which was the national plenum, a central committee-like body. A president, headed the 108-member national plenum, which met at least once every two months. A political bureau, which included the president, exercised day-to-day authority.

In 1990, the Colorado and National parties and, to a lesser extent, the Frente Amplio coalition, were the three major political entities in Uruguay.

In 1990, MLN-T published a newspaper and operated a radio station in Montevideo.

In the 1994 general elections, José Mujica was elected deputy. When he arrived at the parliament building on a Vespa scooter, a surprised parking attendant asked him: “Are you going to be here long?”

Mujica replied: “I certainly hope so.”

In 1999, José Mujica was elected senator.

Due in part to Mujica’s charisma, the Movimiento de Participación Popular (MPP) continued to grow in popularity and votes, and by 2004 it had become the largest of any faction within the Frente Amplio. In the elections of that year, Mujica was re-elected to the Senate, and the MPP obtained over 300,000 votes, thus consolidating its position as the primary political force within the coalition and a major force behind the victory of presidential candidate Tabaré Ramón Vázquez Rosas.

On March 1, 2005, President Tabaré Vázquez appointed José Mujica as the Minister of Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries since Mujica’s own professional background was in the agricultural sector. Upon becoming minister, Mujica resigned his position as a senator. He held this position until a cabinet change in 2008, and returned to his seat in the Senate.

Jose Mujica and his wife Lucia Topolansky (Source: nsnbc.me)
Jose Mujica and his wife Lucia Topolansky (Source: nsnbc.me)

In 2005, after many years of living together, José Mujica married Lucía Topolansky, a former Tupamaro who orchestrated the raid on Financiera Monty. They have no children. Having declined to live in the opulent presidential palace or use its staff, the couple lives on a farm in the outskirts of Montevideo. They cultivate chrysanthemums for sale.

On November 17, 2006, former president, Juan Maria Bordaberry, and his former foreign minister Juan Carlos Blanco Estradé were placed under arrest following an order by the judge Roberto Timbal, in connection with the 1976 assassination in Buenos Aires, Argentina, of two legislators, Senator Zelmar Michelini of the Christian Democratic Party and House leader Héctor Gutiérrez of the National Party as part of Operation Condor. The prosecution argued the assassinations were a part of Operation Condor in which the military regimes of Uruguay and Argentina coordinated actions against dissidents. Judge Timbal ruled that since the killings took place outside Uruguay, they were not covered by the amnesty enacted after the return of civilian rule in 1985.

In 2009, the Uruguayan election took place amid a series of landmark prosecutions for human rights abuses perpetrated during the 1973-1985 military regime. Gregorio Alvarez, the last of Uruguay’s dictators, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for his participation in the bloody “Operation Condor.”

The first round of the presidential election on October 25, 2009, featured three main candidates:

  1. Pedro Bordaberry of the Colorado Party (and son of a former Uruguayan dictator).
  2. Former President Luis Alberto Lacalle (1990-1995) of the center-right National Party.
  3. José “Pepe” Mujica, ex-Tupamaru guerrilla of the ruling and left-leaning Frente Amplio coalition.

In the first round of voting, the charismatic Mujica got about 48 percent of the votes compared to 30 percent for Lacalle.

José Mujica and President Tabaré Ramón Vázquez Rosas (2005-2010) (Source: demlab.wordpress.com)
José Mujica and President Tabaré Ramón Vázquez Rosas (2005-2010) (Source: demlab.wordpress.com)

The second round of voting took place on November 29, 2009. José Mujica won the presidential election with over 50 percent of the votes, expected to continue the moderate left policies of President Tabare Vazquez.

José Mujica took the office of president of Uruguay on March 1, 2010.

Following are the only words he said to the media that day:

Despite all this lip service, the world is not going to change.”

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 Previous – Part 8: The Military Government 

Next  The Tupamaros, Terrorists of Uruguay – Postlude 

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The Tupamaros, Terrorists of Uruguay – Part 8: The Military Government (1973-85)


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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Juan Maria Bordaberry - President of Uruguay
Juan Maria Bordaberry – President of Uruguay (Source: lainformacion.com)

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.

Raúl Sendic (1926—1989, prominent Uruguayan Marxist lawyer, unionist and founder of the Tupamaros National Liberation Movement (MLN-T)
Raúl Sendic (1926—1989, prominent Uruguayan Marxist lawyer, unionist and founder of the Tupamaros National Liberation Movement (MLN-T)

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.

Joes Mujica

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

Operación Cóndor

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.

Chile - The dictator Augusto Pinochet shakes hands with U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (Source: elciudadano.cl)
Chile – The dictator Augusto Pinochet shakes hands with U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (Source: elciudadano.cl)

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.

Julio María Sanguinetti Coirolo - President of Uruguay from March 1985 until March 1990, and again, from March 1995 until March 2000.
Julio María Sanguinetti Coirolo – President of Uruguay from March 1985 until March 1990, and again, from March 1995 until March 2000.

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.

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 Previous –  7: The Coup d’état of 1973

Next   Part 9: Restoration of Democracy in Uruguay

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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 

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The Tupamaros, Terrorists of Uruguay – Part 6: Operation El Abuso, the Great Escape


.Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

 

Aerial view of Punta Carretas (Source: panoramio.com)
Aerial view of Punta Carretas (Source: panoramio.com)

The Arrests

The penitentiary of Punta Carretas, just two and a half miles from the city center in a barrio of Montevideo, was started as a women’s prison, circa 1896. In 1901, it was decided to make it a penitentiary for men as well.

 In 1970, when Uruguay had the highest per capita rate of political incarceration anywhere in the world, the Government counter-guerrilla operations gradually arrested several members of the MLN-T and incarcerated them in the Punta Carretas maximum security prison.

On March 23, 1970, a police officer recognized José Mujica at a bar in the center of Montevideo while meeting one of his contacts. The policeman called for backup. Seeing a police car pulling up to the entrance of the bar, Mujica pulled out his gun and opened fire. During the ensuing shootout Mujica shot two policemen, and he himself was hit twice. While lying sprawled on the floor, one policeman shot him four more times.

On April 1, 1970, Al Rojo Vivo on page 6 of its issue No. 226 reported the incident. It said:

En el tiroteo en el bar “La Vía”, …resultaron dos heridos. Uno de gravedad, un anti-social, y un funcionario policial. Como consecuencia de una delación cayeron cuatro integrantes del grupo de “reos”.

Translation:

In the shootout in the bar “La Vía”… two were wounded. An anti-social, gravely, and a police officer. Following a denunciation four members of the group of “criminals” were apprehended.

Later, on the same page we find:

Resultó herido de gravedad el “reo” José Alberto Mujica Cordano, conocido como “Pepe”. Sus documentos estaban a nombre de José Antonio Mones Morelli.

Translation:

It turned out the seriously wounded was “criminal” José Alberto Mujica Cordano, known as ” Pepe “. His documents were in the name of José Antonio Mones Morelli.

Luckily, the doctor who treated Mujica was also a Tupamaro, hiding in plain sight. After a year, José Mujica recovered from the bullet wounds,. He was once again apprehended and incarcerated along with the other captured Tupamaros in the Punta Carretas prison.

On July 30, 1971,  thirty-eight women Tupamaros escaped from the Punta Carretas maximum security prison through the tunnel dug from the outside, connecting their cell floor with the city sewer system.

Raúl Sendic, was captured on August 7, 1970.

Operation El Abuso 

In Uruguay, everybody knows about “The Great Escape,” or “The Escape from Punta Carretas,” or “El Abuso” the code name the Tupamaros used for it. For a certain generation of Uruguayans, it is a word that has passed into national lore. In Spanish, the term “abuso means “abuse” or “mockery” or “outrage.”

The huge penitentiary complex had 400 cells. The Tupamaro guerrillas were held in 95 cells.

In addition to the guards inside, there were platoons of 60 to 80 soldiers guarding the outer walls.

From the day the first compañero was arrested, the Tupamaro guerrillas planned to escape from the maximum security prison. First, they ruminated on taking over the prison. Since the prison complex was colossal, there was no way to commandeer it by surprise without a bloody scuffle. The Tupamaros always tried to avoid violence at all costs and some compañeros were averse to killing. So, they concentrated their efforts to escape by other means.

Conditions in Punta Carretas were more relaxed than in other prisons. Since most Tupamaro guerrillas were educated and  extremely organized, they quickly established themselves within the prison walls and exercised pressure on the corrupt prison guards and the warden. Thus, the prisoners were allowed to receive food from their families and sympathizers from the outside, which they would cook inside their cells using kerosene stoves. They shared their food, even with non-Tupamaros. In addition to food, family members also brought books and magazines.

Regular soldiers patrolled the outer wall. The guards inside the prison were contracted non-military men with families to feed and had chosen the profession for its excellent pay and job security.

The guards allowed the Tupamaro prisoners to bet on horse races and purchase lottery tickets. For the right price, they would bring in newspapers or alcohol. The prisoners were provided classes in woodwork and other crafts and were allowed to play soccer daily games the field behind the cellblock.

In the early months of 1971, the Tupamaro male prisoners lodged in the Punta Carretas maximum security prison started digging a tunnel to escape from the state prison. They called it Mangangá, but their effort was thwarted by heavy rain.

On August 5, 1971, the Tupamaro prisoners again started digging patiently another tunnel, planned down to the smallest detail, which they secretly called the operation El Abuso (The Abuse).

Outside the prison walls, most of the active Tupamaros knew nothing about operation El Abuso.

Some Tupamaros were given the task of stealing prison plans and to pass them on to the inmates. The plans were cut into small pieces and stuffed inside small nylon capsules. The passing of the capsules was accomplished by the male Tupamaros while they kissed the female Tupamara prisoners during visits. At times, the recipient female Tupamaras swallowed the capsules to avoid detection, and retrieved the bits of plans from their faeces. The plan bits were reassembled inside the prison.

The walls of the cells in Punta Carretas were a foot-and-a-half thick and made of field brick. The prisoners scraped away the mortar between the bricks in their cell walls using metal wires and shims collected from their woodwork classes.

The prisoners originally intended to make holes in the walls to hide censored magazines and newspapers. Then, they realized that if they could perforate a small hole through to the next cell, then men on both sides could hold the ends of a wire, pull it back and forth, and remove the mortar between a group of several bricks. Thus, they managed to remove sections of walls about 60 inches wide by 40 inches high. The openings helped them move from one cell to cell to the next.

They disposed the mortar dust in their toilets, or spread them on the football field. They covered the evidence of their work by stuffing paper in the crevices between the bricks, plastering and painting the surface. They got the plaster from their families in bags marked “flour”. At times they covered glaring spots on the walls with posters.

Their activity was not discovered because the Tupamaros convinced the warden to stop making surprise cell inspections, claiming the inspections made them anxious and uneasy.

The Tupamaros were on the second and third floors of the four-storey prison. Through negotiations and pretensions, they managed to get cell transfers for all the compañeros who would participate in the escape. By early September, all the escapees were on one side of the hallway, while the other side was filled with men with light sentences who would be released soon.

They succeeded in connecting together some fifty cells on three floors.

At the same time, they negotiated with the five common prisoners lodged in the ground-floor corner cell #73 to use their cell to dig the escape tunnel.

The Tupamaro prisoners who were not claustrophobic dug a tunnel about 100 feet (30 meters) long, from cell 73 to the house #2535 across the Solano García street, which had been taken over by the Tupamaros.

Digging eight hours a day it took about 30 days to complete. The whole operation was carried out in secret and as such some Tupamaro inmates came to know about the tunnel and the planned escape only on the day before the escape, when all preparation was already in place.

Tupamaros' Tunnel mapDuring the night on the eve of the escape, many Tupamaros participated in disturbing the peace in Cerro and La Teja, a barrio of Montevideo to draw the police force away from the surroundings of Punta Carretas. Several buses and vehicles were torched in those neighborhoods and the tires of dozens of police cars were slashed to immobilize them. However, most of the Tupamaro guerrillas who took part in these clashes had no idea for what purpose they did so.

In the early morning hours of Monday, September 6, 1971, Raúl Sendic, and 105 Tupamaro guerrillas, including five common prisoners, who joined forces in the digging, crawled through the burrow. They emerged through a two-by-two foot square opening in the floor of the living room of the house on the other side of the Solano García street, where an 85-years-old Serrana Auliso, an English teacher, now lives.

The compañeros who were waiting for them in that house, gave each of them a pouch of money and a gun. They escapees exited through the backyard of the house, and were whisked away from the area in two buses, trucks and a few taxis while other compañeros created diversions by burning cars across the town.

Most of the escaped guerrillas were arrested during the next twelve years of military rule.

Among those political prisoners who escaped Punta Carretas Prison on that day were José Mujica, and Eleuterio Fernandez Huidobro, who bore the nickname “Nato” (“Flatnose”). These two Tupamaros were later elected to the senate in 1999 after a term in the House of Representatives and are now the president and Defense Minister of Uruguay respectively.

The “great escape” or “El Abuso” has been recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records in the “Greatest jail breaks” category as follows:

In September 1971 Raúl Sendic and 105 other Tupamaro guerrillas plus five nonpolitical prsioners, escaped from a Uruguyan prison through a tunnel 298 ft long.”

The political consequences of the prison break were enormous. On September 9, 1971, President Jorge Pacheco-Areco instructed the armed forces to conduct anti-guerrilla operations against the MLN-T through Decree No. 566/971. The Uruguayan Congress suspended habeas corpus, (a writ or court order that requires a person under arrest to be brought before a judge or into court.

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The Tupamaros, Terrorists of Uruguay – Part 5: Assassination of Daniel A. Mitrione 


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.Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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Daniel A. Mitrione
Daniel A. Mitrione

Daniel A. Mitrione (August 4, 1920 – August 10, 1970) was an Italian-born American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent and a United States government advisor for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Latin America.

Dan Mitrione‘s specialty was interrogation. From 1960 to 1967, he worked with the Brazilian police, first in Belo Horizonte then in Rio de Janeiro at a time when political opponents were systematically tortured, imprisoned without trial and killed. Mitrione was one among the US advisers who taught Brazilian police how much electric shock to apply to prisoners at a time without killing them. He is quoted as having once said:

The precise pain, in the precise place, in the precise amount, for the desired effect.”

In 1969, Mitrione was posted as the Chief Public Safety Adviser at the American Embassy in Uruguay by the CIA on a clandestine and secret program, under the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), an organization sometimes used as a front for training foreign police in counterinsurgency methods.

When the Tupamaros learned that he was a riot control specialist advising the Uruguayan police in riot control. They targeted him in retaliation for causing the death of student protesters by his advice, and planned to kidnap him.

Mitrione was a very cold mannered person with no compassion. In truth, Dan Mitrione was in Montevideo to teach the police how to extract information out of suspects by torture. Former Uruguayan police officials and CIA operatives claimed Mitrione had taught torture techniques to the Uruguayan police in the basement of his Montevideo home where he had a sealed sound proof room. The technique included the use of electrical shocks delivered to the mouths and genitals of the victims.

It has also been alleged that he had about 150 detainees, most of them “bichicomes” (beggars) of Montevideo, and they were executed once they had served their purpose.

Torture

Yet, at a later interview, Raúl Sendic said the Tupamaros did not know that Mitrione was an expert in torture.

On July 31, 1970, the Tupamaros kidnapped Dan Mitrione near his home in Montevideo. While being kidnapped, he was shot in one shoulder. The Tupamaros held him in their Cárcel del Pueblo (People’s Prison).

Brazilian Consul Aloysio Dias Gomide was abducted the same day. An attempt to kidnap US Embassy Second Secretary Gordon Jones was foiled.

The specific tactical objective of the Mitrione and Dias Gomide kidnappings and the unsuccessful attempt on Gordon Jones was to liberate about 150 Tupamaros then imprisoned or detained by the government. This was the largest ransom ever demanded for kidnapped diplomats.

Jorge Pacheco-Areco , President of Uruguay from December 6, 1967 to March 1, 1972 (Source: elmuertoquehabla.blogspot.in)
Jorge Pacheco-Areco , President of Uruguay from December 6, 1967 to March 1, 1972 (Source: elmuertoquehabla.blogspot.in)

At that time, the liberal democratic Government of Uruguay was in decline. It was headed by Jorge Pacheco Areco, an extremely stubborn and autocratic president. The stupendous demand placed before the president posed an institutional problem due to separation of powers in the country. Most Tupamaro prisoners were held by the Judicial branch and the Executive branch had no jurisdiction over those prisoners, and the President could not unilaterally authorize their freedom. At that time, the liberal democratic Government of Uruguay was in decline. Backed up by the Interior Minister, the president refused to negotiate with the Tupamaros and also declined to communicate with them.

As a police officer Mitrione knew that the US government would not consent to exchange 150 prisoners to save one man’s life, but he had hoped for a possible swap.

As a police officer Mitrione knew that the US government would not consent to exchange 150 prisoners to save one man’s life, but he had hoped for a possible swap.

During the first days of captivity Mitrione was arrogant and confident. However, on the fifth day of his captivity, when Mitrione turned 50 on August 4, he learned that President Richard Nixon did not ask the government of Uruguay, to free 150 detained Tupamaros to save his life. Now, he softened and took part in ideological discussions with his captors.

As the prisoner exchange was not taking place, the Tupamaros sentenced Mitrione on August 8, 1970, to be executed at noon the following day. However, the execution actually took place on August 10, 1970, at 4 am.

Mitrione’s body was found in a car with two bullets in the head. There were no other visible signs of maltreatment, beyond the fact that, during the kidnapping, he had been shot in one shoulder – a wound for which he had evidently been treated while in captivity.

The Nixon Administration through spokesman Ron Ziegler affirmed that Mitrione’s “devoted service to the cause of peaceful progress in an orderly world will remain as an example for free men everywhere.”

Dan Mitrione’s funeral was largely publicized by the US media. Several high-ranking officials from the Nixon administration, including Richard Nixon’s secretary of state William Rogers, attended his funeral. In Richmond, Indiana, Frank Sinatra and Jerry Lewis held a benefit concert for Dan Mitrione’s family.

This cold-blooded murder proved beyond doubt that the leadership of MLN-T had changed. It was now more radical and violent. Its members were not keen on leading the Uruguayan society towards socialism, but were bent on waging war on the affluent whom they considered as their enemies.

Memorial Plaque for Dan Mitrione
Memorial Plaque for Dan A. Mitrione

On March 21, 1973, The New York Times reported the capture of four of the men involved in the 1970 kidnapping-murder of Dan A. Mitrione by Uruguyan security officials. The man who pulled the trigger was identified as Antonio Mas, 25, a Spanish citizen who joined Tuparnaros when he was a student at the University of Montevideo. The authorities said they arrested Mas and three other participants in the crime, Henry Engler, the leader of the command, Esteban Jorge Pereira and Rodolfo Woolf.  Engler as the leader of the command had ordered the killing of Dan Mitrione.  The authorities said that a fifth member, Armando Blanco Katras was killed in the clash with the police. 

État de Siège (State of Siege), the movie

State of Siege (French title: État de Siège) is a 1972 French film directed by Costa Gavras starring Yves Montand and Renato Salvatori. This film is regarded as one of Costa-Gavras’ finest creations. The story is based on the actual kidnapping and killing of Dan Mitrione.

Many US officials were against the screening of the film. They said it was a hyperbole about US involvement in Latin America and other third world countries. In Washington, DC, it was removed from a special screening at the John F. Kennedy Center, only to be run uncut on a local TV station. In the late 1970s, during the investigations and committee hearings on the CIA and other government groups, many who decried the film as false found themselves admitting involvement in the internal affairs of Latin American countries.

In the film, Philip Michael Santore, an official of the USAID, posted to a fictional South American country in the early 1970s. Santore is kidnapped by a group of urban guerillas.

The film explores the often brutal consequences of the struggle between the repressive government of Montevideo and the leftist Tupamaro guerrillas using interrogation of Santore by his captors as a backdrop.

The government decimates the revolutionary group using death squads. The surviving members vote to execute Santore, who is accused of political manipulation and training the police in torture.

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The Tupamaros, Terrorists of Uruguay – Part 4: The Kidnappings


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.Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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A demonstration by Tupamaros
A demonstration by Tupamaros

There were different opinions in Uruguay and elsewhere around the world about the activities of the Tupamaros, the most proficient urban guerrilla organization in existence at that time. The Tupamaros were the most potent, although not the only leftist movement in Uruguay. It became clear that traditional pro-Soviet and even pro-Chinese political leaders believed that MLN tactics would only provoke the government into adopting a harder line against leftist organizations in general.

Many scholars think that terrorism should not be defined as violence directed only against civilian targets because terrorists make no distinctions between the military and civilians. Attacks on off-duty police and military personnel can be classified as terrorism as much as attacks on civilian targets. 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.

The leaders of the Tupamaros said that to achieve improved social justice in Uruguay, violence and bloodshed would be used only as a last recourse. Nevertheless, they resorted to kidnappings and their methods became increasingly murderous like any other insurgent movement.

The use of violence became a part of their ideology. They considered the use of violence as legitimate and desirable to achieve their goals. They used violence intentionally with the knowledge and expectation that the government would respond 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.

The Tupamaros assassinated Emet Motto, a frigate captain, and Colonel Artigas Alvarez. These assassinations created a climate of terror in the security forces and may have led to the desire of the forces for a fast and vigorous response to fight terrorism.

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.

Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller
Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller

On June 21, 1969, Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller met with Uruguayan leaders at isolated Punta del Este while students rampaged in Montevideo in protest against his fact-finding visit. Avoiding direct clashes with police and army patrols, bands of students staged hit-and-run strikes. They smashed windows of cars, stores, and homes, threw firebombs at a Mormon church, a bank, and a General Motors factory.

After Governor Rockefeller’s visit, Tupamaro attacks became increasingly ambitious and bloody, resulting in the deaths of many policemen, as the terrorists campaigned and took the offensive with the full array of guerilla tactics.

The Kidnappings

The first political kidnapping by the Tupamaros took place on August 7, 1968, when they abducted Ulises Pereyra Reverbal, Director of the State Electric Power and Telephone (UTE) monopoly. He was an adviser to President Jorge Pacheco-Areco as well as a close friend.

The Tupamaros apparently targeted Pereyra because he had urged the President to adopt a hard line against labor and students during recent unrest in the country.

He was kidnapped by four or five armed terrorists outside his seaside home.

The Tupamaros apparently made no specific ransom demands and instead used the incident for propaganda against the government. However, they said that Pereyra’s life would depend on the treatment given to Tupamaro prisoners and that he would be released whenever the organization leaders felt like releasing him. While he was being held, around 3,000 policemen mobilized to find him raided the national university, where fierce clashes broke out with students. This unsuccessful reaction by the government helped the kidnappers to discredit the government further.

The kidnappers held him till August 12, 1968, and released him unharmed.

Gaetano Pellegrini Giampietro was a leading banker and Managing Editor of the newspapers “La Manana” and “El Diario“. His father was the former Italian Finance Minister under Mussolini.

The Uruguayan leftists had frequently criticized Pellegrini because in a bank strike earlier that year, he had served as a spokesman for the bank management in the negotiations and had adopted a hard bargaining line.

On September 9, 1969, two gunmen, members of a Tupamaro commando group abducted Pellegrini as he sat in a car outside his newspaper office.

The following day, as conditions for Pellegrini’s release, a clandestine Tupamaro radio broadcast required a settlement favorable to striking bank workers by the following day, September 11, 1969. The Tupamaros also warned that if any street demonstrators were killed by police, Pellegrini’s life would be in danger.

Two weeks after the kidnapping, the Tupamaros warned the police to abandon their search for Pellegrini if they did not want to endanger his life.

Ironically, the bank strike was settled before the deadline by coincidence rather than as a result of the threat.

Pellegrini was finally set free on November 21, 1969, after 73 days in captivity, following the payment of 15 million pesos (about ₤25,000) by his close friends in ransom money, as donations to a workers’ hospital and a primary school in Montevideo. The Tupamaros telephoned his close friend Dr. Eugenio Barofio before abandoning him on a quay at Buceo Yachting Port, outside Montevideo.

Pellegrini was unhurt. Barofio picked the apparently exhausted Pellegrini in his car and took him home to be reunited with his worried wife.

Daniel Pereyra Monello, a criminal-court judge. From 1977 onward, Pereyra was the arraigning judge in the trial of most of the approximately 150 Tupamaros who had been charged with violating the state security law and other offenses.

On July 28, 1970, the Tupamaros seized Daniel Pereyra Monello. The abductors assured his wife that they only wanted to talk with her husband and that he would be released within 48 hours.

In the meantime, a rumor circulated that the release of Tupamaro prisoners would be demanded by the terrorists  in exchange for releasing the judge.

A spokesman for the President said that the President was averse to the idea of exchanging any prisoners and would not agree any such exchange regardless of the consequences.

Two communiques were issued by the Tupamaros while Pereyra was being interrogated. The first alleged his coverup of police brutality and his prejudice against the Tupamaros. In the second communique, issued on July 30, 1970, two days after the abduction, the Tupamaros announced that they would hold the judge for more than 48 hours, while they continued their interrogation concerning detention and trial procedures.

Judge Pereyra was finally released on August 5, bearing a communique about the three foreign diplomats who were kidnapped two days after Pereyra, on July 31, 1970.

In August of 1970, the Tupamaros kidnapped several foreign individuals as part of an unusual diplomatic kidnapping campaign unfolding a strategic operation called Plan Satan, in which the terrorists sought to provoke a ministerial crisis and foreign intervention, to lead ultimately to the downfall of the Uruguayan government. The kidnappings by the Tupamaros peaked in 1970 and 1971. The kidnapped people were held and interrogated in the Cárcel del Pueblo (People’s Prison).

Claude L. Fly of Fort Collins, Colorado, an American soil expert and a contract employee of United States Agency for International Development (USAID), an organization sometimes used as a front for training foreign police in counterinsurgency methods. In 1970, while working as a consultant to the Ministry of Agriculture in Uruguay, Fly was kidnapped by the Tupamaros and was held captive for 208 days from August 1970 to March 1971 in either a basement equipped with a wire-mesh ‘cage’ cell or a sweltering tent in a second-floor apartment. The Tupamaros released him after he suffered a heart attack.

Sir Geoffrey Holt Seymour Jackson KCMG, at a news conference in London on September 11, 1971 (Source: news.bbc.co.uk)
Sir Geoffrey Holt Seymour Jackson KCMG, at a news conference in London on September 11, 1971 (Source: news.bbc.co.uk)

The notable among the kidnapped foreign individuals was Sir Geoffrey Holt Seymour Jackson KCMG, the British ambassador to Uruguay.

On January 8, 1971, the Tupamaro guerrillas abducted him in broad daylight as he drove to work in Montevideo, Uruguay.

During his captivity, the abductors allowed Sir Jackson to send one message to his wife.

Many days later, the Tupamaros released a photograph showing Sir Jackson with a long flowing white beard.

In an interview with a Cuban journalist, arranged by his captors, Sir Jackson revealed how he was kept in a windowless cell and jogged barefoot round the mud floor of his cramped jail to keep reasonably fit.

Despite exhaustive searches, the government authorities were clueless and even after questioning hundreds of suspects they were not able to extort any tip-off to his whereabouts.

On the night of September 8, 1971, a statement purporting to come from the Tupamaros was released that said Mr. Jackson would be freed as it was no longer necessary to hold him following the escape of 106 Tupamaros from a Montevideo jail early on Monday, September 6, 1971.

The Tupamaros released him on September 9, 1971, after eight months of captivity. The  government agencies claimed that no ransom demands were ever made for releasing Sir Jackson. However, it came to light later that Edward Heath, the British prime minister at that time, negotiated the deal for Jackson’s release brokered by the Chilean president, Salvador Allende, who had contacts with the Tupamaros and a sum of ₤42,000 was paid as ransom money.

He was kidnapped by the Tupamaro guerrillas on January 8, 1971 in Montevideo, Uruguay. The Tupamaros released him on September 9, 1971 after eight months of captivity. A sum of ₤42,000 was paid as ransom money. Later it came to light that Edward Heath, the British prime minister at that time, negotiated the deal for Jackson’s release brokered by the Chilean president, Salvador Allende, who had contacts with the Tupamaros.

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