Uruguay Table of Contents

The New Situation, 1973-80

In February 1973, a deep conflict emerged among the president, the General Assembly, and the armed forces. The army and air force rebelled against Bordaberry's selection of a civilian as minister of national defense. On February 9 and 10, the army issued two communiqués proposing a series of political, social, and economic measures. Initially, the navy maintained its loyalty to the president but subsequently joined the other military services. Bordaberry made an agreement with the military, known as the Boisso Lanza Pact, that guaranteed their advisory role and their participation in political decision making. In effect, the pact constituted a quasi-coup. The National Security Council (Consejo de Seguridad Nacional--Cosena) was created as an advisory body to the executive. Its members included the commanders of the army, navy, and air force, plus an additional senior military officer, and the ministers of national defense, interior, and foreign affairs.

The military then pushed for the final approval and implementation of the State Security Law. However, differences with the General Assembly, which was investigating charges of torture committed by the military and felt that the military had exceeded its powers, continued until June 27, 1973. On that date, with the backing of the armed forces, Bordaberry dissolved the General Assembly and replaced it with the Council of State, and he empowered the armed forces and police to take whatever measures were necessary to ensure normal public services. In essence, a de facto dictatorship had been announced. The new situation was supported by some Colorados (the Pachequist faction) and some Blancos (Aguerrondo's Herrerists). But the CNT called for the occupation of factories and a general strike that lasted almost two weeks. When the civil-military dictatorship was consolidated, it banned the CNT, the PCU, and other existing and alleged Marxist-Leninist organizations, and it intervened in the university to quell dissident activities by the students.

The military's "Doctrine of National Security" was a pseudoscientific analysis of society grounded in geopolitics. It posited that sovereignty no longer resided in the people but derived instead from the requirements of state survival. This was basically the same ideology made famous by the Brazilian generals after their takeover in 1964. The core of the doctrine was articulated by Brazil's General Artur Golbery do Couto e Silva in his book Geopolítica do Brasil. Essentially, the book described a world divided into two opposing blocs--the capitalist and Christian West and the communist and "atheistic" East--each with its own values that were considered irreconcilable. The Brazilian and Uruguayan generals saw themselves as part of the Western bloc and were therefore engaged in an unrelenting global struggle with the opposition. This struggle called for a war in which there was no room for hesitation or uncertainty against a cunning and ruthless enemy. Thus, it was necessary to sacrifice some secular freedoms in order to protect and preserve the state.

"Preventive" repression by the Uruguayan military regime was intense. To the dead and disappeared were added thousands of persons who went to jail because they were accused of politically motivated crimes. Many were tortured. Others were fired from their government jobs for political reasons. The regime restricted freedom of the press and association, as well as party political activity. Amnesty International calculated that in 1976 Uruguay had more political prisoners per capita than any other nation on earth. During these years, approximately 10 percent of Uruguay's population emigrated for political or economic reasons.

In June 1976, Bordaberry was forced to resign after submitting a proposal to the military calling for the elimination of political parties and the creation of a permanent dictatorship with himself as president. National elections were to be held that year, although politicians could hardly be sanguine after the assassinations in Argentina of Uruguayan political leaders Héctor Gutiérrez Ruiz (National Party) and Zelmar Michelini (Broad Front). 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, Demichelli was succeeded by Aparicio Méndez (1976-81), who essentially decreed the political prohibition of all individuals who had participated in the 1966 and 1971 elections. Political life thus came to a halt.

In 1977 the military government made public its political plans. Over the next few years, the National Party and the Colorado Party would be purged, a new constitution would be submitted to a plebiscite, and national elections would be held with a single candidate agreed on by both parties. A charter that gave the military virtual veto power over all government policy was drawn up. In 1980 the armed forces decided to legitimize themselves by submitting this constitution to a plebiscite.

Opposing the constitutional project were Batlle Ibáñez, Ferreira, Carlos Julio Pereyra, a Herrerist faction led by Luis Alberto Lacalle de Herrera, Pachequist dissidents, and the Broad Front, who considered it authoritarian and in conflict with Uruguay's democratic tradition. When Uruguay's citizens went to the polls, they dealt the military regime a tremendous blow and rejected the proposed new constitution by 57 to 43 percent.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress