Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez signed a decree to create a commission—called the Truth and Justice Working Group—to investigate not only the dictatorship from 1973 to 1985 but also the state of emergency in the late 1960s.
The decree, issued on May 19, occurred on the same day of the annual demonstration in honor of the disappeared during the military dictatorship.
Vazquez, recently elected as part of the left-wing Broad Front coalition, held intentions to investigate the crimes of the dictatorship in his address to the Uruguayan public on March 1, the first day of his second term. He told Uruguayans the group would be created immediately once he assumed office.
“This group will analyze the existing archives and will search information relevant to the material, organize the registry of testimonies by victims or families about crimes against humanity, monitor the compliance of judgments against the state both nationally and internationally and address other actions leading to the objective raised,” Vazquez said.
The state of emergency and military dictatorship were created in response to the Tupamaros, a revolutionary group created to oppose injustices. Jose Mujica, the previous president who left office earlier this year, was a part of the organization.
Eventually, in what the group cited was due to the pressure of the government, their actions became more violent. This led to the government to curtail more freedoms to the point where Juan Maria Bordeberry, then-president and part of the center-right Colorado Party, dissolved parliament through a decree.
Although, The New York Times reported military officials appointed by Bordeberry held “[the] real power behind the scenes.” This, also noted by the Times, was no different from other countries already under military rule.
Eventually, Bordeberry was overthrown by military officials and series of other presidents took rule without major power.
U.S. lawmakers decided, in 1976, to cut off military aid to the Uruguay military junta, which angered military leaders. In fact, they felt, as noted by The New York Times in a piece published on September 29, the U.S. should provide funds after the “success in smashing the Tupamaros and restoring public security and economic order.”
In 1984, the dictatorship fell in a peaceful transition. Although, a law was passed in 1986 by lawmakers exempting all military officials involved in the dictatorship from prosecution. The fear was, as research associate Francesca Lassa pointed out, “the likelihood of another military coup” due to unrest among the armed forces. So far, there have been no changes to the law.
Interestingly, the shadow of the dictatorship can still be felt in Uruguayan politics. For example, Raul Sendic Rodriguez, the current vice president, is the son of Raul Sendic Antonaccio, who was a founder of the Tupamaros.
Moreover, in the most recent election, Pedro Bordaberry ran on behalf the Colorado Party. Bordaberry is the son of Juan Maria Bordaberry, who initiated the dictatorship in 1973 after dissolving parliament.
Former Uruguayan President Jorge Batlle, of the Colorado Party, criticized the decision to open a “deep wound” in Uruguayan history:
[This] decree re-opens a deep wound that does not bring understanding or harmony in the life of a society that will, and harshly, will pay the terrible economic errors made by [Jose] Mujica’s government, known by Astori and Vazquez and not known to the public.
While president, Batlle previously created a commission, known as Commission for Peace, to investigate the military dictatorship and what happened to the 200 people who disappeared.
In a report dated April 10, 2003, the commission found the government committed torture, illegitimate detention and even executions during military rule. Despite the commission’s limited power, Batlle signed a decree featuring the conclusions of the report.* The army, on the other hand, denied what was found.
*The government site is experiencing a 404 error with respect to the “Decrees” page so a link cannot be provided at this time.
Photo is a Creative Commons-Licensed Photo from Agência Brasil, a public Brazilian news agency.