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E. IV.11. Uruguay, Resisting Military Rule 1973-84

Volume One -> E. Resisting Oppressive, Dictatorial, Military or Authoritarian Rule -> E. IV. Latin America -> E. IV.11. Uruguay, Resisting Military Rule 1973-84

Uruguay had, after the 1904 civil war, a reputation for stability for much of the 20th century. With a predominantly urban and educated population of about 3 million, and a system of ‘co-participation’ between parties in government, it was dubbed the ‘Switzerland’ of Latin America. But the poor were effectively marginalized from the 1950s, and during the 1960s rampant inflation and wage freezes, combined with increasing repression of labour and students, fuelled unrest. The Tupamaros guerrilla movement was also founded in the early 1960s. Against this background, the military seized power in 1973, suppressed all political activity, imposed sweeping controls over the media and imprisoned 7000 suspected political opponents.

However, in 1980 the government lost a referendum on a new constitution to enshrine a single-candidate presidential candidate. Despite the arrest of those campaigning for a ‘no’ vote and propaganda linking a ‘no’ vote to terrorism, 57% (of a turn-out of 87%) voted ‘no’. Under martial law people could not safely celebrate in public, but ‘no’ voters wore yellow (the opposition colour), and followed the suggestion of a private radio station to take part in a ‘smile revolution’.

In 1981 a SERPAJ group was founded to agitate for human rights, and during 1983 public denunciations, fasts and marches (sparked by outrage at the torture and rape of a group of young people) culminated in general strikes in January and June 1984. Elections were held in November 1984.

Arrarte, Edison, Refusal to Participate in Torture, In Pentikainen, Merja , The Right to Refuse Military Orders Geneva, International Peace Bureau, , 1994, pp. 42-45

Arrarte is the most famous of the Uruguayan soldiers who refused to torture, and served a total of 10 years in prison for his conscience. After the dictatorship, he went on to become a general and an active member of Amnesty International.

Finch, Henry, Democratization in Uruguay, Third World Quarterly, Vol. 2, issue 3, 1985, pp. 594-609

Analysis of evolution of opposition from 1983: from saucepan banging, one-day general strikes and 250,000 strong rally on the last Sunday of November 1983 (the traditional day for elections); the electoral politics of 1984 and public sector strike of January-February 1985.

Kaufman, Edy, The Role of the political parties in the redemocratization of Uruguay, In Sosnowski, Saul ; Popkin, Louise B., Repression, Exile and Democracy: Uruguayan Culture Durham NC, Duke University Press, , 1993, pp. 17-58

Includes references to role of ‘truly peaceful resistance’ in 1983.

Sanguinetti, Julio Maria, Present at the Transition, In Diamond, Larry ; Plattner, Marc F., The Global Resurgence of Democracy Baltimore MD, John Hopkins University Press, , 1993, pp. 53-60

Sanguinetti, a lawyer and journalist, was President from 1985-1990 and played a central role in the negotiations at various times between 1980 and 1984 and notes the importance of dialogue, although this is a more broad ranging analysis of forms of transition.

Weinstein, Martin, Uruguay: Democracy at the Cross Road, Boulder CO, Westview Press, 1988, pp. 160

For Weinstein’s account of the background to the 1973 coup, see: Weinstein, Martin , Uruguay: The Politics of Failure Westport CT, Greenwood Press, , 1975, pp. 190 .

See also:

Juan E. Corradi; Patricia Weiss Fagen; Manuel Antonio Garreton, Fear at the Edge: State Terror and Resistance in Latin America, (E. IV.1. General and Comparative Studies)