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Home About Us Equipo Sur South-North Encuentro Uruguay - 2010 Encuentro Country Updates
Uruguay - 2010 Encuentro Country Updates PDF Print E-mail

2010 Encuentro Country Updates


Servicio Paz y Justicia en América Latina (Serpaj-AL)

What is the situation of militarization in your country, with emphasis on how it is related to the United States?

In the year 1947 the TIAR (Interamerican Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance) was passed. It covers the entirety of the Americas and the surrounding waters up to 300 miles from the coast. Uruguay signed it, as did all of the member countries of the OAS.

In the '60s

In the middle of the last century, Uruguay began to notice a reduction in the economic bonanza that it had been living. In the second half of the '60s several things happened:

A legal but extremely conservative government came to power, which among other things froze wages, strongly repressed all protests, and governed by decrees.

An urban guerrilla developed, named MLN-Tupamaros, that was fought by the police and judged by ordinary courts. Through AID, the US provided the police with equipment (above all vehicles and communications materials) and training, in both Uruguay and in the United States. The training included training in torture techniques. Finally the parliament declared a State of Internal War and put the Armed Forces and the military courts in charge of combating the guerillas, who were ultimately defeated.

As the culmination of the process, the Armed Forces together with civilian sectors carried out a coup d'etat in 1973.  They dissolved the parliament, began to censor the press, and prohibited union activity and almost every type of social activity. They persecuted all of the left, using the National Security Doctrine as justification, just had been done in other countries in Latin America.  As a result, there was a time in which Uruguay was the country in the world with the greatest number of political prisoners compared to its population.  Torture, disappearances, rapes and arbitrary treatment that could not guarantee results were used in almost every case.

Finally, during the Carter administration, the US withdrew its military support.

The Armed Forces of the Southern Cone implemented Plan Condor which resulted in thousands of deaths, disappearances, and tortures.  It is said that Plan Condor currently maintains certain functions beyond the civil governments.

After the Dictatorship

In Uruguay the Armed Forces were never condemned nor judged.

In 1986 the Law of Expiration of Punitive Claims from the State was enacted, by which the state renounced its power and obligation to punish the crimes --in the case of crimes against humanity-- if they had been committed by military personnel and police.  Therefore it could not provide justice nor investigate what had happened to most of the detained-disappeared.

Since this era there have been large mobilizations to annul this law --a law which furthermore goes against international treaties signed by Uruguay- through constitutional and legal means.

As the law permits the executive power to determine if certain crimes are covered by law, in recent years the Broad Front (Frente Amplio) administration has permitted the trial of ex-president Bordaberry of the '73 coup and of his chancellor.  They have also permitted the trial of General Gregorio Alvarez, the last dictator, and of various military personnel implicated in disappearances and clandestine transfers from Argentina.

At the present

United States cooperation is concentrated on the fight against terrorism and narcotrafficking, in the encompassing sense that it has today.

We are not sending military personnel to the School of the Americas, but  people are still sent to other training places, like the Hemispheric Defense Center in Washington.

We do not know what is happening with the ILEA, which operates in El Salvador and in Lima.

Uruguay is trying to change its direction.  Recently, Uruguay signed an agreement with Venezuela and it is trying to establish other agreements with Argentina, Brazil, Peru and other countries of the region.

Today the Armed Forces of Uruguay are composed of some 14,000 soldiers of the Army, 6000 of the Navy, and 3000 of the Air Force.

Their maintenance absorbs 1.6% of the GDP and 5% of the national budget.  That is not small (although at the end of the dictatorship it was 18%).  Salaries represent the biggest part of the cost.  The salaries of the troop staff -who are volunteers since in Uruguay obligatory military service never worked-- are really low.

United Nations Peace Missions are very important within the Armed Forces. Traditionally they have participated in missions in Asia, Africa and the Americas, but in the past twenty years their growth has been notorious.  At this moment there are more than 2600 military personnel in various parts of the world.  In the Congo there are more than 1600 and in Haiti more than 1000.  According to figures from 2005, of the South American countries that send personnel on UN missions, Uruguay provides 43%, Brazil 22%, Argentina 18%, Chile 9%, Bolivia 4%, and Peru 4%.

Who the Peace Missions serve is heavily discussed.  It is argued that above all the missions serve developed countries because they involve international troops in complicated and not immediately strategic missions, almost always in Third World countries, leaving the developed countries free to occupy themselves in other places that matter to them more.

How does militarization affect the human rights situation?

The impunity of most of those who committed crimes against humanity is not a good example of egalitarian society.  This impunity has diverse consequences.

How have you all dealt with these issues? What has been your experience with resistance - good decisions, errors, and weaknesses?

The Law of Expiration--mentioned above--also known as the Law of Impunity was passed in December of 1986 with strong military pressure, admitted as such by the civil and legal government.

Immediately, diverse organizations and movements from civil society and members of the political parties decided to mobilize themselves by all legal and nonviolent means to overturn the law.  For this a Pro Referendum Commission was formed, composed of respected people from a variety of social sectors.

The Uruguayan constitution permits laws to be rescinded within a year of their passage via referendums.  The referendum mechanism requires the presentation of a very high number of signatures to the Electoral Court to be able to call the proposal to citizen vote.  Although the necessary number of signatures was obtained, once these were presented the authorities annulled an important part of them, such that we had to run another campaign to ratify them.  Finally, three years later, in 1989, the call to a vote was approved.  The campaign for it was very difficult.  They spoke of the danger of returning to events that nobody wanted to repeat, creating a climate of fear.  In the election, 57% voted to maintain the law and 43% to rescind it.  It was notoriously well known that the latter won in Montevideo and lost in the less informed interior.  Naturally, the unjust law was left stronger than before, one of the dangers we who were working for its repeal, including SERPAJ, had considered.

In 2007, with the Broad Front in government, a new campaign for constitutional reform began, with the aim of annulling certain articles of the Law of Expiration, and permitting the prosecution of those accused of terrible violations of human rights and permitting the investigation of what occurred.  The majority of those of us working for this campaign are the same people who worked years ago, but in addition there are youth who did not live through the events of the past.  Although this time the menacing climate of the other plebiscite no longer existed, and we knew many more things than we did then, like the history of the "death flights," we were at a disadvantage because one would not vote "Yes" or "No" in the referendum. The consultation would happen together with national elections.  We would have to get 50% + 1 of the total votes, counting those that didn't mark and the annulled and blank votes as "against".  We were able to obtain 47.98% of the votes.

Independently from the votes, the Interamerican Commission of Human Rights has declared that the law is incompatible with commitments previously signed by Uruguay and has urged the government to investigate and take legal action in agreement with the treaties.

The Supreme Court of Justice of Uruguay has also issued a ruling declaring that the law is unconstitutional.

Furthermore, in the past years we have organized activities against the presence of Uruguayan troops in Haiti.  For my part, I participated in an International Mission of Witness and Support with the Haitian People.


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