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Viewing cable 06MONTEVIDEO963, DICTATORSHIP'S WOUNDS STILL FELT IN URUGUAY

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06MONTEVIDEO963 2006-10-11 13:01 2010-12-14 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Montevideo
VZCZCXYZ0000
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHMN #0963/01 2841337
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 111337Z OCT 06
FM AMEMBASSY MONTEVIDEO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6388
INFO RUCNMER/MERCOSUR COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUMIAAA/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL//J-5//
RUEHMN/ODC MONTEVIDEO UY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RUEHMN/USDAO MONTEVIDEO UY
RUEHUB/USINT HAVANA 0071
C O N F I D E N T I A L MONTEVIDEO 000963

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT ALSO FOR WHA/BSC AND DRL

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/05/2016
TAGS: PGOV PHUM SOCI ELAB UY
SUBJECT: DICTATORSHIP'S WOUNDS STILL FELT IN URUGUAY

Classified By: Charge de Affaires a.i.
James D. Nealon for reasons 1.5 (b) and (d)

1. (SBU) Summary and Introduction: Uruguay's ongoing debate
over the teaching of history and a recent public shouting
match between the sons of important actors during Uruguay's
dictatorship both illustrate the importance of that period to
modern politics and policy in Uruguay. The complex history
of the dictatorship created heroes and villains for both the
left and right. Some of the persons involved are still
active in politics, and the real and imagined lessons from
the period continue to inform modern politicians. Uruguay is
only now devising a curriculum through which to teach this
subject in its history classes, but sensitivities may still
run too hot to effectively complete the project. A
contentious debate between the son of the slain opposition
congressman Zelmar Michelini and the son of Juan Bordaberry
who was president at the beginning of the dictatorship,
grabbed national attention October 4. Although the
dictatorship ended more than 20 years ago, its conflicts are
still unresolved in the public mind, and the policies of key
factions of the governing Frente Amplio coalition continue to
reflect a strong reaction to this period. End Summary and
Introduction.

RECAP: CAUSES AND DOWNFALL OF URUGUAY'S DICTATORSHIP
--------------------------------------------- --------


2. (U) In the late 1960s, a long accumulation of
deteriorating political and economic factors produced severe
social and labor unrest and the rise of the National
Liberation Movement - Tupamaros (MLN-T), a guerrilla group
that began a campaign of urban terrorism. These conditions
gradually ushered in a process of steadily increasing
military involvement in the country's political life.
Initially, the police were charged with suppressing the
insurgency, but proved unable to stem the escalating wave of
kidnappings, bombings, and assassinations. Successive
Colorado Party Presidents Jorge Pacheco (1967-72) and Juan
Bordaberry (1972-76) resorted to states of siege that
permitted the military to act in the name of "national
security" with scant regard for civil liberties and laws.
During this period Tupamaros kidnapped three American embassy
employees, including Dan Mitrione who, in 1971, was killed by
the Tupamaros and later slandered in leftist circles as a
"CIA torturer." In September 1971, President Pacheco called
on the military to take primary responsibility for the fight
against the Tupamaros. The armed forces were well equipped
for the task and virtually wiped out the insurgency within a
matter of months.

3. (U) However, once engaged, the military viewed its
mandate as one to re-establish internal order at all costs
and embarked on a campaign to purge the country of
"undesirable leftists, opposition and union elements."
Constitutional safeguards, suspended during the declaration
of "internal war," were prolonged by new legislation that put
draconian controls on the media and on dissent. The new laws
also by-passed normal legal protections and allowed for
persons charged with crimes against national security to be
detained and subject to trial in military courts. In June
1973, the military forced then-President Bordaberry to
suspend the democratic process and accept military rule
through a National Security Council (COSENA) composed of
senior military officers and the ministers of Defense,
Interior, and Foreign Affairs.

4. (U) During the early and mid-dictatorship period, the
military moved brutally against anyone it deemed as a threat
to national security. An estimated 6,000 citizens were tried
in military courts, and human rights groups charged that tens
of thousands had been detained, denied legal rights, or were
tortured. Some 300,000-400,000 Uruguayans reportedly fled
into exile, and in some instances became victims of the
security forces in neighboring countries. The number of
Uruguay's "disappeared" persons during the "dirty war" is
estimated by some at around 150 with at least 28 confirmed
dead. The statistics, however, remain in dispute. In 1980
under intense international pressure including from the U.S.,
military officials conducted a referendum to legitimize their
rule through constitutional reform. The referendum failed,
and negotiations began for a return to democracy. In 1984
the "Naval Club Pact" -- a political agreement between the
armed forces and four political parties paved the way for the
military to exit power.

5. (U) In 1985 the military finally relinquished power
following the election of Julio Maria Sanguinetti in October
1984. A blanket amnesty was granted to the Tupamaros and
other opponents of the regime. But in the transition from a
military dictatorship to a democracy, Uruguay still faced the
dilemma of having to decide between prosecuting military
officers for crimes committed under the period of military
rule (and risk a military revolt) or granting them an
amnesty. In December 1986, Congress approved the Expiration
Law ("Ley de Caducidad") that granted amnesty to members of
the military and police for acts committed prior to March 1,
1985. Seen as an "impunity law" by its critics, the
controversial measure was put to a public referendum on April
16, 1989 when citizens voted 57 percent in favor of keeping
the law in effect. Successive governments of Luis Alberto
Lacalle, Sanguinetti (second administration) and Jorge Batlle
did relatively little to re-open investigations of human
rights abuse cases, with the exception of Batlle's "Peace
Commission" that was established to compile facts and helped
him gain greater popularity. On March 1, 2005 Tabare Vazquez
took office and promised to pursue human rights issues,
declaring, "We are not hostages to the past, but Uruguayan
society needs to know what happened so that it never happens
again."

USES AND ABUSES OF HISTORY
--------------------------

6. (SBU) Uruguay's national curriculum committee (ANEP)
continues to generate strong debate as it seeks to include
the period of the Uruguayan dictatorship in the nation's
history curriculum. Several sources believe the MPP, part of
the FA coalition government and led by several former
Tupamaro guerrillas, is behind the new interest in "recent
history." In their eyes, the history of the period begins
with the allegedly harsh police response to the visit of
Ernesto "Che" Guevara in 1961 when one of Guevara's
associates was killed by a militant right-wing activist. In
hindsight they portray their movement as a defense of civil
liberties. A former military officer of the era remembered
the history differently and told us that civilians regularly
acted as informants and applauded as police arrested
Tupamaros. The Blanco Party hopes the new curriculum will
honor one of its elder statesmen, Wilson Ferreira Aldunate,
for what they believe was his key role in the end of the
dictatorship. One of the historians working on the
curriculum created a huge stir in September when he stated
his "personal belief" that pressure from the United States
was the primary cause of the end of the dictatorship. The
depth of feeling over the issue on all sides demonstrates its
hold on society, and may indefinitely delay agreement on the
curriculum.

7. (U) On a television talk show October 4, Pedro Bordaberry,
son of former-President Juan Bordaberry, described his
ongoing attempts to clear his father's name. During the
broadcast, FA Senator Rafael Michelini appeared in the studio
and was granted permission to speak. On air, he accused the
former president of complicity in the killing of Zelmar
Michelini in Buenos Aires during the dictatorship. The
senior Michelini, Rafael's father, was a vocal member of the
banned opposition. In response, Bordaberry's son, Pedro,
called Michelini "a liar" and played audio tapes of Michelini
and another FA politician stating that they did not blame
former-President Bordaberry for the crime. The acrimony
between two sons searching for closure shows the emotional
intensity still connected to the period, and the front-page
coverage by major newspapers of the debate illustrates the
continuing breadth of interest in Uruguay.

MODERN IMPACT
-------------

8. (C) Despite the GOU's general engagement with the U.S.,
some elements of the left distrust the US and fear connection
with a nation they believe supported the dictatorship. In
mantra-like fashion, union leaders, Communists, the MPP, and
hard-core Socialists regularly disparage the U.S. in terms
identical to those used during the Cold War, and loudly
grumble about cooperation with the U.S. But while the vocal
few often do not hold real power, their lingering prejudices
have a chilling effect on some aspects of US/GOU relations.
Since the FA came to power, no GOU representatives have
attended Trafficking in Persons or biotechnology seminars
sponsored by the Embassy. The Embassy has limited access to
several ministries controlled by far-left ministers. And
more than 18 months after the beginning of the FA government,
some bureaucrats work hard to avoid meeting USG
representatives. The Vazquez administration must contend
with virulent objections from within the FA in his quest to
improve trade ties with the U.S.

9. (C) Memories of the dictatorship also affect FA policy
toward the military and police. The GOU has kept a tight
reign on military and police budgets despite a crumbling
military capability and increasing crime. In addition
Vazquez ordered the military in 2005 to allow forensic
experts to search for the remains of the "disappeared" on
select military bases. After personally ramming Uruguay's
participation in the UNITAS naval exercise with the U.S.
through Parliament in 2005, President Vazquez cancelled
Uruguayan participation in 2006. He remains open to UNITAS
pending the results of an ongoing review of Uruguay's defense
structure, and pending an Uruguayan request to make UNITAS
more relevant to Uruguay's defense needs. (Note: Although
the armed forces quickly crushed the Tupamaros in 1971, a
small remnant of dedicated Communist insurgents remained
active far longer. This explains why many of the disappeared
Uruguayans were Communists rather than Tupamaros. In 1986,
President Julio Maria Sanguinetti reportedly entered into a
tacit agreement with the Communists to get them to lay down
their arms. This Colorado-Communist accord or "COCO" allowed
the Marxists to maintain strong influence in the labor unions
and higher education. Significantly, Communist influence
remains dominant in both sectors to this day. End Note.)

COMMENT
-------

10. (C) Participants in the insurgency and the ideological
left are still active in major parties of the FA coalition,
but while they have passed on their ideological legacy, they
have generally been unable to develop leaders to organize and
direct the future of the movement. The leaders of the far
left are in their 70s, and few have an heir apparent. When
the Socialist party elder statesman Guillermo Chifflet
retired, one of his proteges told us that the party
increasingly saw him as out of step with the new course
charted by Tabare Vazquez. Several political observers
believe that when the current leadership of the MPP retires
in the next few years, the movement will be ungovernable as
inept radical deputies fight among themselves. The one
exception to this rule is the powerful union movement in
Uruguay (PIT-CNT) which continues to have strong Communist
sympathies, fervent anti-U.S. rhetoric, and well-established
institutions. Union institutions exercise power through
GOU-established labor boards, short but regular work
stoppages and occupations of production facilities. Because
Vazquez continues to set a new course for the left, the
future of the far-left is further in doubt. But leftist
reaction to the dictatorship period remains high, and will
continue to exert strong influence on Uruguayan politics for
some time to come. End Comment.
Nealon