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History, Military Takeover

Bordaberry, general strike, popular referendum, guerrillas, national security council

Following the largely successful suppression of the guerrillas, military leaders became convinced that they should play a central role in the country’s political affairs. In February 1973 they demanded the creation of a military "national security council" to control the administration. This arrangement led to a conflict with Congress. Bordaberry then dissolved the legislature, replacing it with a 25-member appointed Council of State that was dominated by the military. The Communist-led National Labor Confederation (CNT) responded with a general strike, which was broken by the government on July 11 after violent confrontations. On August 11 the autonomy of the unions was ended and the CNT was banned. In the following years the military extended its control to most of the country’s institutions. In 1976 Bordaberry canceled elections scheduled for that year.

Such plans contrasted with the wishes of the armed forces for a gradual return to democracy. The military deposed Bordaberry in June 1976. A new national council of 25 civilians and 21 military officers subsequently elected Aparicio Mendez, a former minister of public health, as president for a five-year term. One of the first acts of his government was to withhold political rights from people active in politics between 1966 and 1973. The military regime maintained intense political repression. More than 1 in 1,000 Uruguayans were held as political prisoners, and there was widespread torture.

In 1980 the regime attempted to legitimize itself by obtaining approval for a new constitution that would give the armed forces a permanent supervisory role over the government. That constitution was overwhelmingly rejected in a popular referendum. In 1981 General Gregorio Alvarez was installed as president for a term expiring in 1985.

Alvarez restored political rights to some politicians. However, all the left-wing parties and the most popular leaders of the traditional parties remained banned. In the next three years popular opposition to the regime, intensified by an economic downturn, became increasingly open. This opposition culminated in a demonstration by 400,000 Uruguayans in Montevideo in November 1983 and a general strike in January 1984. The armed forces, isolated by the collapse of military rule in Argentina, finally agreed to hold elections and restore civilian government. The military stipulated that the opposition parties had to agree to exclude banned politicians from the elections, and they also had to promise that the military would be immune from prosecution for abuses against political dissidents.



Article key phrases:

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