Crimes committed by the Uruguayan military during the dictatorship of 1973 to 1985 have until now gone unpunished because of the so-called Ley de Caducidad de la Pretensión Punitiva del Estado [Law of Expiry on Punitive Claims by the State], passed in 1986 by the government of Julio María Sanguinetti and ratified in two referenda, in 1989 and 2009. Now a sector of the governing Frente Amplio party intends to repeal the law, but has met with the opposition of President José Mujica, Vice President Danilo Astori and former president, and likely presidential candidate for 2014, Tabaré Vázquez.
The question is provoking a political earthquake in the Frente Amplio, of which a plenary agreed to introduce in parliament an interpretive bill which in effect repeals the law. The president, José Mujica, warns that this could have consequences for the Frente’s electoral chances in the next elections. The president would have the authority to veto a parliamentary decision, which the opposition and the military ask him exercise, but he has said on several occasions that he is opposed to using that privilege.
The parliamentary vote is foreseen for May 19, eve of the traditional Marcha del Silencio [March in Silence]. That day commemorates the assassinations in Buenos Aires of Frente Amplio senator Zelmar Michilini, Partido Blanco representative Héctor Gutiérrez Ruiz and Tupamaros activists Rosario Barredo and William Whitelaw. The four were found dead in the Argentine capital in May, 1976, shortly after the military coup in that country.
The result of the voting is still uncertain. Two Frente representatives, Víctor Semproni and Gonzalo Mugica, have announced they will back the president. This would cause the Frente Amplio iniciative to fail. In the senate, historically important Eleuterio Fernández Huidobro resigned his seat in disagreement with the bill, although he voted for it out of party discipline.
Notable figures on the left, like writer Eduardo Galeano and singer Daniel Viglietti, entered the controversy when they supported repeal of the law in an open letter published in the press. In it, they indicated that the fundamental question is that the current Uruguayan law includes “a rule that is unconstitutional and violates international accords signed by Uruguay, a rule that permits impunity from crimes against humanity, the effects of which should be avoided because of elementary ethical consideratons and because it was so decided last March by the Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos [Inter-American Court of Human Rights].”
Some 29 people were disappeared in Uruguay during the dictatorship and another 150 disappeared in Argentina, because of joint action by the military of differenet countries of the southern cone through the so-called Plan Cóndor. Despite the Ley de Caducidad, some of the military have been tried recently after the Supreme Court found the law unconsitutional in several instances.
Click here for a song, in MP3 format, about human culpability, by Daniel Viglietti, one of the signers of the open letter:
“Nocturna (canción Sin Tiempo) “
“Nocturne (a song without time)”
A esta noche de grillos le haré mal
con mi luz de minero, con mi andar.
I would harm this crickets’ night
with my miner’s lamp, with my walk.
Yo descubrí que las estrellas
no son culpables, no son ellas
las que inventaron los segundos
y los minutos de este mundo.
Yo comprendí que no son ellas,
no son culpables las estrellas,
I learned that the stars
are not to blame, it wasn’t they
who invented the seconds
and the minutes of this world.
I learned that it wasn’t they,
the stars are not to blame,
A esta noche de grillos le he de dar
mi violento relámpago al cantar.
I would give this crickets’ night
the violent thunder of my singing.
Yo descubrí que los planetas
no son culpables de las restas,
que la matanza de mi tiempo
no es culpa de esos elementos,
yo comprendí que no son tretas
que sean obras de planetas,
I learned that the planets
are not at fault for the remains,
that the slaughter of my time
is not the fault of those elements,
I learned it’s not a strategem
the planets worked,