Eighty cases may be reopened after international court ruling
By Javier González in Buenos Aires
Thirty-eight years to the day after the last coup d’état in Uruguay, the government announced a decree that will permit the re-opening of cases of human rights violations during the dictatorship (1973-1985) which had previously been sheltered by the so-called Ley de Caducidad (de la Pretensión Punitiva del Estado). A ruling against Uruguay by the Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH — Inter-American Court of Human Rights), which forms the basis of the government initiative, can definitively open up cases involving serious human rights violations.
The decree signed by [President José] Mujica revokes administrative resolutions issued by previous administrations based on that law. It is estimated that the decree will affect 88 cases covered by the Ley de Caducidad. The secretary of the presidency, Alberto Breccia, declared that the decree revokes “because of considerations of legitimacy” all administrative acts dictated by the executive power that held that the acts denounced were covered by the law in question.
He explained that in the first place a moral mandate is being complied with in this way, but the ruling over international responsibility issued last march by the CIDH against the Uruguayan state as well. The court was responding to a charge made by Argentine writer Juan Gelman, 2007 winner of the Cervantes prize, whose son and daughter-in-law, who was pregnant, were kidnapped in Argentina.
She was taken to Uruguay, where she disappeared shortly afterward. The ruling condemned Uruguay for the disappearance of María Claudia García, the poet’s daughter-in-law, and for hiding the identity of the daughter born to her in captivity and given to an Uruguayan policeman. The ruling also establishes that the state should guarantee that the Ley de Caducidad will no longer present an obstacle to the investigation. And it requires monetary reparations for the victims.
In support of the decree, the Mujica administration recalls that Uruguay ratified the Convención Americana de Derechos Humanos, the Convención contra la Tortura y otros Tratos y Penas Cueles, Inhumanas o Degradantes and the Convención sobre Imprescriptibilidad de los Crimenes de Guerra y Crímenes de Lesa Humanidad. And it recalls that in November, 2010, the Supreme Court ruled the Ley de Caducidad to be unconstitutional.
The law, approved by referendum in 1986 and ratified in two further popular votes (1989 and 2009), gives the government the power to decide which cases are covered by the law, which prevents trials of police and military officers accused of violating human rights. The first presidents in the democratic period, Sanguinetti, Lacalle and Batlle, cited the Ley de Caducidad to prevent all such trials. But with the coming to power of the leftist Frente Amplio (Broad Front), Presidents Tabaré Vásquez and now José Mujica have re-opened some cases.
However, in May a parliamentary initiative to annul the law failed. Even President Mujica expressed his disagreement, affirming that it would have electoral costs for the Frente Amplio.
The government denies that the decree is an attempt against the separation of powers since it will be up to the Justice Departement to decide if there is cause to open up archived cases or if they have already been settled.
Óscar Urtasun, a member of Madres y Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos (Mothers and Family Members of the Detained and Disappeared), put the decree in perspective. “It is encouraging but we have to deal with it carefully,” he told the local newspaper El Observador. He recalled as well that his organization had pressed for this change for years but that the government has reacted only now because of a ruling by the CIDH.
Several sectors of the military, on the other hand, have reacted nervously, affirming that it is an unconstitutional measure. The president of the Círculo Militar, retired General Ricardo Galarza, said that in the case of new members of the military being called on to testify under the new situation, they will have to appeal on the basis of constitutionality. Retired Colonel Guillermo Cédrez, who presides over the Centro Militar, declared that the matter is settled. And both suggested, without offereing further details, that the government is being pressured to repeal the Ley de Caducidad.
There are currently some 20 members of the military being held for crimes committed during the dictatorship. Among them is Juan María Bordaberry, the president who opened the way for the military when he dissolved the parliament, and former General Gregorio “Goyo” Álvarez, the last of the de facto presidents of the dictatorship.