Uruguay: democracy above the ghost of the dictatorship

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The destitution of the military leadership, the minister and the deputy minister of defense of Uruguay set a precedent for the fight against impunity

Uruguay: democracy above the ghost of the dictatorship

President Tabaré Vázquez's decision generated a great surprise among the Uruguayans, as on April 1 he announced through a press release the cessation of all the officers that up to that moment constituted the Special Honor Court for Superior Officers of the Uruguayan Army. These, in turn, made up the military leadership of Uruguay.

Leer en español: Uruguay: la democracia por encima del fantasma de la dictadura

The president's decision was made as a result of the revelation made by El Observador. According to this newspaper, there was a case of omission in which the destitute officers hid information to favor two ex-soldiers who in the year 2017 had confessed their responsibility in crimes against humanity committed in the early 70's, during the military dictatorship that Uruguay had in those years.

Through a press release, the Secretary of Communications of the Presidency of Uruguay announced the decision taken by President Vázquez, in which it is explained that:

"The President has adopted the following decisions on the date:

1. Cease the commander in chief of the army, Army General José González, who will go to mandatory retirement;

2. Cease the chief of the general staff of the defense, Army General Alfredo Erramún, who will go to mandatory retirement;

3. Require the corresponding leave of the Senate Chamber, to promote the situation of compulsory retirement of generals Claudio Romano, Carlos Sequeira, Alejandro Salaberry and Gustavo Fajardo, under the provisions of article 192, letter G) of the decree law 14.157 – Organic of the Armed Forces -, in the wording given by Law 19.189.

The appointees formed the Special Court of Honor for Superior Officers No. 1 of the National Army, who judged successively the conduct of Jorge Silveira Quesada, José Nino Gavazzo Pereira, and Luis Alfredo Maurente Mata".

In the same communication, the Secretary of Communications of the Presidency of Uruguay argued the decision taken by the president saying that: "there are facts confessed, including those by José Nino Gavazzo Pereira, which constitute crimes, noting however that the Court of Honor and the Court of Honor of Alzada, deliberately omitted to comply with the mandate disciplined in Article 77 of Decree 55/985, which provides 'when the Court of Honor intervenes in any matter in which there is a presumption of a crime, common or military, its president shall immediately inform the corresponding superior, suspending the proceedings of the Court, until the Superior pronounces".

Similarly, the Uruguayan government said in the aforementioned statement that "the serious omission also affects the former commander-in-chief of the army, who knowing or having known the consequence of the presumption of a crime fails to comply with the pertinent complaint, and still omits to denounce this fact to the Minister of National Defense, when on February 13, 2019, he presented the conclusions, with the considerations that led to his dismissal."

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The facts

With the explanation given by the Uruguayan government about the destitution of the military leadership, of the defense minister, Jorge Meléndez, and of his deputy minister, Daniel Montiel; it is worth remembering the facts on which the decision originated. These go back to the confessions that, in the year 2017, the ex-soldiers Gavazzo and Silveira made to the Special Court of Military Honor for the crimes against humanity committed during their years of service, at the time of the military dictatorship.

Both Gavazzo and Silveira admitted to having thrown into the Rio Negro the body of Tupamaro militant Roberto Gomensoro in 1973, with the aim of disappearing his body and erasing all evidence of their crime. In that sense, Silveira accused Gavazzo of having murdered Gomensoro, as well as the young militant María Claudia García de Gelman, who was pregnant at the time of her abduction, and another detainee, according to the Tv chain Telesur.

In that sense, El Observador, author of the report that revealed what happened to the military and former military, reported that the fact of not having been warned of what was happening generated a lot of annoyance in President Vázquez. He also faced pressure from several leaders and politicians of the Frente Amplio, who demanded the dismissal of those responsible for the omission, as finally happened with the president's decision.

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Institutional crisis?

With the repercussions of the decision of the Uruguayan president, there were those in political circles who suggested the existence of an institutional crisis that was immediately denied by the new defense minister, José Bayardi, who assured, in statements quoted by the La Vanguardia portal, that there is no institutional crisis in Uruguay. On the contrary, Bayardi highlighted the president's decision, noting the importance of the government having "had to make a decision" and making them, which, according to him, indicates that "Uruguay's democratic institutionality is strong", assuring that "Military subordination to the command of political power is not in question."

This seems to be confirmed judging by the political support that President Tabaré Vázquez has received, but also by the approval with which Uruguayan citizens received the president's decision. This sent a clear message that, unlike other countries, Uruguay is a solid democracy, backed and supported by a strong institutional framework, that in the face of events such as the omission of the military that were part of the Military Honor Court, it does not hesitate when defending democracy and its institutions.


LatinAmerican Post | Samuel Augusto Gallego Suárez

Translated from "Uruguay: la democracia por encima del fantasma de la dictadura"

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