Repression, Exile, and Democracy: Uruguayan Culture

Repression, Exile, and Democracy: Uruguayan Culture

by Saul Sosnowski, Louise B. Popkin

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Repression, Exile, and Democracy, translated from the Spanish, is the first work to examine the impact of dictatorship on Uruguyan culture. Some of Uruguay's best-known poets, writers of fiction, playwrights, literary critics and social scientists participate in this multidisciplinary study, analyzing how varying cultural expressions have been affected by conditions of censorship, exile and "insilio" (internal exile), torture, and death.
The first section provides a context for the volume, with its analyses of the historical, political, and social aspects of the Uruguayan experience. The following chapters explore various aspects of cultural production, including personal experiences of exile and imprisonment, popular music, censorship, literary criticism, return from exile, and the role that culture plays in redemocratization.
This book's appeal extends well beyond the study of Uruguay to scholars and students of the history and culture of other Latin American nations, as well as to fields of comparative literature and politics in general.

Contributors. Hugo Achugar, Alvarro Barros-Lémez, Lisa Block de Behar, Amanda Berenguer, Hiber Conteris, José Pedro Díaz, Eduardo Galeano, Edy Kaufman, Leo Masliah, Carina Perelli, Teresa Porzecanski, Juan Rial, Mauricio Rosencof, Jorge Ruffinelli, Saúl Sosonowski, Martin Weinstein, Ruben Yáñez

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822397854
Publisher: Duke University Press
Publication date: 06/01/2012
Series: Latin America in translation/en traducción/em tradução
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 272
File size: 544 KB

About the Author

Saul Sosnowski is Professor of Latin American Studies and Director of the Office of International Programs at the University of Maryland.

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Repression, Exile, and Democracy

Uruguayan Culture

By Saúl Sosnowski, Louise B. Popkin

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1993 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-9785-4



The Role of the Political Parties in the Redemocratization of Uruguay

Edy Kaufman


The first dilemma I encountered in the preparation of this essay was what to call it: can we talk about "redemocratization"? At the level of intention the consensus is affirmative, although any claim that the supremacy of the civilian political forces over the military is again what it was before the autogolpe, or "self-coup," of 1973 would be premature. The Uruguayan military had spent most of the twentieth century in virginal seclusion from political life. And once they tasted power, they may have learned a lesson and developed a new appetite for it. The extent of their return to the barracks is an important matter for analysis here.

With that in mind, we will also have to take up a second question related to the dynamics of the process of liberalization which the Brazilians have called descompressao, or "decompression": in the Uruguayan case specifically, to what extent was the decompression known as apertura, or "opening," a victory of the political parties and other social groups over the Armed Forces? Is the situation in Uruguay comparable to that of Argentina, where, according to one expert, the military government which collapsed in December 1983 had invited its own defeat? "Far from being overcome by a formidable opposition, the armed forces, through their own blunders and inadequacies, opened up a political space which their adversaries gladly occupied" (Pion-Berlin 1985, 71).

A third point: it would also be possible to reject a "zero sum" concept in which the weakening of the military could be either the result or the cause of the strengthening of the political parties. Many other variables may have played a role, and it would be important to identify them. Even more, instead of concluding after the fact that such a bivariate relationship may have existed, perhaps it would be feasible to explore in greater depth the impact of circumstantial factors—developments unforeseen by either group that may have surprised both and affected the subsequent stages of the process. In that connection, the results of the 1980 plebiscite will serve as an appropriate and revealing example.

This observation brings us to our fourth topic: what can the dynamics of the military's transition to power teach us about their return to the barracks? In my book concerning the first part of that process (Kaufman 1979) I saw it as occurring in three stages, culminating with the closing of Parliament on June 27,1973. To these a fourth stage, lasting a few months longer, could be added: after the political parties were stripped of their deliberative faculties, the pressure groups controlled by the Left were repressed—especially the labor unions and the University (Lerin and Torres 1978,19-23). Either way, the process that later returned civilians to power appears to have been slow and gradual and to have featured some of the same dynamics as the stages leading up to their earlier demise.

While I am wary of artificial symmetry, I believe that what happened in Uruguay can be seen as a kind of "replay in reverse"; this is important inasmuch as it both enables us to establish the moment at which military intervention was at its peak and allows for analysis by stages of events inside and outside the country which determined the outcome. By 1980, it was already clear that the process would occur in stages rather than suddenly (Kaufman 1980). From a continental perspective, it was obvious that the fall of the Somoza regime in Nicaragua (and, later, the fall of the Duvalier regime in Haiti) was not to be repeated in Uruguay. Neither was the quick call for elections and return of power to the civilian authorities that has occurred in countries where military intervention has been more the rule than the exception (for example, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Honduras, and to a certain extent Bolivia).

One option for a gradual process was that of a transitional military government under a general acting in a peacemaking capacity (such as General Joao Batista Figueiredo in Brazil, or the fourth military junta in Argentina, and to a certain extent General Mejía Victores in Guatemala). Another possibility was a period of cogovernment, where civilian authority would evolve within the framework of a constituent assembly alongside an executive branch under military control (as has been the case in Peru and El Salvador). Given the peculiar characteristics of Uruguay as a partidocracia, or "partidocracy," a transitional phase may in this case have involved the internal elections held by the traditional political parties in 1982, after General Gregorio Alvarez had come forth as "peacemaker."

Fifth and last, there is some doubt as to whether Uruguay has returned to the two-party system of the past, or whether a political space has opened up on the left for a third force, by now a relatively constant factor in the balance of power in that country.

To facilitate discussion of these matters, I have divided this essay into the following sections: first, a brief review of theories relevant to the rise to power of the military in Uruguay; second, a more detailed examination of recent theories regarding demilitarization in Latin America in general, and Uruguay in particular. Once the theories have been presented, their validity will be tested through an analysis by stages of the process of demilitarization in Uruguay.

I undertake this analysis from two perspectives. The first views demilitarization as a consequence of a decision on the part of the military to return to the barracks. This perspective, which highlights the importance of "intramilitary" arguments (i.e., the "barracks mentality" that is created as officers are socialized into specific roles; Janowitz 1964), suggests that in the more than ten years of military rule in Uruguay, decompression occurred through decision-making in the political, economic, and military-repressive spheres. On the other hand, it is possible to argue from an opposing perspective (Huntington 1957) that "intramilitary" factors do not explain military intervention, and that civilian society, with its many contradictions, allows its competitors to seize and hold on to power. This second interpretation suggests that primary responsibility for the demise of the military regime in Uruguay may lie with the political parties and other groups. In this connection, the dynamics of the process of demilitarization will be discussed in relation to events both inside and outside Uruguay.

Following an updated account of events occurring between 1985 and 1989,1 will conclude by returning to the topics mentioned here in an attempt to clarify the factors that have strengthened civilian control over political institutions in Uruguay. The definitive democratic reconstruction we all hope for is neither a simple nor a preconceived matter. Specifically regarding the central theme of this symposium, the sociocultural framework through which criticism of military rule was voiced during the eleven years of the dictatorship has been a powerful force for redemocratization. In the long run, the failure of the regime to co- opt these forms of popular expression has served as a guarantee that today's possible solution would eventually appear. The strengthening of such cultural patterns, over and beyond legitimately existing ideological differences, is essential to the health of democratic institutions. For that reason, what follows is to be taken as no more than an analysis of infrastructural political conditions for the defense of democracy—conditions which must be viewed, in turn, within a broader framework of social and cultural realities.

Theories of Military Intervention

One legacy of an extended period of military regimes in Latin America has been a great number of theories that attempt to explain military intervention. Given the different realities to which they apply, it now seems obvious that no one of them is totally and universally valid. As a starting point, we might distinguish between explanations that rely on external factors and those that consider particular coups to be domestic in origin.

Within the first category, the direct or indirect role of the United States has been given great importance—as, for example, in the overthrow of President Salvador Allende in Chile (Petras and Morley 1975). U.S. interference probably was not a major factor in the Uruguayan autogolpe. While increasing military intervention in Uruguay had the backing of Washington and the U.S. ambassador in Montevideo, that fact was probably of minor significance. The role of the processes of militarization occurring simultaneously elsewhere on the continent cannot be discounted. Given that no fewer than fifteen of the twenty Ibero-American countries were governed by generals, it is not surprising that President Juan María Bordaberry considered it "necessary to allow the military greater participation in the country's affairs, as [was] the case elsewhere in the world" (Keesing's Contemporary Archives, January 22-28, 1973, 25691). The military pay close attention to what happens to their colleagues in other countries, especially when they see resemblances to their own situation (Barros-Lémez 1980, 73).

External and internal factors are connected in Guillermo O'Donnell's theory (1988, 1-38) that the "bureaucratic authoritarian" model appears when the state responds with repression to the escalating demands of the popular classes. These demands arise as a result of unfulfilled expectations once a previous "easy" stage of industrialization via import substitution has ended. As part of the same process of modernization, the dominant groups side with the only force capable of stemming the ensuing social unrest, the armed forces, finding in them a long-term substitute for a weak civilian regime.

An even more determinist argument considered the Uruguayan Armed Forces "basic to the refurbishing of the bourgeois project of domination" (Torres 1985,163- 64). As part of their critique of the "bureaucratic authoritarian" model, K. L. Remmer and G. W. Merkx (1984, 3-51) detailed the difficulties involved in generalizing from it with reference to Mexico, where the expected failed to occur. Nevertheless, the correlation between economic crisis and military coup would seem to have been very high in the past, creating the strong impression that authoritarian regimes are in a better position than elected presidents to impose policies involving austerity.

Another way of looking at the problem is to stress the deeply rooted and long- term nature of the processes involved: "The breakdown of institutions in 1973 in Uruguay is seen as the culmination of a long process of wear and tear; as little by little, the democratic system lost its capacity for renovation, it grew less and less able to transform a negative sum game system into one capable of developing policies consistent with the affirmation of democratic order" (Filgueira 1985, 57).

Stressing the final stages of that process, a popular explanation of military coups relates to the breakdown of democratic regimes (Linz 1978, 50-74). When a representative government has so lost legitimacy that it faces a disloyal opposition and is unable to function, the result is polarization and a confrontation between the middle sectors. In the case of Chile, this situation is characterized as "the failure to structure a viable Center in a highly polarized society with strong centrifugal tendencies" (Valenzuela 1978, 59). The importance of ideological radicalization as an element of polarization is considerable in the segmented systems in Brazil and Chile (Dos Santos 1982).

An attempt to apply the same analysis to the Uruguayan process describes the weakening of civilian power through confrontations between and within Bordaberry's Colorado party and Wilson Ferreira Aldunate's Blanco party (also known as the Partido Nacional, or National party); to a large extent, both groups found an alliance with the military preferable to an alliance with each other (Gillespie 1984a, 33-34). In at least one instance, a comparison with the polarization which occurred in Chile is considered invalid (Gonzalez 1983), and all the more so since the last act of Parliament was the refusal of a broad majority to comply with the demand that one of its members— Senator Enrique Erro, an ex-Bianco who at the time belonged to the center-left coalition known as the Frente Amplio (Broad Front)—be stripped of his parliamentary immunity. Having accused him of collaborating with the subversives, the Armed Forces were eager to bring him before the military courts. It was precisely the confrontation of the military by virtually all the representative political forces that led to the closing of Parliament.

Generally speaking, it is difficult to regard a single variable as decisive in bringing about military intervention while overlooking others or considering them to be secondary. Even at the risk of presenting too long a list (and as the saying goes, losing sight of the forest for the trees), I prefer to enumerate other factors I consider no less important. In my book on Uruguay (Kaufman 1979, 93-101) I included twenty-five possible bivariate correlations, which are also listed briefly in another work (Gillespie 1984b, 133).

We should not underestimate the impact of the Tupamaros—also known as the Movimiento Nacional de Liberación (MLN), or National Liberation Movement. The role of this armed opposition group in accelerating (if not bringing about) military intervention was highly significant, not only because the Tupamaros provided the Armed Forces with a serious excuse for confronting an increasingly chaotic situation, but also because their presence was a source of trauma and insecurity in a country where (except for the notorious duels still fought over questions of honor) political violence had all but disappeared in the course of the twentieth century. In resorting to "revolutionary violence," the Tupamaros legitimized the use of equally illegitimate methods by the Armed Forces. In making illegal use of the mass media, they may have legitimized the practice of forcing military communiqués on the press. Their actions also led to the declaration of a state of emergency under which the civilian government called the Armed Forces out of the barracks and into the streets. Once they have gotten out and accomplished their mission, generals have often preferred to advance toward the seat of power and replace the authorities who, paradoxically, first called on them for assistance (Klieman 1980).

The presence of a weak and essentially antidemocratic figure in the presidency was another factor of paramount importance in the creation of a vacuum conducive to the seizure of power by the military (which, nevertheless, kept Bordaberry as a figurehead until 1976). In this connection, it would suffice to ask what would have happened if the ballot count had awarded the Blanco candidate another eleven thousand votes. It is inconceivable that Wilson Ferreira would have yielded to pressure from the military. This argument raises the question of the impact of the Uruguayan electoral system, which in the 1971 elections proved insufficiently resilient to corroborate the will of the people. Concretely, the fractionalization that system produced within the political parties helped to weaken civilian power and made the formation of stable coalitions difficult (Gonzalez 1983).

It is also important to point out that the Bordaberry government enjoyed little popular support. On the whole, the Uruguayan public was apathetic toward it and thus somewhat accepting of greater participation by "honest" officers in national life. This is not an uncommon phenomenon; when the governing authority is considered to lack legitimacy, a group with greater coercive powers often gains the upper hand. And in this case, the inhibited and indecisive Uruguayan military could not help but be encouraged to do so by the favorable results of certain public opinion polls.

Finally, a number of scholars have studied the internal factors that lead to the formation of a "coup mentality," among them, S. E. Finer (1962) and M. Janowitz (1984). One of these factors is the "new" professionalism that develops when the military begin to see themselves not just in their traditional role of defending against external enemies but also (and primarily) as responsible for the struggle against internal subversion (Stepan 1976, 248). All these factors contributed in Uruguay to the transition from civilian to military rule. Scholars have advanced hypotheses involving multiple variables. For example, the collapse of democracy has been seen as the combined result of (1) a tendency to resort inappropriately to unprecedented extralegal means of political expression, (2) a breakdown in the cohesiveness and hegemony of the elites, and (3) the diminished capacity of the state to secure resources and implement policies (Schmitter 1982, 288).

In my own view, the process was highly complex and multicausal. Military intervention in Uruguay derived from a decision by the High Command to gradually increase their political participation, and they were influenced in that decision by what they perceived to be favorable external conditions as well as by the formation of attitudes and images conducive to greater participation. Theirs was not a premeditated choice, arrived at systematically over a long period, but rather the result of a process of apprenticeship reinforced by their success at each of the three stages leading up to the autogolpe.

At the same time, the values characteristic of a military mentality were reaffirmed once the military perceived their role in the defense of the country as a patriotic mission (obviously in the only context possible at the time—namely, the struggle against internal subversion). International attitudes, above all that of the regional superpower, and pressures from neighboring Brazil and Argentina motivated them in their subsequent advance toward the seizure of power. And inside Uruguay itself, the weakening of the civilian political system and the perception of significant support encouraged the generals increasingly to demand a decisive role in governing the country. It is not the purpose of this essay to go over that part of the process in any depth. What does concern me is whether the return to democracy, or apertura, can be explained in more or less inverse terms.


Excerpted from Repression, Exile, and Democracy by Saúl Sosnowski, Louise B. Popkin. Copyright © 1993 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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Table of Contents

Editorial Note ix

As Seen from the Other Shore: Uruguayan Culture / Saul Sosnowski 1

The Role of the Political Parties in the Redemocratization of Uruguay / Edy Kaufman 17

The Social Imaginary: Utopian Political Myths in Uruguay / Juan Rial 59

The Decline and Fall of Democracy in Uruguay: Lessons for the Future / Martin Weinstein 83

The Dictatorship and Its Aftermath: The Hidden Wounds / Eduardo Galeano 103

Popular Music: Censorship and Repression / Leo Masliah 108

On Suffering, Song, and White Horses / Mauricio Rosencof 120

The Repression of Uruguayan Culture: A Response to the People's Response to the Crisis / Ruben Yanez 133

The Power of Memory and the Memory of Power / Carina Perelli 147

The Signs on the Table / Amanda Berenguer 162

From Silence to Eloquence: Critical Resistance or the Ambivalent Aspects of a Discourse in Crisis/ Lisa Block de Behar 178

On Spatial and Temporal Exile: Expatriation and Prison Life / Hiber Contneris 190

The Silences of Culture / Jose Pedro Diaz 196

Fiction and Friction in the Imaginative Narrative Written inside Uruguay / Teresa Porzecanski 213

Postdictatorship, Democracy and Culture in the Uruguay of the Eighties / Hugo Achugar 225

Redemocratization, Culture, Return from Exile (Is It Possible to Go Home Again?) / Alvar Barros-Lemez 239

Uruguay, Inside and Out / Jorge Ruffinelli 251

Contributors 257

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