Past ghosts haunt Uruguay still, by Roberto López Belloso & Daniel Gatti (Le Monde diplomatique

Searching for the remains of people disappeared during the dictatorship, 14th Parachute Infantry Battalion base, Toledo, Uruguay, 7 June 2023

Pablo Porciuncula · AFP · Getty

Twelve trays on the dark earth marked where skeletal remains were found on the 14th Parachute Infantry Battalion’s base about 20km from Montevideo, a location used as a torture and detention centre during Uruguay’s dictatorship (1973-85). According to the National Human Rights Institution’s (INDDHH) forensic anthropology team, they were the remains of an as yet unidentified woman who died under torture, one of 197 people ‘disappeared’ by the junta. The remains had been buried 30cm down, covered in lime, under a slab. The discovery came on 6 June 2023, three weeks before the country commemorated the 50th anniversary of the coup.

Early on 27 June 1973 President Juan María Bordaberry dissolved parliament with the backing of the armed forces. He claimed this ‘self-coup’ was necessary to fight National Liberation Movement-Tupamaros (MLN-T) guerrillas, though they had already been defeated militarily and were mostly in prison or exile.

If Augusto Pinochet’s regime in Chile (1973-90) was characterised by summary executions and Argentina’s dictatorship (1976-83) killed as many as 30,000 people in forced disappearances, the Uruguayan junta stands out, according to historian Álvaro Rico, for its ‘widespread and prolonged political imprisonment of young detainees’.

Widespread, as the country had the highest number of political prisoners per capita at the time: 18 per 10,000 inhabitants (5,925 in all), or 31 per 10,000 including those detained without trial. These figures exclude detainees in so-called ‘holding’ locations (such as the Cilindro Municipal, Montevideo’s main basketball stadium, which was converted into a prison) and minors who were imprisoned. To date, 51 ‘legal’ and nine clandestine detention sites have been identified along with three secret burial sites.

Eliminating the ‘enemy’

And prolonged, as these imprisonments were intended to eliminate the ‘enemy’ over time. Detention conditions were especially harsh for those the regime (…)

Full article: 1 479 words.

This article can be read by subscribers

(1Servicio Paz y Justicia (Serpaj), Uruguay nunca más: Informe sobre la violación a los derechos humanos (1972- 1985) (Uruguay Never Again: report on human rights violations, 1972-85), Montevideo, 1989.

(2Álvaro Rico (ed), Investigación histórica sobre la dictadura y el terrorismo de Estado en el Uruguay (1973-1985), (Historical research on the dictatorship and state terrorism in Uruguay, 1973-85), vol 2, Universidad de la República (UdelaR), Montevideo, 2008.

(3Magdalena Schelotto, ‘La dictadura cívico-militar uruguaya: la construcción de la noción de víctima y la figura del exiliado en el Uruguay post-dictatorial’ (The Uruguayan Civic-Military Dictatorship: constructing the notion of victim and the figure of the exile in post-dictatorship Uruguay), Nuevo Mundo Mundos Nuevos, 10 March 2015,

(4Silvia Dutrénit Bielous (ed), El Uruguay del exilio: Gente, circunstancias, escenarios (Uruguay in Exile: people, circumstances, scenarios), Trilce, Montevideo, 2006.

(5Denis Merklen, ‘Sufrir lejos, quedarse juntos: El exilio de los uruguayos en Francia’ (Suffering Far Away, Staying Together: the exile of Uruguayans in France), Anuario de Estudios Americanos, no 64, Madrid, June 2007.

(6Víctor Bacchetta, La Historia que no nos contaron (Unspoken History), Sitios de memoria Uruguay, 2023, accessible online at

(7‘A 50 años del golpe de Estado, 57% de la población está en desacuerdo con que la dictadura “es un tema del pasado” ’ (50 years after the coup, 57% of the population disagrees that the dictatorship ‘is a thing of the past’), La Diaria, Montevideo, 27 June 2023, and ‘La recesión democrática de América Latina’ (The decline of democracy in Latin America), Latinobarómetro 2023, 21 July 2023, Past ghosts haunt Uruguay still, by Roberto López Belloso & Daniel Gatti (Le Monde diplomatique

Back to top button