June 19, 2013
Uruguayan Congress maintains military amnesty
Congress rejected a proposal to scrap an amnesty shielding former military officers from prosecution for dictatorship-era crimes, a bill that split the leftist ruling coalition.
The debate over whether to overturn the amnesty proved a major challenge for leftist President Jose Mujica, who urged his congressional allies to uphold the policy despite having spent years in jail himself for guerrilla activities.
About 200 Uruguayans were kidnapped and killed during the 1973-1985 dictatorship, and the South American nation of 3.4 million people remains divided over how to deal with former military officers accused of human rights crimes.
Uruguayans voted to maintain the amnesty law in two referendums in 1989 and 2009, and Mujica feared his government would pay a high political price if it rode roughshod over those results.
After 14 hours of debate, vote in the lower house was tied until a ruling party lawmaker left the chamber, causing the proposal to fail.But human rights activists, who want military officers accused of abuses to be tried, criticized the outcome and the result could prove a hollow victory for Mujica.
His approval ratings have slipped to their lowest level since he took office in 2010, partly because of the fracas over the amnesty within his own coalition, political analysts say.
He will have to win back the support of ruling party lawmakers who voted to scrap the law. Some of them joined human rights activists in criticizing the government handling of the issue.
"To this very day, the truth remains kidnapped," said ruling party congressman Felipe Michelini, whose father Zelmar Michelini was killed during the dictatorship.
Among those who led the country during the dictatorship, Juan Maria Bordaberry headed the military government from 1973 to 1976 and Gregorio Alvarez was president from 1981 and 1985. Both are serving long sentences for rights crimes that were not covered by the amnesty law.
Lille Carusso, whose husband was killed during military rule, said it was "a disgrace" that the amnesty law was still in force.
Dozens of protesters gathered outside the Congress building in Montevideo after the vote in the early hours and strike action by pro-government unions disrupted some transport, education and banking services.