Last updated on January 1, 2020
Nestled between Brazil and Argentina is the small Latin American nation of the Oriental Republic of Uruguay (República Oriental del Uruguay). The nation is the second smallest on the continent next to Suriname and boasts one of the highest literacy rates in the world. To foreign visitors, it may seem a like destination that is too good to be true. Currently, the nation enjoys peace and shows no signs of the conflicts that once plagued Uruguayan society. Revisiting the past, Lindsey Churchill tells the story of the Tupamaros, the left-wing revolutionary faction that captivated a country and earned the admiration of revolutionaries abroad.
The world is intimately familiar with the revolutionary campaigns in Cuba, Russia, China and Vietnam. Names such Castro, Guevara, Mao, Stalin and Ho Chih Minh, have become cemented in the ideology of left-wing movements . Uruguay also has a story to tell, one that contains all of the elements found in the narratives of Latin American politics saturated with military dictatorships. Churchill takes us back in time to understand the development of the Tupamaro faction, their relationship with revolutionary groups in the United States and their inner-struggled with gender, the topic that plagued revolutionary efforts around the world. Named after Tupac Amaru II (José Gabriel Condorcanqui), the revolutionary warrior who led a revolt against the Spanish empire, the group evolved from a political party into an organization that resorted to fear through violence as they advanced their agenda of transforming Uruguayan society. Their story begins in the 1960s and in particular 1968, when Uruguayan President Jorge Pacheco (1920-1998) suspended the constitution and unleashed a wave of oppression. Fueled by the successful revolution in Cuba and the spirit of the American Civil-Rights Movement, the Tupamaros and the became the foremost revolutionary party whose actions sometimes had deadly consequences.
Although the book is only two hundred and sixty pages, I literally could not put it down. Prior to reading it, I was unfamiliar with the Tupamaros and the reign of Pacheco’s successor, Juan Maria Bordaberry (1928-2011) whose twelve-year dictatorship following a coup, marked the darkest period in the history of the nation. Political oppression, false imprisonment supplemented with torture and in some cases sexual assault, combined to fuel the drive for social reform through any means necessary. Churchill shines as she explores the purpose behind the movement, their relationship to U.S. revolutionaries and the complicated manner in which race in Uruguay is addresses or in some cases ignored completely. In contrast to the images we find in the media, Afro-Uruguayans make up a sizeable portion of the country and in this book, their plight is not forgotten. Through Churchill’s words, we become witnesses to the intricate and reciprocal relationship between American and Uruguayan revolutionaries who actively supported and encouraged each other in their struggles.
If you stand outside the local city airport in Buenos Aires, you can see the shores of Uruguay in the distance. It might be hard to imagine for some, that the small nation largely forgotten in the media was once home to one of the world’s strongest political movements. Society was divided, violence became a tool and the United States found itself involved in yet another controversial situation involving a Latin American dictatorship. Many years have passed since the Tupamaros last embraced their revolutionary tactics but they remain a part of the nation’s social fabric. In fact, the former President José Mujica (1936-), is a former member of the Tupamaros and served thirteen years in prison for his deeds. He was succeeded by Tabaré Vázquez (1938-) who still holds office today.
For those interested in the story of the Tupamaros , this is a great read and critical in understanding their history and the development of politics in modern-day Uruguay.