Uruguay, National Liberation Movement (MLN–T)

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Uruguay, National Liberation Movement (MLN-T)

The MLN-T was a guerrilla movement that came out of concealment in 1967 to become a major political force until its decimation by the military in 1972. The Tupamaros, who took their name from Túpac Amaru, a seventeenth-century Inca chieftain who led an unsuccessful rebellion against the Spaniards, were founded in late 1962 by a group of Socialist Party dissidents. Raúl Sendic, a law student who had organized the sugarcane workers in the northeast, is recognized as the originator of the movement. The founding members spent their first few years training, stealing weapons, and organizing clandestine cells. In 1967, in the midst of some spectacular robberies, they announced their existence with a letter to a leftist newspaper stating that they were willing to use violence to raise political consciousness and ultimately change the political and economic structure of the country.

The writings and propaganda of the Tupamaros were clearly nationalist, socialist, and revolutionary but never offered a coherent economic or political plan. The Tupamaros did not see their movement as capable of directly challenging the military or the government for power. Rather, they sought to incite mass action by pointing out the corruption and inefficiency of the government and its security apparatus. By establishing themselves as a parallel power to the government, the Tupamaros hoped to be at the vanguard of a larger revolution.

Recruiting from among the intellectuals, professionals, and unionized workers, the Tupamaros initially developed a Robin Hood image through a series of robberies, exposures of questionable financial transactions by the political elite, and the distribution of food in poor neighborhoods. But this image faded with a series of kidnappings and the assassination of U.S. AID public safety officer Daniel Mitrione. In response to a mass prison escape by more than 100 Tupamaros in 1969, the military was put in charge of antiguerrilla activity. In 1971 the Tupamaros kidnapped British ambassador Geoffrey Jackson and held him as a guarantee that the November 1971 elections would take place. The Tupamaros correctly believed that the leftist coalition known as the Frente Amplio (Broad Front) could not win these elections, but they suspended their activities until after the elections as a show of support.

On 14 April 1972 the Tupamaros ended their truce with a series of assassinations of police and military officials who they claimed were members of death squads. Some eleven people died that day, and the government received parliamentary approval for the declaration of a state of "internal war." The military was given a blank check and, aided by the defection of a top Tupamaro leader, Hector Amadio Pérez, and the massive use of torture, it destroyed the Tupamaros over the next several months.

Many in Uruguay blame the Tupamaros for the descent into military dictatorship in 1973. There is no question that the Tupamaros exacerbated social conflict and helped politicize the armed forces, but the dictatorship was installed after the Tupamaros were destroyed, and it remained in power almost twelve years.

With the resumption of civilian constitutional government in March 1985, all political prisoners, including the Tupamaro leader who had been held under inhumane conditions, were released. The Tupamaros then announced their intention to organize as a peaceful political party. They publish a newspaper and have a radio program, but have little influence in Uruguayan politics. On 29 March, 1988, Raúl Sendic made a public statement affirming that the group would officially become a political party. The Tupamaros formally allied with the Frente Amplio, agreeing to follow their political ideology. Sendic died in 1989, but in that same year the Tupamaros were admitted into the Frente Amplio, which in the first decade of the twenty-first century was known as the Movimiento de Participación Popular, or, popularly, as Espacio 609. This name is an allusion to the large number of diverse groups who participate in the Uruguayan electoral system. In 2004 the Espacio 609 became the most popular section within the Frente Amplio, winning the most votes.

See alsoSendic, Raúl; Uruguay, Political Parties: Broad Front.


For an analysis of the Tupamaros' ideology and recruitment patterns, see Arturo C. Porzecanski, Uruguay's Tupamaros: The Urban Guerrilla (1973). For an analysis of the theoretical foundations of the movement, see Abraham Guillen, Philosophy of the Urban Guerrilla: The Revolutionary Writings of Abraham Guillen, edited by Donald C. Hodges (1973). For a useful set of interviews and documents, see Maria Esther Gilio, The Tupamaro Guerrillas (1972).

Additional Bibliography

Actas tupamaras: Una experiencia de guerilla urbana. Madrid: Editorial Revolución, 1982.

Guttiérez, Angel. Los Tupamaros en la década de los años sesenta. México: Extemporáneos, 1978.

Tagliaferro, Gerardo. Fernández Huidobro: De las armas a las urnas. Montevideo: Editorial Fin del Siglo, 2004.

                                      Martin Weinstein