The selective genocide carried out by the Argentine military regime—that mixture of horror story and Kafkaesque nightmare that has affected tens of thousands of people who have been murdered, arrested, tortured, or have “disappeared”—has turned the attention of the mass media away from what has happened and is still happening in its neighboring country, Uruguay. But the brutality of the methods used by Uruguayan militarists to keep themselves in power emulates, perhaps goes beyond, that of their Argentine colleagues.
Since 1971—the year when large-scale repression was unleashed—the number of political prisoners in that country has risen from several hundred to a figure of six thousand. In 1971 Amnesty International estimated that one out of five hundred Uruguayan citizens was imprisoned for political reasons, and that one in every fifty of them had been arrested, interrogated, and sometimes tortured—for days, weeks, or months—for the same reasons. Although these figures have gone down somewhat over the last two years, the records of Amnesty International for 1979 indicate that approximately 2,800 political prisoners are still rotting in the military installations and civil jails used as detention centers. That is, one percent of all Uruguayans are still political prisoners. If we add to that the half million exiles and an indeterminate number—hundreds? thousands?—of those held without trial or accusation, we will have an approximate picture of the base on which the regime headed by Dr. Aparicio Méndez rests. The Uruguayan novelist Carlos Martinez Moreno says:
Uruguayan jails are filled with prisoners condemned to the last end of absurdity, for crimes they haven’t committed, with sentences of years and years that they wouldn’t have under a just and reasonable code of law, and which have been the result of trials that haven’t observed proper guarantees and were forged within the scope of complete adulteration that disguises as legal a procedure that is only the exercise of repression and vengeance with a blatant political stamp.
With tragic frequency, prisoners undergoing interrogation in military posts never come to trial, and die; other times, tried and sent to military prisons, they never see the day of their release and commit suicide. The order of the repression—first investigative, then penal—feigns ignorance of any corpses, sending them to military morgues.
The evidence of this repression is overwhelming. It includes declarations by Lieutenant Julio César Cooper to Amnesty International in 1976 concerning the means and techniques of torture used by his colleagues (the “footsole,” the “submarine,” the “parrot perch,” the “sawhorse,” the “flag,” the “cattle prod,” etc.). the accusations of lawyers in exile regarding the base violation on the part of military judges of universally respected juridical norms (“In such a climate,” one of them declared, “to proceed like a lawyer is almost the same as exposing oneself to the risk of being placed in the status of the client”); and testimony from those held at the Libertad, Punta Carretas, and Punta de Rieles prisons. But this …