by Nistor Adriana
The Tupamaros movement is one of the most important social and political movements in the history of South America. They were a group of urban guerillas who operated in Uruguay from the early 1960s until the 1980s. It was known also as Tupamaros National Liberation Movement, and was leaded by Raúl Sendic.
The name comes from Túpac Amaru , the famed Inca Rebel who tried to free his people from the Spanish during the 1970s and 1980s. After his defeat, the Spanish began to refer to all members of rebellious groups throughout Latin America as Tupamaros, especially the ones engaged in independence movements. Uruguay’s revolutionaries used the name as well while struggling for independence.
Raúl Sendic was a Marxist lawyer and activist who unionized sugarcane workers. In the early 1960s, the Tupamaros committed a series of low-level crimes such as robberies, often distributing part of the money to Uruguay’s poor. In the middle of the ‘60s the Tupamaros were forced to hide. On 2nd December, 1966 there was a confrontation between the Tupamaros and the police. The police investigated a stolen truck driven by Tupamaros. After this, most of the Tupamaros’ leaders were captured or went underground.
The members of Tupamaros had various occupations: some were students who had barely finished college; others were distinguished intellectuals and professionals. The group also included semi-literate peasants, relatives of the highest government officials and even mothers aged over fifty. A thing I find interesting is that according to a study made on 618 captured Tupamaros between 1966 and 1972 show that a fourth of all guerillas were women. This level of female participation is much higher than might have been expected for a clandestine group.
An analysis based on 515 subjects showed that between 1966 and 1972 the Tupamaros movement began to attract older people: in 1966, the youngest member was 18 and the oldest was 43; whereas in 1972 the youngest was 18 and the oldest was 59. The average age of a Tupamaros member in 1966 was 30.5 and in 1972 38.5 years. This showed that was not a youth movement, made up only of young men and women.
Although their stealing from the rich and giving to the poor could have been seen as a positive thing, the kidnappings were covered negatively by the media, amongst others. Dan Mitrione, an Italian working for the FBI, was kidnapped on 31st July 1970. The Tupamaros intended to interrogate him about the interference of the U.S. government in Latin American affairs and demand the release of 150 political prisoners. He had been to Montevideo to teach torture techniques to the police. He was well treated during his captivity and the Tupamaros even wanted to release him as part of an exchange, but the Uruguayan government refused to release a prisoner so he was executed.
In 1971 the British Ambassador Sir Geoffrey Jackson was kidnapped for ransom as well. Other magistrates and policemen were murdered. In September of the same year 111 political prisoners, most of whom were from the Tupamaros, escaped from Punta Caretas prison. Raúl Sendic was among them.
After years of being tortured in prison and living under dictatorship, the Tupamaros were freed in the middle of the ‘80s. The Uruguayan people were tired of military government and demanded democracy. Julio María Sanguinetti was elected, allowing the Tupamaros to live in freedom.
In conclusion, I think the Tupamaros movement was formed by people who wanted a free country where everyone would have rights. Although their methods weren’t the best, they were always open to negotiations. They weren’t a closed group and among their members were, as I said, educated people. They didn’t have a rebellious character, demonstrated by the fact that they settled the Popular Participation Movement and that several former members have been elected to public office in Uruguay, including former President José Alberto Mujica Cordano.
Porzecanski, Arthuro C. Uruguay’s Tupamaros, The Urban Guerrila
Langguth, A. J. (1978). Hidden terrors.