Thousands of people took to the streets of Montevideo as part of the annual march to denounce the crimes of Uruguay’s last military dictatorship (1973-1985) and renew calls for accountability.
Under the slogan “Where are they? State Terrorism, Never Again,” relatives of those who disappeared during the dictatorship walked last night carrying banners with photos of their loved ones and demanded truth, memory, and justice.
In the “March of Silence”, which has been held since 1996, demonstrators walked in complete silence only responding “present” in unison whenever a disappeared person was named over loudspeakers.
Yesterday’s march, the 28th, took place simultaneously in more than 70 localities across the country and was organized by Mothers and Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared Uruguayans.
It is held every May 20 in memory of the 1976 assassination in Buenos Aires city of exiled Uruguayan politicians Zelmar Michelini and Héctor Gutiérrez Ruiz, as well as Tupamaros militants Rosario Barredo and William Whitelaw.
The bodies of the four murdered were found in a car abandoned on the street in the Bajo Flores neighborhood.
Raúl “Polo” Altuna, Michelini’s son-in-law, told Télam at the demonstration that the March of Silence “keeps alive the memory of what happened in the 70s, which should never happen again.” He highlighted the large number of attendees, especially young people.
“But the information about the fate of the disappeared is still missing in Uruguay and that is very serious, that’s why we will continue marching,” he said.
Congresswoman Verónica Mato, of the Frente Amplio party and daughter of the communist militant Miguel Ángel Mato, who disappeared in Montevideo in 1982, highlighted the “popular” roots of the march.
“This march has something fundamental, which is that it was built by the people, it was not decreed by any government, any law, any holiday, it was built by the Uruguayan people […] to know where the disappeared are, so that they tell us where they are,” she said.
Mato said that in the current right-wing government of President Luis Lacalle Pou “there are politicians who have links with the military, who have information, and who deny it.
“The truth is still being held hostage, because that information exists,” he said.
“When each disappeared comrade is found, evidence of a crime is found. The perpetrators of these heinous crimes want to continue to maintain impunity forever,” Mato said.
Valentina Chaves, daughter of the trade unionist and communist militant Ubagesner Chaves Sosa, who disappeared in Montevideo in 1976, said that the participants in the march felt the weight of the banners more and more as the blocks went by.
“This is similar to what is happening to us: we are increasingly burdened with impunity for crimes against humanity,” Chaves said.
Prior to the march, the mayor of Montevideo, Carolina Cosse, of the opposition Frente Amplio, paid homage to the disappeared at the Cerro Memorial, together with representatives of human rights organizations.
At the ceremony, daisies —the flower that is the symbol of the disappeared in Uruguay— were thrown, a minute’s silence was observed and the Uruguayan national anthem was sung.
After the end of the dictatorship, the Uruguayan Congress passed the so-called Ley de Caducidad, endorsed in referendums in 1989 and 2009, which decreed an amnesty for military and police officers who had violated human rights during the dictatorship.
The law delegated to the government the decision of which cases could be tried.
When the Frente Amplio came to power in 2005, exceptions to the law were sought to initiate several trials of military and politicians for their role at the time.
Following a ruling by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the approval of a law in 1985, the trials were allowed to be extended, in some cases ending with prison sentences of up to 30 years.
—Télam, by Roberto Koira