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This week I will finally be focusing on my family’s country, Uruguay, with my theme centered on the 1973 Coup and its effects on the present-day country. Uruguay is an extremely interesting country so I hope everyone takes more time to learn about our culture!
La Noche de Doce Años (2017) tells the story of three Tupamaro guerilla fighters, Jose Mujica, Mauricio Rosencof, and Eleuterio Fernández Huidobro, who were taken hostage by the military during the dictatorship. Though they are exposed to unimaginable horror, the strength of the human spirit leads them through.
The Rise of the Tupamaros and the Dictatorship
1967 began with the Gestido administration being indecisive in its choice of economic strategy. This frustration was halted by his death in December of that year. The following four years under the presidency of Pacheco were a period of intense social conflict and unprecedented bitterness. A period of long-run economic stagnation returned after 1961. The rate of inflation which had fallen to 10% in 1961 increased to 90% in 1967. Bank failures in 1965 and later in 1971 led the state to lose command. The institutional device which enabled Pacheco to govern so implacably was the almost continuous imposition of emergency security measures from June 1968 onward. two newspapers and suppressed certain left-wing political groups (other than the Communist Party) within a few days of taking office and from mid-1968 Pacheco employed emergency measures to arrest trade union leaders, prohibit assemblies and censor the press.
In 1970 and 1971 Congress voted to lift the measures, but Pacheco’s immediate reaction was to reimpose them. Radical challenges from the Tupamaros and the Frente Amplio swiftly followed. The Tupamaros may be traced to the attempts of its acknowledged leader Raul Sendic to organize the sugar cane workers in north-western Uruguay at the beginning of the 1960s. Disillusioned by the limited results achieved and by the ineffectiveness of the electoral process as a vehicle for radical politics, Sendic had by 1963 initiated a movement which by the end of the decade was probably the best organized and most successful guerrilla force in Latin America and which transformed the nature of guerrilla warfare by demonstrating the potentialities of urban operation.
The Tupamaros continued to secure arms and cash to strengthen the movement; but more publicity was secured (in spite of a prohibition on press reporting of the Tupamaros) by the revelation of financial scandals by the temporary seizure of radio stations and by the kidnapping of public figures associated with Pacheco. In 1970 a Senate committee investigating denunciations found that the use of torture was “normal, frequent and habitual” and the Tupamaro campaign entered a new stage with operations against those responsible for the use of torture, including the execution of a US agent, Dan Mitrione. The Frente Amplio in 1971 represented the maximum organization and deployment of left-wing political groups achieved in any election. Things came to a head in the 1971 election when Frente Amplio took 18% of the vote. Allegations of ballot-rigging were widespread, but the victim was less the Frente Amplio than one of the Blanco candidates, Wilson Ferreira Aldunate. Ferreira was the presidential candidate with the largest number of votes, but since in accordance with electoral law victory went to the candidate of the lema with the most votes, the presidency went to Juan Maria Bordaberry, the Colorado candidate. The coup came in 1973 in stages. In February the power of the president to make ministerial appointments that did not have military approval was denied; a military-controlled Consejo de Seguridad Nacional (COSENA) was set up to advise the president. By June, the legislature was dissolved. It was claimed that Uruguay had the highest ratio of prisoners of conscience to total population of any country in the world.
In addition, those suspected of left-wing sympathies lost their jobs in the public sector, state bureaucracy, and educational system. In September 1976, a military decree deprived all political figures involved as candidates or in the party structures in the elections of 1966 and 1971 of their political rights, including in the case of left-wing parties the right to vote, for a period of fifteen years. Between 1974 and 1978, the policy objective was to restructure the economy while seeking economic stabilization through the elimination of internal and external disequilibria. Stabilization proved elusive, with the rate of inflation declining only to 46 % in 1978, but in other respects, the strategy had considerable success. The abolition of free collective wage bargaining reduced labour costs and resulted in a 50% decline in real wages during the period of the regime.
Investment increased largely as a result of an expanded public sector program of infrastructural expenditure. Increased liberalization of the economy resulted in the GDP falling by 2% and inflation reaching 66% in 1984. In 1983, workers and labor unions were allowed to demonstrate on May 1. In 1984, there were strikes against the regime and in support of political prisoners. On January 13, 1984, the first 24-hour general strike since 1973 was organized. Elections were finally organized as well and the presidency of the Colorado centrist Julio Maria Sanguinetti marked a new but not radical era for the country.
Memory & Fantasy
Memory is a very important part of the film. It was made at a time when talks around remembering the disappeared of the era were extremely relevant. For many who watched the film, moments brought them back to their own memory of that fairly recent history. The concept of memory, reality, and fantasy is one that is widely investigated. The first confrontation with memory in the film is extremely traumatizing. When Rosencof is allowed a visit from his family, he finds that in his prison time, his father has developed Alzheimer’s and no longer recognizes him. Forgetting is an inherently traumatizing act and it shows just how easily the outside world can forget about the horrors occurring inside the prison. From then on, the prisoners’ memories are infused with fantasy. Fernandez Huidobro dreams about his past with his wife and in the same sequence meets his daughter whom he does not know.
While this one is a serene fantasy, Mujica suffers from paranoid delusions which enter his memories, making him believe that even past waiters of his had been privy to his downfall. These men’s need to fantasize is completely understandable but it puts them in a passive mindset. By fantasizing, they stop fighting. This abruptly comes to an end when Fernandez Huidobro is interrogated by a military officer who says his belief in the fight is silly and that he should have killed him when he had the chance. Immediately we are taken back in time to a confrontation between Fernandez Huidobro, his colleagues, and this officer. No part of this is fantastical. It is all too real and violent. This came after Fernandez Huidobro and his fellow prisoners failed to speak out when the Red Cross came to investigate their treatment. Their passivity had just cost them their freedom. The time for fantasy was over. To stay in the fight, clear and factual memory was important.
Patriotism & Solidarity
The first scene is quite a disturbing view of the dictatorship’s new Uruguay. The camera is placed at the center of a prison panopticon as it spins across to show a series of prison fights, officer beatings, and the military order so admired at this time. While this is going on a patriotic song plays. Is this what patriotism is supposed to be? This flavor of patriotism is deeply linked to the violent and disruptive militarism of the dictatorship. This patriotism is connected to the individuality of the regime as well. Solidarity is suppressed. The panopticon houses a singular all-seeing eye to watch as these blindfolded men are separated and tortured. It’s only when solidarity is introduced that we catch a glimpse of a healthy patriotism. When the prisoners are finally allowed to see each other, we also see hope and pride. In one scene, Fernandez Huidobro is given an outdoor recess alone but all the prisoners in their cell see him and begin to cheer for him as he dribbles and juggles an imaginary ball and scores a goal. Previously, the government had organized a mini world cup or “mundialito” which Uruguay won in order to create more support for the regime. This soccer triumph may not be one written about in the annals of soccer history, but it is an important moment for these men. This is the only game they can really root for as the military personnel look on in disgust. Very soon after when they are released, spectators greet them with Uruguayan and Tupamaro flags. This is a patriotism driven by inclusivity and solidarity. The panopticon is gone, and the masses have arrived.