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Major setback for President Mujica and for the Uruguayan ruling coalition

Monday, May 16th 2011 - 06:38 UTC
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A most complicated week for President Mujica  A most complicated week for President Mujica

The administration of Uruguayan president Jose Mujica suffered a major setback over the weekend and could experience a further showdown on Thursday when members of the ruling coalition vote in Parliament the annulment of an Amnesty or Crimes expiration law which impedes the investigation of human rights violations committed during the country’s military dictatorship (1973/1985).

The controversy which could cause a major rift in the catch-all coalition has two crucial ingredients which make the debate ever so more pressing: under Uruguayan law crimes covered by the disputed 1986 bill expire next October 31st, and even more significant it’s not a normal-process bill approved by Parliament: in two occasions and with twenty years difference (1989 and 2009) two referendums rejected its annulment.

President Mujica with the support of the two other main leaders of the Broad Front, Vice president Danilo Astori and former president Tabare Vazquez requested the bill should not be annulled arguing it would be ignoring two referendums with serious institutional consequences and could trigger electoral backlash for the ruling coalition in the future.

President Mujica has repeatedly stated that he doesn’t forget the past (and the excesses committed by the military rule) but prefers to look to the future and respects the people’s will in the ballot. However most of the groupings that make up the ruling coalition, speared by human rights organizations argue it is an ethical and moral issue and the bill must be eliminated and those responsible for crimes taking to court. This is somehow supported by a recent ruling from the Inter American Human Rights Court which suggests the Uruguayan government reviews the 1986 bill to help with the cases of those still reported disappeared.

With the ample majority of the ruling coalition the partial annulment process was approved in the Lower House and in the Senate, although with significant differences which has forced another vote next Thursday May 19. In the Upper House one of the ruling coalition’s Senator voted against the annulment, another lifted his hand but later resigned and a third was absent and replaced by an approval vote.

In spite of the requests from the three leaders (Mujica, Astori and Vazquez) the ruling coalition’s plenary on Saturday overwhelmingly decided after six hours discussion to vote next Thursday the annulment of the bill, but avoided recriminations or attacks on President Mujica’s stance. It was also agreed that a special commission organizes a ratification referendum 45 days later although a review of the mechanism will have to be considered since in Uruguay referendums can only be applied for the derogation of bills as was attempted but failed in 1989 and 2009.

The complex formula tries to conciliate the two main positions even when President Mujica already revoked previous presidential decrees denying the investigation of special cases, as is contemplated in the 1986 bill. Former president Tabare Vazquez (2005/2009) also respected the amnesty bill but admitted the investigation of very specific cases which sent to jail two former presidents from the military period and several notorious military officers.

However it’s not quite clear what will happen next Thursday. At least two members of the Lower House, very close to President Mujica have anticipated that they will not support the annulment of the bill which makes it mathematically extremely tight to anticipate a final result.

The opposition in parliament is completely against the initiative arguing that the 1986 bill on two occasions had the support of the electorate, which makes it stronger than a simple bill and any tampering will have an impact on the long established solid institutional tradition of Uruguay.

To further concentrate all events next May 19th, a prosecutor trying to eliminate the expiration date of next October appealed to the Supreme Court requesting that the crimes committed by former officers and that had them sent to jail, be specifically identified as human rights crimes which makes them imprescriptible. By five in six votes the Uruguayan Supreme Court ruled against the appeal.

Last but not least, it has surfaced that President Mujica, a former urban guerrilla from the sixties and early seventies that somehow triggered the military takeover in 1973 and who spent years in jail when he was caught, together with some of his close aides, in the nineties, following the return to Uruguay of democracy held informal talks with military officers. Basically the meetings had the purpose of looking ahead, support democratic governance and leaving things as they are, tacitly admitting that the former guerrillas now politically organized and with members in parliament would not promote the review of the 1986 Expired crimes bill which, among other things was a matching bill for the general amnesty of all guerrillas jailed or not, voted March 1985, as part of a broader political transition understanding.

Whatever the result next Thursday, President Mujica’s authority has been debilitated and the unity of the ruling coalition Broad Front which always managed to keep differences behind doors has been openly exposed and the long term impact on the electorate, very respectful of institutions and democratic procedures, will undoubtedly be measured in trust and votes.

Categories: Politics, Uruguay.

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  • GeoffWard

    “The Inter American Human Rights Court which suggests the Uruguayan government reviews the 1986 bill to help with the cases of those still reported disappeared.”

    This IAHRC is a viciously devious little organization.
    It is willing to ride rough-shod over the Will Of The People - twice expressed in referendums of the nation over the years.

    And it is willing to be used *exclusively* by left-wing individuals and organizations to destabilize governments.

    The IAHRC really should be taken to the world Court Of Human Rights with a view to destroying it publically and humiliatingly.

    May 16th, 2011 - 11:33 pm 0
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