Uruguayan president and oncologist Tabare Vazquez has publicly admitted full responsibility for not having read, but approvingly signed, delicate documents referred to alleged crimes against humanity committed during the military dictatorship, and consequently, without consultation, he sacked the Defense minister and deputy, and seven generals.
It all started with a Tribunal of Honor of a jailed officer sentenced for crimes committed during the military dictatorship (1973/85) and who was now threatened to be stripped of his uniform and half pension. The ruling was sustained by a military Appeals court. The officer in his late eighties, is considered by his peers as a serial liar for repeatedly changing his confessions.
However during his latest statements the officer confessed to having dumped the body of a tortured suspect into a lake, wired and with stones, by himself, back in 1973. When the military courts elevated the documents to the Ministry of Defense, Minister Jorge Menendez, last February, went to Government House, with two solicitors to inform President Vazquez and recommend the case be forwarded to a penal court.
Vazquez had the reports and suggestions delivered to the Executive Office secretary, Miguel Angel Toma, and at the end of March, Vazquez finally stamped approvingly the documents.
But in the meantime details of the Tribunal of Honor particularly referred to the dumpling of the body in the lake were leaked to the media, to the surprise of the president.
Vazquez then decided to sack six generals, the three members for each of the two tribunals which included in one of them his recently appointed chief of the Army. Likewise with the Defense minister and his deputy.
But then it came to light that in February the defense minister met with Vazquez and Toma to inform them of the contents and this was ratified in Menendez resignation letter. Toma at first denied such a meeting but later in aggressive replies to media interviews had to admit the situation, while Vazquez publicly assumed full responsibility for the whole misunderstood incident.
It was particularly painful since Minister Menendez last December requested to be relieved from the job because he is under cancer treatment, but Vazquez asked him to continue. The dismissed generals were also disappointed because they were never consulted or properly informed of the reasons for their sacking, since they only complied with military procedure.
Despite calls from the ruling coalition to have Toma removed, Vazquez so far has refused. According to Montevideo media Vazquez and Toma have exchanged favors, particularly since the now secretary of the Executive worked at the Ministry of Public Health inspection team and overlooked some shortcomings at the president's oncologic clinic.
The damaging results of the current situation still have to settle, and Vazquez has to address the consequences of sacking the minister, his deputy, and improve relations with the military.
However Vazquez' somehow untimely aloof attitude in the last year of his second presidency (2005/10 and 2015/2020) is not necessarily surprising. The booming economic years are over, the ruling coalition is fatigued after fifteen years in office, corruption cases are surfacing and he was never in full command of affairs since the legislative majority remains in the hands of ex president Jose Mujica, besides the fact that radicals have forced him to support and defend Venezuela's retime of president Maduro as a democracy.
Precisely this week a dairy plant in the north of the country which went into administration ended with all its assets auctioned. The owners of the plant with over eighty years in the business were encouraged by the Mujica and Vazquez administrations to invest heavily in new equipment and technology for exports to Venezuela.
Despite the fact Maduro defaulted on most of Uruguay's debts, including dairy exports, Vazquez not so long ago announced an agreement had been reached with Venezuela on its debts and promised that trade had been normalized.
A suspecting dairy farmer appealed to the information access bill and finally reached Secretary of the Executive Toma, who brazenly that the so called agreement announced by president Vazquez was nonexistent.