MONTEVIDEO – President Juan Maria Bordaberry, who took part in a 1973 coup that led to a 12-year military dictatorship in Uruguay, died over the weekend at his Montevideo home, where he was under house arrest after being convicted of killings and other human rights violations committed during his administration. He was 83.
Bordaberry died early Sunday surrounded by his numerous family from a cardiorespiratory condition he had suffered for some time, and was laid to rest at a capital cemetery without either a vigil or state honors.
About 300 friends and a score of the ex-dictator’s enemies attended the funeral, some to accompany in tearful silence his numerous offspring, including Colorado Party leader Sen. Pedro Bordaberry, while others cried out against the impunity he so long enjoyed despite his part in destroying Uruguayan democracy.
“Justice that takes too long is obviously not justice. It’s good that a dictator dies, but he takes to the grave valuable information about those who were disappeared. He was the one who implemented the civic-military dictatorship and in that he had a leading role,” Irma Leytes, of the Plenaria Memoria y Justicia human rights group, told Efe.
The former president, a rancher in his youth, a staunch Catholic and conservative, took power representing the Colorado Party in the polarized general elections of 1971, the country’s last free elections until the return of democracy in 1985.
When he took office in 1972, the country was immersed in a deep economic crisis and was still the scene of activities by the Tupamaro guerrilla group, an organization that had, however, almost vanished by that time.
Allied with military and conservative sectors, on June 27, 1973, Bordaberry decreed the dissolution of the legislature, declared political parties illegal and gave greater power to the military, thus launching a dictatorship that lasted until 1985.
But Bordaberry gradually lost support among the coup leaders, and in 1976 the military ousted him from the presidency and replaced him with another civilian, Alberto Demicheli.
Having no further place in the country’s political life, he dedicated himself to his work as a rancher.
During his time in government, Bordaberry was, according to the courts, yet another agent of “Operation Condor,” an international plan among 1970s South American military regimes that coordinated the cross-border detention, torture and summary execution of suspected leftists.
After the return of democracy, Bordaberry was protected by the Expiry Law, which blocks crimes committed during that period from going to trial without authorization from the chief executive.
But the rise to power of the leftist Broad Front in 2005 permitted the reopening of the case of the 1976 slaying in Buenos Aires of Uruguayan lawmakers Zelmar Michelini and Hector Gutierrez Ruiz, and of the former Tupamaros Rosario Barredo and William Whitelaw.
As a result, Bordaberry in 2006 was at last taken to court accused of “giving orders, providing the means and assuring the impunity for said incidents.”
Besides those crimes, the ex-dictator was also put on trial for his attack on the constitution, nine crimes of forced disappearance and another two murders.
In an action unprecedented in Uruguayan history, Bordaberry was arrested and sent to jail on Nov. 16, 2006.
A year later in 2007, because of his declining state of health, he was put under house arrest, where in 2010 he was given two 30-year sentences for those crimes. EFE