On June 1, Uruguayan police arrested three individuals for the murder of three marines near the Fortaleza del Cerro, a military detachment in the capital of Montevideo. The main suspect, according to Subrayado, is 26-year-old Christopher Zubia, a Colombian national and former infantryman in the Uruguayan navy. According to Infobae, the bodies of the soldiers were found at a guard post the morning after they were killed, with two of the victims having been shot in the head and the third found in the fetal position with gunshot wounds littering his body. The incident is being framed as a robbery gone horribly wrong, as authorities believe the main goal was to steal their weapons and sell them to Brazilian traffickers. With the waves of attacks on military encampments in recent months, as well as a new conservative government with a demonstrated ambivalence toward its authoritarian past, some are fearing this incident may be the impetus for a resurgence of military force in Uruguay.
President Luis Lacalle Pou assured Uruguayans that the government “stands firm in the face of criminals,” while Minister of Defense Javier García threatened “all the force of the state” in solving this crime. Gabriel Pereyra, an Uruguayan journalist, has called into question whether the military knew of the attack beforehand, based on a previous documented complaint about a deserter planning to sell military weaponry to traffickers. Strangely, the incident occurred in a zone García himself defined as having no value to national security. Set up originally by the military dictatorship in the 1970s as a radar monitoring centre, it is unclear why military personnel would have been present there, and so far no official has made comment on it.
We are living in unprecedented times, and Uruguay is in an especially delicate position. While it has responded remarkably well to the Coronavirus pandemic in Latin America, the recent surge of far-right leadership in the region has left much of the public in a bind, especially considering the Uruguayan presidency only recently swung back toward the right with the 2019 Presidential Elections. Additionally, as a small, vulnerable country, it is highly influenced by larger surrounding countries like Brazil and Argentina. Since taking power in 2019, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has only further demonstrated himself as an ally of the far-right, even expressing open admiration and nostalgia for the nation’s brutal military dictatorship.
Lacalle Pou has appropriated the common stylings of far-right leaders like Bolsonaro and Donald Trump, accusing political opponents of spreading “fake news,” withdrawing from international agreements, and refocusing attention on perceived national security threats. His campaign heavily centred on the issue of violence and crime in Uruguay, telling the Economist that it is, “time to take back the streets, by force if need be.” He has also expressed interest in increasing Uruguayan military presence both domestically and internationally, having returned the country to the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (TIAR), presumably against the Maduro government in Venezuela. Among his supporters are far-right parties like Cabildo Abierto, which is led by a former military leader.
The Ley de Caducidad, which granted amnesty to members of Uruguay’s military dictatorship, was repealed in 2011, though the government has since taken steps to re-establish impunity. Uruguayans are wary of returning to anything like the dictatorship, but the institutional means are already in place to facilitate the rise of the military back into political life, especially considering Lacalle Pou is only a few months into his 5 year-long presidential term. International organizations and surrounding countries like Argentina must make the effort to condemn any potential rise of the military knowing not only Uruguay’s history but also regional trends toward military rule. Regardless of political alignment, democracy is something that must continuously consciously be maintained, and those in governments like Uruguay’s must remain vigilant to protect and maintain that democracy or otherwise fall once again to authoritarianism.