Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Uruguay

Spanish-speaking South American nation covering 68,039 square miles, equivalent in size to the U.S. state of Washington. Uruguay, with a 1945 population of 2.26 million people, is bordered by Brazil to the north, Argentina to the west, and the Atlantic Ocean to the south and east. Uruguay enjoyed prosperity and financial stability in the early Cold War era. In a sense it was a showcase, as U.S. foreign policymakers advocated that Latin American nations open their economies to free trade and investment as a means of spurring economic growth, which is what Uruguay did.

Beginning in the mid-1950s, however, falling export earnings required cuts in imports of industrial materials as well as consumer goods. Despite assistance from the Alliance for Progress, the Uruguayan economy in the 1960s was weak, and inflation became uncontrollable. With economic problems came political problems. In response to the growing power of the Tupamaro urban guerrilla movement, on 13 June 1968 the government of Jorge Pacheco Areco curtailed public liberties and implemented security measures, maintained by the government intermittently through the 1980s. The Tupamaros aimed to overthrow the government and replace it with a socialist regime in the style of Fidel Castro's regime.

With rising anti–North American sentiment in the late 1960s, Washington feared that left-wing Latin Americans would use Uruguay as a base for operations throughout South America. Uruguay, with its open political culture and society, had traditionally provided a friendly environment for such activity. However, the U.S. government maintained a degree of influence over the Uruguayan military by giving military assistance through the Civic Action Program, which was implemented in a number of Latin American nations and provided funding for the military to construct roads, schools, and other infrastructure projects in rural areas.

Until the early 1970s, U.S. officials took cordial relations with Uruguay for granted. With Salvador Allende's rise to power in Chile, however, and with the advent of guerrilla movements in the region, policymakers in Washington began to fear a leftward drift in South America. Two events in the early 1970s significantly shook U.S.-Uruguayan relations. First, the Tupamaros kidnapped two U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) officials and killed one of them, Daniel Mittrone, in August 1970. Next, American officials feared that a left-wing coalition, the Frente Amplio (FA, Broad Front), would win the November 1971 elections. In the end, the FA fared poorly, and the traditional parties garnered the majority of the votes. Juan María Bordaberry of the Blanco Party was elected president.

During April–September 1972, a number of Tupamaros escaped from prison and assassinated military leaders. Because the General Assembly was investigating allegations of torture by the military and because the military disliked Bordaberry's choice of a civilian for defense minister, it forced Bordaberry to dissolve the Assembly in June 1973 and create a Council of State in its place that, along with the military, held effective power. Finally, the military forced Bordaberry to resign in June 1976. In July 1976 the military and Council of State appointed Dr. Aparicio Méndez president.

After 1973, Uruguay's military-controlled government became more anticommunist and pro–United States than its civilian predecessors. This thoroughly suited Washington. As was typical for U.S. relations with Latin America during the Cold War, the administrations of Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford supported Uruguay's military-controlled regime as a bulwark against communism. In part because of the revelations by the U.S. Congress of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) activity in Cuba and Chile in the 1960s and 1970s, however, and because of human rights violations by the Uruguayan military regime—including torture, assassination, and imprisonment without trial—in September 1976 the U.S. Congress curtailed military assistance to Uruguay and other Latin American nations.

Beginning in the mid-1970s, a combination of Uruguayan religious (mainly Catholic) and secular activists worked to return Uruguay to democracy. These groups were heartened that President Jimmy Carter further reduced military assistance to a number of Latin American dictatorships.

Prodded by civilian activists, in 1980 the Uruguayan military drafted a new constitution, which was rejected in a plebiscite in November that same year. Méndez resigned in 1981, and the military appointed Gregorio Álvarez president in 1982. In 1984, military and civilian groups agreed to elections, which were held that November. Colorado Party leader Julio María Sanguinetti won the presidency and took office in 1985. In keeping with its policy toward Latin America in the 1980s, Washington supported Uruguay's transition to democracy.

James F. Siekmeier


Further Reading
Bamberg, James. British Petroleum and Global Oil, 1950-75: The Challenge to Nationalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.; Hudson, Rex A., and Sandra W. Meditz, eds. Uruguay: A Country Study. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, Secretary of the Army, 1990.; Kaufman, Edy. Uruguay in Transition: From Civilian to Military Rule. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1979.; Weinstein, Martin. Uruguay: The Politics of Failure. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1975.
 

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