In February 1973, the Uruguayan army and air force staged a coup d’etat, and Uruguay thus joined the long list of Latin American countries ruled by dictatorial regimes. Although President Juan María Bordaberry was allowed to remain in office, his powers were greatly curtailed and democracy, which had long and powerful roots in Uruguay, formally came to an end. By midyear, President Bordaberry had closed down Congress, suspended constitutional guarantees, jailed thousands of opponents, banished political parties, and outlawed organized labor.
One of the reasons offered by the Uruguayan military to justify their takeover was the state of “internal war resulting from the activities of an urban guerrilla organization known as the Movimiento de Liberación Nacional-Tupamaro. Therefore, a book which purports to be “a comprehensive and analytical account of the birth, growth and destruction of the Movimiento de Liberación Nacional-Tupamaro (p. ix) should be welcomed because it could provide us the necessary data to evaluate the impact of that guerrilla movement in Uruguayan society. Unfortunately, Arturo C. Porzecanski’s Uruguay’s Tupamaros is not such a book.
Mr. Porzecanski’s study is disappointing because despite his stated objective, he has not written an analytical history of the M.L.N. but a rather superficial and descriptive one. Based on sources already available and offering no new insight, Uruguay’s Tupamaros is divided into five short chapters covering such topics as: ideology, membership, organization, and tactics, with a final brief account of the Uruguayan government’s reactions to the M.L.N.’s actions from 1962 to 1972.
In each of these chapters, Porzecanski leaves a number of questions unanswered. What is worse perhaps is his failure to deal with some substantial issues: What factors contributed to the rise of the M.L.N.? What are the ideological origins of the movement? Why and how could it achieve such outstanding success for a number of years? What was the impact of the Tupamaros in the gradual disintegration of the Uruguayan democracy? What factors explain their present defeat? And, can their experience be repeated in Uruguay or elsewhere?