Until the 1970s, Uruguay enjoyed a constitutional democracy based on an open society and a free press. It had become Latin America’s first welfare state and during 1919-1933 and 1952-1967 even substituted a plural presidency for a chief executive to inhibit dictatorial government. Uruguay spent far beyond the national income for cradle-to-grave welfare. By the 1960s, huge deficit spending had brought astronomically high annual rates of inflation.

This study of the transition from civilian democracy to military-backed authoritarian rule focuses on the 1960s and 1970s, when the urban guerrilla movement of the Tupamaros made violence a part of daily life through killings, kidnappings, and robberies, and engendered increasing military intervention.

The two large parties, Colorados and Blancos, together accounted for ninety-one percent of the total vote in 1966 but only eighty-one percent in 1971. The Communists and their far left front in 1966 drew under six percent of the vote but in 1971 as the Broad Front, with the Socialist and Christian Democratic parties in their coalition, attracted eighteen percent of the vote. The electoral law permitted the nomination of faction candidates which, combined with other internal pressures, increasingly divided the major-party leadership.

The author shows that the serious economic crisis weakened traditional political structures, created a growing popular despair, and encouraged military leaders to think that only they could save the nation from bankruptcy. Kaufman shows how the military brought the president under its control, then got him to dissolve the National Assembly and the political parties in June 1973. He gives valuable details on the activities of labor unions and university students within the Broad Front.

He clearly profiles the army generals as the decision-making elite, demonstrating that some officers were traditionalists whose priority was to end the violence and others were nationalist reformers. He examines their strategic and tactical decisions and tests various hypotheses related to military intervention. Especially useful is the appendix of crisis events listed by specific date from June 1968 to July 1977.