From 1903 to 1972, Uruguay was a genuine constitutional democracy. Between 1972 and 1983, the Marxist Tupamaro guerrillas bombed hundreds of public buildings, killed hundreds of government officials, and kidnapped or killed many foreign diplomats, frightening the general public and causing the Uruguayan military to pressure the government to restore order. In 1972, the Communist and Socialist parties’ coalition had effective representation in Congress as part of the Frente Amplio (FA), or Broad Front party. FA senators and deputies, using congressional immunity, defended Tupamaro atrocities during congressional sessions. Thus, in a June 1973 coup, the military backed President Juan Bordaberry’s acts of dissolving Congress and instituting press censorship.

For the next 11 years, harsh restrictions were in force. Some four thousand FA members, Tupamaros, their sympathizers, and those suspected of helping them were arrested for connections to acts of violence. Sometimes the presumed connections were false, and the innocent waited long periods to be released.

In November 1984 the Colorado party’s Julio Sanguinetti was elected president for 1985-90, as full civil rights were restored. The government itself began charging and convicting military officers who had violated citizens’ rights. Then the political Left formed its own investigative group, the Servicio Paz y Justicia (SERPAJ), to bring charges of torture the government had ignored.

SERPAJ interviewed 313 former political prisoners and wrote a lengthy report on their accusations against the military. Political activist Francisco Bustamante edited the report into a book. The members of SERPAJ were identified as law yers and human rights activists, but not identified as to affiliation with political parties, so their political sympathies are not given. This commission, however, determined that 32 percent of those arrested were members of the Communist party and 48 percent had indirect or direct ties to the Tupamaros or groups cooperating with them.

Some prisoners charged that they had been given drugs, some that they had been kept in tiny rooms or in trucks for long periods. All interviewees reported having been beaten. In most cells, hygiene was inadequate, as was most medical care. (This the International Red Cross and Amnesty International were able to confirm.) During the 11 years, 164 people disappeared after being arrested or charged with violence. Uruguayan congressional investigating committees confirm this total and provide names.

The strongest parts of this book document unconstitutional delays in bringing charges and in trial procedures, as confirmed by Amnesty International. The reports of abuse of prisoners are confirmed by Uruguayan Senate and House investigations and the Organization of American States. The book’s weakest parts are unconfirmed charges of abuses by Marcha and other Communist party publications.

Researchers of Uruguayan public life can utilize portions of this book to focus on rights abuses, but will need government documents only now becoming available to confirm or reject other portions. When the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights report on this period is published in 1994, the needed perspective will be available.