The Tupamaros and Uruguay

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The Tupamaros of Uruguay

Uruguay in the 1960¹s was distinct among other South American counties for its affluence and sociopolitical stability. Economic prosperity had fostered the growth of a large middle class and a stable welfare-state government that allowed a wider degree of democratic and civil freedoms larger than any other South American government. Because Uruguayan society was so peaceful, the Army and Police were very small. In 1968 there were only about 12,000 men in the armed forces and fewer than 22,000 police to keep order in a population of about 3 million.

A slump in the demand for wool and meat, Uruguay¹s two principal exports, after the Korean War brought mass unemployment, inflation, and a steep drop in the standard of living. the social tensions this produced, along with the corruption of the overblown state bureaucracy (one in five working Uruguayans was employed by the federal government in some fashion), gave the impulse for an effective urban guerrilla movement to emerge. This revolutionary group¹s official name was Movimento de Liberacion National but was popularly known as the Tupamaros (from Tupac Amaru, last member of the Inca royal family, murdered by the Spanish in 1571). It was founded in 1963 by Raul Sendic, a law student studying in Montevideo. Because Uruguay was so urbanized (over 80% of Uruguayans lived in large towns or cities) they concentrated almost all their activity in and around the capital, Montevideo, where more than half the entire population of the country lived. As with most other South American guerrilla groups, they started as a political organization that deliberately chose the tactics of Œarmed struggle¹ and drew its membership from young, radical, middle-class people -- mostly students and white-collar workers. Like most urban terrorist groups, they were organized in a cellular structure of 4-5 men called a Œfiring group,¹ with the group leader as the only link to other cells. This was...
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