The Transition to Democracy, 1980-85
After the electoral defeat of the military's constitution, retired Lieutenant General Gregorio Alvarez Armelino (1981-85), one of the leaders of the coup, became president, and political dialogue was slowly restored. The 1982 Political Parties Law was enacted to regulate the election of political leaders, the functioning of political conventions, and the preparation of political platforms. Its aim was the controlled regeneration and democratization of the political system, but it excluded the left to avoid a return to the situation prior to 1973.
In 1982 the officials of the National Party, the Colorado Party, and the Civic Union (Union Civica—UC; created in 1971), a small conservative Catholic party, were elected. Once again, election results were a blow to the military. Sectors opposing the dictatorship won overwhelmingly in both traditional parties. A divided left, although officially banned, also participated: some cast blank ballots, while others believed it would be more useful to back the democratic sectors of traditional parties.
The dialogue between politicians and the military gathered momentum but was marked by advances and setbacks and accompanied by increasing civil resistance. Uruguay was now experiencing its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. In 1983 the Interunion Workers' Assembly (or Plenum) (Plenario Intersindical de Trabajadores—PIT) reclaimed the banner of the CNT and was authorized to hold a public demonstration on May 1 ; it later assumed the name PIT-CNT to show its link with the earlier organization. Students—united under the Students' Social and Cultural Association for Public Education (Asociacion Social y Cultural de Estudiantes de la Ensenanza Publica—ASCEEP), heir to the banned student organizations—were allowed to march through the streets of Montevideo. In November all opposition parties including the left staged a massive political rally, demanding elections with full restoration of democratic norms and without political proscriptions.
In March 1984, the PIT-CNT organized a civil strike and freed General Liber Seregni Mosquera, leader of the Broad Front, whom the military had imprisoned since January 11, 1976. By mid- 1984 yet another civil strike took place, this time organized by political parties and social groups. Blanco Senator Ferreira returned from exile. His subsequent imprisonment essentially deprived the National Party of the opportunity to participate in the meetings between politicians and the military that ended with the Naval Club Pact. Signed by the armed forces and representatives from the Colorado Party, UC, and Broad Front, this pact called for national elections to be held that same year on the traditional last Sunday in November.
The discussions at the Naval Club saw the military give up its long-sought goal of a Cosena dominated by the military and with virtual veto power over all civilian government decisions. The military now settled for an advisory board that would be controlled by the president and the cabinet. Some transitional features were agreed to by the civilian leadership, mostly relating to the ability of the armed forces to maintain its seniority system in the naming of the commanders of the various military services. The military also agreed to review the cases of all political prisoners who had served at least half of their sentences. Moreover, the military acquiesced to the relegalization of the left, although the PCU remained officially banned (until March 1985). The Communists were nonetheless able to run stand-in candidates under their own list within the leftist coalition. Nothing was said about the question of human rights violations by the dictatorship.
The election results were no great surprise. With Ferreira prohibited from heading the Blanco ticket and a similar fate for Seregni of the Broad Front, and with effective use of young newcomers and a savvy media campaign, the Colorado Party won. The Colorados received 41 percent of the vote; the Blancos, 34 percent; and the Broad Front, 21 percent. The UC received 2.5 percent of the vote. Within the Broad Front's leftist coalition, social democratic Senator Hugo Batalla, who headed List 99, a faction started by Zelmar Michelini in 1971, was the big winner, garnering over 40 percent of the alliance's vote.
For the victorious Colorados, former President Pacheco brought the party 25 percent of its vote. However, the Colorado presidential ticket receiving the most votes (in a system that allowed multiple candidacies for president in each party) was headed by Sanguinetti. After being sworn in as president on March 1, 1985, Sanguinetti led the transition to democracy. He did so with dignity and fairness, although the legacy of human rights violations under the dictatorship proved a troublesome problem.
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