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The World

April 12, 2011

Uruguay removing amnesty for dictatorship crimes

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay — Uruguay's senate is expected on Tuesday to annul an amnesty for crimes against humanity committed during the 1973-85 dictatorship, overturning the view of voters who upheld the law in two referendums.

Backed by leftist President Jose Mujica, the measure would then return to the lower house for minor changes and could become law by May 20 — the day Uruguay honors the 174 political prisoners who were kidnapped and killed during the military junta's crackdown on leftists.

Courts could then prosecute human rights violations committed on Uruguayan soil, fulfilling a key demand of the leftist wing of the governing Broad Front coalition and complying with a 2009 Supreme Court ruling that found the amnesty unconstitutional.

Opposition parties on the right and Uruguay's retired military are angry at the change, and the issue has roiled the governing coalition as well, challenging a common political ground this small nation has built through nearly a quarter-century of democracy.

While Argentina has made a priority of prosecuting "dirty war" crimes and Chileans are proud of the human rights prosecutions by their independent judiciary, Uruguay has largely avoided probing old wounds.

The military amnesty law — passed in 1986 as a complement to an earlier amnesty for crimes by leftists — has protected most uniformed officials ever since. Only exceptional crimes and murders of Uruguayans committed outside the country have been prosecuted, leading to prison terms for about a dozen officials.

The 75-year-old Mujica, who as a Tupamaro guerrilla leader survived imprisonment during the 12-year dictatorship when more than 100 political prisoners died behind bars, was elected president with a 53 percent majority in 2009.

In that election, Uruguayans also voted by 52 percent to uphold the amnesty — only slightly narrower than the 54 percent who favored amnesty in a plebiscite 20 years earlier.

While Mujica has ruled from the center in his presidency, he seems determined to undo the amnesty and keep his promise to the most strident leftists in the Broad Front, which brings together some 20 parties and social organizations.

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