Enabling Environments for Civic Movements and the Dynamics of Democratic Transition - Uruguay

Period of democratic transition: 1984
Pro-democracy civic movement: present

In 1971, elected president Juan Maria Bordaberry dissolved Congress and banned political parties the following year at the direction of the military, which then seized power in 1973 and ousted Bordaberry in 1976. Until 1985, Uruguay remained under control of a military dictatorship, which held absolute power as intense "preventive" repression against communism.

A November 1980 plebiscite rejected the new constitution drawn up by military leaders. After this rejection, and in conjunction with their inability to control the worsening economic situation, the military announced a plan to return to civilian rule. In 1982, a law was passed to regulate the election of political leaders and other aspects of political conventions and platforms. In elections that year, political parties opposing the dictatorship won overwhelmingly. While politicians and the military attempted dialogues, a workers union and a student organization demonstrated separately, and in November 1983, all of the opposition parties staged a massive protest rally in Montevideo, demanding elections and full restoration of the democratic practice. Labor and civil strikes continued into 1984, organized by social groups and political parties. The military agreed to an advisory board controlled by the president and the cabinet. Elections were held in November, with a victory for Colorado Party candidate Julio Mario Sanguinetti. While attempting to resolve the many complicated issues he inherited, Sanguinetti proposed an unrestricted amnesty bill for the military and police that was approved by the General Assembly in December 1986 and essentially halted any examinations into human rights abuses under the military regime. Despite opposition to this law, Uruguayans voted to keep it in effect, thus maintaining a peaceful transition to democracy.

Democratic elections continued through relative stability in the 1990s, but since the beginning of the 21st century, there has been increasing labor unrest and crime. Recent attempts to address human rights abuses from the past continue to meet with military opposition.

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