Juan María Bordaberry, Uruguayan politician and dictator, President (1972–1976), died after a long illness he was , 83
Juan María Bordaberry Arocena was a Uruguayan politician and cattle rancher, who first served as President from 1972 until 1976, including as a dictator from 1973 until his ouster in a 1976 coup died after a long illness he was , 83. He came to office following the Presidential elections of late 1971.
In 1973, Bordaberry dissolved the General Assembly and was widely regarded as ruling by decree as a military-sponsored dictator until disagreements with the military led to his being overthrown before his original term of office had expired. On November 17, 2006 he was arrested in a case involving four deaths, including two of members of the General Assembly during the period of civilian-military rule in the 1970s.
Background and earlier career
Bordaberry was born in 1928 in Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital. Juan María Bordaberry’s father was Domingo Bordaberry, who served in the Senate and in Ruralist leadership, and he was the heir to one of the largest ranches in the country. Initially, Juan María Bordaberry belonged to the National Party, popularly known as the Blancos, and was elected to the Senate on the Blanco ticket. In 1964, however, he assumed the leadership of Liga Nacional de Accion Ruralista (Spanish for “National Rural Action League”), and in 1969 joined the Colorado Party.
That year he was appointed to the Cabinet, where he sat from 1969 to 1971 as agriculture minister in the government of President Jorge Pacheco, having had a long association with rural affairs (see Domingo Bordaberry).
President of Uruguay
Bordaberry was elected president as the Colorado candidate in 1971. It has since emerged that he only won due to considerable electoral fraud. He took office in 1972 in the midst of an institutional crisis caused by the authoritarian rule of Pacheco and the terrorist threat. Bordaberry, at the time, had been a minor political figure; he exercised little independent standing as a successor to Pacheco other than being Pacheco’s handpicked successor. He continued Pacheco’s authoritarian methods, suspending civil liberties, banning labor unions, and imprisoning and killing opposition figures. He appointed military officers to most leading government positions.
Before and after his period of Presidential office, he was identified with schemes for agricultural improvement; his Agriculture minister was Benito Medero. In personal terms, one of Bordaberry’s actions which proved in hindsight to have been disadvantageous was his appointment of Jorge Sapelli as Vice President of Uruguay, given the latter’s resignation and public repudiation of him in 1973. In 1973, the military commanders threatened to remove him from power unless he agreed to be the figurehead leader of a coup d’état. Bordaberry gave in; on June 27, 1973 he dissolved Congress and suspended the Constitution. For the next three years, he ruled by decree with the assistance of a National Security Council (“COSENA”).
Premature end of term of Presidential office
In 1976, the military, preferring to rule through Alberto Demicheli, already serving in the government and a figure at first thought to be more accommodating to their wishes, ousted Bordaberry from office. The military claimed, whether accurately or not, that Bordaberry wanted to dissolve permanently the political parties and set up a corporatist state according to a pattern with little precedent in Uruguayan history. Bordaberry’s anticipated 5-year term of office, 1972–77, was thus curtailed by the military. Bordaberry then returned to his ranch.
On 17 November 2006, following an order by judge Roberto Timbal, Bordaberry was placed under arrest along with his former foreign minister Juan Carlos Blanco Estradé. He was arrested in connection with the 1976 assassination of two legislators, Senator Zelmar Michelini of the Christian Democratic Party and House leader Héctor Gutiérrez of the National Party. The assassinations took place in Buenos Aires but the prosecution argued they had been part of Operation Condor, in which the military regimes of Uruguay and Argentina coordinated actions against dissidents. Timbal ruled that since the killings took place outside Uruguay, they were not covered by an amnesty enacted after the return of civilian rule in 1985.
On 23 January 2007, he was hospitalized in Montevideo with serious respiratory problems. Because of his health problems the judge Paublo Eguern ordered that Bordaberry be transferred to house arrest. From 27 January he served his prison term in the house of one of his sons in Montevideo. On 1 June 2007, an Appellate Court confirmed the continuation of the case of the murders of Michelini and Gutiérrez Ruiz. On 10 September 2007, another Appellate Court opened a new case to be tried by Judge Gatti for 10 homicides, for violations of the constitution.
On 7 February 2008, the BPS, Social Security Administration, suspended Bordaberry’s retirement payments as ex-president of the country.
Opposition and support
Bordaberry’s arrest was generally met with satisfaction and regarded as the end of impunity in Uruguay, a country considered by some to have lagged behind other Latin American nations in this matter. However, former President Julio Sanguinetti has been critical of the one-sided prosecution of individuals involved in the conflict, and there has been lively media debate regarding issues surrounding Bordaberry’s arrest.
One of his sons, Pedro Bordaberry, himself presidential candidate and a former minister, has been vocal in public support for his father and, by strong implication, for a measure of justification for the role of the civilian-military government of 1973–1985. Another son, Santiago Bordaberry, is a rancher and religious activist and has been prominent in the former President’s public defence.
On 5 March 2010, Bordaberry was sentenced to 30 years in prison (the maximum allowed under Uruguayan law) for murder, becoming the second former Uruguayan dictator sentenced to a long prison term; in October 2009, Gregorio Conrado Álvarez was sentenced to 25 years. He had also been unsuccessfully tried for violating the constitution in the 1973 coup.