MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay – The remains of Uruguayan independence hero Jose Artigas were returned to a mausoleum in Montevideo's main square Friday, a year after they were removed to be restored.
The urn was hauled back from Congress to the mausoleum on an artillery caisson pulled slowly by six horses in a solemn ceremony led by President Jose Mujica. The gun carriage was guarded by soldiers from a regiment that Artigas belonged to in his youth and dozens of unionists clad in red.
"It's an honor to be part of this procession," said Juan Carlos Cano, 58, a welder. "Artigas transcends Uruguay. He's a Latin American leader and (we), and the metallurgical workers, share his belief of a unified Latin America.
Artigas was born to a wealthy family and rose to become a leader of Uruguay's 19th century fight for independence from Spain and Portugal. History books describe Artigas as a man happy to do farm labor with the Gauchos, or the cowboys of the Uruguayan and Argentine Pampas flatlands.
Although Artigas fought to free Montevideo and Buenos Aires from the European empires, his attempt to unite the region's provinces failed and he was forced to spend his last days in Paraguay, where he died.
When the procession of more than 1,000 people reached the square, the urn was returned to a marble and cement mausoleum inaugurated in 1977 during the country's military dictatorship.
The mausoleum stirred controversy in 2009, when former President Tabare Vazquez announced he would move Artigas' remains from the "cold marble" to a building in the plaza where they could be put on public display.
Congress voted in favor of the plan, but the project stalled after more than a hundred people rode horses to Independence Square to protest. Vazquez then said Artigas' remains would be taken away for restoration.