Retired officers in Uruguay protest 'harassment'

A group of retired Uruguayan military officers said that human rights investigations into alleged abuses during the 1973-1985 dictatorship have become harassment and warned they could make their "voice heard."

The ex-officers, members of the "Liberty and Concord Forum," sent a letter to current army chief Gen. Jorge Rosales saying that "the issue of human rights in Uruguay not only hasn't been overcome but has reached deeper stages with the harassment of members of the armed forces and police."

The letter said the current year is seeing an "aggravation of the situation with the opening of numerous legal cases involving dozens of officials." The group threatened to "make our voice heard, and it will be very strong."

Col. Mario Stevenazzi, head of communications for Uruguay's army, on Friday said the letter is in the hands of the army chief.

President Jose Mujica was a leader of the leftist Tupamaro guerrillas who fought Uruguay's governments between 1963 and 1972. The group was broken up by the armed forces and the fight against the rebels was one of the forces behind the 1973 coup d'etat that launched Uruguay's dictatorship.

On Thursday, Mujica said the government "doesn't give orders to prosecutors or judges."

Ruling party lawmaker Alvaro Vega shrugged off the letter, saying the retired officers who belong to the forum are "old dinosaurs who always want to return to the past."

Both the military and guerrillas were granted amnesty for dictatorship-era crimes as democracy was restored in Uruguay, and the amnesties have been repeatedly upheld in voter referendums.

But in October 2009, the Supreme Court declared them unconstitutional, reasoning that only the courts — not the executive branch — can grant amnesty. Each alleged crime must be considered by the courts on a case-by-case basis.

A dozen Uruguayan military figures have been prosecuted for crimes against humanity, but all were committed outside Uruguay, particularly in Argentina, where about 150 Uruguayans disappeared.

Former dictator Juan M. Bordaberry also was convicted for his role in the 1973 coup that ushered in military rule. But all other crimes committed inside Uruguay had been protected by amnesties — until now.