President, Amnesty Law Under Fire In Uruguay

Human rights violations committed during Uruguay’s 1970s and 1980s-era military regimes have come back to haunt the South American country, where the legislature’s recent failure to revoke a stubborn amnesty law has sparked a major political crisis.

A photograph of one of Uruguay's disappeared.
A photograph of one of Uruguay's disappeared.


Horacio Gelós Bonilla was with his uncle in the main square in the Uruguayan city of Maldonado in the early evening of Jan. 2, 1976 when two men emerged from a truck and arrested him. That was the last time his family saw the 32-year-old labor leader. Bonilla was reportedly taken to a local jail where witnesses later reported they heard his cries as he was being beaten, until he went silent.

Since early 1985, when democracy was restored in Uruguay, Bonilla's family has been searching for him. His disappearance is one of more than 200 unresolved cases for which Uruguayans are demanding answers, throwing the country into its worst constitutional crisis since democracy returned.

President José Mujica's Broad Front coalition is bitterly divided over the issue. On May 20, the coalition failed to get a 1985 amnesty law revoked when the proposal fell short by one vote after one of the group's lawmakers decided to abstain. The amnesty law had previously survived a pair of popular referendums – in 1989 and 2009.

Now, however, international human rights groups are pressuring the government to follow the example being set in neighboring Argentina and allow the legal system to finally go after military regime-era human rights violators

Mujica, a former Marxist guerrilla who was captured by security forces and spent time in prison during Uruguay's military backed governments (1973-85), had asked the Broad Front not to push for the repeal. The president said he doesn't think lawmakers should ignore the results of the two referendums. He said the most important thing is to move on.

As legislators voted on the amnesty issue, hundreds of activists gathered outside Congress demanding an end to the amnesty law and a start to legal action against former military officers suspected of kidnappings and killings. Some even telephoned lawmakers to ask that they vote in favor of the repeal.

The organization Mothers and Families of Missing and Arrested Uruguayans has written to the president on a number of occasions to try to convince him to change his position.

Mujica's approval rating among the grass roots membership of the Broad Front coalition has dropped 11% since the debacle in Congress. In an effort to please both human rights organizations and his political allies, the president has ordered his lawyers to evaluate how prosecutors could skirt the amnesty law and reopen 88 missing persons and torture cases.

Columnists such a Javier García of Montevideo's El País having been fanning the flames of popular discontent. García recently accused the Broad Front of insulting the intelligence of Uruguayans.

Uruguay's largest labor union, Pit-CNT, has chimed in on the matter as well, calling for "firm but peaceful demonstrations in defense of the construction of a society without impunity." Many of the Pit-CNT's leaders were killed during the military-backed regimes.

Martin Delfín

Photo- Libertinus

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Erdogan And Boris Johnson: A New Global Power Duo?

As Turkey fears the EU closing ranks over defense, Turkish President Erdogan is looking to Boris Johnson as a post-Brexit ally, especially as Angela Merkel steps aside. This could undermine the deal where Ankara limits refugee entry into Europe, and other dossiers too.

Johnson and Erdogan in NYC on Sept. 20

Carolina Drüten and Gregor Schwung


BERLIN — According to the Elysée Palace, the French presidency "can't understand" why Turkey would overreact, since the defense pact that France recently signed in Paris with Greece is not aimed at Ankara. The agreement covers billions of euros' worth of military equipment, and the two countries have committed to come to each other's aid if they are attacked.

Although Paris denies this, it is difficult to see the agreement as anything other than a message, perhaps even a provocation, targeted at Turkey.

Officially, the Turkish government is unruffled, saying the pact doesn't represent a military threat. But the symbolism is clear: with the U.S., UK and Australia recently announcing the Aukus security pact, Ankara fears the EU may be closing ranks when it comes to all military issues.

What will Aukus mean for NATO?

Turkey has long felt left out in the cold, at odds with the European Union over a number of issues. Yet now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is setting his sights on another country, which also wants to become more independent from Europe: the UK.

Europe's approach to security and defense is changing dramatically. Over the past few months, while the U.S. was negotiating the Aukus pact with Britain and Australia behind the EU's back, a submarine deal between Australia and France, which would have been worth billions, was scrapped.

The EU is happy to keep Erdogan waiting

Officially, Turkey is keeping its cards close to its chest. Addressing foreign journalists in Istanbul, Erdogan's chief advisor Ibrahim Kalin said the country was not involved in Aukus, but they hope it doesn't have a negative impact on NATO. However, the agreement will have a significant effect on Turkey.

"Before Aukus, the Turks thought that the U.S. would prevent the EU from adopting a defense policy that was independent of NATO," says Sinan Ülgen, an expert on Turkey at the Brussels think tank Carnegie Europe. "Now they are afraid that Washington may make concessions for France, which could change things."

Macron sees post-Merkel power vacuum

Turkey's concerns may well prove to be justified. Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel always argued for closer collaboration with Turkey, partly because it is an important trading partner and partly because it has a direct influence on the influx of migrants from Asia and the Middle East to Europe.

Merkel consistently thwarted France's plans for a stricter approach from Brussels towards Turkey, and she never supported Emmanuel Macron's ideas about greater strategic autonomy for countries within the EU.

But now she that she's leaving office, Macron is keen to make the most of the power vacuum Merkel will leave behind. The prospect of France's growing influence is "not especially good news for Turkey," says Ian Lesser, vice president of the think tank German Marshall Fund.

Ankara fears the defense pact between France and Greece could be a sign of what is to come. According to a statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry, the agreement is aimed "at NATO member Turkey" and is damaging to the alliance. Observers also assume the agreement means that France is supporting Greece's claims to certain territories in the Mediterranean which remain disputed under international law, with Turkey's own sovereignty claims.

Paris is a close ally of Athens. In the summer of 2020, Greece and Turkey were poised on the threshold of a military conflict in the eastern Mediterranean. Since then, Athens has ordered 24 Rafale fighter jets from France, and the new pact includes a deal for France to supply them with three frigates.

Photo of French President Emmanuel Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on September 27 in Paris

French President Emmanuel Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on September 27 in Paris

Sadak Souici/Le Pictorium Agency/ZUMA

Erdogan’s EU wish list

It's not the first time that Ankara has felt snubbed by the EU. Since Donald Trump left the White House, Turkey has been making a considerable effort to improve relations with Brussels. "The situation in the eastern Mediterranean is peaceful and the migrant problem is under control," says Kalin. Now it is "high time" that Europe does something for Turkey.

Erdogan's wish list is extensive: making it easier for Turks to get EU visas, renegotiating the refugee deal, making more funds available to Turkey as it continues the process of joining the EU, and moderniszing the customs union. But there is no movement on any of these issues in Brussels. They're happy to keep Erdogan waiting.

Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU

Now he is starting to look elsewhere. At the UN summit in September, Erdogan had a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the recently opened Turkish House in New York. Kalin says it was a "very good meeting" and that the two countries are "closely allied strategic partners." He says they plan to work together more closely on trade, but with a particular focus on defense.

 Turkey's second largest export market

The groundwork for collaboration was already in place. Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU, and gave an ultimate proof of friendship after the failed coup in 2016. Unlike other European capitals, London reacted quickly, calling the coup an "attack on Turkish democracy," and its government has generally held back in its criticism of Turkey.

At the end of last year, Johnson and Erdogan signed a new free trade agreement, which will govern commerce between the two countries post-Brexit. Erdogan has called it "the most important treaty for Turkey since the customs agreement with the EU in 1995."

After Germany, Britain is Turkey's second largest export market. "Turkey now has the opportunity to build a new partnership with the United Kingdom and it must make the most of it," says economist Ali Kücükcolak from the Istanbul Commerce University.

Erdogan is well aware of this, as Turkey is in desperate need of an economic boost. Inflation currently stands at 19%, and the currency's value is consistently falling. Turks are feeling the impact on their daily lives: food and rent are becoming increasingly expensive, while salaries remain unchanged.

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