From the bottom of the well to the top of Executive Tower – How Mujica, the guerilla fighter climbed out of his prison well to become President of Uruguay
Jose Mujica, the former leftist Tupamaro guerilla fighter who was elected as President of Uruguay on 29 November, was held in the bottom of a well for two years as part of his fourteen years of imprisonment. He learned to speak to the frogs and to hear the cry of the ants. He held dialogues with his inner self in order to avoid going mad in the well which was mercifully dry. He survived, abjured violence and embraced democratic ideals. He will now move into the Presidential office in the top floor of the Executive Tower building in Montevideo.
Mujica could not contain his tears at his emotional victory speech. Even the sky burst with rains and drenched him and his supporters with heavy downpour. It was a symbolic washing down of the past of Mujica, heralding a new era in the history of Uruguay and Latin America.
In the sixties and seventies, Latin America was filled with young idealist revolutionaries, who took up arms to change the staus quo and establish utopian socialist states. They assassinated, kidnapped and killed persons of authority and robbed banks for their ideology. Some of the revolutionaries were killed, thrown into sea from planes, jailed, tortured, exiled or simply made to ¨disappear¨, as an Argentine General put it in a kind of magical realism,¨They are not alive, nor dead… but have just diasppeared¨. The word ¨Desaparecido¨, still haunts the society, literature and arts of the region. Che Guevara, the revolutionary Icon, was killed by the Boilivian army. Few of the revolutionaries were lucky to survive the bullets and get a second chance to come to power through the ballot. Jose Mujica is one of them.
Mujica joined the Tupamaro armed militant group and participated in the brief takeover of Pando, a town close to the capital Montevideo in 1969. He was captured and jailed on four occasions and once managed to escape from the prison. He was eventually re-apprehended in 1972, shot by the police six times. After the military coup in 1973, he was held in a military prison for eleven years and tortured. In 1985, when democracy was restored, Mujica was freed under a general amnesty. Mujica, along with his comrades founded a new political party, Movement of Popular Participation. He won the 1994 elctions to become a deputy and later a senator and used to go to the Parliament in a motorbike. His party was the largest component of the centre-left Frente Amplio coalition, which won the election in 2004 and formed the first leftist government in Uruguay´s history. This government lead by President Tabare Vazquez was popular in the last five years with its Inclusive Development Agenda and at the same time being market-friendly. Mujica was Minister of Agriculture in Vazquez´s government. He gained nomination as the Coalition candidate in the 2009 elections and won with 53 percent votes.
Mujica has promised continuity of the pragmatic policies of the coalition government of the last five years. He has said that he would govern like President Lula, who has become the role model for the Latin American leftists. In one of his campaign speeches, Mujica vowed to distance the left from "the stupid ideologies that come from the 1970s — I refer to things like unconditional love of everything that is state-run, scorn for businessmen and intrinsic hate of the United States. He said, ¨I'll shout it if they want: Down with isms! Up with a left that is capable of thinking outside the box! In other words, I am more than completely cured of simplifications, of dividing the world into good and evil, of thinking in black and white. I have repented!"
In 2005, Mujica married Lucia Topolansky, a fellow Tupamaro fighter and current Senator, after many years of co-habitation. The presidential couple would continue to stay in their modest farm house in a working-class community with dirt roads and small plots on the edge of the capital.
The other guerilla leader who became President in Latin America was Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua. He was part of the Sandinista movement which waged an armed struggle and overthrew the Somoza dictatorship. He won the elections in 1984 and was President from 1985 to 1990. He was defeated in the elections in 1990, 1996 and 2000 but succeeded in 2006 and is the current President. His wife Rosario Murillo was also a guerilla fighter.
Alvaro Garcia Linera, the vice president of Bolivia was a cofounder the insurgent Tupak Katari Guerilla Army. He was arrested and charged with insurrection and terrorism. While imprisoned, he studied sociology and became a university professor, after his release from prison. He was elected vice president as the running mate to Evo Morales in the 2005 Presidential elections.
Ali Rodriguez Araque, the Finance Minister of Venezuela , was active in the Marxist guerilla movement and was known as "Commander Fausto", allegedly acting as an explosives expert. He was one of the last guerrilla fighters to put down arms. After the state pardon, he took to parliamentary politics. He has served as oil minister, foreign minister and Vice President of the country as well as OPEC secretary general.
Nilda Garre, the Defence Minister of Argentina was said to be part of the militant leftist movement of Montoneros, which fought against the military dictatorship. Her husband and brother in law were allegedly involved with the Montoneros. Her husband was exiled and her brother in law was killed in a shoot out. In an ironic justice, Nilda Garre is now the boss of the Generals who once considered her as public enemy of the state.
Dilma Rousseff , the chief of staff of President Lula and the candidate for the elections to be held in October 2010 was a member of a clandestine Brazilian guerilla group. She was thrown into jail between 1970 and 1972 and was tortured. After her release from jail, Dilma took to politics and started working with Lula in the Workers Party. Both her two ex-husbands were also part of the underground insurgent groups.
All the major armed guerilla groups of Latin America have now renounced arms and have taken the democratic route. The only major group still fighting is the FARC of Colombia, whose story needs a separate analysis.
The Latin American democracies, which were reborn in the eighties after the end of military dictatorships, do not any longer face the threat of anti-establishment armed guerilla groups. The region is also free from terrorism and religious fundamentalism which have become threats in all the other regions. There are, of course, crime, violence, kidnapping and drug trafficking. But these are law and order problems and do not pose a serious challenge to the new democratic paradigm of Latin America.