World political developments intensified the precarious political situation at home. The United States were shocked by the successful Cuban revolution and saw it as the spreading of communism in Latin America, which led to the support of several reactionary regimes in Latin America by the US government.
The strike of the sugar cane workers in Artigas is regarded as the start of the social protests. Rural workers and their families lived under very bad conditions. Additionally they were cheated on and deprived of their wages. Raúl Sendic, a member of the Socialist Party of Uruguay supported the strikers. 1962, in their need, they walked on foot from Artigas to Montevideo to achieve the dispossession of an uncultivated agricultural estate by parliament. Their aim was to farm the land as a cooperative. They weren’t successful but put social justice for rural workers on the agenda of problems the country should solve.
The spirit of optimism sparked by the Cuban revolution and the Algerian war of independence inspired parts of the left and led, among other things, to the founding of the MLN Tupamaros. They managed to win over important parts of the population with their actions which were very creative, especially at the beginning.
The political situation was tense. One week after taking office in December 1967 Jorge Pacheco, who, after the death of the elected president Óscar Gestido, succeeded him as president, ordered by decree the dissolution of various leftist groups and restricted freedom of the press. Protests by students and pupils against fare increases were the occasion for emergency legislation. Already on June 6th 1968 police opened fire on demonstrators. Five of them were severely injured. On August 9th of the same year the autonomy of the university was violated. During ongoing student protests on August 12th the police again resorted to violence, badly wounding Libre Acre, a participant in the demonstration. He died two days later as consequence of his severe injuries. Two other students, Susana Pintos and Hugo de los Santos, died on September 20th 1968 also during a student demonstration. The ambulance was prevented from reaching the injured. In the old barracks where the reservist training center was established (Centro General de Instrucción de Oficiales de Reserva CGIOR), people were tortured as early as 1968! The government of President Jorge Pacheco went down in history as the “Pachecato”.
Union members, members of leftwing political parties and student organizations were persecuted and arrested. In this climate, the actions of the Tupamaros changed as well and the state reacted with might and main. In 1972, the Tupamaros were defeated. Members were either imprisoned, dead or in exile. Some Tupamaros, like the later Uruguayan president José Mujica, were kept imprisoned under inhumane conditions as state hostages. And then – on June 27th 1973 the military coup took place. 15 days of general strike. Arrests and exile ensued.
On November 30th 1980, the military government held a referendum to get the approval of the Uruguayan population for a constitutional amendment, thus legitimizing the dictatorship. But 57% of the population entitled to vote voted No. This was the beginning of the end of the dictatorship. Negotiations about the transition to a democratic Uruguay lasted several years. The pact of the naval club (Pacto del Club Naval) from August 1984 paved the way for constitutional elections in November 1984. The assumption of office by Julio Sanguinetti on March 1st 1985 sealed the end of the dictatorship.
The transition to a democracy was successful, though the price was the impediment of criminal prosecution. Yielding to the pressure of the armed forces, the law of impunity (Ley de Caducidad de la Pretensión Punitiva del Estado) was passed on December 22nd 1986, which prevents persecution of crimes committed by military personnel and other state officials during the dictatorship. Since then Uruguay has an ongoing debate about dealing with the past. Positions range from drawing a line to coming to terms with the past. As there are a minimum of 192 persons missing without a trace, dealing with past crimes of the dictatorship is still a socio-political topic in Uruguay.