Family of Uruguay dictatorship victims struggle for information

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay — Ignacio Errandonea has been searching 39 years for a brother who went missing in the 1970s as military dictatorships swept across South America.

See Full Article

Errandonea, a member of an organization searching for the nearly 200 Uruguayans still missing from the small country's military rule, says he just wants to know what happened and where his brother is buried.

Resigned to the reality that such answers may never come from official avenues, Errandonea and other families of missing people have begun promising anonymity to anybody, including aging perpetrators, who come forward with information. It's a race against time: many of the former military leaders who may know something have begun dying in recent years.

Using a new, anonymous hotline, the families are spreading their message in churches, temples and other public places across the nation of 3.3 million people. An open letter disseminated nationwide says that families simply want to "cry for our disappeared."

"If you saw something, know something or know some detail that can help find (our loved ones), we appeal to your humanity," reads part of the letter.

The families make clear they are not forgiving perpetrators, and their offer of anonymity isn't the same thing as government immunity from prosecution.

"Realistically I know that my brother was killed," said Errandonea, a gray-haired 61-year-old janitor. "But he was taken alive and the military has yet to say what happened and prove to me that he's dead."

The number of people who were disappeared or killed during Uruguay's 1973-1985 dictatorship is small compared to other countries in the region. In neighbouring Argentina, rights groups estimate that 30,000 were killed or disappeared. More than 3,000 people are estimated to have been killed or disappeared in Chile.

However, Uruguay's search for its 192 missing citizens is an example of how nations across the region are still struggling over how to come to terms with their loss and get justice for victims and their families.

When Uruguay returned to democracy in 1985, then-President Julio Maria Sanguinetti appointed a military prosecutor to investigate claims of disappeared loved ones. But the effort failed to obtain much information and no remains were recovered.

Gerardo Bleier, a local journalist whose father disappeared in 1975 in Montevideo, the capital, says Sanguinetti mistakenly downplayed the military's violence.

"It's true that the barbarity in Uruguay never got to the level of Chile and Argentina," said Bleier, whose father was a Communist Party member. "But that doesn't mean it didn't happen."

In 2003, the Commission for Peace was created and charged with getting information from the military, which recognized its responsibility in a handful of disappearances. In 2005, a search for the remains of disappeared people was launched, but the effort only led to the recovery of four bodies.

In March, President Tabare Vazquez created a new commission to search for answers about the disappeared. But family members worry it could end up like previous failed attempts to find people.

Bleier estimates that there are about 50 people, including three or four former military leaders, who could provide key information about what happened. But he says a recent Supreme Court decision that crimes committed during the dictatorship should not come under any statute of limitation probably has kept people from coming forward.

"The campaign by the families is the last resort," said Bleier. "Those who know what happened are going to die. At most there is about five years."

In September, retired Gen. Pedro Barneix committed suicide before he was to be sent to prison for the death of a detainee during the dictatorship. Last year, retired Gen. Pedro Dalmao died in prison, where he was serving time for the death of a dictatorship opponent.

Retired Col. Guillermo Cedrez, former leader of the Military Center, an organization for retired officials of all military branches, says the families are asking for answers that don't exist.

"The Army gave all the information it had and the families refuse to believe it," he said.

Such statements do little to ease Errandonea's pain. His then 20-year-old brother disappeared in 1976 from neighboring Argentina, where he had gone into exile after opposing the Uruguayan dictatorship. Errandonea believes his brother was caught up in Operation Condor, a coordinated effort among military governments in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay to share intelligence and eliminate opponents.

So far, the family's effort has led to 300 calls to the anonymous hotline and a handful of leads that have not panned out. But the families are not giving up.

"We are asking for information from the random soldier who perhaps was on duty and saw or heard something," said Errandonea. "People who were not involved could know something."



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Forgotten hero in marine disaster honoured by Red Cross in N.L.

    Canada News CTV News
    ST. JOHN'S, N.L. -- Forty-six years ago, Leo Bullen gave up his life when he offered his life-jacket to a small child as a fire raged around them on the schooner Delroy, sinking the ship and claiming the lives of nine people. Source
  • U.S. grand jury indicts woman on charges of being Russian agent

    World News CBC News
    A U.S. grand jury on Tuesday indicted a Russian woman on charges of acting as an agent of the Russian government, the U.S. Justice Department said. Maria Butina, who studied at American University in Washington and is a founder of the pro-gun Russian advocacy group Right to Bear Arms, was arrested on Sunday and is scheduled to appear on Wednesday in federal court in Washington, the department said. Source
  • Cartoonists capture surreal side of Trump-Putin meeting

    World News CTV News
    “Bizarre.” “Shameful.” “Flat-out wrong.” That’s how three top Republicans described U.S. President Donald Trump’s comments during Monday’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Speaking in Helsinki, Trump cast doubt on U.S. intelligence findings that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. Source
  • 'Luckiest son of a gun around' heads home after grizzly attack

    Canada News CBC News
    Jordan Carbery is celebrating, despite suffering a ripped scalp and a chewed abdomen. He knows it could have been worse. The park ranger from Bella Coola survived an angry grizzly bear attack on July 3 and after 14 days at Vancouver General Hospital he's heading home to Bella Coola, B.C. Source
  • 'Must be the intelligence agencies': Lights go out during Trump statement

    World News CTV News
    The lights go out as U.S. President Donald Trump, center, accompanied by House Ways and Means Committee chairman Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, left, and Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., right, speaks in the Cabinet room of the White House, Tuesday, July 17, 2018, in Washington. Source
  • Remains of Sweetgrass Kennedy, 4, found on banks of North Saskatchewan River

    Canada News CBC News
    RCMP say they have found the remains of a four-year-old boy who disappeared from Prince Albert in May. Sweetgrass Kennedy was last seen May 10, playing with a group of children on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River, according to Prince Albert police. Source
  • Mueller seeks immunity for 5 witnesses in Manafort case

    World News CBC News
    Special counsel Robert Mueller is seeking immunity for five potential witnesses in the upcoming trial of U.S. President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. Mueller's office told a federal judge in Virginia on Tuesday that they were seeking to compel the witnesses to testify under condition of immunity. Source
  • Ford says consultation on sex-ed curriculum will be largest in Ontario history

    Canada News CTV News
    TORONTO -- Doug Ford says his government's consultations on a new sex-ed curriculum will be the largest in the history of Ontario education. The recently elected premier is scrapping the modernized version of the curriculum brought in by his Liberal predecessors and reverting to one introduced in 1998 while consultations are carried out for a new document. Source
  • People in all 124 Ontario ridings will be consulted on sex ed, says Doug Ford

    Canada News CTV News
    TORONTO -- People across Ontario will be consulted before a new sex-education curriculum is drafted, Premier Doug Ford said Tuesday in an attempt to quell concerns over his government's controversial decision to scrap the updated lesson plan. Source
  • Toronto police suspend officer after alleged leak during 'potential risk' probe

    Canada News CTV News
    Toronto police say they have suspended an officer for allegedly leaking information regarding a "potential risk" to public safety that was investigated last week. The force has said uncorroborated information about a potential risk in the Greater Toronto Area led them to increase their presence in the downtown core on Thursday, but also said the public didn't need to avoid the area. Source