Small Wars Journal

José Mujica and Uruguay's "Robin Hood Guerrillas"

José Mujica and Uruguay's "Robin Hood Guerrillas" by Pablo Brum at The National Interest.

The president of Uruguay used to rob banks. He became quite good at it because he did it often - and he was not alone. José Mujica was a Tupamaro, a member of a unique group of Marxist insurgents who staged a revolutionary uprising in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The story of the Tupamaros and the organization they created, the Movimiento de Liberación Nacional, or MLN, has been largely forgotten. However, it merits revisiting due to the important lessons it has for contemporary politics and international relations, especially in highly revolutionary times in the Middle East…

Read on.

Comments

John T. Fishel

Tue, 09/17/2013 - 8:44am

This is an interesting a worthy article that, however, is weak in a couple of areas. First, the author misuses the term insurgency and second,he overly romanticizes the early Tupamaros that included Mujica.

I was traveling in South America in December of 1967 and was in Uruguay over Christmas. The atmosphere fairly reeked of impending crisis and doom. This was just a year before the Tupamaros began their first armed actions. Brum confuses a tactical shift from armed propaganda to terrorism as a strategic shift from insurgency to terrorism. Both tactics are used in insurgencies. The case Brum narrates about the raid on the Naval Academy is clearly one of armed propaganda but it was also terrorism (where the threat of being killed was what kept the naval cadets in line). Moreover, as he points out the objective of the Tupamaros was always to take over the government, which is the objective of all insurgencies.

Years later, I was teaching at the U.S. Army Command & General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth and one of my international officer students was Major Sergio D'Oliveira (who would later command the Uruguayan Army under the left of center government that included former Tupamaros). I was fortunate to meet Sergio's father, retired Colonel Sergio D'Oliveira who had been the head of Uruguayan military intelligence during the Tupamaro revolt and has written a book about how they defeated the insurgency (in Spanish, of course). What Colonel D'Oliviera shows is that The Tupamaros were defeated by a classic population centric counterinsurgency strategy. (How else could Mujica have been captured if the people were not willing to report his presence in the bar to the authorities?) As the Colonel makes clear, victory came before the military took power in the slow rolling coup that took place over several years but after the insurgency had been defeated. He also makes very clear that torture was in no way a tactic used during the counterinsurgency operations. In fact, Colonel D'Oliveira retired from the Army because he opposed both the coup and the repressive security tactics being used by his fellow officers after they took power.