A series of declassified US documents added details to the so-called “Operation 30 Hours”, the plan hatched by the Brazilian dictatorship in 1971, half a century ago, to invade Uruguay if the leftist Frente Amplio coalition won the elections that year, and added another no less important piece of information: Brazil helped to manipulate those elections.
By Aram Aharonian
Half a century later, those allegations (made by Brazilians in exile in Montevideo, especially journalists Paulo Schilling and Neiva Moreira, Carlos María María Gutiérrez in Marcha and ours in the weekly Sur) about an imminent invasion of Brazilian troops and tanks to prevent the victory of the centre-left Frente Amplio (FA) are now confirmed by secret Pentagon and State Department documents, revealed by the Brazilian portal UOL.
At the height of the Tupamaros National Liberation Movement guerrilla movement, the FA was made up of socialists, communists, pro-revolutionaries, independents, Christian Democrats and splinter groups of the National Party, under the leadership of General Líber Seregni. The FA made its debut in those elections under the banner of the Christian Democratic Party,
The portal analysed secret documents produced by the US State Department, through embassies and consulates in Brazil and South American countries; it accessed telegrams, reports and memoranda, concluding – not surprisingly – that the intervention in Brazil was requested by then President Jorge Pacheco Areco, of the Colorado Party; the plan was presented and supported by US President Richard Nixon.
It is clear from these documents that the dictator Emílio Garrastazu Médici (1969 to 1974) also helped to commit fraud in the Uruguayan elections of that year, with the support of the Americans. Of course, in the name of defending democracy.
Two weeks after the November 1971 elections in Uruguay, General Garrastazu Médici met with then President Nixon at the White House, along with his National Security Council adviser Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State William Rogers and Vernon Walters, military attaché in Brazil at the time of the 1964 coup and who would take over the following year as the CIA’s number two.
Kissinger recorded his impressions: “Our position is backed by Brazil, which is, after all, the key to the future. The Brazilians helped to manipulate the Uruguayan elections…There are forces at play which we do not discourage’, he wrote on 20 December 1971, according to documents declassified by the Southern Cone Documentation Project of the National Security Archive and analysed by its director, Carlos Osorio, in a report picked up by the Uruguayan magazine Caras y Caretas.
Previously, Nixon and Garrastazú had gambled on manipulating the elections to avoid having to activate military intervention, an option that was much more visible and difficult to justify internationally. Brazil had supported the construction of two routes (5 and 26) interconnecting the two countries, which would allow the transit of tanks if necessary. The operation was called “30 hours” because that was the time Brazil estimated it would take to take Montevideo, entering through the Rio Grande do Sul border.
According to the documents analysed, the Brazilian troops would leave Porto Alegre, Uruguaiana, Santana do Livramento and Bagé, arrive in Montevideo and take the Rincón del Bonete hydroelectric plant in Paso de los Toros.
The declassified documents relate how the Brazilian military conducted intelligence in Uruguay, including on Tupamaros “left-wing militant camps” to prepare the ground for the eventual invasion, which, as the name of the operation says, was to be completed in just 30 hours, the time Brasilia estimated it would take to occupy from the capital Montevideo to the border with the state of Rio Grande do Sul.
US documents made public in previous years had already revealed that Nixon and Medici had agreed to overthrow countries ruled by the left, such as Chile under Salvador Allende and Cuba under Fidel Castro. And from these “coincidences”, what years later became Operation Condor, coordinated by the region’s military dictatorships to murder, torture and torture thousands of democratic militants, began to take shape.
On 20 July 1971, the Argentine ambassador in Rio de Janeiro, Osiris Villegas, confirmed the plan to invade Uruguay. On 20 August, three months before the elections, a document from the US embassy in Montevideo already spoke of “possible Brazilian plans of action in Uruguay to prevent the Frente Amplio from taking control”.
And a secret report from the US embassy in Buenos Aires to the State Department in Washington on 27 August 1971 stated: ‘Argentina has no plans to intervene in the elections, but would support a coup to reinstate incumbent President Pacheco if the leftist Frente Amplio wins’.
According to US Ambassador Willian Rountree, the Brazilian military would help the Uruguayans in several areas such as training and financial assistance. The Brazilian military was to confront union and student mobilisation and fight the Tupamara guerrillas, who in 1970 had kidnapped the head of the US Public Safety programme in Uruguay (an expert in torture), Dan Mitrione, and the Brazilian consul Aluysio Dias Gomide.
In the end, the invasion did not take place because the Frente Amplio won 18% of the votes in the elections, which were won with 41% by Juan María Bordaberry, who two years later promoted the coup d’état with the support of the Uruguayan and Brazilian military.
According to the UOL website, over the years, several military personnel who participated in Operation 30 Hours have given different testimonies that allow us to recover the story: among other things, it is known that the internal barracks were known as Operation Charrúa and that espionage tasks were carried out, especially against the Tupamaros, under the orders of this operation.
In fact, General Dickson Grael acknowledges in his book Aventura, corrupción y terrorismo: a la sombra de la impunidad (published in 2005) that he was “assigned to carry out the first studies of the guidelines to be followed by the division, seeking to participate in a comprehensive plan for military intervention in Uruguay, in case the Frente Amplio won the elections”.
Grael, father of Olympic medallists and sailors Torben and Lars Grael, served in Uruguaiana as commander of the 22nd Field Artillery Group and even accompanied Arthur Moura, US military attaché in Brazil, on a trip to Uruguayan soil to observe the local situation in early 1971. Grael died in 2011.
General Moura, according to Grael’s reports, took photographs of alleged Tupamaros groups camped on the banks of the Uruguay River, from where the US military was able to get a clear view (and photograph) a camp of leftist militants”. He wrote that shortly before the 1971 Uruguayan elections he accompanied three Brazilian Air Force officers from Rio de Janeiro on a mission to “obtain information for a probable military intervention in Uruguay”.
General Ruy de Paula Couto, who served as military attaché at the Brazilian Embassy in Montevideo between 1967 and 1969, said in a television interview in Rio Grande do Sul in 2007 that it was Pacheco Areco himself who plotted the Brazilian interference in Uruguay.
It took 50 years to recognise a plan that some hot head in the Brazilian military, US intelligence or the Uruguayan ultra-right (part of the right-wing coalition that governs Uruguay) is tempted to reissue.