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22. Death in Uruguay during 1776-2021

FEB. 9, 2021


Join Pete as he takes Ryan on a voyage to Uruguay,  South America.  The theme is Death and the time period from 1776 to today, so you’re in for a long trip. Don your mourning clothes and get ready for the (nearly) complete history of Uruguay in 5 fascinating deaths.

This episode we take a trip to the Oriental Republic of Uruguay. In South America, it borders Argentina to its West and Brazil to its North and is located North of the Río de la Plata (Silver River).

The first recorded visitor to Uruguay was Juan Díaz de Solís, who landed there in 1516. Solis set out for South America with three ships and crew of 70 men, setting out from Spain on 8 October 1515.

By 1516 he was following the eastern coast of South America southward as far as the mouth of the Río de la Plata. This rive he sailed up as far as the confluence of the Uruguay River and the Paraná River, accompanied by two officers and seven men. Where he met the locals.

During pre-colonial times Uruguayan territory was inhabited by small tribes of nomadic Charrúa, and Guarani peoples who survived by hunting and fishing.

Solis’ party had not proceeded far when they were attacked allegedly by local Charrúa Indians, who kill them. Then eat them.

And that’s the story of the first foray into Uruguay by the Europeans for quite some time. Presumably volunteers for ‘that trip where the last guy got eaten’ were hard to come by.

By 1680, Spain occupied a nice position in the area, with their city of Buenos Aires on the South bank of La Plata river. Portuguese colonists then established Colônia do Sacramento on the northern bank of La Plata river, on the opposite coast from Buenos Aires.

Not impressed, in 1726, the established their own town North of the river, a place called San Felipe de Montevideo.

The natural harbour soon developed into a commercial centre competing with Buenos Aires and the settlements grow until 1776, which sees the creation of the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata – which includes what is now both Argentina and Uruguay
This is a Spanish colony based out of Buenos Aires, and includes the territory of Banda Oriental which was in large part where Uruguay is today.

A national hero arrives

José Gervasio Artigas, sometimes called "the father of Uruguayan nationhood" was born in Montevideo on June 19, 1764.

He was born to wealthy parents, but didn’t like the life, and ran off at age 12 to work the farm. Then once he had come of age, he distanced himself from his parents and became involved in cattle smuggling, until a reward was put out for his death.

Fortunately for him, as part of the Anglo Spanish war things changed. The British started to attack Banda Oriental as an adjunct to the Napoleonic war, so Artigas’ family negotiate a pardon for Artigas on condition he creates a batallion and fights against the British.

He’s pretty successful, but eventually is told to stand down as Spain swaps sides in the Napoleonic war, so now everyone was friends again.

For a short while. Success fending off the Brits with little or no Spanish help gave the people of Rio de la Plata a hankering for independence.

In 1810 the May revolution and Rio de la Plata decides to take care of its own business. Spain has other ideas declared Buenos Aires a rogue city, and appointed Montevideo as the new capital, which brings Artigas back to Montevideo to fight for free Rio de la Plata.
Artigas then faces the forces of Montevideo who try to stop him in the battle of Las Piedras. José Artigas, along with an army of a thousand men, wins the day and lays siege to Montevideo.

Before he can win properly, Buenos Aires make a truce and let the Spanish keep Montevideo – really annoying Artigas.

But soon enough, he falls out with Buenos Aires too. In 1814 Artigas participated in the formation of the League of the Free People, which united several provinces that wanted to be free from the dominance of Buenos Aires as part of a federal system.

Predictably Buenos Aires was not so keen on this loss of control, and the Portugese in Brazil to the North were even more alarmed.

August 1816, Portugal/brazil invaded the area, with the tacit support of Buenos Aires. Pretty soon, Artigas is losing, but clearly undaunted, as he also then declares war on Buenos Aires as well.

He loses. Without resources and men, Artigas withdrew to Paraguay in September 1820. After a long exile, he died in Paraguay in 1850, at age 86. It is said that Artigas, feeling himself to be near death, asked for a horse and died in the saddle, as a gaucho.

This doesn’t stop his travels though. Artigas’ remains were buried in Paraguay until 1855 when he’s exumed and sent to the Port of Montevideo. There they get stuck for thirteen months, until he’s eventually re-interned at the Panteón Nacional in 1855.

Then he’s moved again. On 19th of June, 1977, his remains were transferred to the Artigas Mausoleum in the centre of the Plaza Independencia where he resides to this day,

What happened to Uruguay - The Cisplatine war

Winning the war, Brazil took over Uruguay. In 1822 Brazil became independent and Banda Oriental was incorporated into Brazil as its Cisplatina province.

Not for long though. A group of rebels called the Thirty-Three Orientals, including Fructuoso Rivera went over to Banda Oriental to resist Brazilian rule. They declare independence from Brazil and claim allegiance to the Río de la Plata (Argentina).
In response, Brazil declared war on the Rio de La Plata (Argentina). The cisplatine war was underway.

Five years later, nobody is really winning. In 1828 Under British and French pressure, the United Provinces of Río de la Plata and the Empire of Brazil signed the Treaty of Montevideo, which acknowledged the independence of the area under the name Eastern Republic of Uruguay as a buffer nation between Argentina and Brazil.

Genocide of the Charrúas

Remember the Charrúas, blamed for killing the first European? They started out living ok with the Europeans (after eating the first one, obvs), but as the population increased, the Europeans started to spread.

The Charrúas, not keen on this, start attacking them. In response the president of Uruguay, one Fructuoso Rivera, decides to organise a genocide campaign known as La Campaña de Salsipuedes, which translates as the campaign of ‘get out if you can’!

It started with a betrayal. Fructuoso Rivera knew the tribal leaders and called them to his Barracks by the river later named Salsipuedes. He claimed that he needed their help to defend territory and that they should join together.

Once the Charrúas were drunk and off their guard, the Uruguayan soldiers attacked them.

Other attacks occurred until the Charrúa were officially claimed to be extinct.

So that was the end of the Charrúa – or was it?

No. The Charrúa live on in a couple of ways.

In one sense, all Uruguayans consider themselves Charrúa. Charrúa is a term used in conversation when a person is faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles, but they achieve their goals.

In a more literal sense, though, there are now groups of people claiming to be descendents of Churrua. An organisation called CONACHA (council of the Charrúa nation) was created to Preserve what remains of the culture.

The life and many deaths of Horacio Quiroga

After a long period of civil war, Uruguay eventually settle down somewhat, and it was into this world that Horacio Quiroga, Uruguayan author, was born in 1878.

Before Quiroga was two and a half months old, on March 14, 1879, his father accidentally fired a gun he was carrying and died. Ten years later, in 1899 he founded a magazine titled Revista de Salto. That same year his stepfather committed suicide by shooting himself, with Quiroga witnessed the death.

In 1901 Quiroga published his first book, Coral Reefs, but the achievement was overshadowed by the deaths of two of his siblings, Prudencio and Pastora, victims of typhoid fever.

The same year, tragedy struck his friend Federico Ferrando. Ferrando had received bad reviews from a Montevideo journalist and challenged him to a duel.

Quiroga, anxious about his friend's safety, offered to check and clean the gun that was to be used. While inspecting the weapon, he accidentally fired off a shot that hit his friend in the mouth, killing him instantly.

Wracked with grief and guilt Quiroga moved from Uruguay to Argentina to live with María, one of his sisters. In Buenos Aires.

In 1904 he published a book of stories called The Crime of Another, which was heavily influenced by the style of Edgar Allan Poe. Quiroga did not mind these early comparisons with Poe, and until the end of his life, he would often say that Poe was his first and principal teacher

Then in 1907 he wrote the horror story, "The Feather Pillow". It was published in by a famous magazine in Argentina which went on to publish eight of his other stories that year, making Quiroga famous.

He went on to marry and have kids they raise in the jungle. But the relationship is not a happy one. Husband and wife did not get on. After one fight with the writer, Quiroga’s wife ingested a fatal dose of "sublimado," or Mercury chloride.

The poison did not kill her instantly; instead, she was forced to endure terrible agony for eight days before finally dying in her husband's arms on 1915.

Quiroga continued to write, collecting stories in several books. T first was Tales of Love, Madness and Death which was a huge success. The following year he published a book of Children’s stories, Jungle Tales.

In 1935 (56/7)Quiroga began to experience uncomfortable symptoms - and was diagnosed with prostate hypertrophy. He goes off to Hospital where, in the emergency ward, he learned that a patient was shut up in the basement with hideous deformities similar to those of the infamous English ‘Elephant Man’ John Merrick.

Quiroga demanded that the patient, named Vicent Batistessa, be released from confinement and moved into his room. Then on February 19, 1937, in the presence of his new friend, Horacio Quiroga drank a glass of cyanide that killed him within minutes.
His legacy lives on though. To this day, ,well known in Uruguay, read in school by Uruguayan schoolchildren.

The story of Dan Mitrione

Life in Uruguay improves in the early 20th Century and in the second World War the economy thrives. Fray Bentos (named after a Uruguayan port town) shipped more than 16 million cans of corned beef to Europe in 1943 alone. British soldiers serving in North Africa called it Desert Chicken.

After the war, though, things start to fall apart. There is an economic downturn, super inflation and the government moves towards a more authoritarian approach, mostly because they don’t have answers to the actual problems so clamping down on the people seems like a more achievable goal.

Going into the ‘60s there are a lot of problems and a leftist resistance develops, including the Tupamaros. Founded by Raul Sendic and named after Tupac Amaru II (a Peruvian revolutionary), the began their activity by robbing banks and businesses and distributing the food and money in poor neighbourhoods, Robin Hood style, with their slogan being “either everyone dances or no-one dances”.

At the start it abstained from armed actions and violence, acting not as a guerrilla group but a political movement, but that changes as the Government clamps down harder.
Into this picture comes Dan Mitrione. Dan is American who works for the Office of Public Safety. This was a U.S. government program established to provide police assistance to U.S. allies. This sounds nice, but it in Dan Mitrione’s case, ‘police assistance’ meant ‘teach the police how to torture’. Because actually a front for CIA operatives and assets.
1969 Mitrione arrives in Ururguay, where he sets up a soundproof cellar in his house as a torture classroom. Here he tested and demonstrated his methods on homeless people, kidnapping and torturing 4 of them just for the lesson.

At this time, Tupamaros are also upping the ante and violence is now very much on the agenda. The Taking of Pando was a violent occupation of the city of Pando, Uruguay on 8 October 1969, and the group had also taken to kidnapping.

Their attention is drawn to Mr Mitrione.

In July 31, 1970, Mitrione was kidnapped by the Tupamaros. During the kidnapping he was shot in the shoulder, but his kidnappers treat the wound. They then demand the release of 150 political prisoners.

Turns out the government does not negotiate with terrorists and they refuse.

So now what?

Ironically, sacording to Raul Sendic, the founder of Tupamaros, the leadership had no intention of killing Mitrione regardless of the outcome. But on August 7, 1970, just a week after the kidnapping, the Uruguayan police raided the house where the Tupamaro leadership was staying and captured Sendic and the others.

Fortunately they had replacement leadership who knew of the plan to keep Mr. Mitrione alive. But then they also get captured.

Unfortunately for Dan Mitrione, the one group of people who didn’t know that the plan was to spare his life was the group who actually had him.

Sendic reported, ''when the deadline came the group that was left with Mitrione did not know what to do. So they decided to carry out the threat.''

So instead of being left alive and released, as a direct result of the the diligent work of the very police he’d been training, Mitrione was shot twice in the back of the head and his body left to be found by the authorities.

It didn’t help anyone much. The government continued to take a hard line and the Tuparmaros were eventually defeated.

Soon after that, the military seized power in Uruguay in1973.

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