Drawing the line : human rights, state terror, and political culture in Uruguay
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The purpose of this thesis is to examine the role that "political culture" played in differentiating Uruguay's human rights record under its military dictatorship (1973 to 1985), from the records of its Southern Cone neighbors, Argentina and Chile, during their periods of military rule in the 1970s and 1980s. Statistical data clearly shows that although the Uruguayan military regime tortured and imprisoned an extremely high percentage of its population, the country suffered a relatively tiny number of fatalities, per capita, compared to the toll of deaths associated with the actions of the armed forces in Argentina and Chile. To explain this distinction in repressive policies and tactics, I find that each of the three countries under comparison developed distinct cultural assumptions due to their differing historical and political trajectories, which heavily influenced their respective political behaviors. Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile share many structural factors in common, which are all important for explaining the successive plunge of Southern Cone nations into brutal dictatorships and bloody "dirty wars." However, in order to understand why one regime's tactics differed in lethality from the others, I assert that it is necessary to employ political culture as the definitive explanatory variable. Through the analysis of historical trends and statements made by government leaders, I find that Uruguay distinguished itself from Argentina and Chile in three principal areas during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: democratic stability, political inclusion, and human rights promotion. Taken together, I conclude that Uruguay developed a democratic political culture, which assumed that legitimate governance included, among other ingredients, respect for the electoral process and rejection of lethal violence as a political instrument. Ultimately, these two assumptions played a pivotal role in constraining the policy alternatives available for consideration by the Uruguayan dictators, such that the prevalent use of extra-judicial executions and forced disappearances, as seen in Argentina and Chile, was not an option in Uruguay.