Academic journal article Social Justice

Uruguay: A Woman Remembers

Academic journal article Social Justice

Uruguay: A Woman Remembers

Article excerpt


This conversation between Emilia Carlevaro, a longtime political activist and Uruguayan member of the Latin American Organization of the Families of the Disappeared, and Margaret Randall, a feminist poet, writer, photographer, and social activist is a valuable history with lessons for new generations of activists. It explores the shared experience of Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay. Their revolutionary cadre often crossed borders, as did Operation Condor, the regional paramilitary organization charged with destroying them.

Keywords: social movements, Latin America, Uruguay


THIRTY YEARS AGO, MY SON MARRIED A WONDERFUL URUGUAYAN WOMAN. THEY met in Cuba, where we were living at the time. Laura had arrived with her father and sister, refugees from the Dirty War then engulfing her tiny South American country. Gregory and Laura would go on to France, where they lived for more than a decade and where their three children were born. But eventually, like Laura's father, sister, and so many others, they would return to Uruguay. The dictatorship had fallen. Only the scars remained.

Over the years my partner and I tried to visit Uruguay once every year or two. The country began inhabiting a place in our hearts. We witnessed its complex journey through pseudodemocracy to the increasing popularity of a Broad Front (Frente Amplio, FA), and finally the installation of a progressive government. At family asados--the Uruguay an version of our barbeque--several generations would sit around sharing mate, the popular infusion held in a gourd and sipped through a silver straw, and talk about all sorts of things. Little by little, I came to know Laura's large extended family. Generations included aging aunt Augusta, who had played such an important mothering role to younger members of various ages, those who had been forced into exile and those who had stayed. And then there were the youngest, who inherited the dark era only because it was a permanent reference for their parents and grandparents.

One night at the family's small beach house in the little fishing community of Santa Lucia del Este, sitting out under southern stars, I asked about those years when siblings had been separated by repression and exile. While Laura and her sister Ana did their university studies in Havana, their older brother Pablo and his future wife Maria did theirs in Montevideo. The war had affected them all in different ways. That evening's conversation taught me how different the experience had been for each of them, and I also learned that they had never before gotten together to compare notes.

Listening, and occasionally contributing to, that conversation was Emilia Carlevaro, Laura's aunt. Not only had she stayed in the country, she'd been a member of the Movement of National Liberation (MLN) Tupamaros, the armed struggle organization that eventually helped restore the country's freedom. I knew she had spent a number of years in prison, that like so many she had been tortured, and that in the postwar years she worked with the families of the disappeared. I knew she was a doctor who ministered to the residents of one of the city's marginal neighborhoods. In this family Emilia holds an elder's status. She is always there for its youngest members, and for anyone else needing her support.

I knew that if I could convince Emilia to tell her story, it would not only offer a valuable history but also hold lessons for new generations of activists. I wanted to explore a Uruguayan experience: Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay suffered together, their revolutionary cadres crossed borders often, as did Operacion Condor, the regional paramilitary organization charged with destroying them. And yet small Uruguay is often left out of the literature.

When I wrote to Emilia, asking if I could interview her, her immediate answer was no. She offered the usual "I wasn't that important" argument. …

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