State Dept Alters Stance on Uruguay History

08.04.09 | 3 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

In the early 1970s, the Nixon Administration plotted to interfere in Uruguay’s presidential elections in order to block the rise of the leftist Frente Amplio coalition.  But when the State Department published its official history of U.S. relations with Latin America during the Nixon era last month, there was no mention of any such activities.  Instead, the State Department Office of the Historian said that Uruguay-related records could not be posted on the Department website because of “space constraints.”  Following repeated inquiries, however, the Historian’s Office revised its position last week and said it would include Uruguay-related records in its Nixon history after all.

The United States should work “overtly and covertly” to blunt the political appeal of the Frente Amplio and to diminish its chances for victory in the Uruguayan presidential elections, advised one declassified document (pdf) from 1971.  Several important documentary records of that turbulent period were compiled by the National Security Archive in 2002.  See “Nixon: ‘Brazil Helped Rig the Uruguayan Elections,’ 1971” edited by Carlos Osorio.

Meanwhile, urban guerrillas who were violently challenging the governments of several Latin American countries drew the worried attention of U.S. intelligence officials.  In particular, the Uruguayan Marxist revolutionary group known as the Tupamaros, which murdered a U.S. AID official in 1970, “has had a spectacular and rapid rise to prominence during the last few years,” according to a 1971 CIA analysis entitled “The Latin American Guerrilla Today” (pdf).

But none of this concern over Uruguay could be discerned from the State Department’s official history of U.S. policy towards the region.  A July 10, 2009 State Department press release announcing the publication of the latest online volume of the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) on American Republics, 1969-1972, mentioned almost every Latin American country except for Uruguay.  The original Preface of the new FRUS volume (pdf) made the peculiar assertion that: “Due to space constraints, relations with… Uruguay… are not covered here.”  This assertion is doubly strange since the new FRUS volume was only published online, not in hardcopy, so that “space constraints” are hardly a factor.

By excluding the rather intense U.S. policy focus on Uruguay, the latest FRUS volume was not just practicing bad history, it may also have been committing a violation of the law, which requires that FRUS be “thorough, accurate, and reliable.”

The State Department did not respond to half a dozen inquiries over a two-week period regarding the decision to exclude Uruguay from the official history of the region or the nature of the supposed “space constraints.”  The State Department’s Historical Advisory Committee did reply that it was unfamiliar with the issue.

But in a brief email message on July 30, FRUS Acting General Editor Dr. William B. McAllister wrote:  “We have revised the Preface.  This should clarify the situation.”  The revised Preface to the new FRUS volume now states that a chapter on Uruguay “will be added” following completion of the declassification process.  The newly revised Table of Contents includes a placeholder listing for Uruguay. There is no indication of what records may be declassified, or when they might become available.

Today, the Frente Amplio coalition whose rise alarmed the Nixon Administration leads the government of Uruguay.