The curtain was falling on the 12-year military-civilian dictatorship in Uruguay, and the country was revisiting democracy.
It was 1985…
The first-ever elections held after a 13-year intermission in 1984 was won by the pro-democracy Partido Colorado. A year later, a general amnesty was announced for political prisoners. Nine National Independence Movement (MLN-T) socialist guerillas, also known as the Tupamaros, were among the released. Having been shifted from one solitary confinement cell to another throughout 12 years, it was time those political prisoners were becoming free.
Still under the control of the putschist military, the prison administration was forcing each of them to sign under a document that read, “I had not undergone any torture during my sentence” before their release. When José Mujica Cordano, called by his comrades as ‘Pepe’, put his signature on the paper, the prison official – who was also a military officer – mouthed a threat at him, “That does not end here. Do not be fooled. Abandon your all hopes. We will find you once you are in the open and no one will be able to protect you there. Hear? There is no political responsibility out there!”
Pepe gave a curt reply: “I wish you all the best.”
I am sure the words of that military officer must have reminded you of the recent remarks by Sedat Peker, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan-endorsed mafia leader. Lately, Peker used similar words to threaten those who are presently imprisoned in Turkey or in self-exile abroad due to legal cases against the participants of the Gülen Movement. Implying the potential public executions he and his mob will perpetrate after the conclusion of court trials and prison sentences, Peker said, “Our State has already taken the stage. Our State does what it has to do. Still, if one day conditions ripen – and I hope, God willing, the conditions will ripen – the task will be conferred from our State to our nation… and the entire world will witness what I – as a member of this glorious nation – and my compatriots are capable of executing.”
Journalist Nedim Şener supported those remarks as well by tweeting, “It seems that the final word about the fight against FETO will not be uttered by the State but by the nation; just as they had done on July 15. You, the FETOists who keep on saying ‘We will return and settle the score’, when that day comes – indeed it will never come – I hope you will be able to pray then to the law of the state, which you dislike, may save you.”
As one of the most notorious Turkish mafia leaders, Sedat Peker had voiced his wildest imaginings on July 16, 2017 to hang Gülenists on trees and flagpoles and threatened that he and his mob might raid prisons and massacre the inmates: “One day, prisons too will be raided. Yet, it will not happen as they imagine it. After hanging all whom we catch outside on trees and flagpoles, we will enter those prisons too. We will hang them in the prisons. We will hang them on the flagpoles by their necks.”
We do not know the name of that military officer who had threatened Pepe with similar words 33 years ago. That officer holds no importance as regards to history. He has ended up nameless.
His name is even not mentioned in the movie from where I have quoted the earlier interchange.
The name of the movie is: “La noche de 12 años (A Twelve-Years Night)”
It was released in 2018.
It tells the story of the three Tupamaros out of the released nine, whose twelve years had been wasted in pitch darkness and who had always lived through the night. They are Pepe, Náto and Ruso. Just like Deniz Gezmiş, Yusuf Aslan and Hüseyin İnan of Turkey… Indeed, they were the youth of the same generation.
The three Uruguayans are on the crosshairs during the turmoil pervading the country in 60s and the initial years of 70s due to their acts like bank robberies, consulate raids, hostage-taking, stealing food from markets and distributing it among the poor. Many Tupamaros lose their lives while clashing with the military. The remaining nine are arrested in September 1972.
After the 1973 coup d’état, the military regime take the three Tupamaros prisoners from their prison cells by a secret military operation to an unknown location, which is not an official prison. That is a secret installation for torture, similar to those built and presently operated by the Turkish National Intelligence Organization MİT. Three comrades are isolated in solitary confinement for months, turning into years. There is an exact order: “If we cannot kill them, let’s drive them mad” The prisoners do not see the daylight. While being transported from one torture site to another, they are hooded. It takes them approximately 12 years to see the stars in the night sky.
That period is an out-of-the-ordinary dictatorship termed as the “Uruguayan Dictatorship” in the political history. It is a military tutelage regime; the military administration is the puppet-master of the civilian government. During the 12 years until the return of democracy in 1984, multiple murders, target-killings, abductions, disappearances and torture cases rule the land.
During the dictatorship, more than 5000 Uruguayans are arrested for political reasons. One fifth of the population have their share from the detention and imprisonment measures imposed by the dictatorship. The country becomes the world’s leading country with the maximum political prisoners per capita. Almost 10 percent of the Uruguayans migrate elsewhere. There are open and hidden torture sites everywhere.
During the 12-year military rule, 200 Uruguayans lose their lives. Majority of those are the members of the opposition who flee to neighboring countries like Argentina. They had been recorded in the contemporary history as ‘desaparecidos (the disappeared)’ as their bodies could never be recovered. Today, there is a museum named Museo de la Memoria opened in their memory in capital Montevideo.
Those three men – Pepe, Náto and Ruso – had never stepped back despite unbearable torture. They had never bowed down in front of the oppressors. They had never betrayed one another.
It was the seventh year of their bondage. Ruso, a poet, would knock by Morse code at the prison wall and share his poetry with Náto languishing in the next cell:
“If this was meant to be
my last poem;
rebellious and sorrowful,
worn out but intact,
I would write a single word only: Comrade!”
Five years had passed after that.
Those three comrades were then walking towards the exit.
It was the 4323th day of their imprisonment…
The last day…
In the morning of a night that lasted for 12 years, they were moving on and inhaling the sky deep into their lungs.
At the end of a long pathway, their families and friends were waiting for them.
They were welcoming the three comrades with placards that read ‘We Have Never Forgotten Them’ and ‘Long Live the Strugglers’.
Democracy returned and captivity had ended.
Inmates were embracing their loved ones and celebrating the victory with their eyes in tears.
In that final scene of the movie, we see Náto, who embraces his wife and daughter. You read on the screen, “Eleuterio Fernández Huidobro was a Senator and also served as the Minister for Defense. He died on August 5, 2016.”
Next, we see Ruso, who unites with his mother and daughter. This time, we read, “Mauricio Rosencof lives in Montevideo. He is a poet, playwright and novelist. He is the Director of Culture of the Municipality of Montevideo.”
Finally, we see Pepe walking toward the exit. Right after the threat, “We will find you once you are in the open and no one will be able to protect you there. There is no political responsibility out there!” made by that military officer, he takes steps toward his freedom. His mother awaits him in the crowd. After a couple of steps more, he embraces his mother with a longing that lasted for 12 years. While he wraps his hand around his mother, he looks back for the last time. You read on the screen, “José Mujica. He became a Member of the Parliament and a Senator. He was elected as the President of Uruguay in 2010, when he was 75 years old.”
You know him as the poorest president in the world.
He is the legendary president who drove his 1987 Volkswagen Beetle as his “official vehicle”.
He is the man who donates 90 percent of his salary for the poor.
He is the leader who – instead of moving into the Presidential Palace – opted to live with his wife in a farmhouse where he lived for 40 years along with their three-legged dog, Manuela.
He answered when they referred to his prison days and asked “Have you forgiven the ones who made you suffer?”:
“I do not forgive them, I am not a judge. I move on my own way. I do not look at what others are doing. I am neither forgiving, nor judging, nor forgetting… I am looking ahead, because there is no compensation for what had happened in the past. Those accounts will never be closed.”
I do not know if the military officer who had threatened Pepe for the last time before his release witnessed the present day. I also do not know if he heard or read Pepe’s words as above.
Mujica had replied him, “I wish you all the best” as he left the prison. Thankfully, the despots could never have that luck.
On the other hand, Pepe had taken a step into an altogether different life while leaving the prison. He had done so without denying himself, but by questioning his mistakes as well… He had done so by turning a new page to the future…
I also do not know whether those who are threatened by the likes of Sedat Peker will wish them ‘good luck’ sarcastically.
However, I am so sure that when the movie of ‘the night’ is shot, the likes of Sedat Peker will be remembered as more sickening than that Uruguayan military officer.