The Mitrione kidnapping in Uruguay (July 31, 1970)

If someone is accused of violent action is it ok to use violence against them?

MONTEVIDEO, URUGUAY – Canadians are all too aware of our shameful history of relations with what we call the First Nations (other countries call them ‘Indians’ or ‘natives’). Subsequent to the arrival of Europeans on our shores in the early 16th century (primarily the French at first then the British), those who had made their home here for tens of thousands of years found themselves faced with a foe possessing superior arms and desirous of populating what they called Terra Nullius.

First Nations were killed, exposed to diseases to which they had no immunity (e.g. smallpox), forced to move from ancestral homes to marginal lands and, eventually, saw their children sent to ‘residential schools’ where they faced physical, psychological and sexual abuse. This treatment is and was unacceptable and resonates today in my country.

Of course, Canada was not alone in this abhorrent program in the so-called ‘New World’. The Americans and the Spanish in Mexico and other parts of Latin America were equally guilty. Like in Canada, the centuries of ill treatment have their effects today.

Readin, ‘ritin’, ‘rithmatic and rights violations

On occasion those who suffered rose up against their oppressors. We have all heard of ‘Custer’s Last Stand’ and such stories which were presented as incidents where brave white folk defended themselves against supposed ‘savages’. Just watch any 1950s ‘cowboys and injuns’ Hollywood film to see what I mean.

There are also instances where terrorist (or revolutionary) groups took their inspiration from earlier native leaders who stood up to the invaders. One such movement was the Movimiento de Liberacion Nacional – Tupamaro (Tupamaro National Liberation Movement) founded in Uruguay in the early 1960s. It was named after Tupuc Amaru II, leader of an 18th-century revolt against Spanish rule in Peru.

The movement was a leftist one, almost a ‘Robin Hood’ effort to steal from the to give to the poor. And it did partake in violent acts. On this day in 1970 it kidnapped Dan Mitrione, a security official posted to the US Embassy in the Uruguayan capital, Montevideo. The group also kidnapped a Brazilian Consul, whom they released, after a ransom was paid, a half-year later.

Mr. Mitrione was accused of being a CIA agent who taught torture techniques to the Uruguayan police. The US at that time feared an uprising in the South American country that would mirror developments in Cuba and wanted to help Uruguayan authorities nip this in the bud.

The Tupamaros believed that the kidnapping would help foment a popular revolution and overthrow the government. They made demands for Mr. Mitrione’s release, including ransom money and a prisoner exchange. The regime refused and the captive was killed (he was actually killed on August 10).

Let’s assume that Mitrione was indeed a CIA official who engaged in ‘dirty war’ techniques in Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s (he had also worked at the US Embassy in Argentina). Does that justify his kidnap and murder? “He who lives by the sword…”

Phil Gurski

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