Juan Maria Bordaberry dies at 83; Uruguayan dictator

Former president-turned-dictator Juan Maria Bordaberry, whose self-coup launched more than a decade of military rule in Uruguay died while under house arrest in the country for leading efforts to eliminate leftist dissent in the 1970s. He was 83.

Bordaberry’s breathing problems and other illnesses had kept him from serving his 30-year sentence in prison. His death in Montevideo, Uruguay, was confirmed by his son Pedro Bordaberry, who holds a seat in the nation’s senate.

A wealthy, conservative landowner, Bordaberry was democratically elected president in 1971 during a chaotic time in Uruguay, when both wealthy elites and leftist Tupamaro guerrillas saw armed revolution as a real path to power. The country was also in the throes of economic collapse.

Juan Maria Bordaberry: A news obituary of former Uruguayan president Juan Maria Bordaberry in the July 18 LATExtra section did not report what day he died. He died Sunday. —

The Tupamaros were already crushed when Uruguayans awoke to tanks surrounding the legislative palace on the cold winter day of June 27, 1973. The military had become so powerful that Bordaberry had to give up control to survive politically.


As a result of the coup, Bordaberry suspended the constitution, banned political parties, ordered tanks into the streets and ruled by decree.

His years as president were marked by a wave of disappearances, torture and killings aimed at wiping out the remains of the leftist guerrilla movement.

The military ousted him in 1976, but democracy was not restored until 1985.

Meanwhile, Bordaberry lived quietly out of public view. As the dictatorship ended, Uruguay’s congress approved amnesties that protected both military figures and former guerrillas.

But in 2006, he and his former foreign minister, Juan C. Blanco, were charged in one of the most notorious crimes of Bordaberry’s rule — the kidnapping and killing of two congressional leaders who had gone into exile in neighboring Argentina.

It marked a new chapter in the efforts by the small South American country of 3.5 million people to grapple with the dictatorship and its legacy of human rights violations. In 2003, a peace commission found that the dictatorship killed 175 leftist activists.

Bordaberry was eventually sentenced, in 2010, to the maximum 30 years in prison for violating the constitution by leading the coup.

He remains only the second civilian in Uruguay to be jailed for dictatorship-era crimes, after his foreign minister, who was convicted of the murder of a woman who had taken refuge inside the Venezuelan embassy.


Bordaberry’s family considered the former dictator to be a victim of political pressure from the Broad Front coalition of center-left parties, unions and social movements that has governed Uruguay since 2005.

Juan Maria Bordaberry Arocena was born in 1928 in Montevideo into a cattle- and sheep-ranching family.

He entered politics in 1962, following his father into the country’s senate. Bordaberry was named agriculture minister in 1969 and was elected president two years later.

According to media reports, he had married and was the father of nine children.