Among the many protests staged by Latin Americans to demonstrate their opposition to us policies during Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s 1969 visit was the destruction of the General Motors offices in Montevideo, Uruguay, by a commando of the Movimiento de Liberación Nacional (mln), also known as the Tupamaros. Despite extreme security measures, four men, dressed as police officers and armed with machine guns, broke into the gm office building and tied two night watchmen. They sprayed fuel in several rooms and on some six cars and set the building on fire. The pamphlets found at the scene bore the five-pointed star of the Tupamaros and protested the visit of Rockefeller, agent of imperialism.

Since the Cuban Revolution overthrew Batista in 1958, many Latin American revolutionaries have become convinced that the only means to achieve power is guerrilla warfare. They agree that the ‘foco’ can create the ‘subjective conditions’ for the revolution and have forsaken other possible strategies. The main disagreements have centred on the evaluation of ‘objective conditions’ and on the role of political parties in the revolutionary process. The type of guerrilla best suited for each individual Latin American country has also been a topic of discussions. In certain countries, notably Venezuela, revolutionaries have tried both urban and rural warfare. On the whole, rural guerrilla warfare, advocated both in writing and in political action by Ernesto Che Guevara, Régis Debray and numerous Latin Americans, among others Douglas Bravo (in Venezuela) and Luis de la Puente Uceda (in Peru), has been the more widely accepted strategy. In fact, urban guerrillas were considered to be totally inadequate for Latin America, especially after the failure of the Venezuelan guerrilleros in the early ’sixties.

The Tupamaros have done a good deal to advance the opposite case in Uruguay. Almost at the same time that urban guerrilla warfare was abandoned in Venezuela, the Tupamaros adopted that strategy as the most adequate for the ‘objective conditions’ existing in their country. The Tupamaros discarded rural guerrilla warfare because Uruguay lacks the mountains or jungles where a ‘foco’ can be organized. On the other hand, it is highly urbanized, at least 70 per cent of its 2,560,000 inhabitants live in cities and almost half in Montevideo alone. The capital also dominates Uruguay’s economic life, handles most of the international trade, consumes 75 per cent of the electricity, and contains most of the industry. Montevideo was considered a far better setting for a guerrilla base than the flat, sparsely populated countryside.

Although police estimate that there are some 100 hard-core Tupamaros, the exact number is unknown. A recent publication indicates that the total is 1,000 but with only 50 or a 100 participating in commando operations. The members are divided into completely independent cells of six or seven men, co-ordinated through the leaders, and each Tupamaro ignores the real identity of his fellow cell members. Decisions for commando operations are put to a vote, individually or by cells. Leaders meet once a year to discuss their units’ instructions and evaluations. It is not known whether the mln has both a military and a political leadership or whether they are united in one person.

mln prefers single men, but both men and women are accepted. The future guerrillero must be sponsored by a Tupamaro, who has to write an exhaustive report on the candidate. The Tupamaros who participate in commando operations must undergo intensive training. They must be in perfect physical shape; smokers are encouraged to cut down, and drinking is forbidden. Part of their preparation includes learning how to handle weapons and explosives, how to escape, how to start a car without a key, and how to sabotage police cars.

The Tupamaros train at bases for the most part located outside Montevideo, often at one of the numerous beaches along Uruguay’s south-eastern coast. Some of these bases also contain hospitals, manned by medical students. In December 1968 a police raid uncovered a base where eight Tupamaros lived in two shacks and a barn which was part hospital, part laboratory for the fabrication of bombs, and part garage. On the premises, the police found 12 weapons (machine guns, rifles, shotguns and pistols), 700 rounds of ammunition, medical instruments, medicines, licence plates, a Volkswagen (the Tupamaros’ favourite car), a VW hood and seats, guerrilla handbooks, correspondence, 14 false identity cards, uniforms and a list of police headquarters cars.

In the last three years, the police have uncovered some eleven Tupamaro bases. Several were hide-outs, others were makeshift ammunition factories, and still others provided services. In one of them, a photographer’s shop, the raiders found equipment to make id cards similar to those issued by Uruguay’s police. All the machines used in the forgeries and even the paper were legitimate and had been obtained from police headquarters. The type of equipment found in Tupamaro hide-outs has led observers to believe that the movement provided Guevara with the false Uruguayan passport he used in his way to Bolivia.