Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Former Guerrillas Take Helm of Uruguay's Congress

Uruguay (Reuters) - Former left-wing guerrillas who fought against the Uruguayan state in the 1970s were sworn in on Tuesday to head the two houses of Congress as pivotal players in the South American nation's historic shift to the left.
Jose Mujica, a Tupamaro rebel leader who spent seven years imprisoned in a deep well during Uruguay's 1973-85 military rule, wept as he was sworn in to chair the Senate.

Nora Castro, a Tupamaro guerrilla also imprisoned by the military, became the first woman to preside over the Chamber of Deputies in Uruguay's history.

Both renounced using violence for political ends two decades ago and joined the center-left coalition headed by socialist Tabare Vazquez, who will become Uruguay's first leftist president on March 1.

"This is a historic moment that no one thought would ever happen," fellow senator and Tupamaro member Eleuterio Fernandez Huidobro told reporters.

The Tupamaros were crushed by the dictatorship after a string of bloody attacks on the military and the murder of a CIA agent.

Mujica, 69, who was the most voted senator, will stay on in the Senate until he becomes agriculture minister in the new government.

Vazquez's Broad Front coalition has majorities in both houses. Uruguay's traditional parties, the Blancos and the Colorados, will both be in opposition for the first time in history.

Uruguay joins the leftist current running through most of South America, the result of voters' rejection of decades of U.S.-backed market reforms that often ended in crisis.

Most of the region's left-leaning leaders, including Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and possibly Cuba's Fidel Castro, are expected in Montevideo for the March 1 inauguration.