It is 50 years since the mythical escape of 106 Uruguayan guerrillas from the Punta Carretas prison

Behind bars that in 1971 separated 106 guerrillas from the National Liberation Movement-Tupamaros (MLN-T) from their freedom, a tunnel made by dint of calculations and rods transformed into drills allowed a cinematic escape in a key year in recent Uruguayan history. This sixth of September is 50 years of the mythical escape of Tupamaros prisoners from the Punta Carretas prison in Montevideo.

The laborious corridor crossed three floors of the prison and a street to lead to the house of a lady with whom some even shared a tea. Among the fugitives were four historical leaders of the guerrilla organization: the former president Jose “Pepe” Mujica, Eleuterio Fernández Huidobro, who would be your defense minister, Jorge Amílcar Manera Lluberas, a civil engineer who was instrumental in planning and carrying out the escape, and Raúl “El Bebe” Sendic.

“The important thing was the decision we all had, the awareness that we had to get out somehow because we had to continue the fight, that was the message of the escape, we lived in jail thinking about what was happening outside, in the comrades who were fighting “, sums up the tupamaro Jorge “Tambero” Zabalza on the feeling to diagram what they called operation “The abuse.”

In complex times With several years of economic stagnation and a democratic government but with a strongly repressive management, the MLN-T emerged., a “political movement in arms”, as defined by the writer Mauricio “Russian” Rosencof. Through different operations, including bank robberies, kidnappings, and executions, this group developed an urban guerrilla in the 1960s that harshly confronted it with the government of the then president. Jorge Pacheco Areco, from the Colorado Party.

The escape was in a key year because it was the presidential elections. Pacheco Areco wanted reelection, something that was not contemplated in the Uruguayan Constitution and he needed a special majority that he did not get. In front was the leader of the National Party, Wilson Ferreira, and they were also the first elections of the Broad Front (FA).

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The Tupamaros had assured Ferreira and the FA that they were not going to carry out high-impact operations, a kind of “truce” to allow the elections to proceed without complications. Nevertheless, if the colorados won (as José María Bordaberry finally did, who in 1973 would carry out a coup) they would return to arms.

With all the leaders imprisoned in the Punta Carretas jail, which today was transformed into a commercial center, the escape plans began. A few months before they had struck a first blow when 38 women from the movement escaped from another prison.

The task was not easy and it seemed an almost impossible mission. Rosencof, who considers as “the triumph of ingenuity” what his companions did in prison, explains that the only antecedent of an escape of this magnitude was that of a group of anarchists who escaped through a tunnel in the 1930s.

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The air was short during the entire excavation but those anarchists who escaped long ago were finally their salvation because when oxygen was barely entering them, their tunnel crossed with that of the previous escapees and a breath of air was opened that saved them.

Upon leaving, after calming the woman of the house with talks and tea that Zabalza himself made for her when he left the tunnel, a new stage began for the MLN-T with the return to the armed struggle. A year later the Tupamaros would be defeated by the Armed Forces and locked up long before the start of the civic-military dictatorship (1973-1985).


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