Uruguay house-prison used by guerrillas, military regime reopened to public

By Santiago Carbone

Montevideo, May 19 (EFE).- A basement of a downtown Montevideo residence that served first as a place of captivity for guerrilla-held politicians and then as a clandestine detention center run by agents of Uruguay’s 1973-1985 dictatorship has now been reopened to the public.

People walking in Cordon, a trendy neighborhood in Uruguay’s capital, probably do not suspect the National Liberation Movement-Tupamaros (MLN-T) once held two kidnapped individuals in the depths of that house, whose large wooden windows look out on to Juan Paullier Street.

Nor do they see its graffiti-colored gray facade and wooden front door and imagine that same basement was used as a brutal clandestine detention and torture center by the civic-military regime.

Now, nearly 40 years after the restoration of democracy, that house belonging to Uruguay’s Defense Ministry has been re-opened to the public to preserve the memory of that bygone era.


“It was an ordinary house. Nothing noteworthy. The family that lived in the house didn’t arouse anyone’s attention either,” journalist Mauricio Almada, author of the book “La Ultima Carcel del Pueblo” (The Last People’s Prison), said in an interview with Efe.

Once inside, a visitor immediately notices the small amount of furniture, huge skylight on the roof of the house and small backyard with a grill.

A set of stairs leads from the garage to the former Carcel del Pueblo, a basement that previously had only been accessible via a septic tank.

The MLN-T used that secret place to hold former Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Carlos Frick Davie and an ex-lawmaker of the center-right Colorado Party, Ulysses Pereira Reverbel, keeping them there for a year under the constant watchful eye of four guerrillas.

“Life inside was almost the same for the hostages as for the jailers, because they shared practically everything,” Almada said, noting that the spaces occupied by the prisoners and guards were adjacent to one another.

Meals were brought from upstairs twice a day to the kidnapped men, who ate the same food as the family living at the house, according to the author, who said each of the jailers was instructed to talk to the detainees for a half-hour every day.

The kidnapped men each occupied a small cell. The beds they slept on and the toilet and wash basin they used all can be observed by citizens who schedule a visit on the fourth Saturday of every month, as can a sign on the wall, the ventilation system and a rudimentary communication system.

“There was a red light and a green light. As long as the green light was on, life below proceeded normally. If they turned the red light on upstairs, all movement needed to stop because something serious was going on,” Almada said.


Frick Davie and Pereira Reverbel lived in these conditions until May 27, 1972, when government forces raided the house.

The jailers had been told to execute the hostages if the prison was discovered, Almada said, though adding that they ultimately decided not to follow that order.

The fall of that Carcel del Pueblo was one of the final blows struck by government forces against the Tupamaros, an urban guerrilla movement that operated in the 1960s and early 1970s but had collapsed by the start of the dictatorship in 1973, with all of its leaders having been captured and imprisoned.

Those jailed guerrilla commanders included Jose Mujica, who served as Uruguay’s president from 2010 to 2015.


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