461. Telegram From the Embassy in Uruguay to the Department of State 1

21. For Mann. Deptel 480.2 I heartily agree that last month’s golpe scare stemmed chiefly from dissatisfaction with GOU’s inability act constructively on increasingly obvious economic problems, and that we must continue our intense and difficult efforts to help Uruguayan democracy to work in order our basic objective of maintaining Uruguayan independence. I also agree that Uruguay’s greatest weakness is political. We therefore tend naturally to think of political reform and specifically of the possible advantages, from viewpoint of USG objectives, of having Uruguayan reform their constitution to replace present collegiate executive with single executive. Our analysis must consider (1) constitutional basis of reform, (2) its political chances, (3) its theoretical comparative advantages, (4) its practical comparative advantages, (5) conclusion, (6) recommended U.S. action.

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Uruguayan constitution, section XIX chapter III, provides for amendment on initiative (a) of 10 percent of citizens inscribed in National Civic Register, (b) by proposal approved by two-fifths full membership General Assembly; either (a) or (b) then requiring approval by “absolute majority of citizens participating next national elections” and “this majority must represent at least 35 percent of all persons inscribed in National Civic Register”, (c) approval of proposed amendment by absolute majority general assembly, subsequent approval by national constituent constitution called for purpose, and approved by electoral majority as above in special election.

(A) Given comparative strength of Blanco and Colorado parties in relation to each other, and their internal fractionalization, it is very unlikely that either party could put through constitutional amendment against opposition of the other.

(B) Substantial elements of Blancos and Colorado would have to combine to achieve constitutional amendment, but this unlikely. At present Blancos expect to lose and Colorados to win 1966 elections. Blancos would expect to have greater power in collegiate than single executive system and in past have favored collegiate executive when they expected to lose. Although many Blancos now favor single executive in principle it appears at present they would refuse cooperation in seeking constitutional reform. Colorados traditionally have favored collegiate system and at present appear reluctant move toward single executive because they fear such move would increase their internal divisions. Probable Blanco opposition and Colorado reluctance gives reform little political chance.


(A) Theoretical comparative advantages of collegiate versus single executive from U.S. viewpoint difficult to estimate. Weakness of collegiate system in which majority party is now fractionalized and lacks leadership are obvious. Question is whether single executive under conditions we assume will prevail after next general elections would be more advantageous to U.S. First and basic of these conditions would be continuation of law of “lemas.” This system permits many different factions within each of two major parties participate in national elections and gives these elections character of simultaneous primaries and general elections. Within each party this system has effect of institutionalizing political cohabitation without agreement and gains electoral cooperation without promoting subsequent unity. (See A–356, December 14, 1963.)3 Post-election fractionalization in both parties is reflected not only in NCG but parliament.

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(B) Law of “lemas” is Uruguayan device (a) to preserve two major parties against otherwise probable danger they would split formally into multiplicity of minor parties as in other parliamentary systems, and (b) to avert civil strife between two major parties. It has served at least these two purposes with moderate success for many years. However, presumably it will also continue to facilitate fractionalization within parties regardless of whether executive is collegiate or single. Theoretically, single executive might be able to supply more leadership than collegiate, but on other hand it could also stimulate more opposition. Collegiate system worked with comparative efficiency when majority united under party boss in 1954–1958. (This boss was Luis Batlle whose policies left much to be desired from U.S. viewpoint.) Theoretical advantages and disadvantages about even or possibly shaded on side of single executive.


So our immediate practical question must be to estimate nature of likely winner should there be single executive in 1966. Blancos at present appear unlikely to win. Among Colorados, most likely candidates would be:

Oscar Gestido (age 62), present member NCG and acknowledged leader list 14; Zelmar Michelini (age 40) leader list 99. Among these three, Batlle and Gestido almost hopeless beyond repair as economic thinkers. Michelini intellectually able to think in economic terms, and politically promising, but reliability from U.S. point of view untried, and his competence as political boss dubious. Doubtful that present selection of candidates would produce single executive through whom we could pursue U.S. objectives as effectively as through collegiate system. Comparative practical advantage lies with collegiate system.

Since theoretical comparative advantage of single executive at present appears slight and unsure, and immediate practical comparative advantage lies with continuative collegiate system, we do not recommend USG attempt work in favor of constitutional reform.

(A) One set of conditions could change above estimate and recommendation. Although highly improbable, it is conceivable that the growing economic and political pressures may lead major factions within both Colorados and Blancos to agree on constitutional reform in 1966 elections. Should we see this process developing well among both parties we might discreetly attempt to help it along. However, for us to speak in favor of constitutional reform before such development would probably incur the heavy liabilities of U.S. involvement in a prime domestic political dispute and would be counterproductive in that it would enable the opponents of constitutional reform to attack it as U.S.-inspired.

(B) Under these conditions our basic courses of action must be to continue attempt identify and strengthen economically and politically [Page 972] constructive elements in Uruguay along lines LAPC. We are submitting specific course of action with revised LAPC, airpouching 10th.4

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 15 UR. Confidential.
  2. Document 459.
  3. In airgram A–356 from Montevideo, the Embassy analyzed the “Political Structure of Uruguay’s Traditional Parties.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 12 UR)
  4. The Embassy forwarded its proposed revisions to the LAPC paper in airgram A–14 from Montevideo, July 12. (Ibid., POL 1 UR–US)