Prior to the 1973 coup, the military exercised influence but had rarely intervened directly in the political system. The fact that all of the defense ministers who served between 1959 and 1971 were military men indicated a degree of military influence. By 1984, when the military negotiated with the political parties on a transition to democratic government, the armed forces were considered a de facto political force. As Uruguay returned formally to democratic rule in 1985, the armed forces continued to exercise a degree of tutelage over national affairs, despite their depoliticized role. Sanguinetti's defense minister was a retired lieutenant general, Hugo M. Medina (the only military defense minister to serve in the 1980s), who as army commander in chief had refused to serve subpoenas on military officers. A poll commissioned by Búsqueda in September 1986 found that an overwhelming majority of Montevideo's population believed, to varying degrees, that the military was still a factor in political power; only 10 percent believed that the military had no power.
Some observers and political party leaders commented on alleged military pressure to defeat a call for prosecution of military officers for human rights abuses. The issue arose in December 1986 after the General Assembly approved the full-stop amnesty law, which exonerated 360 members of the armed forces and the police accused of committing human rights abuses during the military regime. In one demonstration of possible continued military influence, Defense Minister Medina reflected military opinion in condemning the April 1989 referendum to decide the validity of the amnesty law. Medina emphasized that "the dignity of the national army" should not be violated. General Washington Varela, head of the Military Academy, warned that the army would "close ranks" if the amnesty were rescinded.
Amnesty appeared to be firm, but the question of whether or not the military would retain its traditionally apolitical role in the future was less certain. Stating that "the Pandora's box of military intervention has been opened in Uruguay," Martin Weinstein opined in 1989 that the military would continue to exercise a veto power over government action in human rights and military affairs and possibly assume a tutelary role in areas such as economic policy and labor relations. Military influence in the latter two areas, however, had not yet manifested itself in 1990. In order to demonstrate his authority over the military, Lacalle appointed a civilian as his defense minister and exercised his presidential prerogative to appoint armed forces commanders of his own choosing, regardless of seniority. His appointments of the air force and naval commanders were third and fourth in seniority, respectively, among serving officers.
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