Uruguay, like most Latin American countries, has been in a state of turmoil in recent years, but you would never know it by walking down Montevideo’s bustling main street, the Eighteenth of July Street. Pushing, elbowing your way along the crowded sidewalk any night of the week, you encounter handsome, well-dressed couples, young and old, holding hands, stopping to window-shop, and lining up for movies, apparently as carefree as anyone anywhere.

It’s difficult to imagine that during the last decade or so, this country was torn by terrorist attacks, retaliation by the government, and then a take-over by a military regime which rules with an iron hand … shooting and arresting first and asking questions later. There has been a great amount of criticism of the military government. U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance declared in February that Uruguay was one of the three worst violators of human rights. The Organization of American States decided not to hold its next General Assembly in Montevideo because of the government’s human rights record. The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a church-related agency, charged that between mid-1972 and the end of 1977, over 60,000 Uruguayans had passed through the jails. That is one out of every forty-five residents. At least half of them, WOLA declared, were submitted to psychological and physical torture.

But you would never suspect this background by observing what seems to be a tranquil people concerned only with making a living and getting some pleasure out of life. What does seem believable is that Uruguayans are materialistic. Uruguay is said to have the third highest standard of living in all of Latin America. There is no poverty when compared with many Latin American nations. ...

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