Gregorio Conrado Álvarez Armelino (also known as “el Goyo”) was born on 26 November 1926 in Montevideo. He was the President of Uruguay from 1981 to 1985 and, as such, he was the last head of Uruguay’s military dictatorship which had begun in 1973.
Álvarez joined Uruguay’s military academy in 1940 and he was later to become the head of Montevideo’s mounted police in 1962. In 1971 he was promoted to be a general and became Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – “ESMACO” –, an internal organisation at the armed forces which was created in order to lead the fight against the “Tupamaro” guerrillas. When the military took power in 1973, Álvarez, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, became the permanent secretary of the National Security Council. This new body was chaired by the commanding officers of the army, navy and air force, as well as by the defence, home and foreign affairs secretaries.
In 1978, Álvarez went on to become Commander in Chief of the armed forces and remained in this position for almost a year, after which his influence seemed to diminish. However, in 1979, a series of promotions within the armed forces saw a not insignificant number of Álvarez’s followers rise to key positions. In 1980, the armed forces sought to legitimise their position by organising a popular vote on changes to the constitution, a move that was heavily criticised by political opponents. In the end, Uruguayans demonstrated their opposition to the new constitution with 57.2% voting against it in a referendum that was held on 30 November 1980.
On 1 September 1981, by pressuring the National Security Council, Álvarez succeeded in being named president. With this title, he continued to repress the Tupamaros as well as trade unions. On 12 February 1985, Álvarez ceded power to the president of the Supreme Court of Justice, who went on to organise elections. On 1 March 1985, Julio María Sanguinetti was elected president.
In order to encourage a return to civil peace, Sanguinetti launched a campaign for national reconciliation and in 1986 the Law of Expiration of the Punitive Claims of the State was adopted and became commonly known as the “law of impunity” and the “law of expiry”. This law saw the State renounce all punitive power for the violations of human rights committed during the period of June 1973 to March 1985. These violations had been committed by military officials and the police either for political motivations or when exercising their duties as ordered by their superiors.
In spite of the law of impunity, following the submission of complaints from the parents of the disappeared, Álvarez was arrested and imprisoned on 17 December 2007.