Every city has its underbelly, its dark secrets, its intrigue. But the story I’m about to tell you is about a daring prison escape through Montevideo’s underground tunnels. I learned about it by joining another walking tour by http://www.curiosofreetour.com.uy, led by George its CEO.
Back in 1971, in the Punta Carretas area of Montevideo, the Punta Carretas jail held 106 political prisoners which were about to be liberated.
Today, the same space the jail occupied has been transformed into the classy Punta Carretas Shopping Centre. The arched entranceway to the Shopping Centre is exactly the same one that led to the prison.
These political prisoners or left –wing revolutionaries, called themselves the Tupamaros National Liberation Movement. They escaped through a tunnel that led underground from the prison to a nearby house owned by Serrana Auliso that she still occupies today.
Included in that group of prisoners was Jose Mujica, who became the president of Uruguay from 2010 to 2015 . The operation was known as “the Escape” or “The Abuse”, and is one of the biggest ever prison escapes.
Attention was diverted away from the prison escape when Tupamaros organized riots in the same area of the prison, distracting the attention of police. Most of those who had escaped were recaptured and put back in jail during the 12 years of military rule. Mujica himself spent a total of 13 years in prison, mostly during the military dictatorship of Uruguay from 1973 to 1985.
I found this story fascinating, but even more interesting was meeting Serrana Auliso, a gracious and charming individual, who is close to 90 years of age. Our walking tour leader stopped in front of her house and explained that this was the very place where the tunnel came out. Serrana came out to meet our group and show us photos of the hole in her floor from which 106 prisoners emerged into her living room.
She also had newspaper clippings dating about the 1971 episode. One couldn’t get a better history lesson than one like this, truly an example of “living history.” I was told by the tour leader that Serrana comes out regularly to meet the walking tours, hopefully she enjoys sharing her stories as much as we enjoyed listening to them.