Zelmar Michelini Guarch was born in Montevideo (Uruguay) on 20th May 1924. When he was a child, he attended state school and enjoyed playing football with friends.
Aged 18, Zelmar began studying for a law degree and started working for the state-owned Mortgage Bank of Uruguay that same year. He became involved in the trade union movements both at the bank and at the Centre for Law Students. During his teenage years, he met Elisa Delle Piane, and, after courting for several years, they married and had ten children together.
Meanwhile, Zelmar also became politically active within Lista 15 (List 15), a sector of the Uruguayan Partido Colorado (Colorado Party). Zelmar fervently adhered to the political philosophy of Battlismo inspired by José Batlle y Ordóñez, President of Uruguay for the Partido Colorado (Colorado Party) from 1903 to 1907 and 1911 to 1915. Zelmar began his political career as the secretary of Luis Batlle Berres- President of Uruguay from 1947 to 1951- before becoming an MP and serving as the Bench President of the Chamber of Deputies. During the 1960s, he founded the Lista 99- Movimiento por el gobierno del pueblo (List 99- Movement for the People's Government), a political group that emerged from the Partido Colorado (Colorado Party). Zelmar was elected Senator for the Lista 99 (List 99) and assumed the role of Minister of Industry and Trade under the Colorado government. However, he stepped down after just three months due to a disagreement with the government of the then President Óscar Diego Gestido Pose. He returned to his duties in the Senate, where he became a fervent critic of the authoritarian government of Jorge Pacheco Areco, who was President of Uruguay for the Partido Colorado (Colorado Party) from 1967 to 1972.
These tensions resulted in the disintegration of the Partido Colorado (Colorado Party) in 1970. Alongside other leftist leaders and groups, Zelmar helped to form the leftist Frente Amplio (Broad Front) coalition in 1971, for which he was re-elected as Senator the same year.
Following the Uruguayan coup d'état on 23rd June 1973, Zelmar sought exile in Argentina. From Buenos Aires, he continued to denounce the torture and crimes occurring in Uruguay, which escalated with the formal establishment of the dictatorship. In 1974, he gave his testimony to the Russell Tribunal II in Rome in order to publicly denounce the human rights violations.
On 25th November 1975, Buenos Aires' Uruguayan Embassy informed the Argentine Foreign Minister that it had withdrawn the passports belonging to the Uruguayan senators Zelmar Michelini and Wilson Ferreira Aldunate, and the Partido Nacional (National Party) MP, Héctor Gutiérrez Ruiz. The Embassy's decision to make it difficult for the three political leaders to leave Argentina demonstrated the Uruguayan dictatorship's responsibility in persecuting its political opponents through mechanisms of transnational coordination.
At 4am on 18th May 1976, heavily armed agents dressed in civilian clothing captured Zelmar Michelini in his residence at Buenos Aires' Liberty Hotel. Two of Zelmar's children witnessed the event which included theft of money and electro-domestic appliances. Just a few hours earlier, the MP Héctor Gutiérrez Ruiz had been captured in his home in front of his wife and five children.
The same Condor operation saw the capture of Zelmar, Héctor, and the married couple and Movimiento de Liberación Nacional-Tupamaros (National Liberation Movement, MLN-T) militants, Rosario Barredo and William Whitelaw. They were all taken to a clandestine torture and detention centre situated on Bacacay Street, close to the Automotores Orletti detention centre in western Buenos Aires.
On 21st May 1976, the day after Zelmar's 52nd birthday, he was found dead in a red car along with Héctor, Rosario, and William parked at the junction of two main avenues in Buenos Aires. They had been murdered and carried visible signs of torture.
Rosario and William's three small children were captured. The repressors initially tried to appropriate the children, but the search campaigns and pressure from relatives forced them to return the children to their family on 29th May 1976.
After the return to democracy in 1985, the Uruguayan Parliament paid homage to the assassinated legislators and approved the creation of an investigative commission for the crimes. The conclusions and documents gathered by this commission were handed to the judiciary in 1987.
The Uruguayan court case that was filed in 1985 was only recently resolved in November 2006 when the former chancellor of the dictatorship, Juan Carlos Blanco and the dictator, Juan María Bordaberry were charged with the homicides. The case was also taken on by the Condor II Trial in Argentina. In May 2021, Rosario Barredo's daughter, Gabriela Schroeder, filed a new case before the Uruguayan Prosecutor's Office, meaning that there will be a new judiciary investigation into the capture and homicide of Michelini, Gutiérrez Ruiz, Barredo, and Whitelaw.
In November 2020, Schroeder gave testimony to the Uruguayan court regarding the kidnapping of herself and her siblings after their mother's assassination. In May 2021, the relatives of Zelmar Michelini and Héctor Gutiérrez Ruiz requested that the case of their assassinations should be reconsidered in light of the new evidence.
On 10th August 2022, the Uruguayan court publicly condemned the repressors, José Arab, Ernesto Ramas, Jorge Silveira, and Ricardo Medina, who were already serving sentences for other crimes against humanity.