By Megan E. Davis
In the middle of a night in 1973, soldiers arrived unannounced and took Juan Vicente Ugarte del Pino from his Peruvian home.
Under control of dictator Juan Velasco, who had come to power in a military coup, the government held Ugarte, then dean of the National University of San Marcos School of Law in Lima, for speaking out against the regime’s constitutional violations.
Held incommunicado for several weeks in which he endured harsh treatment and a limited diet, Ugarte was reunited with his family thanks to the help of Florida lawyer Lucius Dyal. Nearly 40 years later — thanks to the help of Florida lawyer Jose Toledo — the two were recently reunited at a reception at Stetson University’s Tampa Law Center.
Dyal, board certified in international law, recalled how he came to know Ugarte and lobby for his freedom. It began with Dyal’s involvement with a program of The Florida Bar’s International Law Section, he said.
“The program went to a different country each year to put on a one-week interchange between Florida lawyers and lawyers of that country,” he said. “In 1973, I went to Peru and met with Dr. Ugarte. I got to know him and we arranged all the meeting rooms, speakers, and other incidentals, and I returned to the States.”
After he returned, Dyal tried to follow up with Ugarte on details of the program, but couldn’t reach him.
“I couldn’t find out where he was or what happened to him,” he said. “I called the U.S. Embassy, spoke with some people there, and kept beating on them to find out what happened.”
Eventually, Dyal’s persistence paid off.
“They got involved, found out he’d been arrested and was being held incommunicado,” he said. “They interceded and as a result Dr. Ugarte was released.”
Several weeks later, the interchange took place in Lima. It included a dinner, after which attendees signed a copy of the menu, as is customary in Latin America, Dyal said.
“He was very grateful and the conference was very successful,” he said. “He spoke about the constitution. Besides being an eminent jurist, he is quite a scholar. He was one of the premier members of the faculty of the oldest university in Peru, in fact, one of the oldest universities in the hemisphere. He’s written several books on the Peruvian Constitution.”
The conference also afforded Dyal an opportunity to hear Ugarte’s story.
“We weren’t really sure what all had happened or what had gone on,” Dyal said. “He told us about it, and it was quite something to hear and be involved in. Then to see him go on with his career and become chief justice of Peru, that was really something.”
Nearly 40 years later, Ugarte met Toledo who was visiting Peru. Ugarte showed the signed menu to Toledo and asked for help finding and getting back in touch with Dyal.
“When I spoke with Mr. Dyal, it was almost like he’d been waiting for me to call,” Toledo said. “That’s not what happened, but that’s how it felt to me because he knew exactly what it was all about. Who could forget it? It’s such an interesting story and part of history.”
At the recent reception at the Stetson’s Tampa Law Center, the Lima Bar Association honored both Dyal and Ugarte, and recognized Toledo.
“The gentleman at this point is about 90 years old and the fact that he traveled all the way from Lima to Tampa to do this was just really something fantastic,” Dyal said of Ugarte. “He gave a 20- to 25-minute talk during the ceremony, and he’s still a pretty sharp tack.”
Ugarte’s story remains meaningful today, Dyal said.
“It’s a belief in the rule of law, a belief in the constitution, and the willingness to defend it,” he said. “It’s an incredible example of an individual willing to do that despite the circumstances. He paid a price for it, but ultimately became a better and stronger man.”