Uruguay Turns Its Leftist Page

The election of Luis Lacalle Pou has brought an end to 15 years of leftist government in Uruguay.
German Peinado Delgado, Glenn Ojeda Vega, Uruguay news, Uruguay politics news, Uruguay COVID-19, Uruguay elections, Uruguay Luis Lacalle Pou, Lacalle Pou policies, Uruguay economy, Latin America pink tide

Montevideo, Uruguay © Oriol Querol / Shutterstock

April 20, 2020 12:56 EDT

In November 2019, Luis Lacalle Pou was elected president of Uruguay after defeating the ruling party candidate and former Montevideo mayor, Daniel Martinez, in the second round. President Lacalle Pou’s inauguration in March marked the end of a decade and a half of executive leadership by members of Uruguay’s left-wing Broad Front party, which included the iconic former presidents Jose “Pepe” Mujica and Tabare Vazquez.

Despite the fact that Martinez came in first, with 39% of the vote, during the first round in October 2019, Lacalle Pou managed to rally together a five-party right-wing coalition. Led by Lacalle’s National Party, the right-wing formation was baptized the Multicolor Coalition and successfully squeezed just over 50% of the vote during the second round of the presidential election.

Leftist Legacy

Uruguay’s Broad Front was founded in 1971 through the union of left-wing movements and organizations. The party ruled Uruguay between 2005 and 2020, starting with the first election of Tabara Vazquez in November 2004. Subsequently, in 2009, Jose Mujica was elected to succeed President Vazquez. Mujica’s election, at the age of 74, was unprecedented in Uruguay: He had been a militant with the leftist guerillas during the second half of the 20th century and served several years in prison. In 2015, Vazquez was elected for another term, extending the Broad Front’s presidential tenure to 15 years.

Uruguay’s Broad Front governments were moderate members of Latin America’s leftist “pink tide” and received political support from regional leaders such as Brazil’s Lula da Silva and Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez. Nowadays, however, Uruguay’s neighborhood looks somewhat different, particularly in Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil.

Domestically, the Broad Front presidencies were marked by a very progressive agenda that resulted in the legalization of abortion, same-sex marriage and the use of marijuana, all of this in the context of a traditionally conservative South American continent.

Who is Luis Lacalle Pou?

Luis Lacalle Pou is 46 years old, and, despite his relatively young age, he is a seasoned politician — 2019 was second presidential bid. Before becoming head of state, Lacalle Pou served as a congressman for two decades, both in the senate and the house of representatives. He is also the son of former Uruguayan president, Luis Lacalle de Herrera, who was in office between 1990 and 1995.

Lacalle Pou’s election is also historic because of the ticket’s companion, Vice President Beatriz Argimon, who became the first woman elected to that position in Uruguay’s history. Unfortunately, the first several weeks of the Lacalle-Argimon administration have been overwhelmed by the quickly unfolding COVID-19 pandemic, though recent polling reveals that the president enjoys an approval rating of over 60%.

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From the outset of his campaign, Lacalle Pou has focused his agenda and policies on strong measures to combat insecurity through increased spending in law enforcement, a reduction of government costs deemed non-essential, and pro-business fiscal reforms to tackle unemployment. Simultaneously, over the coming years, Uruguay will have to address the issue of an aging population. The small South American nation has the oldest demographic makeup in the region and will likely have to attract young migrants and workers to maintain long-term economic stability. President Lacalle Pou will also need to refine his negotiation skills in order to keep the Multicolor Coalition alive during the next five years.

On the foreign policy front, Lacalle Pou ushers in a major break with his left-leaning predecessors. For instance, Uruguay is expected to formally break ties with the regime of Nicolas Maduro and recognize Juan Guaido as interim president of Venezuela. The regional remnants from the pink tide era, including Cuba and Nicaragua, were not invited to Lacalle Pou’s inauguration. Subsequently, Lacalle Pou announced Uruguay’s formal departure from UNASUR, South America’s multilateral organization conceived by leftist leaders in 2008. Uruguay under President Lacalle Pou is ready to prioritize a stronger relationship with the United States and the hemispheric Organization of American States based in Washington, DC.

Uruguayan Exceptionalism

In order to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Uruguay, the current and previous administrations set in place a series of measures aimed at mitigating the spread of the disease. Benefiting from an educated and civically-minded citizenry as well as basic sanitary infrastructure, Uruguay has kept the number of infections relatively low without introducing quarantine measures for the general population; self-isolation is only mandatory for those over 65.

On the economic front, the impact is being felt in terms of job creation, tourism and foreign investment, on which Uruguay’s small economy is dependent for accelerated growth. Lacalle Pou has prioritized securing primary services such as water and electricity for the entire country, particularly for its most vulnerable sectors. Similarly, local elections have been postponed until after the health crisis.

It is undeniable that the Broad Front maintained 15 years of economic and constitutional stability in the country. Unlike the rest of South America, Uruguay has not suffered from the recent waves of mass social protests. Nevertheless, the economic slowdown experienced over the last several years, along with changing regional trends, have influenced Uruguay’s small population.

President Lacalle Pou will certainly face opposition from Uruguay’s progressive intelligentsia, particularly on the economic front, in which his proposed austere policies are now compounded by the COVID-19 crisis. On the social front, a recently reopened national debate around euthanasia might signal whether the country will remain at the forefront of South America’s progressive policies or if the new agenda of the Multicolor Coalition is here to stay.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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