When he took on the presidency of Uruguay in 2005, Tabaré Vázquez, a physician from the left-wing Broad Front, put an end to an apparently eternal dominion: for decades, only blancos, colorados and military members took turns in ruling the country.

The Broad Front is composed of different political parties and organisations, many of which had been banished during the military dictatorship in Uruguay. Back in democracy, when the Left ran for and won the elections, there was great expectation regarding real reform in the country’s institutions.

That scenario takes place in tiny Uruguay, where roughly three million people live. ­Almost half of them live in Montevideo, the capital rising from the shores of the River Plate, facing the Argentinian coast. Similar scenarios, however, can be found in different parts of the continent. This is an almost unavoidable process in Latin America after years of repression: forces which had been outcast during dictatorial times find their way back and regain their strength by the vote. It is in Uruguay, nonetheless, that progressive officialism found the best and most significant outcomes.

Under the nickname of ‘Pepe’, he fought the military dictatorship and was imprisoned in Punta Carretas, a former penitentiary from the 70s which is, today, home to a shopping centre.

As Tabaré Vásquez ruled from the Plaza Independencia, in the heart of Montevideo, the country discussed a great deal of the topics which have been making their way onto proper bills just as it saw many of them perish soon before becoming laws. Vásquez did not put aside religious values when he vetoed the bill which would have legalised abortion, for example. That bill would only find its way back in the hands of the next president, José Mujica, a former tupamaro guerrilla.

Under the nickname of ‘Pepe’, he fought the military dictatorship and was imprisoned in Punta Carretas, a former penitentiary from the 70s which is, today, home to a shopping centre. Pepe is probably best known abroad for his personal features than for his political ideas: his spiritual and objective austerity, and the fact the he lives on the outskirts rather than in the city centre of the capital. Mujica was, however, the only person to contest the ruling demagogy regarding the environment during the Rio+20 conference, which took place in Brazil a few months ago, when the Uruguayan leader made it very clear that the destruction of nature is, more than anything, a typical political problem emerging from inhuman capitalism.

Uruguay may become the first country in the world to allow people to grow their own cannabis.

José Mujica’s term ends in 2014. Until then, Uruguay might have found political solutions for three of the most emblematic issues for the Latin-American Left: the approval of same-sex marriage, already a reality everywhere in Uruguay; the decriminalisation of abortion, and the regulation of both cultivation and distribution of cannabis by the State. The earlier is still waiting for the Senate’s approval, which will most likely pose no danger once the Broad Front has the majority of the seats. In a few weeks, Uruguay may become the first country in the world to allow people to grow their own cannabis, and to allow the plant to be bought at any chemist’s under the regulation of the State.

Despite being admired in the nearby countries, such as Brazil and Argentina, Mujica’s government is slightly less popular than his predecessor’s according to recent surveys. Maybe Mujica went way too far even for a laic and progressive country. In the next elections, the Broad Front shall have Tabaré Vázquez as its candidate once Uruguay does not allow re-election and Mujica did not even think of changing the country’s Constitution. It is undeniable, nonetheless, that tiny Uruguay has become a progressive giant in the hands of Mujica.

Iuri Müller

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Image: Liana Coll

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