Uruguay: Deepening of progressivism or conservative break?

Source: Latinamerican Press

Surveys indicate that the governing Frente Amplio and right-wing National Party would vie for the presidency in a second round.

On October 26 Uruguayans will vote for a new president and choose the members of the bicameral parliament (30 senators and 90 representatives). Opinion polls indicate that the governing Frente Amplio (FA), or Broad Front, will not win on the first round, so a runoff election on November 30 would be held, in which it will face the conservative National Party (PN).

FA member Tabaré Vázquez, who was president during 2005-2010 and was the first leftist leader in the political history of the country, and the young Luis Lacalle Pou, son of former president Luis Alberto Lacalle (1990-95), are the two choices for president.

It’s also not for certain that the governing leftist party will win the second round. Even if it does triumph, it’s very possible that it will lose the majority in the national parliament.

At the same time as the first round, a referendum will be carried out to let the people decide if they want to lower the age of criminal responsibility from 18 to 16 years of age. The referendum also divides along political parties and their supporters — the PN and Colorado Party (PC), the so called traditional parties, versus the FA. The result of this referendum is also very uncertain.

The two consecutive administrations of the ruling party have made fundamental strides for the Uruguayan people in terms of human rights as well as economic, social and cultural rights.

In 2004, at the tail-end of the administration of right-wing, PC member Jorge Batlle (2000-2005), unemployment in Uruguay reached 13.1 percent, according to the National Statistics Institute. In 2009, at the end of Vázquez’s administration, the unemployment rate had decreased to 8.2 percent, and in June 2014, the rate was at 6.8 percent.

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) stated in the report “Economic and Social Panorama of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States 2013”, published last January, that Uruguay maintains a good level of economic growth, and that the gross domestic product (GDP) grew 4.5 percent that year.

Meanwhile, in 2013 poverty affected 12.4 percent of the population and indigence affected 0.5 percent of the population. In 2002, poverty in the country had reached 39.4 percent. In this regard, the progress during the Vázquez administration and the current government of José Mujica has been continuous and profound.

These achievements have been crucial for the working class:  the creation of wage councils, employment formalization, the law that caps the working hours for rural works at eight, and increased rights for domestic workers, among others.

Mujica’s government in particular has taken some historic steps, including at the international level, which are of enormous importance for the struggle of some traditionally excluded groups and for the humanitarian agenda. Among these achievements are the depenalization of abortion, equal marriage, the legalization of marijuana and even the ongoing initiatives to bring into the country refugee Syrian children and prisoners from the American prison at Guantanamo Bay.

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