Opinion – Latinoamérica21: Uruguay and the regional context: an example to follow

Opinion – Latinoamérica21: Uruguay and the regional context: an example to follow

Uruguayan democracy is strange and surprising. A democracy in which presidents begin and end their term in time and form, cannot (and do not seek) to be re-elected without mediating another period, hand over the attributes of the term to their successor from another party and continue to naturally share ceremonies and public events in their country and abroad, where they even attend the inauguration of other presidents together.

That this causes strangeness speaks very well of Uruguayans and not so well of us, a “we” that is widespread in the region’s democracies, where esteem and trust in (and among) politicians is at rock bottom, in social fabrics and politicians sharply torn by polarization and discontent.

The inauguration of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was attended by 13 presidents and heads of government from around the world. But Uruguay was a notable presence: it was represented by President Luis Lacalle Pou, who was accompanied by former Presidents Julio María Sanguinetti and José Pepe Mujica.

The image of Lula surrounded by the three was eloquent. A photo showing, for example, the current Argentine president, Alberto Fernández, and his predecessor, Mauricio Macri, at Lula’s inauguration is something unimaginable. Not to mention the other neighbors (Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela), where rulers and opponents consider each other bitter enemies.

And it is not as if for the other governments Lula’s return to the government for the third time was not transcendental. In fact, the new Brazilian president will go to Buenos Aires on his first trip abroad, to participate in the Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), on the 23rd and 24th of January, and it is expected that they will be signed important agreements to revitalize the weakened Mercosur and bilateral ties, which were reduced to a minimum during the Bolsonaro administration.

But, for Uruguay, the issues that mark foreign policy have nothing to do with political-party affinities or ideological orientations of governments: when representing the country in a major international event, the voices of its leaders are expressed together. This gesture, far from being a merely protocol or formal image, acquires a great symbolic character and an eloquent demonstration of institutional and republican continuity, which reinforces its regional significance after the events of January 8 in Brasília, because all political leadership, with some degree of responsibility, all Latin American countries should be on the alert in the face of an attempted coup d’état in Brazil. The bells are ringing for us all.

Uruguay seems to be an exception in the global and regional panorama: it is at the top of the democracy rankings in Latin America and in the world. In the 2022 annual index published by “The Economist”, it occupies the thirteenth position on a global scale and is the leading nation in democracy in Latin America. The report analyzes the situation of 167 countries and assesses various country characteristics, such as the electoral process and pluralism, the functioning of government, political participation, political and democratic culture, and civil liberties.

From 2021 to 2022, Uruguay increased its score from 8.61 to 8.85 (the index ranges from 0 to 10; Norway is first on the list, with 9.75 points; Brazil is in 47th, with 6 ,86) and ranked first in Latin America, ahead of Costa Rica and Chile. With this assessment, the country is classified as a “full democracy”, a situation that only 6.4% of the world’s population lives, according to the index.

The report coincides with other estimates, which have pointed to the retreat of democracy, since in 2020 the overall score was 5.37 and in 2021 it dropped to 5.28. In Latin America, the decline was even more pronounced, with a drop of 0.26 points (in North America the drop was 0.22; in Asia and Australia it was 0.16).

In this panorama, a small country stands out, which shows its strength in the face of a larger country and is an example for a region affected by the vacancy of leaders and statesmen and in which coexistence between opposing groups has broken down or ceased to be a value. At the same time, it points to the importance of fundamental agreements to move a country (and a region) in one direction or another, beyond the guidance of its governments.

In other words, the question of how we are going to approach travel is as important as knowing where we intend to travel as a country. And Uruguay offers a comparative advantage in this matter and deserves to be seen as an example to be followed, not as an exception to the rule.

The original version of this text was originally published in Clarín, Argentina

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