Opinion – Sylvia Colombo: Uruguay waves to the world by cornering Mercosur and aiming for the 2024 elections


Many have been surprised in recent days to learn that, apparently, Brazil and Uruguay are having problems in their relationship.

This became apparent during President Lula’s (PT) visit to the capital Montevideo and when his Uruguayan counterpart launched hints stating that he did not believe in relations based on ideological ties.

The factor that opposes the neighbors is almost theoretical. Uruguay says it wants to carry out free trade agreements on an individual basis — that is, outside Mercosur. Brazil understands that the partner acts selfishly.

One of the treaties in sight would be with China, which despairs Brazil, which fears that products from the Asian giant could weaken its industry. Also weighing is the fact that Brasilia favors an agreement with the European Union and that only after that would it agree to talk to Beijing.

What makes the scenario almost theoretical is that negotiations between Uruguay and China have just begun and could take years. And the Mercosur agreement with the EU, although there is a consensus text between the parties, will only actually see a signature after going through all the parliaments of the member countries and has been dragging on for more than 20 years.

What Uruguay really wants is to give a nod to the world and say that it is tired of depending on two economies that are generally in crisis.

“We have the challenge of Tarzan, who, when he grabbed a prey, could not let go of the one he had grabbed before, because he was afraid of losing both”, said former president José “Pepe” Mujica, an ally of Lula, at the end of the visit. from the PT to his site.

It so happens that the country’s problems are smaller and less complex than the average in Latin America, although many Uruguayans refuse to see this. Regardless or not of regional policy, the country may even complain that it is not growing enough, but its institutions are strong. Neither the political nor the economic situation, for the time being, threatens its stability or growth.

The country has a stable economy and politics. More than two thirds of the population are middle class, and the country has one of the highest per capita GDPs on the planet, having virtually eliminated extreme poverty.

These areas have suffered an impact that is still not fully measured by the pandemic, and Uruguay fears that social problems could grow if the economy does not take some kind of leap.

There is also the political factor: Luis Lacalle Pou cannot run for re-election. In Uruguay, it is only possible to run for a second time in a discontinued way – that is, he would have to leave the Presidency in 2024 and return only after the term of another competitor. Still, he would like to make a successor so power doesn’t go to its competitor, the leftist Frente Ampla.

The task turns out to be complicated. Although he still supports the government, the “multicolored coalition” that elected him, which includes the Colorado party and other groups, has already stated that he would prefer to have different candidates for the next election. His popularity, which exceeds 60%, is not enough for Lacalle Pou to choose a victorious successor.

On the left side, although there is a fracture, two pre-candidates are strong. One of them is Carolina Cosse (Frente Ampla), the mayor of Montevideo, who, already clearly campaigning, received Lula with a kind of electoral act, with posters spread throughout the city. She disputes the post with Yamandu Orsi, her coreligionist. More discreet, he governs the district of Canelones and has more ties with the interior of the country, where Lacalle Pou’s party, Nacional, predominates.

Opening or not the economy, therefore, is also an element of the electoral narrative.

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