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First leftist goverment
Pablo Long
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Tabaré Vasquez´s victory marks change for country and all of Latin America.

With the Oct. 31 election of socialist physician Tabaré Vázquez as president for the 2005-2010 term, Uruguayans ended more than a century and a half of domination by the Colorado and Blanco parties and installed the first leftist government in the country’s history.

According to official results, Vázquez’s Broad Front (FA) party obtained 50.45 percent of the votes compared with 34.30 percent for the Blanco (or National) party and 10.36 percent for the ruling Colorado party.

"Everything indicates that with the inauguration of Vázquez (on March 1) we will be in a new country that will put an end to neo-liberal policies to focus attention on social problems and abandon automatic alignment with the United States to shift towards the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) and reintegration with the rest of Latin America," said political analyst Jaime Yaffé.

Uruguayans also said "yes" in the elections to a proposed constitutional reform that would include a clause establishing that property and management of water are the exclusive responsibility of the state "a truly revolutionary occurrence," said Vice President-elect Rodolfo Nin Novoa.

In the vote, the president and all of the members of the legislature (99 deputies and 30 senators) were elected. Polls for mayors will take place on the second Sunday in May 2005.

Program of change

In both houses of the new Congress, the FA will be just one vote short to reach the special three-fifths majority, which under the Constitution is necessary for the Senate and Chamber of Deputies to make important decisions that will consolidate its program of change.

"We will call on honest men in the Colorado and Blanco parties to accompany us, assuming responsibilities in different functions of the government," said Vázquez, thinking perhaps in the need to count on non-FA votes to pass the laws necessary for his program. The elite of the two traditional parties responded negatively.

The priority of the Front government will be the fight against poverty. Vázquez said that an emergency plan will be implemented immediately to attend to the neediest sectors of the population. According to the state-run National Institute of Statistics (INE), 31 percent of the country’s 3.4 million people are poor and of them, almost 100,000 are destitute.

According to the president-elect, this emergency plan "will not consist in the simple handout of a subsidy, it will not be charity. We will demand something in return. No family will receive state help if the youngest in the family are not cared for in public hospitals and they do not regularly attend state schools."

Health Ministry figures show that, as of last July, 19 percent of Uruguayan children showed signs of severe malnutrition and 31 percent suffered from chronic malnutrition.

Strategic priority

The victory of the left will mark a substantial change in the foreign policy followed by the outgoing government of President Jorge Batlle, which in its alliance with the United States dispensed with MERCOSUR and opted for the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) promoted by US President George W. Bush.

"Historically Uruguay was a point of reference for the continent in matters of foreign policy, perhaps due to the respect it had gained thanks to its long democratic tradition. But in reality this was being lost in the last governments, which by aligning themselves with the United States lost all capacity for independent decision-making," said FA deputy Carlos Pita.

Beyond the expressions of support between Vázquez and his counterparts of Brazil, Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, and Argentina, Néstor Kirchner, Uruguay’s president-elect has said that he will give priority to the relations with MERCOSUR (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay and Chile, Peru, Venezuela and Bolivia as associate members.)

"The process of regional integration will be a strategic priority of our government. The MERCOSUR should be much more than a commercial accord based on customs tariffs and should achieve a real integration at all levels: political, economic, commercial, institutional, cultural, labor and human," Vázquez said a few days before the election.

Sen. Danilo Astori, nominated by Vázquez to head the Economy Ministry, said "it is not just a question of betting on the institutional strengthening of MERCOSUR. I would also defend the goal of a single currency," referring to one of the controversial issues of the integration process.

On Oct. 18, MERCOSUR and the Andean Community of Nations (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela) signed a trade accord with a view of being converted into a planned South American community.

In a more general area of foreign policy, the president-elect promised to look "for the widest consensus in the entire political system so that the country can recover the important role it held in an international context and which was being lost over the last years," Vázquez said, alluding to Batlle.

Vázquez is categorical in the defense of the principles of non-intervention and self-determination of nations. In this framework, the first measure in foreign policy will be the reestablishment of relations with Cuba, broken by Batlle in April 2002, following a bitter verbal confrontation with President Fidel Castro.


President-elect Tabaré Vázquez (Photo:
Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
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