Uruguay Votes Today: "An Historic Triumph for Latin America" and South American Unity
Eduardo Curuchet on the Significance of Today’s Election and the Movement for Regional Integration
By Manuela Aldabe
Special to The Narco News Bulletin
October 31, 2004
As Uruguayans go to the polls in that country’s presidential elections, Narco News publishes an interview conducted in August by 2004 Narco News Authentic Journalism Scholar and Uruguayan journalist Manuela Aldabe with Uruguayan commentator Eduardo Curuchet. Curuchet works in communications for the municipal government of Montevideo, which is run by the left-wing Broad Front party (also known as the Encuentro Progresista, or “Progressive Conference”), widely favored to win today’s contest. Curuchet has written for many Uruguayan publications, including the leading weekly newsmagazine Brecha.
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Manuela Aldabe: Important economic and political changes are happening in South America, with a regional bloc proposed by (Venezuelan President Hugo) Chávez, (Brazilian President Luis Inácio) Lula (da Silva), and (Argentinian President Nestor) Kirchner. What place would Uruguay have in this process in the case of a center-left government? We spoke to Eduardo Curuchet, who works in communications for the Montevideo municipal government, which is controlled by the Broad Front. Curuchet reflected on the new Latin American reality, and what possibilities Uruguay has for change if the Encuentro Progresista wins in the elections.
Eduardo Curuchet: This is an historic triumph for Latin America, such as we’ve seen in Venezuela. The trend is that of governments looking for independence and solid connections among themselves, to stop being just a backyard (for the United States). Each country has its own style. Chávez has confronted (the U.S.) very clearly, saying that (if Washington attempts any coups or invasions in Venezuela), not one drop of oil will go to the U.S. It’s not just rhetoric when he talks about continuing the work of the Liberator (Simón Bolívar) in Latin America. Right now, Argentina and Venezuela are taking a real step in the process of Latin American integration: the creation of an oil company company of the South, a partnership between both governments. This entire area is beginning to come together in its opposition to the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), and is doing so with concrete actions.
On the other hand, we have Lula’s policies, also working toward the integration of the region’s governments. As these countries (Venezuela, Brazil, and the Southern Cone nations) have tried to oppose neoliberal policies over the last few years, the only real holdout has been the Uruguayan government led by President Jorge Batlle. He has played an important role as a follower (of these discredited policies). Now that regional leaders Kirchner, Lula and Chávez are having, let’s say, their first major disagreements with the Uruguayan leader, they are starting to see Tabaré Vázquez as a more legitimate negotiator as they discuss integration.
Manuela Aldabe: Is this Lula-Chávez-Kirchner axis a real alternative?
Eduardo Curuchet: Well there is, at the very least, the issue of opposition to organizations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. In Venezuela, when Chávez took power and the IMF sent a “letter of intent” (on economic policies that Venezuela should pursue), one of the first things he did was to respond, saying that he is the president of a sovereign country. Chávez told the IMF he was going to use the profits from the state oil company to finance social programs and other policies; that Venezuela as a sovereign country would do what it wanted, not what the IMF wanted.
The first goal is for the region to stop being the U.S.’s backyard, because it still plays that role. So how do you move forward, making other alliances? That’s another story. Obviously, the European Union is an important counterweight (to the U.S.). Lula has used this, but historically Brazil has always been a regional leader in opposition to the U.S., looking for ties with Europe instead. Now it does so with an important new strategy – trying to negotiate as a bloc. Kirchner has taken up Lula’s proposal, but Uruguay has emerged as a wedge within Mercosur, saying that no, this is not a proposal that represents all of Mercosur.
This has a lot to do with President Batlle’s relationship with the U.S. That relationship consists of, among other things, two points that are important in the present context. One is Uruguay’s breaking of diplomatic relations with Cuba and taking a position within the United Nations against Cuba on human rights issues. The other is that, during 2002, when the Argentinian collapse (of December 2001) began to repeat itself here, the government received a $1.5 billion dollar bailout directly from the U.S. government. Obviously, this came at a price. In this case, it was Uruguay’s position against the movement to begin negotiating with international organizations as a bloc.
A short time ago, President Batlle was giving a press conference. Now, here in Uruguay we have a candy called Alca (“ALCA” is also the Spanish acronym for the Free Trade Area of the Americas). So Batlle takes one of these candies and puts it in front of the cameras, saying as a joke, look, I am in favor of the Alca, what is so bad about that? This is very revealing about the current political attitude in Uruguay. Uruguay has joined this community of South American nations, but has consistently been the fly in the ointment, opposing any negotiation as a bloc with other regional blocs or with international financial institutions.
Manuela Aldabe: If the Encuentra Progresista wins the presidency and takes a new approach to foreign policy, forming a bloc with these other countries, what could the consequences be?
Eduardo Curuchet: One interesting thing that several major voices of the Uruguayan left have been discussing is a process of not only economic, but political integration. This could take shape as something like the European Parliament, passing regional laws that would be applied to all member countries. I’m not sure what the consequences of that would be. What is evident now is an intent, on the part of all these governments, to find ways to break free from domination, to form a movement for Latin American unity. This could have favorable repercussions for all the peoples of Latin America.
Manuela Aldabe: I’m Manuela Aldabe.
Read Manuela Aldabe’s interview with Braod Fron Congresswoman Margarita Percovich.
More coverage of Uruguay’s elections in the Narcosphere.
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