Religion & Liberty Online

Alejandro Chafuen in Forbes: Change afoot in Uruguay’s elections?

Alejandro Chafuen, Acton’s Managing Director, International, has lectured during two visits to Uruguay this year, and today in Forbes he presents an examination of various candidates and policies in the lead-up to the country’s presidential elections this October. Uruguay, the most secular country in Latin America, also ranks highly in such categories as rule of law, confidence in government, low perceptions of corruption and crime, and so forth. Political culture and society in Uruguay are also marked by strong currents of statism, but, as Chafuen points out, subtle shifts may be starting to take place. Signs of these shifts can be seen in their presidential candidates.

In recent years we have seen surprising results in electoral contests around the world. Latin America is no exception—few predicted the victory of Jair Bolsonaro, who became the leader of Brazil, the region’s largest economy. Two of Brazil’s southern neighbors, Argentina and Uruguay, will be holding presidential elections this October 27. I will focus on Uruguay, one of only three Latin American countries that, in the World Justice Project rankings, gets a passing grade in rule of law and lack of corruption (the other two being Chile and Costa Rica).

Why pay attention to such a small nation? Small countries can not only become prosperous but can also become examples for other countries. Take Hong Kong and Singapore, ranked first and second in economic freedom and with incomes per capita of over $60,000 and $90,000 respectively. Uruguay is twice the size of Austria but appears small compared to its much larger neighbors, Argentina and Brazil. Uruguay, however, ranks much better than its neighbors in most aspects, including income per capita.

During several periods in history, Uruguay provided avenues for freedom to beleaguered citizens beyond its borders. When Peronism returned to my native Argentina in 1973, totalitarian practices muzzled much of the media. Many of us who lived in Buenos Aires tuned into Radio Colonia (a radio station in Uruguay) for independent news reporting. When Argentina imposed all types of exchange controls, Uruguay was also the place of choice for conducting financial transactions.

Uruguay, however, is far from being a libertarian haven. I have visited this country twice this year and have been following the debates leading up to the presidential election. Observing the political gymnastics and the reactions of the people and the media as a whole it becomes apparent that Uruguay suffers from a very statist culture. The few candidates who want to weaken the interventionist consensus have to find different ways to dress up—some would say disguise—their anti-statist messages in acceptable terms.

Read the entire article here.

(Homepage photo credit: Uruguay’s Congressional Palace. Felipe Restrepo Acosta, Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 4.0.)

Joshua Gregor

Joshua Gregor is International Relations Assistant at the Acton Institute. Before coming to Acton he received a BA in philosophy from the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum in Rome and an MA in linguistics from Indiana University.