The Challenges of Progressive Governments in Latin America: the experience of the Frente Amplio administration in Uruguay · A presidential lecture with Dr. Tabaré Vázquez, President of Uruguay

September 21, 2009 · The New School, New York, United States

vazquezPresident Tabaré Vázquez at The New SchoolTabaré Vázquez, an oncologist and former mayor of Montevideo, became the first Uruguayan Frente Amplio president in 2005, after winning more than 50% of the vote in the national elections. The Frente Amplio is a coalition of progressive groups.

In the last year of his term, President Tabaré Vázquez of Uruguay gave an overview of the economic and social policies that have been implemented during his term as President. He also discussed the process of integration in Latin America.

Tabaré Vázquez, an oncologist and former mayor of Montevideo, became the first Uruguayan Frente Amplio president in 2005, after winning more than 50% of the vote in the national elections. The Frente Amplio is a nacional coalition of progressive groups.

The President said that progressive recipes are the best for Latin American countries, and stated that "the right and conservative ideologies have shown they are unable to solve global problems like the energy crisis and climate change”.

Introduced by Professor Michael Cohen, Director of the Observatory on Latin America, and moderated by Bob Kerrey, President of The New School, the successful event was crowded with students, faculty, trustees, and individuals from the tri-state area’s Uruguayan community. The event was also broadcasted into a nearby room to accommodate the overwhelming interest in the President’s remarks.

In Pursuit of Equity

Vázquez highlighted that, even through the global financial crisis, Latin America has made progress on economic growth and poverty reduction. The President pointed out that these improvements have been the result of the recovery of democracy in the region, and the efforts of the governments to be more responsive, efficient and have a new role for the society.

However, he declared that progress is not enough, because Latin America is still the most unequal region of the world. Vázquez affirmed that one of the biggest challenges of Latin American progressive regimes is to reduce inequality. “If nations are historic constructions -and I think they are-, they are past, but also future. One of the unavoidable and urgent tasks is to reduce the inequalities that hinder growth so that we can build a future for all. There is no real economic growth based on the wealth of some and the needs of others”, Vázquez said.

Investing in Human Capital: social policies implemented by the Frente Amplio

Vázquez reviewed the achievements of his government in the economic and social areas. The President said that poverty in Uruguay decreased from 31.9% in 2005 to 20% today, and indigence fell from 3.9% to 1.5%. He stated that, during that period, more than 170,000 jobs were created, and unemployment fell from 18%, during the crisis of 2001-2002, to 6.9% today.

"In 2004, social investment represented 25% of the annual state budget. This year, it represents 49%. This increase may include the investment in infrastructure and services (because building roads and highways, expanding the sewerage and lighting systems, and improving transport services are also social policies)", Vázquez said.

A central part of his speech was dedicated to describe Plan Ceibal, a program that provided one laptop for every student and teacher in Uruguayan public schools (Watch video about Plan Ceibal) . This includes students with learning disabilities who receive computers that are specially designed to meet their needs.

Vázquez explained that Plan Ceibal is fully funded by the Uruguayan government, which has spent $100 million thus far in purchasing the computers. The government has also spent $15 million annually for maintenance and the continuity of the program (including an information portal for students and teachers, educational games spaces of interaction and, soon, a television signal). President Vázquez said that Plan Ceibal is a real revolution: “This plan is a unique educational transformation, a profound change in teaching and learning, a major advance towards equal opportunities from childhood”.

The Challenges of the Region

At the end of the lecture, Vázquez said that progressive regimes in Latin America face two major challenges: the advancement of governance and integration.

The President of Uruguay affirmed that the region has to make improvements in the democratic transformation of the state. He also said that it is necessary to reinforce the quality and efficiency of governance, to strengthen the political system, and to build social and political majorities that can sustain the necessary changes.

The other major challenge of Latin American progressive forces is to move ahead in the process of regional integration. "Throughout the world, there is no region more integrationist than Latin America. However, this does not always translate into facts and concrete progress", Vázquez said.

The President affirmed that he does not have an idyllic or dramatic vision of integration. He said he knows it is a complex process that takes time, perseverance, generosity and strategic thinking, but he also expressed his belief that each country can and should do more.

In this context, Vázquez wondered about the role of "Americans who are non-Latin Americans”, and expressed his optimism about the possibility of generating a new relationship between the United States and Latin America in order to leave behind a long and painful history of disagreements. “This is not to forget the past. It is about building the future of all, because it is the only possible future”, Vázquez said.

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