Spanish – Uruguay will face crucial days for its future. Congress will decide whether the Law of Urgent Consideration (LUC), which includes more than 501 articles, a major state reform, and a tightening of the criminal code, will be approved.
Uruguayan President Lacalle Pou is definitely going against the South American status quo: the size of the state and tightening of the criminal code. To achieve this drastic change in the policies implemented in the country during the last fifteen years of Broad Front, his coalition will have to work surgically. So far, it has only achieved successes: agreements with a large number of ministers, alliances with the Colorado Party and the Open Cabildo, and the motion in the Broad Front Senate.
“There were long exchanges. This is not a sacred text, nor does it have to be sent out by the executive branch. We are looking for ways of reaching an understanding. It is an unprecedented work that puts us to the test,” said Jorge Gandini, an Uruguayan senator and member of the current government’s coalition, after a meeting with ministers.
On the marathon day of April 28, the administration scored two key victories: 1. Several agreements and common points with five ministers, and 2. Winning the motion presented by the Frente Amplio in the Senate to withdraw the consideration of “urgent” to the LUC. In other words, the fact that there will be many marathon days of discussions in Uruguay to approve or reject the 502 articles presented in the Urgent Law of Consideration of the executive.
The bill is urgent despite the pandemic
Some of the criticisms of Lacalle Pou are for maintaining his proposal for reforms as a matter of urgency at the height of the pandemic. But many forget key and fundamental data that explain why the reforms are urgent: For the last two years, unemployment in Uruguay has risen, poverty has increased, the homicide rate has gone from 8 to 11 per 100,000 inhabitants from 2017 to 2018, and the percentage of violent robberies and theft has also increased. The Uruguayan has been experiencing two years of contractions in GDP- it fell from 2.7 to 1.8 from 2017 to 2018 and from 1.8 to 1.5 from 2018 to 2019. In terms of education, only 36.3% of young Uruguayans finish secondary school on time. In the fiscal area, the deficit increased from 2.7% to 4.8 %.
The numbers make it quite clear that Uruguay —as does the rest of South America— needs real and urgent reforms, basically because the policies of the Frente Amplio have been failing. And COVID-19 plans to wreak more havoc on the economy. So Lacalle’s position is very clear: open the economy to the world and the free market. The opposite of what his neighbor, Argentina, is doing on the other side of the Rio de la Plata.
The government coalition has achieved something very important. Eventually, it is the political alliances that can make good intentions transcend.
Here the National Party coalition managed to capture and give its fair share of importance to the Colorado and Open Cabildo parties. Among the three parties, it was deemed that the differences with the proposal put forward by the government are not due to fundamental principles or values, but rather on specific points such as the decentralization of the Ministry of Housing.
It is also logical that there will be battles, where Lacalle will have to give in and seek to win them over time, to achieve the reforms he is proposing.
75 days and four days of meetings in the Legislative Palace
Some 45 days of study and analysis for the Senate and 30 for Deputies, with working days from 9.30 a.m. to 7 p.m. (Uruguayan time).
In total, the government’s initiative contains 501 articles and a giant reform in the country. The most important issues are the reduction of the size of the state, tightening the penal code, dealing with the fiscal deficit, controlling public spending (lowering it) to improve the sense of financial consideration.
The reforms also include changes in the operation of public enterprises that control important sectors such as electricity, water, fuel, or telecommunications. As well as proposing the repeal of more than sixty laws approved by the Broad Front for fifteen years. In this case, the rules of the game in the education sector would change completely.
The following topics will be considered for debate: retirements, financial inclusion law, creation of a registry of rapists, or the modification of protected area policy for environmental reasons. The proposed reform is huge; no frills.
COVID-19: crisis and opportunity
A point to consider is the credibility that Lacalle Pou’s administration has generated through its handling of the pandemic. Uruguay has succeeded in keeping the proliferation of the coronavirus at bay without a rigid and restrictive model of containment.
So the leftist opposition’s criticism of the executive branch was dismissed. Uruguay has a fairly low death rate, a good number of recoveries (more than 50%), and a large number of daily tests considering the number of people.
The Wuhan coronavirus also presents a great opportunity to make the necessary state and fiscal reforms. In Argentina, this debate is booming within society, and the Fernández government is avoiding it at all costs.
Another South American country, Paraguay, also has a historic opportunity to make these necessary structural changes. But the reforms must be clear and not merely cosmetic as many political factions claim and others brazenly avoid. Colombia will also have to evaluate its fiscal and state problem.
Uruguay seems to be the only country willing to make a dignified and serious change, as circumstances demand.
Ruling-party majority in the chambers
Another point in favor of Lacalle Pou is that he could have a majority in both chambers (senators and deputies). The Broad Front will continue to try to truncate the bill, but it will be very difficult for it if the opposition coalitions of the Colorado Party and the Open Cabildo are in line with the government.
The Broad Front considers this project unconstitutional and dangerous for democracy in the country since they claim that this evaluation of more than 500 articles leaves a “dangerous precedent.” It is also an “outrage” against the separation of powers.
The great battle of liberal ideas
The current context would have restricted more than one president, but Lacalle Pou was pragmatic. He decided to embrace the situation and make it clear what kind of president he would try to be. One who believes in responsibility and freedom.
Uruguay now fights on two fronts, one against the invisible enemy that threatens world stability, the COVID-19, the other is in the trenches of ideas. It is precisely the principles of the current Uruguayan president that can achieve a state reform that will remain in the history of the hemisphere. Going against the establishment and the South American status quo by seeking to change the rules of the game to make them fairer and more competitive.
The possible success of Uruguay may mark a before and after, especially in the south of the region. The influence that the Lacalle government might have in Paraguay or Argentina can be extended to the rest of a region in need of renewed ideas to put an end once and for all to the greatest of our ills: poverty and eternal underdevelopment. Once these are achieved, we will have a region thousand times more just than the current one.